Learning Units

LL122 - Research and Reporting

UNIT 9: REPORT TYPES

Click here for Marlene Conway's comments

Outline for Report Types

INTRODUCTION
INFORMATION
  1. Information
  2. Informational Process
    - Identifying a Purpose
    - Settling on a Purpose
    - Gathering Information
    - Determining Format and Organizational Approach
    - Remaining Objective
    - Writing Conclusions
ANALYSIS
  1. Analysis
  2. Analytical Process
BASIC REPORTS
  1. Event-Based
    1. Summary
    2. Background
    3. Details
    4. Conclusions
  2. Time-Related
    1. Summary
    2. Background
    3. Details
    4. Conclusions
  3. Sample
COMPREHENSIVE REPORTS
  1. Proposals
    1. Summary
    2. Background
    3. Details
    4. Conclusions
  2. Investigations
    1. Summary
    2. Background
    3. Details
    4. Conclusions
    5. Attachments
  3. Sample

INTRODUCTION

There are a variety of situations that require the generation of reports. In general, reports are a good way to transfer general information, present the results of an investigation or make a persuasive argument. In some cases, it does all three at the same time.

There is no step-by-step method or cast-in-stone framework for writing reports. Each situation has individual circumstances and conditions that require the good and careful judgment from the report writer to navigate. However, there are general guidelines and principles involved with writing reports that can help focus report writers' efforts and bring to their attention to elements they may not have considered.

Regardless of what type of report is being written, the underlying purpose of all reports is to present the report writer in a positive light. Good reports can make an impression on behalf of the writer. Well-written reports send a secondary message to the reader, in addition to the main content message that report contains: that message makes comment upon the writer's ability to get to the bottom of a problem, see past insignificant details, and communicate effectively. Reports also allow the opportunity for report writers to reveal any insights they may have and can demonstrate their ideas. So many of these abilities are the qualities managers look for in their employees or in those individuals who provide a service to companies. Reports present an opportunity to report writers that allows them to get the notice of managers and executives who may help in the progress of those report writers' careers.

As much as the following guidelines will help the report writer with the specifics, the best types of reports are accurate, informative and comprehensive. They are arranged in a logical and organized fashion and provide insight to the reader when the opportunity allows it.

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INFORMATION

1. Information

All reports present "information," but some reports are limited to simply providing information without much analysis. Most reports that simply provide information are written as informal reports as memos or letters. The types of reports that are informational are situational reports, like accident reports, trip reports, conference reports, or descriptions and instructions.

Informational reports can also be written in response to time-frame requirements, such as weekly, monthly or annual reports. Probably the best known informational reports are Annual Reports that are given to shareholders of publicly traded companies. These reports provide specific financial information on the shareholders' investments and the status of the company. Similarly, our income tax return is a report on our income on an annual basis, although these reports have very strict guidelines. Reports written for specific time-frames are often called periodic, progress or status reports.

Informational reports can also include laboratory and test reports.

Informational reports do not provide analysis. The main goal of informational reports is to present information in an organized and objective manner so that readers can make effective decisions. Information is a valuable commodity. Companies that acquire and manage pertinent information gain a competitive edge. It has been said that we are in the "Information Age," and that "Information is Power." In order for these adages to be true, the information that is provided must be specific, accurate and relevant. Information is contained in details not grand generalizations.

Many people complain that they are "overwhelmed by information." The report writer's job in many instances is to wade through the chaos to find the thread of understanding so that the readers are no longer confused and overwhelmed.

Many informational reports are highly standardized, like our income tax return, but others require the judgment and skill of the report writer.

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2. Informational Process

Identifying the Audience

Report writers always need to know their audience so that they can gage their level of understanding and their expectations from the report. The audience will determine the depth of your explanations and the focus of your report.

Settling on a Purpose

The informational report generally has a very specific purpose. You should be very clear on that purpose and the extent to which you are expected to address this purpose.

Gathering Information

Informational reports achieve their value through specific information. Detailed and accurate notes help the report writer easily recover and transcribe this information into a report. Be aware of the information you will need, and capture it in a fashion that is easily retrievable when it comes to writing the report. Remember: it is easier to leave information out of the final report than it is to recover forgotten or unknown information. Be as comprehensive as possible.

Determining a Format and Organizational Approach

Choose the format that is most appropriate to the length and purpose of your report. Choose an organizational approach that is specific to your subject and best addresses the information that you have collected.

Remaining Objective

Present a balance view of your material, don't be overly biased. With negative observations, search for qualifying remarks to demonstrate that you are impartial and that the facts are behind your points, not your opinion.

