What you’ll learn to do: Create a formal report
A formal report in business is closer to the kinds of reports you may have encountered in an academic setting. A formal business report is generally longer than an informal report and contains many specific sections and labels. These sections and labels may come from company policy and practice or be prescribed by the outside organization the report is being sent to.
While you’re more likely to encounter informal reports in your day-to-day work, formal reports are used for more complex issues and in more complex circumstances. Formal reports contain detailed information and research. They can be used to address a wide variety of topics, ranging from larger internal problems or proposals to an external client.
- Define types of formal reports, including proposals
- Discuss different methods of sharing formal reports
- Describe various sections that may be used in the front of a report
- Describe various sections that may be used in the body of a report
- Describe various sections that may be used in the back matter of a report
- Determine how to organize an formal report based on audience analysis
- Discuss how to write a formal report
Formal reports delve much deeper into a topic than an informal report. The label “formal” may intimidate some writers, but the formal report is an extension of business writing. You’ll use the same skills in all of your business communications—from the short, limited data email, to the informal report, to the formal report. While you may not need to write a formal report in your career, you will most likely see one and need to understand its components in order to effectively make decisions.
Types of Formal Reports
There are many different kinds of formal reports that you may encounter throughout your career. Here are a few of the more common kinds:
- Research reports gather and explain data; these reports are informational. Module 4: Research discusses research methods to obtain the data you’ll use in these reports.
- Proposals may be internal to a company in addressing a business situation, or they may come from a solicited or unsolicited sales situation. Formal proposals will include details of the proposed solutions and costs.
- Feasibility reports are a specific type of analytical report. When an entrepreneur or business manager has a new idea, it is prudent to fully explore the idea before making major investments. Some think of this report as a precursor to developing a full business plan. While a business plan may take many months to develop, a feasibility report can be developed in much less time, and it still provides excellent direction for decision makers.
- Business plans are typically informational reports about what a new or existing company plans to do over the next period of time. A business plan may take on a bit more of an analytical tone rather than a strictly informational tone when it is shared with potential investors. In some cases, the business plan may be presented with a request for funds; in those cases, the writing is gently more persuasive.
- Other complex recommendations may also come in the form of a formal report. These recommendations result from a business problem that an individual or team has been asked to solve.
Madison works at the main office of a regional grocery store. Madison’s District Manager found a Request for Proposal (RFP) on the local school district website asking potential suppliers to provide a bid for all the district’s food service needs in the next school year. The two-page document listed many items that must be provided in the requested proposals, such as nutritional listings, ratio of hot to cold meals, requirement to provide a sample contract, costs for service, separating fixed from variable costs, and so forth. The report that Madison will help create is a ________.
- feasibility report
- business plan
Sharing Formal Reports
Formal reports may have internal or external audiences. Formal reports will be significantly larger than informal reports, and they often include a complex number of references and appendices (in the Back Matter area of the report).
The format of a report aligns to the recipient’s needs. Formal reports may be delivered in a variety of formats: documents, letters, digital postings to a website, and so forth. The reader’s comprehension is of utmost importance in selecting the delivery method. No user wants to receive an email and then tie up the office printer with a 40-page report. Avoid letting the delivery method hold back the meaning of the report.
Memos are less likely to be used for formal reports, since memos are typically used for short messages, and formal reports are generally lengthy. Letters are for external use, and again perhaps less likely to be used for a document of this type. However, a letter or an email may be used to introduce an accompanying report. Web postings are generally external in nature, but companies may have private networks for internal use. Depending upon the organization, this may be a suitable transmittal method. Remember, just as with informal reports, your delivery method should not change the content or structure of your formal report.
Abby finished a territory analysis report for her senior manager, Jose. The report turned out to be 35 pages, with additional individual store reports in the back that were almost as long. Jose is wrapping up a two-state personnel review and will be in the office briefly in the morning before rushing out to the airport for a cross-country flight back to the home office. Abby is considering how to share her completed report. The best way for Abby to share this report is to ________.
