What Are Business and Technical Reports?
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- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
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A report is a document that presents information in an organized format for a specific audience and purpose . Although summaries of reports may be delivered orally, complete reports are almost always in the form of written documents.
In "Contemporary Business Reports," Kuiper and Clippinger define business reports as "organized, objective presentations of observations, experiences, or facts used in the decision-making process."
Sharma and Mohan, in their book "Business Correspondence and Report Writing," define a technical report as "a written statement of the facts of a situation, project, process or test; how these facts were ascertained; their significance; the conclusions that have been drawn from them; and [in some cases] the recommendations that are being made."
Types of reports include memos , minutes, lab reports, book reports , progress reports, justification reports, compliance reports, annual reports, and policies and procedures.
Purpose of Business and Technical Reports
In "Business Communication: A Framework for Success," H. Dan O'Hair, James S. O'Rourke, and Mary John O'Hair, explain the four primary purposes of business reports.
"Reports can fulfill four different, and sometimes related, functions. They can be used as controls to ensure that all departments are functioning properly, to give information, to provide an analysis, and to persuade others to act."
Characteristics of Effective Reports
In "Contemporary Business Reports," Shirley Kuiper and Dorinda Clippinger provide insight into effective business communications.
"Effective reports are understood by the reader as the writer intended, and they influence the reader to act as the writer desired. The writer's objectives are most likely to be achieved if they correspond with the needs and objectives of the reader. An effective report is empathetic, accurate, complete, concise , and clear . Above all, an effective report presents information ethically."
Connecting With Your Audience
Warren Buffet, in the Foreword to " A Plain English Handbook ", shares his advice on how to best communicate in business reports.
"One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway's annual report, I pretend that I'm talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English , but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don't need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform."
Business Reports Can Be Long or Short
As described by John M. Lannon in "Technical Communication," along with the length of reports, the purpose and scope of reports differ.
"In the professional world, decision-makers rely on two broad types of reports: Some reports focus primarily on information ('what we're doing now,' 'what we did last month,' 'what our customer survey found,' 'what went on at the department meeting'). But beyond merely providing information, many reports also include analysis ('what this information means for us,' 'what courses of action should be considered,' 'what we recommend, and why')."
"For every long (formal) report, countless short (informal) reports lead to informed decisions on matters as diverse as the most comfortable office chairs to buy to the best recruit to hire for management training. Unlike long reports, most short reports require no extended planning, are quickly prepared, contain little or no background information, and have no front or end matter (title page, table of contents, glossary, etc). But despite their conciseness , short reports do provide the information and analysis that readers need."
- Kuiper, Shirley, and Dorinda A. Clippinger. Contemporary Business Reports. 5th ed., South-Western, Cengage Learning, 2013.
- Lannon, John M., and Laura J. Gurak. Technical Communication. 14th ed., Pearson, January 14, 2017.
- A Plain English Handbook - How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents. Office of Investor Education and Assistance., Aug. 1998, b-ok.cc/book/2657251/448dd1.
- O'Hair, Dan, et al. Business Communication: a Framework for Success. South-Western College Publishing, 2000.
- Sharma, R. C., and Krishna Mohan. Business Correspondence and Report Writing: a Practical Approach to Business & Technical Communication . Tata McGraw-Hill, 2017.
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- What Is a Memorandum? Definition and Examples
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Guide to Technical Report Writing
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School of Engineering and Informatics (for staff and students)
Table of contents
2 structure, 3 presentation, 4 planning the report, 5 writing the first draft, 6 revising the first draft, 7 diagrams, graphs, tables and mathematics, 8 the report layout, 10 references to diagrams, graphs, tables and equations, 11 originality and plagiarism, 12 finalising the report and proofreading, 13 the summary, 14 proofreading, 15 word processing / desktop publishing, 16 recommended reading.
A technical report is a formal report designed to convey technical information in a clear and easily accessible format. It is divided into sections which allow different readers to access different levels of information. This guide explains the commonly accepted format for a technical report; explains the purposes of the individual sections; and gives hints on how to go about drafting and refining a report in order to produce an accurate, professional document.