Make sure that you separate fact from opinion clearly in your report. When using facts or sources of information, make sure you cite those sources in your report.

Don't exaggerate or slant information. Use language that is neutral and exact.

Writing Conclusions

Conclusions for informational reports should not extend beyond the objectives of the report. Do not write conclusions that are "out of the blue" that would require substantive research to verify or validate.

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ANALYSIS

1. Analysis

Analytical reports differ from informational reports in that they take the information that has been received one step further: they interpret the meaning of that information for the reader. Whereas informational reports present the facts to readers and allow the readers to interpret the results themselves, analytical reports tell readers specifically what this information means. Analytical reports generally attempt to solve problems by evaluating the situation and/or providing options.

Depending upon the focus and scope of the report, an analytical report can do any of the following:

  • evaluate
  • compare
  • interpret
  • diagnose
  • recommend

There are two common types of analytical reports: evaluation and feasibility reports. Evaluations are based on the current status, whereas feasibility reports investigate the possibilities of change. Often if an evaluation report shows that there could be improvements made, a feasibility study would investigate the availability and benefits of the possible improvements. Both of these elements can be combined into one report, but it is best that the report writer keeps a clear understanding of the differences between these two types of analytical reports. Sometimes report writers, when they find something lacking in their evaluation, make the mistake of assuming their proposed solutions are the best without subjecting these proposed solutions to the same scrutiny as their initial investigations.

The value of analytical reports is the quality of the analysis. Good analysis takes into account all of the relevant information. Even though there is a difference between informational reports and analytical reports in the extent that they explain the information, analytical reports rely on accurate, comprehensive and complete information.

Part of the challenge of analytical reports is to utilize language that appropriately reflects the report writer's analysis of the situation. But most analytical reports must also persuade readers that the report writer's analysis is correct. There are usually a number of options for each situation. What gives value to a report is not only that the evaluation that the report writer is suggesting is correct, but that the reader is convinced of the appropriateness of the evaluation and acts upon this evaluation so that the value of the evaluation is realized. While nothing is as convincing as good information, the language used to explain the information can help put the facts in the appropriate light.

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2. Analytical Process

The organization of analytical reports is an extension of the principles of the informational report in many ways. When it comes to presenting the analysis in the report, there are two approaches that are often used: inductive and deductive.

Inductive organization is often called the indirect approach. It looks at the situation, gathers all the information and, from the information, makes a suggestion.

Deductive organization is often called the direct approach. It takes what it believes is the best solution and gathers and presents information so that it supports the proposed solution. Both approaches can have the same effect, the challenge of the report writer is to choose the method that best suits the report.

The following is an example that demonstrates the difference between inductive and deductive organization.

Let's say a summer school was opening for students or high school students who wanted to study in the summer. The organizers wonder if they should provide a bus service, help those who attend organize car pools, or let students arrange their own way to get to school.

A report that is organized using the inductive method would look at each of these three options, consider the cost and impact of each to the success of the school, look at the concentration of students and distance they are from the school, and weigh the long term and short term benefits, and then make recommendations. That recommendation might be that the school should provide buses.

A report that is organized using a deductive method would take the eventual recommendation (that the school should provide buses) state these at the beginning of the report and structure the report so that it directly reinforces this recommendation throughout the report.

Determining which approach is appropriate for your report requires a good understanding of the intended audience and the judgment to determine which strategy best suits the purpose of the report.

    Click here to return to Outline for Report Types.

BASIC REPORTS

1. Event-Based

Basic event reports generally provide information about a particular situation. These include accident reports, trip reports, inspection reports, conference reports, short investigations and test reports. They are generally short, but their length is determined by the information that is required.

It is important to keep in mind the purpose for each of these reports. The purpose will often determine your focus and the information that you need in your report. An accident report for the same incident to an insurance company will probably be different than one to a manager in charge of safety for the company. Then, again, they could be the same: it would depend upon the requirements for each.

a) Summary

The Summary is always a synopsis of the important information contained in the report. For basic informational reports, they are often short and to the point.

b) Background

The Background generally describes the circumstances that led up to the event and the aspect of the event that the report will cover. This section provides the who, what, where and when of the report. Specific information provides the reader with exact details. (poor: Last week I went to a convention in Chicago; better: On April 15 I attended the Report Writers' Annual Convention in Chicago.)

c) Details

The Details section explains the important and relevant details of the event. The challenge for the writers is to be selective, but not to leave any relevant information out.

d) Conclusions

The Conclusions sum up the results of the event and may indicate if any follow up actions are required.

