Chapter 16: REPORT WRITING

  • A report — is an important form of business communication.
  • Is an account of something that happened in the past
  • Re = back; portare = to carry.
  • A report = a formal communication written for a specific purpose, conveying authentic info in a completely impartial/objective manner.
  • A good report is — (a) well analysed & argued. (b) written in appropriate & correct English.
  • 3 stages — planning, organizing & writing.

SALIENT FEATURES

  • A formal piece of writing
  • A factual account
  • Written for a specific purpose
  • Written in an organized manner
  • Written for a specific audience
  • Written in an objective manner
  • Includes only relevant information

SIGNIFICANCE

  • Helps professionals plan, execute, manage & evaluate business activities effectively.
  • Facilitates the flow of information to ensure smooth execution of tasks.
  • Serves as a record of facts & as a repository of information.
  • Enables the authorities to take timely decisions.
  • Helpful in creating awareness among shareholders & other investors about the market position of the company.

ORAL VERSUS WRITTEN REPORTS

ORAL                                                             WRITTEN   

Presented face to face                                    Not necessarily

Easy for the speaker                                        Easy for the reader

Ephemeral                                                       Permanent record

Immediate clarification is possible                 Not possible

Less accurate & reliable                                 More accurate & reliable

Informal                                                         Formal 

INFORMAL & FORMAL REPORTS

  • Informal Report
  • Informal style but the content & organization of facts the same as a formal report.
  • Fulfills an immediate requirement so shorter than a formal report.
  • Eg: the report about the current status of production / people in a particular dept given to the managing director.
  • Two commonly used informal reports > letter reports & memo reports.

INFORMAL REPORT

Letter report

  • Is a short report using the business letter format.
  • The business letter format is very important for formal communication.

Tips for writing letter reports.

  • Should be typed and not handwritten.
  • Use full block format of business letters in which all lines start from the left.
  • Use the company’s letterhead or formal 8 ½ inch by 11 inch/A 4 size stationery.
  • Set your objectives, analyse the facts critically.

LETTER REPORT

  • Use one or two illustrations to support the analysis.
  • Use ‘I’ & ‘you’ to maintain informality.
  • Avoid a bookish / prosaic style.
  • Include appropriate salutations & a complimentary close.
  • Ensure that there are no typographical or grammatical errors in the report.
  • Maintain proper margin & line spacing.

LAYOUT OF A LETTER REPORT

[Refer to page 248-9 for a sample letter report.]

MEMO REPORT

Memo > also called an inter-office memorandum.

  • Is a prescribed form used to send important info within an organization.
  • Conveys info about routine business matters like sending info from one dept. to another, announcing a change in policy matters etc.

Memo report > a report that provides facts of routine nature or deals with a minor problem using the format of the inter-face memorandum.

E.g.: engineers write memos to their supervisors.

  • Memo report should give an account of what has been done
  • Should describe the important findings and also their significance.
  • Is circulated within the organization only.
  • So more informal in style than a letter report.
  • Length > not more than three typed pages.
  • Main body m comprises relevant headings like findings, recommendations etc.

FORMAT OF A MEMO REPORT

[Refer to page 247 for a sample memo report.]

LETTER REPORT vs MEMO REPORT

Letter report                                                              Memo report

4-5 pages                                                                     2-3 pages

Uses letter layout                                                        Uses inter-office memorandum format

Less informal                                                              More informal

Used both for internal & external communication      Only for internal communication

FORMAL REPORT

  • Seriousness of purpose & content
  • Elaborate data which cannot be informally presented
  • Three broad categories > I. Routine; II. Informational; III. Interpretative.

I. Routine reports / periodic reports.

  • Submitted at prescribed intervals/weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually.
  • Present the collected data & facts in their original form.
  • Sometimes include brief recommendations.
  • Routine reports > five types

1. Progress report> informs the reader about the status/progress of a particular project.

  • Gives an account of the various stages of the project in chronological order & the details of the work completed & the amount of work yet to be completed.
  • The work completed must be evaluated to determine the progress of the project.
  • Mention can also be made of special problems likely to arise during the course of the work.

2. Laboratory report > written by scientists & students of engineering, science, psychology & those who work regularly in laboratories.

