|At the conclusion of this unit, the learner will be able to:
Writing reports is an inevitable part of professional life, particularly concerning business communication. Reports are descriptions of what happened in the past. Every report is written for a purpose. It records the outcomes after analysing a situation. There are different types of reports, such as project reports, survey reports, newspaper reports, laboratory reports, annual reports, minutes, inventory reports, etc. In this chapter, we will look into the characteristic features of report writing and understand how to write different forms of reports.
Reports, Oral Reports, Written Reports, Formal Reports, Informal Reports
“The best report ever written may have been Julius Ceasar’s Veni, vidi,vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)” – Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson
The term ‘report’ is derived from the Latin word ‘reportare’ meaning “to carry back”. A report is a formal piece of writing (can also be a spoken account) that presents information about something that happened in the past. We usually write reports to inform about a past event, to analyse a situation, propose recommendations, record the progress, observe the trend in the socio, economic, political, technological, psychological changes, and so on.
Haven’t you noticed how newspaper reporters report an event? Their report will contain the answer to five ‘wh-’ questions, i.e. who, what, when, where and why (how). A report has to be organised covering all these questions factually and objectively. Give your report a structure covering the purpose, summary of the event, findings, conclusions, and suggestions. However, be careful to include only the essential points.
5.4.1 Key Features of a Report
- A report states all the facts, unpleasant as well as pleasant.
- A report is written with a specific purpose.
- A report gets credibility when it is writ-ten from firsthand observation.
- A report includes only essential information.
- Serves as a repository of information
5.4.2 Classification of Reports
Different types of reports are written for different purposes.
Let’s look at each of them in detail.
|Oral Reports||Written Reports|
|Spoken – provides you with the opportunity to stress the important points with your voice||Written|
|Presented in person, so can be subjective||Not necessary to present the report in person, it can be sent or handed by somebody else. So they are more objective|
|Ephemeral in nature unless recorded||A permanent record of information|
|Immediate clarification is possible, as the presenter is in front of the audience||Immediate clarification may not be possible|
|As they are spoken, it is less reliable for taking future decisions||As they are written records, they can be retrieved for future needs and are more reliable and accurate|
|Less formal||More formal|
18.104.22.168 Informal Reports
These reports have content and arrangement of facts in a formal manner but are presented in an informal style. Its purpose is to meet the immediate requirements that may not require a detailed analysis. So they are shorter in length (maybe under 10 pages) than the formal reports, also known as ‘short reports’. These are commonly used to inform an internal audience. For example, when your boss asks you to update him/her about your team’s progress on the current project you are working on, you prepare an informal report. You can use the format of a letter/mail or memorandum to write it. Thus the two common types of informal reports are letter reports and memo reports.
a) Letter report
Letter reports are short reports written using the format of a business letter. We use personal pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘you’ to maintain informality throughout the report. It comprises 4 to 5 pages, usually. It is used for both internal and external communication. Let us now look at the layout of a letter report:
Findings: Include illustrations to support your verbal analysis
NB: Use your company’s letterhead. If you don’t have such a letterhead, use formal A4 size paper for this purpose. Also, keep in mind to type the letter in a word processor, not be handwritten.
b) Memo Reports
An inter-office memorandum, commonly known as a memo, is also used to send essential information within an organisation. This kind of report “deals with a minor problem or provides facts of routine nature, using this inter-office memorandum format” is called a memo report. Engineers, technical experts, IT professionals, etc. often write memo reports for their internal communication. It is more informal in nature and shorter in length (2-3 pages) than letter reports. Let’s now look at the layout of a memo report:
Body of the text
22.214.171.124 Formal Reports
An official report, used for informational or analytical purpose, commonly in business or academic fields is called a formal report. Formal reports can be broadly classified under three categories:
- Routine/ Periodic reports
- Informational reports
- Interpretive reports
a) Routine reports
The reports published at prescribed intervals, say annually, quarterly, monthly or weekly, as part of business affairs are called routine/ periodic reports. They usually record routine contents, by either putting a tick mark against certain items listed or briefing short remarks about them. It includes reports on employees, the progress of projects, inspection reports, etc. Routine reports can be further classified into:
- Progress Report: It is an account of the progress of the work completed during a specific period of time. Haven’t you noticed that at school, usually, you will have to bring your parents to sign your progress reports? It helps to give you and your parents information regarding your progress at each stage of academics. Similarly, in a business field, it gives the account of the work completed and expected to complete in chronological order. Thus, it acts as an evaluation report.
- Laboratory Report: Used to communicate the important findings within the scientific world- for investigation and experimentation in the scientific process. Generally, scientists, engineers and students of science subjects make use of laboratory reports. Such reports contain the name of the experiment, date of conducting the experiment, statement of analysis, apparatus or tools used for the experiment, the procedure being followed, the findings and conclusions. They also act as a guide for future researchers in the same field.