A technical report should contain the following sections;
For technical reports required as part of an assessment, the following presentation guidelines are recommended;
There are some excellent textbooks contain advice about the writing process and how to begin (see Section 16 ). Here is a checklist of the main stages;
- Collect your information. Sources include laboratory handouts and lecture notes, the University Library, the reference books and journals in the Department office. Keep an accurate record of all the published references which you intend to use in your report, by noting down the following information; Journal article: author(s) title of article name of journal (italic or underlined) year of publication volume number (bold) issue number, if provided (in brackets) page numbers Book: author(s) title of book (italic or underlined) edition, if appropriate publisher year of publication N.B. the listing of recommended textbooks in section 2 contains all this information in the correct format.
- Creative phase of planning. Write down topics and ideas from your researched material in random order. Next arrange them into logical groups. Keep note of topics that do not fit into groups in case they come in useful later. Put the groups into a logical sequence which covers the topic of your report.
- Structuring the report. Using your logical sequence of grouped ideas, write out a rough outline of the report with headings and subheadings.
N.B. the listing of recommended textbooks in Section 16 contains all this information in the correct format.
Who is going to read the report? For coursework assignments, the readers might be fellow students and/or faculty markers. In professional contexts, the readers might be managers, clients, project team members. The answer will affect the content and technical level, and is a major consideration in the level of detail required in the introduction.
Begin writing with the main text, not the introduction. Follow your outline in terms of headings and subheadings. Let the ideas flow; do not worry at this stage about style, spelling or word processing. If you get stuck, go back to your outline plan and make more detailed preparatory notes to get the writing flowing again.
Make rough sketches of diagrams or graphs. Keep a numbered list of references as they are included in your writing and put any quoted material inside quotation marks (see Section 11 ).
Write the Conclusion next, followed by the Introduction. Do not write the Summary at this stage.
This is the stage at which your report will start to take shape as a professional, technical document. In revising what you have drafted you must bear in mind the following, important principle;
- the essence of a successful technical report lies in how accurately and concisely it conveys the intended information to the intended readership.
During year 1, term 1 you will be learning how to write formal English for technical communication. This includes examples of the most common pitfalls in the use of English and how to avoid them. Use what you learn and the recommended books to guide you. Most importantly, when you read through what you have written, you must ask yourself these questions;
- Does that sentence/paragraph/section say what I want and mean it to say? If not, write it in a different way.
- Are there any words/sentences/paragraphs which could be removed without affecting the information which I am trying to convey? If so, remove them.
It is often the case that technical information is most concisely and clearly conveyed by means other than words. Imagine how you would describe an electrical circuit layout using words rather than a circuit diagram. Here are some simple guidelines;
The appearance of a report is no less important than its content. An attractive, clearly organised report stands a better chance of being read. Use a standard, 12pt, font, such as Times New Roman, for the main text. Use different font sizes, bold, italic and underline where appropriate but not to excess. Too many changes of type style can look very fussy.
Use heading and sub-headings to break up the text and to guide the reader. They should be based on the logical sequence which you identified at the planning stage but with enough sub-headings to break up the material into manageable chunks. The use of numbering and type size and style can clarify the structure as follows;
- In the main text you must always refer to any diagram, graph or table which you use.
- Label diagrams and graphs as follows; Figure 1.2 Graph of energy output as a function of wave height. In this example, the second diagram in section 1 would be referred to by "...see figure 1.2..."
- Label tables in a similar fashion; Table 3.1 Performance specifications of a range of commercially available GaAsFET devices In this example, the first table in section 3 might be referred to by "...with reference to the performance specifications provided in Table 3.1..."
- Number equations as follows; F(dB) = 10*log 10 (F) (3.6) In this example, the sixth equation in section 3 might be referred to by "...noise figure in decibels as given by eqn (3.6)..."
Whenever you make use of other people's facts or ideas, you must indicate this in the text with a number which refers to an item in the list of references. Any phrases, sentences or paragraphs which are copied unaltered must be enclosed in quotation marks and referenced by a number. Material which is not reproduced unaltered should not be in quotation marks but must still be referenced. It is not sufficient to list the sources of information at the end of the report; you must indicate the sources of information individually within the report using the reference numbering system.
Information that is not referenced is assumed to be either common knowledge or your own work or ideas; if it is not, then it is assumed to be plagiarised i.e. you have knowingly copied someone else's words, facts or ideas without reference, passing them off as your own. This is a serious offence . If the person copied from is a fellow student, then this offence is known as collusion and is equally serious. Examination boards can, and do, impose penalties for these offences ranging from loss of marks to disqualification from the award of a degree
This warning applies equally to information obtained from the Internet. It is very easy for markers to identify words and images that have been copied directly from web sites. If you do this without acknowledging the source of your information and putting the words in quotation marks then your report will be sent to the Investigating Officer and you may be called before a disciplinary panel.