  • The proforma > the name of the experiment, the apparatus used, the procedure followed & the findings & conclusions.
  • Record their experiments & provide a step-by-step account of the processes to be followed.
  • Mechanical devices like computers & laboratory equipment are mentioned before the process is explained.
  • Findings are put in a logical order; also a brief summary of the findings.

3. Inspection report > complied only after a thorough investigation of objects/products.

  • Helps in checking the quality of products in a systematic manner.
  • Ensures the right standard & smooth functioning of the equipment.
  • Written in a prescribed pro forma with columns to indicate the options regarding the quality & operation of each part of a particular product.
  • Purpose > to check the mishandling & poor production of equipment.
  • Usually submitted to the executive heads of the maintenance/production/sales departments.

4. Inventory report > computer-generated.

  • User has to put in the relevant data about the stock.
  • Includes statistical details = the no, amount & type of material required.
  • Written by the person in charge of the stocks in a prescribed form & duly signed by him.
  • Submitted at regular intervals > weekly/monthly/ annually.

5. Annual confidential report > submitted annually by the controlling officers about their subordinates.

  • Evaluates their work performance & behaviour.
  • Determines a professional’s appraisal.
  • Important decisions – promotion, demotion, transfer, termination — based on this report.

II.  Informational report

  • Conveys all the details related to the subject.
  • Data is collected, arranged in a proper order & presented as it is without analysing it.
  • Recommendations are not provided.
  • Each part prepares the reader for what is to come.
  • Discussion of one point must be complete before taking up another point.
  • Info report develops an understanding of the aims, objectives, policies, regulations, problems, procedures & outlook of a company.

III. Interpretative/analytical/investigative report

  • Analyses & interprets the data obtained.
  • Arrives at some conclusions & recommendations.
  • Helps the reader analyse, interpret & evaluate facts.
  • Very useful & essential in the professional world because they help in making a decision, solving a problem, expanding the business etc.
  • Is more expansive, elaborate.
  • Varies widely in scope & subject matter.
  • But always associated with some business activity. Like accounting, advertising etc.
  • Is an integral part of the business world

USE OF GRAPHIC AIDS

Graphic Aids/Illustrations

  • Make the report more interesting & readable.
  • Give emphasis to the key points.
  • Supplement the text.
  • Help in communicating the content of the report.

When & why they are used

  • When a mass of statistics has to be presented.
  • When complex ideas have to be explained.
  • Help to clarify & reinforce the info.
  • Lend a professional flair to the presentation.
  • Help in presenting large details with accuracy & in less space.
  • Make the description clear, vivid & eye-catching.

How to use them

  • Illustrations should be neat, accurate, self-contained & big enough to be clearly visible.
  • Contents should be closely related to the text.
  • Placed as close to the first reference as possible.
  • Numbered & captioned > Tables– Roman numerals at the top.
  • Figures – Arabic numerals at the bottom.
  • The term figure can be used for graphic aids other than tables.
  • Refer to pages 253 &254 for examples

TYPES OF GRAPHIC AIDS

  1. Independent table
    • Includes rows & columns.
    • Gives the complete statistical info.
    • Help us understand the trend/pattern without going through the preceding/following text. (ref table 16.3 page 255).
  2. Dependent table
    • Closely associated with the preceding/following text.
    • Cannot be interpreted independent of the text.
  3. Phrase table
    • Consists of rows & columns.
    • Uses words & phrases to provide info & not figures (refer table 16.4 page 255)
  4. Photographs, maps, charts & graphs
    • Graphs = the illustrations that help us to present the data in a colourful & catchy manner.
    • Help us understand the trends & patterns the report highlights.

PLANNING & PREPARING A REPORT

  • Different stages
  • Defining your objective, scope & purpose.
  • Data collection
    • Formal writing requires solid proof; it cannot depend on assumptions & imagination.
    • So data collection is very important
  • Sources for data collection > text books, office records, files, journals, handbooks, manuals, magazines, encyclopaedias, newspapers, government publications, internet, computer databases.
  • Methods of data collection
  • Personal observation > when writing a report on an experiment you conducted in a laboratory or on an event you witnessed.