- run to the local quick print shop to create a color, spiral bound document
- attach the file to an email to Jose
- save money by printing the report in office and attach the pages together with two strong binder (alligator) clips
attach the file to an email to Jose
Sections of Formal Reports
Depending upon the situation and the institution you’re working for or writing to, some or all of the following sections may be required in a specific formal report. Some guides to formal reports indicate that specific sections are recommended for each type of formal report. However, smart writers will be sensitive to the organization’s requirements or expectations and the needs of the information, then use that knowledge to determine the contents of their report.
The next few pages describe a large number of these section types so you, as a writer, may pick and choose what is appropriate to each situation. It is important to the report’s impact and the writer’s professional image to understand the purpose of each of these sections.
In a formal report there are three major sections.
- The front part includes sections that come prior to the report itself to establish various items such as authority of the report and intended audience.
- The body of the report has many sections of key information and possible analysis. It is the meat of the report.
- The back matter contains sections of material that support the body.
Take a look at Figure 1 to see an example of the many potential sections in a sales proposal. Since this example models a response to an RFP (request for proposal), these sections were like required by the customer requesting the bid. The white, shaded, white pages related to the broad parts of a formal report. They are illustrative since the author determines specific sections needed based on report purpose company policy, and audience.
Figure 1. Sections of a Sales Proposal
Front Sections of a Report
In formal reports, you may encounter introductory sections before the actual report itself. These “front sections” are important for establishing context and structure of the report for the reader. In some reports, such as sales situations or proposals, the entire report becomes part of a contract. These front sections aid in that function.
Front sections may include the following:
- Transmittal letter
- Cover page and Title Page
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
You will (or not) use these sections based on the context of your report, the information your audience needs, and your company’s policies.
A transmittal letter is sent to the company or business leader who requested the report. This letter may be sent separately from the report. This letter can be printed (especially in situations where the report itself is a paper copy), or it can be sent as an email.
This letter describes the need for the report and the date of report completion. The letter includes the background of the project, a reference to the problem analysis, and outlines the procedure used to determine the recommendations presented. It is most frequently used with reports created by one company and submitted to another, such as those associated with a sales situation. This letter can be used in both informational and analytical reports.
This letter should be formatted as a standard business letter (as discussed in Module 2: Writing in Business). It is frequently signed by an officer of the sending company to emphasize the formality of the document and potentially establish legal formality. Pay careful attention to company policy and legal advice. It’s also important to note that some companies prefer this same information in another format within the report.
Here is a sample transmittal letter, than can be adjusted to the situation.
June 25, 2015
Dr. David McMurrey, Chairman
Energy Experts of Austin
2000 W 29th Street
Austin, TX 78705
Dear Dr. McMurrey:
Attached is the report you requested, entitled Energy-Efficient Guide: Employing Energy-Efficient Building Strategies in a Residential Home.
This report is an analysis of a recent study conducted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the effectiveness of employing energy-efficient building strategies to minimize energy consumption and costs in a residential home. Using software technologies, the home was modeled to create two scenarios: an energy-efficient home and a standard home. This report details how the study found the energy-efficient home to be both cost efficient and effective at decreasing energy consumption. Such advances might prove to b the catalyst that the housing market needs to spur builders into a new era of home construction.
Thorson James, our solar engineer, carefully double-checked all the technical details in the report. Cherie Sorenson, our technical editor, was of great help in putting the final report together.
I hope this report meets your needs, generated future studies, and educates the public about the environmentally friendly options available in home building today. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me at RLMiller@EBA.com.
Gwen L Miller, Vice-President
Environmental Building Associates, Inc.
Encl. Energy-Efficient Guide: Employing Energy-Efficient Building Strategies in a Residential Home
Cover Page and or Title Page
Almost all formal reports have a Cover or Title Page, perhaps both. These two pages are used in nearly identical ways, yet some report types or organizations require both with a slight modification to the page’s purpose.
A cover page is a very simple, precise, brief way to introduce your report to the reader. This should contain:
- A specific title in large font
- Company name
- Name of the author(s)
- Date of the report
- Relevant picture
The use of a relevant picture or two can help reinforce the subject of the report. One goal of the cover page is to be informative and scalable because once it is filed, it will need to be easy to pick out of a stack of other reports. A second goal is to make the report stand out. If the report cover looks bleak and dull, the reader will start reading with a negative outlook. Think of the cover page of a report like the outfit you would wear to an interview. The cover page is the first thing that is seen: it will be the foundation for first impressions, for better or worse.
