Learning Units

LL122 - Research and Reporting

UNIT 5: REPORT FORMATS

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Outline for Report Formats

INTRODUCTION
DOCUMENT TYPES
  1. Memos
    - Definition of a Memorandum
    - Memo Parts
  2. Letters
  3. Monograph
  4. The Audience
INFORMAL
  1. Informal
  2. Memo Sample
  3. Letter Sample
SEMIFORMAL
  1. Semi-Formal
  2. Semi-Formal Sample
FORMAL
  1. Up Front
    a) Transmittal Letter
    b) Cover
    c) Title Page
    d) Table of Contents
    e) List of Illustrations
    f) Summary
    g) Glossary
    h) Page Numbering
  2. Body
  3. Back Section
    a) Endnotes
    b) References
    c) Appendices
    d) Index
  4. Sample Formal Report

INTRODUCTION

When confronted with the task of writing a report, you must decide which format would best suit the presentation of your report. Reports can come in many formats, from short memos to multi page documents in hardbound covers.

Generally the length of the document and its audience determines the format for your report. Determining the divisions between the different formats and the circumstances under which they are best used is not an exact science. The following designations for the different formats are general conventions used to describe the different report formats that are common in business. These formats are meant to act as guidelines for the report writer.

Shorter reports are often called "informal" reports and they are usually completed in a memo or letter format. When a report begins to get longer, some report writers may change the format slightly and call the result a "semi-formal" report. These types of reports can also be produced in memo or letter form. Reports can also be separate documents, sometimes called "monographs" that have letters or memos attached to them.

It is only the formal report that has fairly rigid format requirements. In addition to the actual content of the report, a formal report usually has a cover and a number of other reference documents that would help the reader understand fully a comprehensive subject that the formal report addresses.

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DOCUMENT TYPES

1. Memos

Since memo writing is critical to effective business communication, students should be aware of the correct memo format and body structure. Shorter reports often use a memo format. They maintain the structure of a report, but are generally shorter than more formal reports.

a) Definition of a Memorandum (memo)

memorandum

n. singular [(thing) to be remembered]

memoranda

plural form

memo

singular, informal

memos

plural, informal
  • a short written statement for future use
  • a note to aid the memory
  • an informal letter, note, or report
  • (in diplomacy), a summary of facts and arguments on some issue or arrangement that concerns two or more governments*

 

The Gage Senior Dictionary of Canadian English (1973)

The memo is the most widely used form of written communication in business, industry, bureaucracies, and institutions. Even in an age of E-mail and voice mail, the memo is still an integral part of the business communication loop.

It is a hybrid form, borrowing characteristics from letters, reports, and other forms of writing. The memo developed out of specific needs in business, industry, and institutions for a mode of writing that could satisfy the practical communication needs peculiar to the world of commerce, trade, and bureaucracy. Virtually everyone who encounters the memo in the work place, and those who learn to compose effective memos, will likely increase their potential for career advancement as well as develop confidence in their ability to express themselves with clarity and coherence.

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b) Memo Parts

Memo format may vary with the company, but all memos should contain at least these standard parts:

  • To
  • From
  • Date
  • Re: (Or Subject)

i) To:

After To: the writer should include the full name of the person(s) to whom the memo is addressed. If the person(s) in question has a title, the writer should include the title after the name separated by a comma to ensure that the memo is delivered to the person in question.

Sample

To: Helen Gzoski, Manager, Textiles Division

or

To: Don Smith
Manager, Records Department

ii) From:

Apply the same rules to the From: line as to the To: line

Sample

From: Dan Epps, Adjuster, Claims Division

or

From: Jason Chang
Field Worker
Department of Social Agencies

iii) Date:

Dates can be formatted in a variety of ways. For example

10 Jan 96
10.1.96
January 10, 1996
96.1.10
1.10.96
96.10.1

Normally writers choose the one prescribed by a particular company or the one they feel is clearest. Whichever you choose, be sure to do so consistently.

iv) Re: (or Subject:)

Of all the standard parts, the one that needs by far the most thought is the Re: (or Subject:) line. This line should tell the reader as fully as possible "what the memo is about". It may vary in length from one word to many words depending on what a reader needs to know to

  1. determine the memo's relevance to him or her and whether s/he feels a need to read it further
  2. decide where (how) to file it

Keep in mind that too general a Re: line may force the recipient to read further into the memo to determine its relevance and runs the risk that the reader may simply "file" it for future reference.