- Inspection Report: A report made after inspecting a particular product is called an inspection report. Such a report helps to check the quality of the product and its smooth functioning. It usually has a proforma where there are separate columns that are to be filled after a thorough investigation. This kind of report is normally associated with the maintenance, production or sales departments.
- Inventory Report: Often in electronic document format, an inventory report deals with the existing inventory or stock of products in a retail business. A stock controller or an inventory clerk lists down the statistical details in the prescribed form, submitted at regular intervals. It helps to keep an account of the stock available, its expenditure and utilisation, maintenance, inventory management, transparent tracking and categorisation. This will in turn help to overcome stockout and overstocking issues.
- Confidential Report: As the title suggests, these are annual periodic reviews, that are entirely confidential, submitted by the superior officers about their employees. It provides an objective and impartial evaluation of the character, conduct, capabilities and performance of the employees through-out the year. You can consider it as a kind of “rating” on the performance of the worker. This is significant while taking important decisions like promotion to higher grades, deputation, confirmation, financial upgradation, trans-fer, termination of a contract, etc. Although it is confidential, the negative remarks are conveyed to the employees, thereby giving them a chance for improvement or explanation. It helps in the advancement of their careers by realising their potential and becoming useful in training and human resource development.
b) Informational Reports
The function of informational reports is to report the “facts” or collected information in an organised and subjective way. To put it simply, informational reports present the situation in its current state and not as it should be. Therefore there will not be any interpretation or analysis of the situation, conclusion or recommendations. The relevant data are collected and properly arranged by putting it in a form, to help the management to take decisions. It includes reports to monitor and control operations, reports to implement policies and procedures, reports to demonstrate compliance and reports to document progress.
c) Interpretive Reports
Like an informational report, interpretive reports too offer information and facts. However, unlike an informational report, it analyses, interprets and assesses facts in an objective and scientific manner. Therefore it is also called an analytical or investigative report. While analysing and interpreting data, it naturally offers solutions and recommendations to the problems mentioned in the reports. So it is sometimes called a recommendatory report. Its detailing of matter makes it an elaborate and expansive report, presented in a persuasive manner.
5.4.3 Process of Writing Reports
- Write down every point you want to mention in a report beforehand.
- “The horror of that moment,” the King went on, “I shall never, never forget!” “You will, though,” the Queen said, “if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Separate opinions from facts while writing a report. For example, facts don’t change, no matter who reports them. But conclusions and suggestions are opinions. Both are necessary, but make it clear to the reader.
- Write concisely, using active rather than passive forms, without making the sentences too complex grammatically.
- Use graphic aids, such as tables, diagrams, charts, drawings, etc. to present voluminous statistical data and details of complex ideas in less space with more accuracy. It further enhances the layout of the report and makes it readable. But remember that these illustrations must be as self-explanatory as possible and proper credit must be given to the original source if copied. The various kinds of graphics are:
a) Dependent Tables
These are tables that are dependent on the report text. It cannot exist independently without the text for interpretation.
b) Independent Tables
Self-explanatory tables, that give the complete information regarding the topic without necessarily referring to the preceding or the following report text.
c) Phrase Tables
Instead of giving data in figures, phrase tables use phrases and words to convey information.
Help us to create awareness about the major trends and various patterns that support the topic of discussion, in a creative manner. There are different types of graphs like bar graphs, pie graphs, pictorial graphs, rectilinear graphs, etc.
Present non-quantitative information, like the functioning or comparisons essential to the topic.
Present information about the geographical and spatial distribution. For example, places where minerals are present can be easily located within a physical map.
Help us give an authentic and accurate view of your subject.
Show the reader exactly what is discussed in the report. It enables the presentation of information in an appealing manner.
5.4.4 Steps involved in Writing a Report
- Define your objective, scope and purpose for writing the Report: Stating the objective of the report helps us to sieve the necessary information according to the demand of the topic.
- Collect relevant data: Involves identifying the sources of information
- The sources of data collection, usually adopted are: encyclopedias, textbooks, office records, files, journals, manuals, government publications, the Internet, magazines, newspapers, computer databases, etc.
- Different methods used for data collection are
- Personal interview: It helps to get direct information, although subjective in nature most of the time. Creating a rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee is necessary for the smooth execution of an interview. If you want to record the interview, seek permission beforehand from the interviewee. These days, there are options for videoconferencing as well.
- Telephonic interviews: If the questions are brief and you elicit responses from only a small number of people, then telephonic interviews are the best as they save time for travelling. But it has certain disadvantages like low credibility, ineffective feedback as you cannot observe the body language of the respondent, etc.