One easy way to make the report stand out is to use a theme for the report that your audience can connect to. For example, if a report is written to McDonald’s, the cover page will use yellows and reds, perhaps with the golden arches as a picture. With a carefully chosen color scheme and images, you can help the reader believe that he or she is the most important aspect of the report. As always, when you include graphics of any kind in a document you are sending out, be sure they don’t dramatically increase the file size, which can make the document hard to download, and that they transmit easily among devices and platforms.
The title page is an opportunity to provide more specific, detailed information about the document and its authors to its intended audience. It will be very similar to your front cover and it repeats the information on the cover, but adds more important details. This may include a report number, date, title, the names and addresses of authors, specific contract information, the name and address of the supervisor, and the name and address of the organization that supported the report.
Title pages may be formally laid out according to MLA or APA formatting. However, most business and non-research institutions are relatively relaxed on the format. If you are creating a sales document that may become part of a contract, your company (or your potential customer) will list their particular requirements for the title page. With the power of word processing software, companies have started to use images on these pages as well as on covers. The best advice is usually to keep it simple and professional.These pages may be used with either informational or analytical reports.
Take a look at these examples:
Figure 1. Sample Cover and Title Pages for Energy-Efficient Guide: Employing Energy-Efficient Building Strategies in a Residential Home
Table of Contents, Tables of Exhibits, Tables of Illustrations
Formal reports are frequently lengthy and contain a Table of Contents to assist readers. There may also be tables of exhibits or illustrations if needed. The use of these sections in larger reports allows readers to quickly access the area of their interest: these sections list important headings or figures in the report alongside their corresponding pages. These sections may be used with either Informational or Analytical reports.
Table of Contents
Typically this is one of the last sections of the document to be created, since it relies on the body of the report to be generated. This may be used in either informational or analytical reports.
You’re 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 only including 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 2 that items in each of the three levels of headings are aligned with each other and 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 2. Example table of contents. Click to access a PDF of this example.
If you have used specially formatted headings when creating the body of the document, then these tables can be quickly generated by the word processing software. For example, if you use Microsoft Word’s styles for headings, the reference toolbar will offer a choice of formats and generate the TOC automatically.
Tables of Exhibits or Illustrations
There may be a few different situations in which you should use additional tables of exhibits or illustrations; for example, these tables may be useful to include if your figures or tables are referred to repeatedly throughout your text. Additionally, as a rule of thumb, you should include a table of exhibits when your report is approximately 15 pages or more. This also allows your readers to flip between exhibits more easily in order to compare them.
An executive summary is just as the name says: it summarizes all the materials that follow in the report. This section is different from an introduction as it summarizes the entire report, rather than simply introducing it or laying out the structure for the reader. A good way to approach the executive summary is to write it as if the executive or decision maker will only read this section, even though that’s unlikely to be the case.This section is found in longer reports and is less likely to be found in a shorter report. It can also be used in both informational and analytical reports.
Executive summaries should be written after the entire report is completed. This allows the summary to be both comprehensive and well structured. Remember, the investigation and details of the report must be complete and validated before the summary can be written.
This section is offered in paragraph format, with a paragraph summarizing each section in the report; thus, the executive summary is presented in the same order as the report. The executive summary rarely includes images or graphics; however, a table might be offered at the end of this section if the recommendation or options can be easily summarized into a table. In sales or recommendation situations, the executive summary takes on greater importance. It must clearly demonstrate that the analyses in the report are comprehensive and thorough, and it must clearly lead the reader to the author’s desired conclusion.
Most importantly, all this must be done with brevity. Most executive summaries are at most two to three pages, but length varies in proportion to the complexity and length of the report.
what about abstracts?
An abstract is very similar to an executive summary, although it is far more likely to be found in an informational report than an analytical report. An abstract may help readers determine if the remainder of the document is relevant to their needs. Abstracts tend to be one page or less. Additionally, abstracts are typically used in more scholarly writing, such as business research projects. Samples and and advice on abstracts may be found at Purdue OWL.