Your report should now be nearly complete with an introduction, main text in sections, conclusions, properly formatted references and bibliography and any appendices. Now you must add the page numbers, contents and title pages and write the summary.
The summary, with the title, should indicate the scope of the report and give the main results and conclusions. It must be intelligible without the rest of the report. Many people may read, and refer to, a report summary but only a few may read the full report, as often happens in a professional organisation.
- Purpose - a short version of the report and a guide to the report.
- Length - short, typically not more than 100-300 words
- Content - provide information, not just a description of the report.
This refers to the checking of every aspect of a piece of written work from the content to the layout and is an absolutely necessary part of the writing process. You should acquire the habit of never sending or submitting any piece of written work, from email to course work, without at least one and preferably several processes of proofreading. In addition, it is not possible for you, as the author of a long piece of writing, to proofread accurately yourself; you are too familiar with what you have written and will not spot all the mistakes.
When you have finished your report, and before you staple it, you must check it very carefully yourself. You should then give it to someone else, e.g. one of your fellow students, to read carefully and check for any errors in content, style, structure and layout. You should record the name of this person in your acknowledgements.
Two useful tips;
- Do not bother with style and formatting of a document until the penultimate or final draft.
- Do not try to get graphics finalised until the text content is complete.
- Davies J.W. Communication Skills - A Guide for Engineering and Applied Science Students (2nd ed., Prentice Hall, 2001)
- van Emden J. Effective communication for Science and Technology (Palgrave 2001)
- van Emden J. A Handbook of Writing for Engineers 2nd ed. (Macmillan 1998)
- van Emden J. and Easteal J. Technical Writing and Speaking, an Introduction (McGraw-Hill 1996)
- Pfeiffer W.S. Pocket Guide to Technical Writing (Prentice Hall 1998)
- Eisenberg A. Effective Technical Communication (McGraw-Hill 1992)
Updated and revised by the Department of Engineering & Design, November 2022
School Office: School of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex, Chichester 1 Room 002, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QJ [email protected] T 01273 (67) 8195 School Office opening hours: School Office open Monday – Friday 09:00-15:00, phone lines open Monday-Friday 09:00-17:00 School Office location [PDF 1.74MB]
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How to Write Business & Technical Reports
by Ruth Mayhew
Published on 8 May 2019
One of the common forms of communication in business and science is report writing. Writing business and technical reports requires writing and organizational skills, research capabilities and the ability to interpret data and present it in a manner that experts can appreciate yet a layperson can understand. Business and technical reports have many of the same elements, therefore, the main difference between business reports and technical reports is generally the subject matter.
1. Decide Who is the Audience
Determine your audience and how your business and technical information will be disseminated. Whether you're writing a business and technical report for a group of experts or sharing your business expertise with a group of students, knowing your audience will help in constructing an informative, well-received report. Decide if your report is simply a written form of communication or a multimedia presentation. If you have use of technology that benefits the presentation, by all means incorporate charts, slides, video or other ways to illustrate some of the points of your report.
2. Do Your Research
Conduct research on types of business reports and technical reports. Review sample reports and templates to become familiar with the type of information expected in your own business communication.
3. Prepare an Outline
Outline your topic and include subtopics to assist with the research process. Prepare an outline to keep your focus on each section and help you avoid meandering, which can produce a disorganized presentation. Typical business or technical reports include the following sections: introduction; qualifications and topic background; research data; conclusions; and future considerations.
4. Prepare the First Draft
Draft the first substantive section of your business or technical report. Start with describing your qualifications, interests and reasons why your information is valuable. Explain how your audience can utilize your information or how your data should be interpreted. You're not telling your audience how to perceive your findings or how to form opinions about your report. Instead, your report should begin with the context of your information.
For example, if you are writing about workplace trends concerning telecommuting, explain how companies can use your findings to formulate telecommuter arrangements.
5. Assemble Research Findings and Data
Organizing your research is extremely important because your audience will question your expertise if you present unreliable, outdated or invalid findings. Ensure your data is especially relevant to your topic and restructure it in a way that's understandable. Unless your audience is comprised only of experts with deep knowledge of technical and business jargon, keep your research simple. Substitute jargon with terms that are familiar to the layperson, and summarize your research in an engaging manner.