                        Advantages                             Disadvantages

                        First-hand info                         time-consuming

                        Very reliable                            not necessarily convincing for others

  • Telephonic interview > when seeking info of a routine nature & only brief answers are needed from a small number of people.

Advantages

  • Quickest of survey techniques
  • Low refusal rate
  • Memory factor eliminated
  • Low cost occasionally
  • High returns
  • Approach & questions standardized
  • Mostly reliable in matters of costly & time-consuming routine research

Disadvantages

  • No detailed data available
  • Observation eliminated
  • Limited info
  • Little time for orientation & reaction
  • Respondents’ antagonistic
  • Not essentially representative
  • Low credibility
  • Personal Interview> must be shrewd, observant & sensitive to the reaction of the person being interviewed.
  • Quick to readjust your approach & attitude.
  • Secure a person’s attention, excite his interest & establish a rapport with him/her.
  • First, decide on the questions to be asked.
  • Break the discussion into significant components for easy handling.
  • Frame the questions accordingly.
  • This set of questions > an interview sheet.

Advantages

  • Flexible
  • Direct info
  • Orientation possible
  • Non-verbal interpretation possible
  • Least obscure
  • First-hand impressions
  • Questions can be repeated / rephrased
  • Useful in market survey

Disadvantages

  • Limited coverage
  • Costly & time-consuming
  • Prone to discussion
  • Subjective info
  • Given to chance & failure
  • May influence responses
  • Likelihood of respondents not responding to personal / embarrassing questions

TIPS FOR CONDUCTING PERSONAL INTERVIEWS

  • Get a prior appointment from the person whom you plan to interview.
  • Inform him/her about its purpose.
  • Prepare an interview sheet with at least 10 possible questions.
  • Be clear about your purpose of collecting data.
  • Reach the venue on time well dressed.
  • Carry a pen and a notepad to take down the answers.
  • Seek permission beforehand to record the interview.
  • Greet the interviewee warmly, brief him/her about the interview & then begin the interview.
  • Show your interest & zeal by listening actively.
  • Don’t get annoyed when you get confused, but seek clarification in a strategic manner.
  • Bring the interviewee back to the topic if he digresses.
  • Don’t ask embarrassing/personal questions.
  • Don’t get involved in heated / unnecessary arguments.
  • Always assume a subordinate position as you are seeking a favour from the interviewee.
  • Don’t interrupt the respondent unnecessarily.
  • Thank the interviewee for sparing his time.
  • Keep the line of communication open as you may need more info later.

Mail questionnaire> the ideal method when a wide geographical area has to be covered & a large no of people has to be contacted.

Advantages

  • Cheapest method
  • Covers a wide area
  • Is specific, accurate & can be processed
  • Covers a large no of respondents
  • Is utmost scientific & reliable
  • Reduces hesitation

Disadvantages

  • No clarification possible
  • Not necessarily correct
  • Illiterates cannot answer
  • Unmilling individuals will not answer
  • Is time-consuming
  • Not face-to-face
  • High refusal rate

TIPS FOR PREPARING A QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Basic requirements > good mailing list, good covering letter & interested respondents.

2. Tips for framing a questionnaire

  1. Set objectives for every question that you ask.
  2. Be pointed, short & clear.
  3. Figure out possible answers.
  4. Phrase the questions clearly.
  5. Avoid leading & delicate questions.
  6. Avoid long & complicated questions.
  7. Arrange the questions logically.
  8. Don’t ask questions that require lengthy ans.
  9. Leave enough blank space for the ans.
  10. Don’t repeat the questions.

3. Additional tips

  1. Enclose the covering letter with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
  2. Assume confidentiality.
  3. Ensure action & be courteous.

4. Writing and Revising

  1. Prepare a rough draft with everything relevant.
  2. 1st review > concentrate on blocks of ideas.
  3. 2nd review > concentrate on finer details, syntax & diction.
  4. Write the final report in a specific form using a style sheet / manual.

5. Preparing an outline

  • Outline = an arrangement of words / phrases / sentences which indicate the nature & sequence of topics & subtopics to be discussed in the report.
  • Outline gives a framework & indicates the pattern of the report.