Sample

Poor Better
Re: Complaints Re: Complaints about Cigarette Smoking in the Cafeteria

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2. Letters

While memos are principally composed for those inside of an organization (except for email), the letter format is used for reports that are sent to people outside of your organization or company. Like memos, letters are mostly used for short reports.

Generally the necessity for headings within reports increases with the length of the report, but headings can help organize the information within a short letter or memo report. You should seek out opportunities to use lists whenever the information requires it. While most short letter reports do not use visuals, do not be afraid to include one if the report warrants its use.

There are a variety of letter formats in use for business; however, the simplest and easiest to use is the full block format, for the following reasons:

  1. very little formatting compared to other business formats
  2. no indentation required for paragraphs
  3. simple and clean appearance

The full block letter format has all text flush left, with no indentation for paragraphs, as follows:

sender's address (sender's name only included in letterhead)
town, city
postal code

date

courtesy title, name
title, department, company
address
town,city
postal code

salutation (Dear courtesy title, name)

body of report
paragraph not indented

body of report
paragraph not indented

complimentary close (Sincerely; Yours truly)

 

sender's name typed
title (if applicable)

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3. Monograph

If a report isn't in memo or letter form, it will most likely be a monograph. A monograph is defined as a highly detailed and thoroughly-documented study written about a limited area of a subject or field of inquiry. The monograph format is used primarily for semi-formal and formal reports. Its structure is defined by which of these two types the report uses. A formal report has fairly rigorous standards for format. The semiformal's requirements are looser. In both cases, since a monograph does not necessarily contain information about who the document is being prepared for, a covering memo or letter usually accompanies the monograph report.

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4. The Audience

When compiling a report, you should keep three overriding considerations when you decide upon the contents and format the report should take:

  1. What is the primary purpose of the report?
  2. Who is the intended audience for the report?
  3. What is the main message of the report?

Keeping in mind that a given report may be read by people other than the person who authorized you to write it, or that it might well be included as a part of the final report you submit, be sure the report does not contain anything that would compromise its (or your) integrity or make it unacceptable for reading by any of the following three audiences a report usually reaches:

  • the immediate audience: the person who authorizes you to write it
  • the primary audience: the person (or persons) who will make the decision as to whether to implement your recommendations
  • the secondary audience: all persons upon whom the recommendations in the report will have an impact or who will need to "approve" its content before the primary audience will decide on it

Although the language should reflect the professional distance that exists between the sender and the receiver, it should not be overly stiff or academic. Depending on the relationship between the sender and receiver, it may even be informal.

The tone should be both respectful and informative, even if the purpose of the report is one of complaint. The recipient should always be impressed by the diction of the report. The tone may also be informal depending on the subject of the report and the personality of the sender.

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INFORMAL

1. Informal

The majority of reports that are sent are not long, bound documents, they are memos and letters produced, usually, on a specific and limited topic. Most of these reports are designed to provide information to the reader. These are referred to as informal reports.

They are called informal reports because of their length and because they do not require the additional documents associated with the formal report. Informal reports are generally from one to three pages and sometimes have visuals and attachments.

Click here to view a sample of an informal report (memo).

Click here to view a sample of an informal report (letter). 

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SEMI-FORMAL

1. Semi-Formal

If a report starts getting too long for an informal memo or letter format, but does not require all the components of a formal report, many report writers will choose a middle ground called the semi-formal format. While most informal reports are general providers of information, a semi-formal report usually involves some investigation, analysis and recommendations. In general, the semi-formal is a document that holds the report information and it is accompanied by a memo or letter addressed to the person who is to receive the report.