6. Articulate Your Conclusions
Prepare a discussion of your findings, including your conclusions and suggested ways to incorporate your report into business or technical processes. Without being disjointed, articulate your findings in an innovative and creative manner. Business and technical reports sometimes have a reputation for being staid and conservative. You can inspire creative use of your report through showing data that forward-thinking audiences can use.
7. Assemble the Document
Assemble the sections of your document in logical order. Write a short introduction after you've completed every section--it's often easier to compose an introduction once you have a chance to review your overall draft. Your introduction should be concise--the purpose of your introduction is to simply provide your audience with a glimpse of your business or technical report topic.
8. Refine and Edit
Allow yourself time to refine and edit your report. It's a good idea to put the report aside and return to it a day or two later with a fresh set of eyes. If possible, ask a colleague to review your draft. Incorporate any suggestions you feel add to the credibility and usability of your information.
How do I write a Technical Report?
A technical report can be described as "a written scientific document that conveys information about technical research in an objective and fact-based manner". Technical writing shares many similarities with business writing however the main difference is in terms of purpose.
Technical reports typically focus on standard operating procedures, instructional guides and manuals, safety reports, troubleshooting analysis, specifications, etc. Technical reports are often targeted at specific audiences such as developers, technical specialists, and programmers.
Business reports tend to have wider audiences such as organizational clients, employees, and shareholders, which tend to require professional but common language, easily understood by multiple recipients.
When writing technical reports, it is not only useful but expected for specific professional verbiage and technical language to be used, based on the needs of the audience.
Technical writing should be concise and precise. By following the 5 C's, you can craft a technical report that meets the needs of your audience.
- Correct: Writing should be grammatically and technically correct. Run your paper through Grammarly to catch common grammatical issues. Additionally, proofread your report to catch any numerical or technical errors. For example, if your report says "the automobile weighs 400 pounds" instead of 4,000 pounds, your report would be inaccurate. As a rule, it's best to always double check numbers, specifications, and other technical reporting for accuracy.
- Clear: Statements in your report should only have one interpretation. In other words, they should be straightforward and not ambiguous. It may be beneficial to add charts, graphs, and images to ensure clarity and reduce potential ambiguity.
- Concise: Eliminate unnecessary words and ensure the words you use are specific, concise and direct. For example instead of "The system has many errors, most of which can be easily addressed", you might write "The system has 11 errors, 9 of which can be easily addressed."
- Complete: Ensure your report includes all relevant and necessary information for the audience. For example, if you are using acronyms but leave out the definition, it may be difficult your audience to follow along. Or if you are writing a standard operating procedure but leave out a critical step, the report will be incomplete.
- Consistent: When writing a technical report, you will want to ensure that your report does not contradict itself. For example, if more than one term can be used for an item or process, choose one and use only that one in your report.
For additional guidelines on specific assignment expectations, please reach out to your Instructor.
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Technical report writing
A quick guide to writing technical reports in Engineering.
The main purpose of an Engineering technical report is to present a solution to a problem in order to prompt action. Technical reports provide a record of your developing expertise and are a legal record of your work and decision making.
What is a technical report?
Technical reports are a central part of your professional success and are usually designed to:
- Convince the reader of your position
- Persuade them to act, or
- Inform them of your findings.
They are an opportunity for you to:
- Clearly communicate a solution to a problem
- Recommend action, and
- Aid decision making.
Technical reports are designed for quick and easy communication of information, and use:
- Sections with numbered headings and subheadings, and
- Figures and diagrams to convey data.
How do I structure a technical report?
Regardless of the specific purpose of your technical report, the structure and conventions rarely differ. Check your subject requirements and expand the sections below to learn more about each section. Download a Technical Report template here.
Technical reports usually require a title page. To know what to include, follow the conventions required in your subject.
A technical report summary (or abstract) should include a brief overview of your investigation, outcomes and recommendations. It must include all the key information your reader needs to make a decision, without them having to read your full report. Don’t treat your summary as an introduction; it should act as a stand-alone document.
Tip: Write your summary last.
Help your reader quickly and easily find what they are looking for by using informative headings and careful numbering of your sections and sub-sections. For example:
A technical report introduction:
- provides context for the problem being addressed,
- discusses relevant previous research, and
- states your aim or hypothesis.