Tobias is writing a feasibility report for his senior manager, Alex. Tobias estimates the report will turn out to be about 40 pages long, based on his knowledge of a similar report completed five years ago. He knows this work will be classified as a formal report. He looks back over the prior report and his school notes to consider what sections he might need to include in the report he is generating. Which of the following might Tobias use in his formal report as part of the “front section”?
- executive summary
Body Sections of a Report
The body of a report is what comes to mind when most people think of a report; it’s the primary content. In this page, we will discuss several sections that are frequently used in formal reports:
- Purpose (or problem statement)
- Research (or methods)
- Recommendation (or solution)
- Overview of alternative options
- Methods of operation
This list may look intimidating, so it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a Table of Contents for every formal report. Remember, as the writer, you should use what best suits the material’s and organization’s requirements. There may be additional sections needed in unique cases.
An introduction sets up the structure of a report. Essentially, the introduction tells the reader what is to come and in what order, and it reminds the reader of the key criteria that instigated the report’s creation. This section is key to the reader following and retaining key points of the report.
Introductions are used in both informational and analytical reports. In an informational report, this helps segment the data that follows. In an analytical report, the introduction helps the reader come to the conclusion the author expects. An introduction is used in all informal reports as well. In an informal report, there may or may not be a separate header with this label, but an introduction must always be present.
Depending upon readers’ expected reception of the content, the introduction may foreshadow the conclusion. With receptive audiences, the outcome is clear in the introduction. With less receptive audiences, it is important to present all the facts and research prior to declaring a conclusion; thus, for less respective audiences, it may be better to foreshadow the conclusion than to fully declare it. This allows the reader to end up at the same conclusion as the author as details develop.
The introduction may also include the problem statement or purpose of the report. However, in longer reports, these may end up either in the background or as their own sections.
The background section of a report explains the circumstances that led to the report’s creation. In some situations, this section may be labeled as criteria or constraints, or the topic may be briefly addressed in the transmittal letter or introduction. This section can appear in both informational and analytical reports.
The background provides a baseline of the current situation and any potential constrictions such as budget, time, human resources, etc. This section explains why the investigation or work was completed. It may introduce how the information is thorough, even if 100 percent certainty is not possible.
Purpose or Problem Statement
As mentioned, the purpose or problem statement section may be part of the background, or it can stand separately, depending upon the complexity of the report. The purpose or problem statement should be worded like this example:
The purpose of this report is to address [the problem or question that the requester needs addressed]. This report will accomplish this by investigating [whatever you researched or developed for the report]k.
While the example shows the proper phrasing for an analytical report, it could be reworded to fit an informational report: for example, “details from three solutions are listed.”
Research or Methods
The research section (also sometimes called methods) is where authors establish their credibility as they show how their perspective is supported by outside experts.This section provides background on where data used in the report was found: it is not a section where data is listed.
By telling your audience how you came to know what you have found out, you are demonstrating to them that your results are trustworthy and that they truly hold significance. With strong methods for finding out your facts, your readers will feel comfortable and confident in making the changes your report recommends. Your data will appear later in the evaluation, so that the data is in the same place as the reader is learning about its meaning. Additionally, the data can be presented in full in the appendix.
Completing and sharing research comes with a set of legal issues. Pay special attention Module 4: Research and follow the guidelines and rules you learn there. You’ll always need to provide credit, or citation, for the information you gather from others. Lack of appropriate citation or attribution can cause legal and credibility problems.
Recommendation or Solution
This section may stand on its own, or it may have several subsections depending upon the complexity of the report. Additionally, depending upon the receptivity of the audience to your solution, this section may come earlier or later in the report. In some reports the recommendation is used in lieu of the conclusion. This section is found only in analytical reports.
In this section, you will report your recommendations, beginning with your first choice. Explain why you prioritized each choice by elaborating on different facets the solution’s feasibility: economical, structural, and operational. Emphasize the solution’s benefits. Remember you can suggest that you do not recommend a particular alternative solution. However, you need to explain why you do not recommend the solution, according to the economical, structural, and operational feasibility.
Overview of Alternative Options
In this section, you must underline the key features of each possible option. Make sure they are easy to understand and presented in a friendly layout. Keep in mind that the goal is to allow your audience to make the best decision. This section is typically used in informational reports, where no recommendation is made.