- Surveys and questionnaires: These prove useful when you have to contact a large number of people, covering a wide geographical area. It’s the most scientific and reliable method for data collection. As clear objectives are set for the questions, it is easily processable, without much ambiguity.
- Observations: For example, laboratory experiments rely on your sensory observations. Although it takes time to do the experiment and get the result, it is very reliable as it is first-hand information.
3. Writing and Revising: Prepare drafts before writing the final report. Keep the audience in mind while writing the report. Check thoroughly each draft that you prepare and revise it carefully.
4. Preparing the outline: Having an outline improves our focus on the content and helps to organise our thoughts in a logical order. Given below is a sample outline prepared by Border Roads Organization for a report on Road Accidents in India and Major Causes: An Overview
2. Road Accidents in India
2.1 Global Trends and India
2.2 Historical Overview
2.3 Trends in Type of Injuries Caused in Road Accidents
2.4 Type of Impacting Vehicles and Type of Collision
3. Causes of Road Accidents in India
3.1 Accidents on Account of Road Environment Factors
3.2 Accidents on Account of Human Factors
3.3 Accidents on Account of Vehicular Factors
4.1 Related to Road Environment/ Features
4.2 Related to Addressing Human Factors
(Source: http://www.bro gov.in/WriteReadData/linkimages/5768690382-14.pdf
5.4.5 Structure of formal reports
a. Front matter
- Cover: The hardcover of the formal reportcontains essential information like the title of the report, report number (if any), name of the author and organisation, and date.
- Title Page: It contains additional information like the subtitle of the report, the name and designation of the authority to whom the report is submitted, approval details and the distribution list.
- Frontispiece: An informative as well as a decorative illustration of the contents of the report, to arouse the curiosity of the readers.
- Copyright Notice: A statement that indicates who has the legal ownership of the report, and without whose permission, it cannot be reproduced for any use. It generally consists of three elements – the copyright symbol ©, the year of first publication of the report, and the name of the copyright owner.
Eg: © 2022 Milan John
All rights reserved.
- Forwarding Letter: Also called the letter of transmittal”, it enables a personal communication between the writer and the reader. There are two types of forwarding letters:·
Covering Letter: Submitted separately and not bound by the report. It does not contain any important information.
Introductory Letter: It is bound with the report and placed after the Title page. Similar to a preface, it gives some important information that the reader must know.
- Preface: The preface helps to give an overall idea about the report.
- Acknowledgements: Having gratitude is a great quality. Through acknowledgement, we mention the names of those who support us throughout the journey of completion of the work and convey our gratitude for their suggestions and influence.
- Table of contents: When you have a lot of pages in a report, it is difficult to locate specific information at a particular time. The table of contents makes this easier by serving as a guide. It includes the chapter headings and major subheadings with respective page numbers.
- List of illustrations: This is optional and can be included only when you have more than 10 illustrations in number.
- Abstract or Executive Summary: A brief write-up, abstract captures the essence of the report. It is very short in length, not exceeding 300 words. An executive summary would be lengthier than an abstract. While an abstract is meant for readers from the same domain of knowledge, executive summaries can be read by all, irrespective of their knowledge background.
b. Main body: Here we talk about the entire content matter of the report, in detail. It can be further divided into:
- Introduction: In the opening section of the report, we provide a brief historical as well as technical background necessary for a better understanding of the topic of discussion. It further mentions the purpose and scope of the study, its limitations and significance, the methodology and procedure adopted for analysing the data and references to basic principles and theories that are used to find solutions to the problems mentioned in the report. It ends with a brief summary of the major findings and a general outline of the report.
- Discussion: This is the main part, where we divide it into further chapters. Each chapter will present a different aspect of the problem. The detailed analysis or interpretations are substantiated using illustrations such as tables, graphs, diagrams, pictures, drawings, maps,etc.
- Conclusion: Here we briefly summarise what we have discussed so far. It can be written as points or as developed paragraphs. But remember not to add fresh insights at this stage. The purpose of a conclusion is to bring the discussion to an end by bringing together all the essential points discussed above.
- Recommendation: It suggests the solutions for what needs to be done, based on the findings and conclusions.
c. Back matter: It includes the following:
- Appendices: We add additional information for references here. It includes materials necessary to support the work like questionnaires, statistical data, samples of forms, data sheets, calculations, illustrative materials, sample documents, symbols, tables of definitions, etc.
- List of references: This section includes the names of the sources from which the author borrowed ideas or facts. It helps the reader to know the exact location of a piece of information.
- Bibliography: Alphabetically arranged list of all the works consulted and recommended books for further study, comes in this section.
- Glossary: Alphabetically arranged list of all the technical words and phrases used in
the report comes in the glossary.
- Index: This lists various subtopics and other relevant aspects discussed in the report, but not in the table of contents.