To help, consider these questions:
- What have you investigated?
- How does your study fit into the current literature?
- What have previous studies found in the area?
- Why is it worth investigating?
- What was the experiment about?
- Why did you do it?
- What did you expect to learn from it?
The body of a technical report is structured according to the needs of your reader and the nature of the project. The writer decides how to structure it and what to include.
To help, ask yourself:
- What does the reader need to know first?
- What is the most logical way to develop the story of the project?
Tip: look at other technical reports in your discipline to see what they’ve included and in what order.
Technical reports include a mixture of text, tables, figures and formulae. Consider how you can present the information best for your reader. Would a table or figure help to convey your ideas more effectively than a paragraph describing the same data?
Figures and tables should:
- Be numbered
- Be referred to in-text, e.g. In Table 1 …, and
- Include a simple descriptive label - above a table and below a figure.
Equations and formulae should be:
- Referred to in-text, e.g. See Eq 1 for …
- Centred on the page, and
- On a separate line.
Your conclusion should mirror your introduction.
Be sure to:
- Refer to your aims
- Summarise your key findings, and
- State your major outcomes and highlight their significance.
If your technical report includes recommendations for action. You could choose to report these as a bullet point list. When giving an answer to your problem, be sure to include any limitations to your findings.
Your recommendations can be presented in two ways:
- Action statements e.g. Type approval should be issued for tunnel ventilation fans.
- Conditional statements e.g. If fan blades are painted with an anti-corrosion coating system, it is likely that… e.g. The research has found that the fan hub should be constructed from forged steel and the fan housing should be constructed from hot dipped galvanised steel, but future research…
Acknowledge all the information and ideas you’ve incorporated from other sources into your paper using a consistent referencing style. This includes data, tables and figures. Learn more about specific referencing conventions here: https://library.unimelb.edu.au/recite
If you have data that is too detailed or lengthy to include in the report itself, include it in the appendix. Your reader can then choose to refer to it if they are interested. Label your appendix with a number or a letter, a title, and refer to it the text, e.g. For a full list of construction phases, see Appendix A.
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Business Communication - How to Write a Powerful Business Report
Business communication -, how to write a powerful business report, business communication how to write a powerful business report.
Business Communication: How to Write a Powerful Business Report
Lesson 8: how to write a powerful business report.
How to write a powerful business report
When a company needs to make an informed decision, it can create a business report to guide its leaders. Business reports use facts and research to study data, analyze performance, and provide recommendations on a company's future.
Watch the video below to learn how to write and format a business report.
The basics of a business report
Business reports are always formal , objective , and heavily researched . Every fact must be clear and verifiable, regardless of whether the report focuses on a single situation or examines the overall performance of an entire company.
Because objectivity is crucial in a business report, avoid subjective descriptions that tell the reader how to feel. For instance, if sales were down last quarter, don’t say “Sales were terrible last quarter,” but rather let the sales data speak for itself. There should also be no personal pronouns, such as “I think we should invest more capital.” A business report should remain impersonal and framed from the company’s perspective.
The structure of a business report
Although the size of a report can range from one page to 100, structure is always important because it allows readers to navigate the document easily. While this structure can vary due to report length or company standards, we’ve listed a common, reliable structure below:
- Front matter : List your name, job title, contact information, and the date of submission. You can also create a title for the report.
- Background : State the background of the topic you’ll be addressing, along with the purpose of the report itself.
- Key findings : Provide facts , data , and key findings that are relevant to the purpose stated in the background. Be clear and specific, especially because the entire report depends on the information in this section.
- Conclusion : Summarize and interpret the key findings, identify issues found within the data, and answer questions raised by the purpose.
- Recommendations : Recommend solutions to any problems mentioned in the conclusion, and summarize how these solutions would work. Although you’re providing your own opinion in this section, avoid using personal pronouns and keep everything framed through the company’s perspective.
- References : List the sources for all the data you've cited throughout the report. This allows people to see where you got your information and investigate these same sources.
Some companies may also require an executive summary after the front matter section, which is a complete summary that includes the report’s background, key findings, and recommendations. This section lets people learn the highlights quickly without having to read the entire document. The size of an executive summary can range from a paragraph to multiple pages, depending on the length of the report.