STRUCTURE OF FORMAL REPORTS   

  • Front matter. Main body & Back matter.

1. Front Matter

a. Cover = a binding / hard cover

  • Contains important info like the title of the report, report no, if any, name of the report writer & organization & date.
  • Use white/neutral (soft) colour.
  • Keep proper space b/w the different items of info
  • Use either all capital letters or the first letter of each key word must be in capitals.
  • For sample cover ref to page 262.

b. Title page = is the first right hand page of the report.

  • Contains additional info along with what is given in he cover of the report.
  • Tells the reader about the subtitle of the report, the name & designation of the authority for whom the report is written & approvals, if any.
  • This page should not be crowded with unnecessary info.
  • For sample title page refer to page 262

c. Frontispiece = the window displays of the whole report.

  • Comprises artistic drawings, pictures, photographs or maps.
  • Sole purpose > to arouse the curiosity of the reader about the contents of the report.
  • Not normally used in technical reports.

d. Copyright notice = indicates who has the legal rights of the document > the author or the publisher.

  • Is always placed on the inside of the title page.
  • For sample refer to page 263

e. Forwarding letter > forwards a report to the primary recipient of the report.

  • Two types > covering = a record of transmission of the report; not bound with the report; does not contain any important info.
  • Introductory – refers to specific parts of the report; contains plenty of info; so is usually bound into the report, immediately after the title page.

f. Preface – introduces the report to the readers.

g. Acknowledgements = the names of those people & sources that helped the report writer.

  • Inserted before the abstract of the report.
  • Drafting an acknowledgement > categorize the persons whom you want to acknowledge; express your gratitude using different expressions; mention why you are indebted to the person.
  • For a sample refer to page 263. 

h. Table of contents / ToC – is an essential element in a long formal report.

  • It includes the chapter headings & subheadings & their respective page numbers; so easy to locate specific info.
  • It serves as a guide to the report.
  • The decimal numbering system (DNS) is used to prepare the ToC.
  • Sample ToC in page 264. 

i. List of illustrations with page nos when more than 12 illustrations are used in a report.

j. Abstract = a brief write-up on what the report is about & its accomplishments in 250 words.

  • It contains relevant info like the main purpose, main design point, methodology & some eye-catching results to show the significance of the report.
  • Sample abstract in page 265.

k. Executive summary – presents the entire report in a nutshell.

  • Tells the reader what to expect in the report & what the report explores.
  • It is like a window to a building.
  • It enables the reader to know the significance & relevance of the study.
  • It helps the authorities to take decisions to solve the problem discussed in the study.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABSTRACT & EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Abstract > very brief, not more than 300 words.
  • Relevant only when the report is meant for people from the same field of knowledge.
  • Presents only the essence of the report.
  • Cannot help in taking decisions.
  • Does not include illustrations.
  • Executive summary > more elaborate.
  • Meant for readers other than subject experts.
  • Presents the entire report in a nutshell.
  • Can help in taking quick decisions, if needed.
  • May include one or two illustrations.

2. Main Body

a. Introduction = an effective curtain-raiser to the content, significance etc. of the report.

  • It gives the reader a clear picture of the problem and catches his/her attention.
  • It provides the following elements of info.
  • Background info
  • Includes the historical/technical background that gave rise to the problem.
  • Throws light on the exact state of affairs & the factors responsible for the situation.
  • Problem statement = specifying what exactly is the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Reference to authorization – includes the person requesting the report & the reference to the letter/memo/meeting/telephonic conversation held on a specific date by which the person was asked to submit the report.
  • Purpose & scope.
  • Significance.
  • Methodology = stating the method/ the sources used to collect the facts & analyse them.
  • Procedure.
  • Basic principles/theories involved
  • Summary of findings.
  • General plan of work.

                 Sample introduction in page 267.

b. Discussion

  • Text is divided into several sections/chapters.
  • Matter is organized into topics & sub-topics.
  • Substantial matter is included under each topic/ sub-topic.
  • Detailed analysis/interpretation is provided.
  • Recommendations are not inserted.
  • Illustrations are included to make the analysis clear.

c. Conclusion – draws inferences in a crisp & tidy manner.