This should be the bulk of your report; you must evaluate the options using the criteria you created. Add graphs, charts, etc. to show that you have studied your options, and have come up with statistics that back up your reasons why your alternative beats the competition. If your audience is likely to be resistant to your recommendation, the evaluation should appear before you make the recommendation. This section is found only in analytical reports.
This section should state the end results of your research and detail how you got there: how you evaluated the alternatives and, from there, you would decided which alternative best fit your organization.
This section explains the benefits of the solution. There is little reason why your proposal should be accepted if there are not meaningful benefits. Thus, be sure to show that your solution will result in substantial benefits for the organization, company, etc. Some may think to omit this section when the report was requested; however, it is always helpful to have comprehensive listing of why something is being proposed and to document all the items the solution addresses.
This section is found in analytical reports, especially in proposals. In informational reports, this section may provide a detailed “how-to” not associated with some type of comparison.
This section may stand alone or be part of the benefits section. A qualifications section is a good place to explain the talent and experience of yourself and your team members. Depending on your readers, this section may be small or large. As with all business documents, you need to be honest when you write your qualifications.
This section may stand alone or be part of the benefits section. In some cases, the resumes of the proposed team for the project are requested or provided. In those situations, this section is found as part of the back matter. A project’s success depends on its management team, and readers are impressed if you can describe your project management structure in your proposal. By identifying each person on your team and explaining what their tasks and responsibilities are, you can coordinate your work efficiently. It is very helpful for each person to know what they will be doing beforehand so there won’t be many problems concerning leadership and time management further into the project.
This section details when, why, and how the solution will be used for the first time. The implementation period is usually a trial period to see if the solution is feasible as planned. Thus, you will pick a time that does not impact the normal operation of existing programs, patterns of operation, etc. In addition, you will describe the location of implementation, who will be involved, costs of implementation, what is expected to happen, the date and time of implementation, the duration of implementation, etc. You should also explain why you chose this time for implementing the solution. State that during this time you will note what works and what needs to be changed.
This section is found in analytical reports, especially in proposals. In informational reports, this may provide a detailed “how-to” not associated with some type of comparison.
A schedule section may be found separately if the product or project is complex. In other instances, it is combined with the implementation section. In some situations, the schedule is part of the back matter and exists more as a list or table of dates and accomplishments.
Schedules help provide readers with three things:
- Schedules give readers a deadline, so they know when to expect a final result.
- Schedules can be critiqued by readers to make sure they are feasible.
- Schedules are a good way to keep track of how a project is proceeding.
In addition to project deadlines, schedules should also include due dates for drafts, resources, and other information that is needed to assist you with your project goal.
Methods of Operation
This section describes how the solution will fit into and be used as a functional part of the day-to-day operation of the company, business, etc. Detail the date you expect to launch the solution into the operation of the company, the place from where the solution will operate, how it will operate, and who will be involved (identify their responsibilities, duties, and any titles, certifications, degrees, etc.).
This section is found in analytical reports, especially in proposals. In informational reports, this may provide a detailed “how-to” not associated with some type of comparison.
This section tells how much the solution will cost in dollar amounts. This section is generally presented after all the explanation of implementation, benefits, etc. That way the reader is fully appreciative of what the costs cover. It is expected that numbers presented are accurate to the penny, unless otherwise specified by whatever margin of error is appropriate to the situation. In informal reports and some formal reports, this section is part of the body (or evaluation) detail. For some formal reports, there is extensive line by line detail of parts, services, and/or supplies. When this is the case, the costs section may be part of the appendices and will only be referenced from the body.
Numbers in costs are generally presented using tables, tabs, or spreadsheet inserts to align decimal points direct above one and other. Text aligns left and numbers align right as in the following table. If all numbers end with zero cents as in $24.00, omit the decimal and following zeros. Ensure any column of information has a heading. Most software offers attractive templates to set apart information and data. The best advice is to use the simplest formatting. These table should work to aid the reader in understanding and retention, rather distracting the reader with colors and shapes.
This section is found in analytical reports, especially in proposals. In informational reports, this will be used when the purpose of the reports was to research costs of some item.
The conclusion, as the header says, finishes the body of the report: it provides a summary of the major ideas of the report. While not as long as an executive summary, it may have a similar feel in order to provide a comprehensive reminder of the key components of either an analytical or informational report. The closing of a report should never introduce a fact or idea not presented earlier in the report.