As mentioned in Business Writing Essentials , revision is key to producing an effective document. Review your writing to keep it focused and free of proofreading errors, and ensure your factual information is correct and presented objectively. We also recommend you get feedback from a colleague before submitting your work because they can spot errors you missed or find new opportunities for analysis or discussion.
Once you’ve revised your content, think about the report’s appearance . Consider turning your front matter section into a cover page to add some visual polish. You can also create a table of contents if the report is lengthy. If you’re printing it out, use quality paper and a folder or binder to hold the report together. To diversify the presentation of your data, try using bulleted lists, graphics, and charts.
Example of a business report
To demonstrate the principles of this lesson, we’ve created a brief business report for you to review.
Let's start by looking at the first page of this two-page report.
The layout of the front matter is simple and effective, while the background sets the stage in a quick, specific manner. The key findings provide the main takeaways that warrant further investigation, along with a chart to add emphasis and visual variety.
Now let's look at the following page.
The conclusion features a little of the writer's opinion on the key findings, although the writing is still centered around the company's perspective. The recommendations are clear and supported by the data, while the references are thorough.
While business reports may seem intimidating, you have the ability to create a thorough, informative document through practice and careful research. Collect the facts and present them in an organized, objective manner, and you’ll help your business make informed decisions.
Module 2: Proposals and Reports
Technical reports (including handbooks and guides) have various designs depending on the industry, profession, or organization. This chapter shows you one traditional design. If you are taking a technical writing course, make sure the design presented in this chapter is acceptable. The same is true if you are writing a technical report in a science, business, or government context.
Specifications for reports involve layout, organization and content, format of headings and lists, the design of the graphics, and so on. The advantage of a required structure and format for reports is that you or anyone else can expect them to be designed in a familiar way—readers know what to look for and where to look for it. Reports are usually read quickly—people are in a hurry to get to the key facts, the conclusions, and other essential information. A report written in this standard format is like a familiar neighborhood.
When you analyze the design of a technical report, notice how repetitive some sections are. This duplication has to do with how people with different needs and job functions read reports. They don’t read reports straight through, and they may not read the entire report. For example, an executive may focus on the executive summary and skim a few other relevant sections because she only needs a broad overview to be familiar with the situation; her subordinates in the organization will be tasked with the detail work. They’re more likely to do a closer read of the report, but may still skim or skip the sections that they don’t need to read in order to function effectively in the organization. Your challenge is to design reports so that these readers encounter necessary key facts and conclusions, no matter how much of the report they read or in what order they read it.
You can view some example reports here.
The standard components of the typical technical report are discussed in this chapter. The following sections guide you through each of these components, pointing out the key features. As you read and use these guidelines, remember that these are guidelines, not commandments. Different companies, professions, and organizations have their own varied guidelines for reports—you’ll need to adapt your practice to those.
Letter of Transmittal
The transmittal letter is a cover letter. It is either attached to the outside of the report with a paper clip or is bound within the report. It is a communication from you—the report writer—to the recipient, the person who requested the report and who may even be paying you for your expert consultation. Essentially, it says “Okay, here’s the report that we agreed I’d complete by such-and-such a date. Briefly, it contains this and that, but does not cover this or that. Let me know if it meets your needs.” The transmittal letter explains the context—the events that brought the report about. It contains information about the report that does not belong in the report.
In the example of the transmittal letter in Figure 1, below, notice the standard business-letter format. If you write an internal report, use the memorandum format instead. (Recall from chapter one that letters are generally used for external communications; memos are appropriate for internal communications.) In either case, the contents and organization are the same.
First paragraph. Cites the name of the report, putting it in italics. It also mentions the date of the agreement to write the report.
Middle paragraph. Focuses on the purpose of the report and gives a brief overview of the contents.
Final paragraph. Encourages the reader to get in touch if there are questions, comments, or concerns. It closes with a gesture of good will, expressing hope that the reader finds the report satisfactory.
As with any other element in a report, you may have to modify the contents of this letter (or memo) for specific situations. For example, you might want to add another paragraph, listing questions you’d like readers to consider as they review the report.
Figure 1. Transmittal letter and report cover (with cover label).
Cover and Label
If your report is over ten pages, bind it in some way and create a label for the cover.
Covers give reports a solid, professional look as well as protection. You can choose from many types of covers, but the best are those that allow reports to lie open by themselves. This type uses a plastic spiral for the binding and thick, card-stock paper for the covers. Check with your local copy shop for these types of bindings; they are inexpensive and add to the professionalism of your work. Figure 1, above, shows a simulated example of a plastic spiral binding.