The report document generally has a title, contains the date the report was completed and indicates who wrote the report at the top of the first page. This document is often stapled together and may have a few attachments at the back of the report.

The memo or letter that accompanies the report is a cover or transmittal letter (or memo) that is usually attached to the report with a paper clip. The main purpose of this letter or memo is to "transmit" the report to the intended reader. The letter or memo will often contain the summary or at least the highlights of the report, as well as any details about completing and sending the report that are relevant to the receiver (such as cost of providing the report).

Click here to view a sample of a semi-formal report. 

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FORMAL

1. Up Front

In addition to the report content, the formal report is accompanied by a number of other components.

a) Transmittal Letter

Generally, the first component of a formal report is the transmittal letter. Similarly to a semi-formal report, the transmittal letter "transmits" the report to the intended reader. The letter will often contain the summary or at least the highlights of the report, as well as any details about completing and sending the report that are relevant to the receiver. The transmittal letter is generally attached to the report with a paper clip. Occasionally you will see the transmittal letter incorporated in the binding of the report before the Table of Contents. The transmittal letter may also contain the following information:

  • why the report was written
  • who commissioned the report and when

b) Cover

The formal report generally has a cover. The quality of the cover can have a significant impact on the impression the report makes. Reports that have covers of good quality stock, that are glossy, have some sort of visually attractive design and are glued to the pages of the report - rather than stapled, Cirlox bound or placed in a binder - make the best impression. The cover usually has the title of the report and name(s) of the person(s) who completed the report. Often the date the report was completed is placed on the cover as well.

c) Title Page

The title page generally has four main pieces of information:

  • the title of the report
  • the name of the person or organization receiving the report
  • the person(s) or organization who authored the report
  • the date the report was submitted

The title of the report takes precedence on the title page, with the other information neatly arranged on the page.

d) Table of Contents

The Table of Contents is an accurate and comprehensive table of the information located in the report with a corresponding page reference to easily locate each section. The contents are generally arranged to the left of the page, with subsections indented and identified by section numbers. Each item in the contents should have a corresponding page number that indicates where the section begins only.

e) List of Illustrations

If there are visuals, a listing, with page numbers, can be made at the bottom of the Table of Contents, or immediately following it.

f) Summary

The Summary or Executive Summary is separated from the main body of the report and placed as far forward in the report as possible on its own page. Generally it is located after the Table of Contents, but it could appear beforehand in some reports.

g) Glossary

If there is quite a lot of terminology that the intended reader would not be expected to know, then the report writer would compile a glossary of these terms with definitions at the start of the report.

h) Page Numbering

The first section of the report is not usually numbered as part of the report, but given introductory page numbers in the form of lowercase Roman numerals.

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2. Body

The body of the report contains the Background, Details and Conclusions (and recommendations, if there are any). With formal reports, there are generally a number of visuals and a variety of headings and subheadings contained in the report. The page numbers for the report usually start with the Background section.

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3. Back Section

a) Endnotes

If footnotes or references were used in the text, a list of corresponding references is contained at the back of the report.

b) References

The references are a list of books and other sources of information that were used to compile the report.

c) Appendices

The appendices include all supplementary material related to the report. Generally, it includes material that provides additional information that would be excessive within the body of the report. The appendices should be well labelled (Appendix A, Appendix B, etc), appropriately titled and explained, referred to in the text of the report, and appear in the same order as they do within the body of the report. Many appendices are proceeded with a page that has its label and title. Appendices can include the following information:

  • test results
  • approval letters
  • intermediate or status reports
  • lists
  • large photos or maps
  • questionnaires

d) Index

Long and elaborate reports can have indexes based on key words and subjects at the back of the report so that specific information can be located quickly.

 

4. Sample Formal Report

Click here to view a sample of a formal report

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