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2. Time-Related

Time-related reports are generated usually during specific time frames. For instance, you may have to give a status report on a periodic basis so that the company for which you work knows your activity and can make plans accordingly. As well, for particular projects that may take awhile to complete, progress reports may be required at certain intervals to ensure that the project is being completed at the appropriate rate and so that problems can be dealt with in a timely fashion.

a) Summary

The Summary is always a synopsis of the important information contained in the report. Any major events or changes should be indicated in the Summary.

b) Background

The Background describes, in whatever detail is required for your audience, the project or activities in which you are involved and the period that the report will cover.

c) Details

The Details section reports on the work that has been done, the work that still needs to done, any problems affecting your work and changes that have occurred.

d) Conclusions

The Conclusions for progress or periodic reports make comment on any assumed schedules or completion dates, either confirming or amending the dates. For periodic reports, sometimes comments will be made as to the next tasks after completion of those covered in the report.

 

3. Report Sample

Click here to view a sample of a basic report (Progress Report).

Click here to return to Outline for Report Types.

COMPREHENSIVE REPORTS

1. Proposals

Not all comprehensive reports are long; they may be short, memo or letter reports. What differentiates basic reports from comprehensive reports is the treatment of the information provided. Generally, comprehensive reports make comment on the information, are persuasive or provide some analysis.

When people think of proposals, two different concepts come to mind. The first is a proposal to begin the process of investigation, and the second is a proposal to adopt a certain suggestion after some investigation has occurred. While a proposal to begin the process might occur after some preliminary investigation, the investigation would be more likely tentative and in the idea phase, rather than in the solution phase. This section will deal with proposals to begin a process. The second type of proposal is included in the Investigation section.

Proposals are principally persuasive documents. They attempt to receive approval to begin a process, generally to clarify or solve a problem. As we know from experience, the language we use when we are trying to persuade someone is always important. When we are writing a proposal to begin a process, we must somehow instill the belief in the people reading the report, and ultimately making the decision, that we are competent enough to do the job. This cannot be done with language alone; you must provide solid content as a foundation upon which others can build their belief.

Some proposals are unsolicited, and based upon an idea you may have or an opportunity you perceive, and other proposals may be solicited from those who have the authority to proceed and recognize that there is certain need. Your message must be adapted to the circumstances that are responsible for the proposal.

a) Summary

The Summary should include a clear statement of what your proposal is and the important details of the process that you are proposing to begin (for example, proposed starting date, proposed completion date, etc).

b) Background

Generally, a clear identification of what the problem is, some background into the situation and a rational for proceeding.

c) Details

The Details section is where you put together the approach and plan for the process that you wish to embark upon. You should be clear about what you hope to accomplish, and how you hope to accomplish it. You should be clear about any limitations or restrictions. You may want to address the benefits of proceeding in the manner your proposal is suggesting, if the situation requires it. You should propose as comprehensive as possible schedule of completion dates and methods of communicating status. The more comprehensive it is, the more you are persuading your reader of your competence. Of course, the plan and dates should reflect reality.

d) Conclusions

The Conclusions merely seek approval and incorporate methods of relaying approval, and pertinent dates and times if they are applicable (for example, reply deadlines, scheduled meetings to discuss the report, etc.). For longer proposals, some of this information can be included in the cover letter.

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2. Investigations

All reports require some form of investigation. Comprehensive investigative reports generally provide some analysis and recommendations as well. These reports include feasibility studies, evaluations, proposals and experiments. Comprehensive investigative reports generally propose action of one form or another, whether it is to aid in the decision making process or implement a new procedure or system. These reports can be short, but make up the largest percentage of formal reports that are written.

a) Summary

The Summary is a synopsis of the report and should include the purpose of the report, the main findings and any conclusions or recommendations in the report.

b) Background

The Background describes the problem or situation, explains the purpose of the report, and indicates the scope of the report.

c) Details

The Details section should include a description of the approach to the investigation and analysis of the situation or problem. This section should present the findings of the investigation in a clear and organized way. This part of the report might outline alternatives, suggestions or approaches to addressing the situation or solving the problem. The Details section would also present some discussion and evaluation on these potential solutions, which might include the benefits and drawbacks.

d) Conclusions

The Conclusions section generally restates the major findings of the report, and makes any suggestions or recommendations that should be adopted. Recommendations should be clear and specific; use definite terms rather than broad and general ones.

e) Attachments

There can be attachments for any type of report that you write, but they will most likely be necessary for comprehensive, investigative reports because these type of reports generally seek to convince the reader and therefore require supporting documents as proof of the statements made in the report. These documents should always be neatly packaged,well explained and referred to in the body of the report.

 

3. Report Sample

Click here to view a sample of a comprehensive report (Proposal).

 

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