Be sure to devise a label for the cover of your report. It’s a step that some report writers forget. Without a label, a report is anonymous; it gets ignored.
The best way to create a label is to use your word-processing software to design one on a standard page with a graphic box around the label information. Print it out, then go to a copy shop and have it photocopied directly onto the report cover.
The label should contain only the report title, your name, your organization’s name, a report tracking number, and a date. There are no standard requirements for the label, although your company or organization should have its own requirements. (An example of a report label is shown below.)
Abstract and Executive Summary
Most technical reports contain at least one abstract—sometimes two, in which case the abstracts play different roles. Abstracts summarize the contents of a report, but the different types do so in different ways:
- Descriptive abstract. This type provides an overview of the purpose and contents of the report. In some report designs, the descriptive abstract is placed at the bottom of the title page, as shown in Figure 2, below.
Figure 2. Report title page with descriptive abstract. (Traditionally, the abstract is placed on the title page (not the cover page).
- Executive summary. Another common type is the executive summary, which also summarizes the key facts and conclusions contained in the report. See the example shown in Figure 3, below. It’s as if you used a yellow highlighter to mark the key sentences in the report and then siphoned them all out onto a separate page and edited them for readability. Typically, executive summaries are one-tenth to one-twentieth the length of reports ten to fifty pages long. For longer reports, those over fifty pages, the executive summary should not go over two pages. The point of the executive summary is to provide a synopsis of the contents, something that can be read quickly.
If the executive summary, introduction, and transmittal letter strike you as repetitive, remember that readers don’t necessarily start at the beginning of a report and read page by page to the end. They skip around: they may scan the table of contents; they usually skim the executive summary for key facts and conclusions. They may read carefully only a section or two from the body of the report and then skip the rest. For these reasons, reports are designed with some duplication so that readers will be sure to see the important information no matter where they dip into the report.
Table of Contents
You’re probably familiar with tables of contents (TOC) but may never have stopped to look at their design. The TOC shows readers what topics are covered in the report, how those topics are discussed (the subtopics), and on which page numbers those sections and subsections start.
In creating a TOC, you have a number of design decisions:
- Levels of headings to include. In longer reports, consider including only the top two levels of headings. This keeps the TOC from becoming long and unwieldy. The TOC should provide an at-a-glance way of finding information in the report quickly.
- Indentation, spacing, and capitalization. Notice in Figure 3, below, that items in each of the three levels of headings are aligned with each other. Although you can’t see it in the illustration, page numbers are right-aligned with each other. Notice also the capitalization: Main chapters or sections are all caps; first-level headings use initial caps on each main word; lower-level sections use initial caps on the first word only.
- Vertical spacing. Notice that the first-level sections have extra space above and below, which increases readability.
One final note: Make sure the words in the TOC are the same as they are in the text. As you write and revise, you might change some of the headings—don’t forget to change the TOC accordingly.
Figure 3. Table of Contents (which comes first) then the Executive Summary.
This TOC uses decimal-numbering style for the chapter and section numbers, which is common in reports.
List of Figures and Tables
The list of figures has many of the same design considerations as the table of contents. Readers use the list of figures to find the illustrations, diagrams, tables, and charts in your report.
Complications arise when you have both tables and figures. Strictly speaking, figures are illustrations, drawings, photographs, graphs, and charts. Tables are rows and columns of words and numbers; they are not considered figures.
For longer reports that contain dozens of figures and tables each, create separate lists of figures and tables. Put them together on the same page if they fit, as shown in the illustration below. You can combine the two lists under the heading, “List of Figures and Tables,” and identify the items as figures or tables, as is done in Figure 4, below.
An essential element of any report is its introduction—make sure you are clear on its real purpose and contents. In a technical report, the introduction prepares the reader to read the main body of the report.
Figure 4. List of figures and tables followed by the introduction. If there are no tables, make it “List of Figures.” In a technical writing course, ask your instructor if the decimal-numbering style for headings is required.
Body of the report
The body of the report is of course the main text of the report, the sections between the introduction and conclusion. Report pages contain or make use of the elements listed below. See Figure 5, also below, for an illustration of sample pages.