In sales or persuasive reports, include in your conclusion how you’re going to go implement your ideas for the company and how it will enrich the company; explain why the company should choose your course of action. Compare statistics and data and help the readers understand the logical choice and the course of action that would aid in selecting one option over the other. Refer back to your expertise on the subject matter and help them realize that your idea is the choice they are looking for. Based on your experiences, they will most likely take your side if you present the argument efficiently.
Hayley is writing a proposal for her senior manager, KJ. She estimates the report will turn out to be about 25 pages long. She knows this work will be classified as a formal report. Which of the following might Hayley use in her formal report as part of the body of the report?
- tables of exhibits
- research or method section
research or method section
Back Matter of a Report
It may sound like a catch-all to say that all that is left goes in the back matter (also called appendices). To do so appears to devalue the significant importance of material found in this section; however, the back matter can provide critical details that could not easily fit in the body of the report. This section can be used in both informational and analytical reports.
In the back matter, there is little prose provided to explain or connect the different items, as the purpose of each item was explained in the body of the report when each item was first referenced. Thus, the back matter is simply the location of these more detailed items that are critical to support the report.
There is no “standard” list of items that should be included in the back matter of a report. If the report is a response to an RFI or RFP, there may be extensive costs listed. In other cases, this section may include sample contracts, which can become finalized should the bid be accepted. There may also be extensive data sets provided, which cover far more detail than the body of the report allows. As mentioned in our discussion of the body of the report, you may also find individuals’ resumes.
Simply put, this section can contain anything needed to further support your report; however, resist the temptation to overdo it and include only items that are truly relevant.
Roman is writing a territory analysis report for his senior manager, Elly. He estimates the report will turn out to be about 35 pages long, based on his knowledge of the report completed five years ago. He knows this work will be classified as a formal report. He looks back over the prior report to consider what sections he might need to include in the report he is generating. Which of the following might Roman use in his formal report as part of the back matter?
- alternative evaluation
- store by store data
store by store data
Organization of Formal Reports
Formal reports may be informational or analytical. The logic and general structure is the same as with informal reports discussed earlier in this chapter. What changes is the depth of each part of the formal report.
Informational formal reports typically follow the same broad structure introduced with the informal report: introduction or background, support or reasons, and summary. However, in formal reports each of these primary sections likely have their own subsections (as discussed in the previous pages).
Remember, despite the length of a formal report, its purpose is to present a synthesis of main ideas from the research, not simply to compile large quantities of data. If more detailed data is needed, it can be included in the back matter.
Analytical formal reports typically follow the same broad structure introduced with the informal report: introduction or background, support or reasons, recommendations, and conclusion or summary. However, in formal reports each of these primary sections likely have their own subsections (as discussed in the previous pages).
The order of the sections in analytical reports varies by likely reaction of the reader. Remember, if your audience is expected to react neutrally or positively to your message, then your conclusion or recommendation should be offered near the beginning of the report. If the audience is expected to react negatively to your message, then the conclusion or recommendation is offered towards the end of the report.
Madison’s manager has asked her to prepare a report on whether it would be profitable for her company to respond to a request for proposal to provide all the local school district’s food services needs in the next school year. Since Madison’s boss requested the proposal, she thinks it is likely he will agree with her conclusions. Broadly speaking, what is the best way to organize her report?
- Her recommendation should come near the beginning of the report.
- She should not include a recommendation, since it is likely the reader will come to the same conclusion as her.
- Her recommendation should come near the end of the report.
Her recommendation should come near the beginning of the report.
How to Write a Formal Report
Writing formal reports, like informal report, and that of any other writing task follows the same three steps. First is the planning. Second is the writing. Third is the revising.
Planning Your Formal Report
In all business writing, the first step is to check and see whether there is a prescribed structure for the document that is about to be created. If so, follow that. Many formal reports have specific formats that must be followed exactly. For example, some sales proposal requests and responses become part of a contract; therefore, you should ensure documents such as these have a legal review both in the planning of the document and as a part of the final review step.