  • Briefly recapitulates the problem studied, the approach adopted & the results arrived at.
  • Can be written either in points or developed in separate paragraphs.

d. Recommendations – state the actions required to be taken based on the findings & conclusions.

Suggest solutions/ideas/recommendations.

3. Back Matter

  1. Appendices
    •  Additional charts & graphs can be added.
    • Contains material closely related to the topic but not absolutely essential.
    • Provides a proper cross-reference in the text.
    • Experimental results, detailed calculations, statistical data, sample questionnaire, sample pro forma etc. can be included in the appendix.
  2. Bibliography = an alphabetically list of all the sources such as newspapers, books, magazines, journals, websites, movies etc. made use of to write the report.
  3. List of references — includes the bibliographical details of all the books & sources from which ideas/facts/data have been borrowed.
  4. Footnotes = the small references mentioned at the bottom of the page & a star/asterisk mark is used to draw the reader’s attention.
  5. Glossary = a list of technical terms & words that appear in the text of the report.
    • They are arranged in the alphabetical order.
    • Their meaning & explanation are also provided.
  6. Index = the list of various topics, sub-topics & other aspects discussed in the main text.
    • Serves as a quick guide for the reader to locate any specific idea/concept given somewhere in the main text.

Documentation > an indispensable part of any professional writing such as proposals, reports & research papers.

  • Includes how books, anthologies, journals, etc. are to be cited.

FOUR MAJOR DOCUMENTATION STYLES

  1. MLA (Modern Language Association) style
  2. APA (American Psychological Association) style
  3. Chicago style
  4. IEEE STYLE

NEWSPAPER REPORTS

Tips for writing a newspaper report

  • Easy to read; an attractive presentation style.
  • Provides the answers to the questions WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY & HOW?
  • Headline should catch the reader’s attention.
  • 1st para — gives the main point of the story & answers the question who.
  • Succeeding paras — answer the questions what, when, where, why & how.
  • Paragraphs should be short & punchy, giving info clearly and concisely.
  • References to what people said can be included, either in direct/indirect speech.
  • Past tense must be used as the report in about an event that has already taken place.
  • For sample reports refer to page 277.

SAMPLE REPORTS

a report from The Hindu by their special correspondent.

                          CBI starts inquiry

                           into match-fixing

                      By our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, AUGUST 21.

Example 1

a report on a boat tragedy

                            THE HINDU

                   TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2018

KOCHI: At least 25 persons feared dead as crowded boat capsizes in the Periyar, search for other passengers on. At least 25 people drowned and another 15 were missing when an overloaded boat capsized in the Periyar on Monday evening.

The dead included men, women and children who were on their way back from the Ashtami Rohini celebrations at the Sri Krishna temple.

The boat designed to carry 25 people was carrying at least 45 people when it overturned at 5.30pm.

E-MAIL WRITING

  • E mail/electronic mail/paperless communication
  • Came into existence in the late 20th century
  • A method of exchanging digital messages across the internet/other computer networks
  • One of the quickest ways to communicate in writing

Format of an E-mail

  • Header – shows the sender’s mail ID, the receiver’s mail ID, the date, time & the subject
  • Body – is the message, formal/informal; also contains the complimentary close

E mail writing — reasons for popularity

Guiding steps to writing an E mail

  • Have a neutral e-mail address that reflects your identity
  • Keep the header short & sweet
  • Avoid an abrupt beginning
  • Use effective subject lines
  • Start courteously with a proper salutation
  • Add a warm up sentence
  • Avoid use of capital letters all through the text
  • Avoid acronyms
  • End carefully with a complimentary close
  • Sign off with your full name
  • Proofread your e-mail for errors in language — vocabulary, grammar & punctuation

E- mail writing — common etiquette

  • Reply immediately
  • Avoid circulating e mails to everyone
  • Send the copy of a mail only to those who have something to do with it
  • Avoid attaching unnecessary files
  • Answer all queries as exhaustively as possible
  • It strengthens our professional image & adds to the goodwill of the organization we work for
  • Avoid sexist language like ‘man is mortal’
  • Use e mail jargon sparingly
  • Keep your mailbox uncluttered
  • Delete junk mail regularly from the inbox
  • Read & edit your mails

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