In all but the shortest reports (two pages or less), use headings to indicate the different topics and subtopics covered. Headings enable readers to skim your report and dip down at those points to find pertinent information they want.
Bulleted and Numbered Lists
In the body of a report, also use bulleted, numbered, and two-column lists where appropriate. Lists help by emphasizing key points, by making information easier to follow, and by breaking up solid walls of text.
Symbols, Numbers, and Abbreviations
Technical discussions ordinarily contain lots of symbols, numbers, and abbreviations. Remember that the rules for using numerals as opposed to words are different in the technical world. The old rule about writing out all numbers below 10 does not always apply in technical reports.
Figure 5. Excerpt from the body of a technical report. In a technical writing course, ask your instructor if the decimal-numbering style for headings is required. Also, a different documentation system, such as MLA or APA, may be required. The IEEE documentation system is for engineers.
Graphics and Figure Titles
In technical report, you’re likely to need drawings, diagrams, tables , and charts. These not only convey certain kinds of information more efficiently but also give your report an added look of professionalism and authority. If you’ve never put these kinds of graphics into a report, there are some relatively easy ways to do so—you don’t need to be a professional graphic artist. Graphics are covered in more detail in Module 3 of this course.
You may need to point readers to closely related information within your report, or to other books and reports that have useful information. These are called cross-references. For example, they can point readers from the discussion of a mechanism to an illustration of it. They can point readers to an appendix where background on a topic is given (background that just does not fit in the text). And they can point readers outside your report to other information—to articles, reports, and books that contain information related to yours. When you create cross-references, follow these guidelines presented in cross-references. Electronic documents of course present a more convenient method of cross-referencing, in the form of hyperlinks .
For most reports, you’ll need to include a final section. When you plan the final section of your report, think about the functions it can perform in relation to the rest of the report. The conclusion may be a very tight summary of the major elements of the report, a final summation of your analysis of the situation, or whatever you need it to be, depending on the type of report you are writing. But it should give the reader a feeling of closure, a sense that the story has come to an end.
Appendixes are those extra sections following the conclusion. What do you put in appendixes?— anything that does not comfortably fit in the main part of the report but cannot be left out of the report altogether. The appendix is commonly used for large tables of data, big chunks of sample code, fold-out maps, background that is too basic or too advanced for the body of the report, or large illustrations that just do not fit in the body of the report. Anything that you feel is too large for the main part of the report or that you think would be distracting and interrupt the flow of the report is a good candidate for an appendix. Note that appendixes are identified by letter (Appendix A, B, C, and so on).
Documenting your information sources is all about establishing, maintaining, and protecting your credibility in the profession. You must cite borrowed information regardless of the shape or form in which you present it. Whether you directly quote it, paraphrase it, summarize it or use it in a graphic—it’s still borrowed information. Whether it comes from a book, article, diagram, table, web page, product brochure, or an expert whom you interview in person—it’s still borrowed information.
Documentation systems vary according to professionals and fields. Engineers use the IEEE system, examples of which are shown throughout this chapter. Another commonly used documentation system is provided by the American Psychological Association (APA) The MLA format comes from the Modern Language Association and is frequently used in academia, particularly in the humanities.
The page-numbering style used in traditional report design differs slightly from contemporary report design. In the traditional design, all pages before the introduction (first page of the body of the report) use lowercase Roman numerals; after the introduction, Arabic numerals are used. In the contemporary design, all pages throughout the document use Arabic numerals.
In both traditional and contemporary design, all pages in the report (everything between the front and back covers) are numbered, but on some pages, the numbers are not displayed. Special pages, such as the title page and page one of the introduction, do not display page numbers.
Page numbers can be placed in one of several areas on the page. Usually, the best and easiest choice is to place page numbers at the bottom center of the page (remember to hide them on special pages). If you place page numbers at the top of the page, the right-hand corner is better than the center of the page. Many word-processing programs give you a choice of headers that include page number options. Choose one that will not interfere with chapter or section openers, and remember to hide page numbers on special pages.
Note: Longer reports often use the page-numbering style known as folio-by-chapter or double-enumeration (for example, pages in Chapter 2 would be numbered 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, and so on). Similarly, tables and figures would use this numbering style. This style eases the process of adding and deleting pages.
- This chapter is a derivative of Online Technical Writing by Dr. David McMurrey, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Located at : https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/ . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike . License Terms : Technical Writing Essentials by Kim Wozencraft is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise indicated.