Other steps in preparation of a formal report follow in the same way as those for an informal report. In an informal report, however, it is less likely there will be multiple writers. With a formal report, there may be many contributors. If so, it is important to meet as a group to divide the work, talk about style, and plan how the final document will be assembled and edited to ensure a common voice or tone throughout. You may wish to consider some of the strategies discussed in Module 12: Collaboration in and Across Teams.
Next you’ll complete any data gathering needed. A formal report likely requires extensive planning and data gathering: some proposals may require weeks or months in researching and preparing. For example, think about a proposal for the next three years of new store locations or construction. The author (likely a team of authors) will need primary and secondary research, which takes a great deal of time to gather and analyze.
You will use knowledge of that data to create the report’s outline. In constructing that outline, again consider the depth of understanding of the reader and the likelihood the reader’s views align with that of the report’s determination.
With group writing, there may be several coordination meetings at each stage of the document’s creation.
Writing Your Formal Report
Writing the formal report is a much easier task once you have created a detailed outline in the planning process. This outline is what helps the writing move along, as you already know exactly what is to be provided where and when. When writing a formal report as a team, a carefully constructed outline facilitates assigning sections of the report to different authors from the team. The writer or writers can then focus on paragraph structure, wording, and phrasing using the lessons found in Module 2: Writing in Business.
With a formal report, it is extremely rare to see the casual phrasing that might be found in a short message or informal report. Formal reports rarely use personal pronouns, contractions, or passive verb structures. However, this does not mean the language should be stilted or use excessively long words. You’ll continue to use the same clarity of wording as in all business communications.
Formatting Your Report
Formal reports implement many of the formatting skills you learned earlier. Usually formal reports are single spaced with double spaces between paragraphs. Usually paragraphs are not indented, but this may vary from organization to organization. The right hand side of paragraphs are left ragged.
Section headings are always provided in a formal report. It is acceptable to use labels to match the section’s purpose (e.g., Introduction, Findings, Research Methods). The headings may also use terms directly related to the report’s purpose such as “Fruit Spoilage Problem,” “Facts about Fruit Spoilage,” “Suggestions to Improve Fruit Freshness.” You may also have specific subheadings within more general section titles.
Formal reports of all types use page numbers.The pages may be numbered in a format such as 1–50, or they may be numbered by the section, such as Methods 1–Methods 50. The material in the front part of a report is generally numbered in lowercase roman numerals (i–ix).
Revising Your Formal Report
because of the length and possible subject complexity of formal reports, the final review takes more time than you might expect and involves more people. As mentioned in the start of this section, some reports may require additional legal review.
The most effective way to ensure a professional document is to have a team of individuals independently read the document, marking changes, corrections, and questions as they go. This team then meets as a group with one individual charged with collecting all corrections. This person ensures continuity across the entire document. If such a formal process cannot be completed, then you should work to ensure there are at least two reviewers who review work they themselves did not write.
As mentioned before, the final revision must consider both grammar and style issues as well as revisiting the primary purpose of the document.
Guadalupe is the manager for meats and seafoods for a rapidly-expanding grocery chain, Valuetown. Valuetown's expansion has happened mostly by buying up individually-owned stores or small chains in the region. One of the issues Guadalupe has faced is that the display and storage units in these stores are not in great shape, and often meats can't be displayed. Valuetown is also spending a lot on repairs. Guadalupe has done an analysis of what the old refrigeration units are costing in terms of repairs and lost revenue. Her manager told her to write a report to present to the Valuetown board requesting new units. How should she proceed?
- She should ask for time to give a presentation at the next board meeting and then take questions. She's more persuasive in person than on paper.
- She should write a formal report with her conclusions at the front, a summary of her analysis in the middle, and back matter that includes the raw data on costs and lost revenue as well as estimated costs to replace the units. This report should be thoroughly edited and proofread so it is both stylistically perfect and in line with the needs of her audience.
- She should write an informal report that briefly summarizes what she wants to do, gives highlights of her analysis, and then leaves most of the data in the back matter. Her goal should be to get this report out as quickly as possible, even if it has a few errors.
She should write a formal report with her conclusions at the front, a summary of her analysis in the middle, and back matter that includes the raw data on costs and lost revenue as well as estimated costs to replace the units. This report should be thoroughly edited and proofread so it is both stylistically perfect and in line with the needs of her audience.