Friday, May 16, 2014

Report Writing: Features, Essentials, Preparation and Types

Report Writing
Report is a self-explanatory statement of facts relating to a specific subject and serves the purpose of providing information for decision making and follow up actions. It is a systematic presentation of ascertained facts about a specific event / subject. Report is a summary of findings and recommendations about a particular matter / problem. Report is for the guidance of higher authorities including company executives and directors. Reports facilitate timely decisions and follow up measures. According to Oxford Dictionary, report means "a record of ascertained facts."

Features or Characteristics of Report
1.       Complete and Compact Document: Report is a complete and compact written document giving updated information about a specific problem.

2.       Systematic Presentation of Facts: Report is a systematic presentation of facts, figures, conclusions and recommendations. Report writers closely study the problem under investigation and prepare a report after analyzing all relevant information regarding the problem. Report is supported by facts and evidence. There is no scope for imagination in a report which is basically a factual document.

3.       Prepared in Writing: Reports are usually in writing. Writing reports are useful for reference purpose. It serves as complete, compact and self-explanatory document over a long period. Oral reporting is possible in the case of secret and confidential matters.

4.       Provides Information and Guidance: Report is a valuable document which gives information and guidance to the management while framing future policies. It facilitates planning and decision making. Reports are also useful for solving problems faced by a business enterprise.

5.       Self-explanatory Document: Report is a comprehensive document and covers all aspects of the subject matter of study. It is a self-explanatory and complete document by itself.

6.       Acts as Permanent Record: A report serves as a permanent record relating to certain business matter. It is useful for future reference and guidance.
7.       Time Consuming and Costly Activity: Report writing is a time consuming, lengthy and costly activity as it involves collection of facts, drawing conclusion and making recommendations.

Qualities of a Good Report
1. Good Report has a Clarity of Thought: A good report is one which is drafted in a simple, clear and lucid language. Its language should not be difficult and confusing. There should be no ambiguity as regards the statements made in the report. A reader should be able to understand the entire report easily, exactly and quickly. In fact, this is the basic purpose of report writing.

2. Good Report is complete and Self-explanatory: A good report is always a complete and self-explanatory document. For this, repetition of facts, figures, information, conclusions and recommendation should be avoided. Report writing should be always complete and self-explanatory. It should give complete information to the readers in a precise manner.

3. Good Report is Comprehensive but Compact: A lengthy report is not necessarily a good report. In fact, report should be a brief and compact document. At the same time, it should give complete picture of the problem under investigation. In this sense the report writing should be comprehensive but compact.

4. Good Report is Accurate in all Aspects: One more feature of a good report is that it should be correct in all aspects. The data given and statements made in the report must be based on facts and must be verified carefully. Report writing is a responsible job as report is used as a reliable document for taking decisions and framing policies. Thus, report writing should be always accurate, factual and reliable.

5. Good Report has Suitable Format for readers: A good report needs proper format. It should be convenient to the type of the report. The report should have all essential components such as title, introduction, findings and recommendations. This gives convenience to the reader.

6. Good Report Support Facts and is Factual: A good report is always factual. The findings, conclusions and recommendations included in the report should be supported by information and data collected from reliable sources. Statistical tables should support statements made in the report. Attention needs to be given to this reliability aspect in report writing.

7. Good Report has an Impersonal Style: A good report should be drafted in an impersonal manner. The report writing should be in third person. This is necessary as the report is prepared for the benefits of a person who needs it and not for the benefit of the person who prepares it.

8. Good Report has a Proper Date and Signature: A good report should be properly dated and signed by the concerned authority or by the chairman of the committee or by all committee members. This has legal significance and needs special attention in report writing.

9. Good Report has a Reference to Relevant Details: In effective report writing, reference to relevant details is necessary. A good report should cover all relevant details for the methodology used, questionnaire prepared for data collection and the procedure followed by the committee.

10. Good Report has all Essential Technical Details: In a good report writing attention should be given to certain essential technical details. For example, the pages and paragraphs of the report should be numbered properly. Marginal heading and titles should be given. This gives convenience to readers.

How Reports are Prepared
Formal Reports are usually presented under the following series of headings as stated in Business Communication by Shirley Taylor.

1.       Headings: There should be two headings to a report: the name of the company; the report heading.

2.       Terms of Reference:  This section should state exactly why the report is being written .Why is we  writing the report? What was requested? Who requested it? When were we asked to do it? To report on... (Subject) requested by... (Name and title) on... (Date)…

3.       Procedure: Give a brief description of the methods used to collect the information. Perhaps interviews were held, visits made, questionnaires issued etc. We can use bullet points.

4.       Findings: This will be the longest section of the report. We should go through the procedure point by point and use numbers and subheadings for this section. Under each heading state what information was gathered at each stage?

5.       Conclusions: In this section no new facts must be introduced. We must look at the findings and state the logical implications of them. What can we infer or conclude from the findings?

6.       Recommendations (if requested): Again no new facts must be introduced in this section. On the basis of information presented in findings and conclusions, we can make some suggestions for action .We should remember that the writer who writes the report cannot make decisions, he or she can only suggest what action should be taken. 

7.       Closing section: A report should be signed and there should be a name and title shown at the foot, plus the date when the report was written. 

Types of Report
Reports are of two types mainly – oral and written. The basis of an oral report depends on the facts seen or observed, and it is a piece of face to face communication. If it is not recorded, it is as transient as any other oral communication. It is time-saving for the reporter, but it is time-consuming for the receiver as the receiver has to listen to every word of the report. On the other hand, a written report is comparatively more precise and permanent. It gives the reader an opportunity to just go through it, or only read the abstract or the conclusions or recommendations of it. It is more formal than an oral report and can be referred to over and over again.  

Formal reports vary a great deal according to their purpose, content and significance, and different organizations adopt different ways to categorize them. Some categorize them according to their origin and basis or rate of recurrence, others by their extent or level of formality or objective form. Whatever be the basis of classification, there is one thing common to them – they all follow more or less a similar pattern. We may for our purposes categorize these reports into the following two broad categories:
(i) Informational
(ii) Interpretive
(iii) Routine

Both kinds of reports are the result of an analysis, a piece of research, a survey of a situation and an investigation of a problem. An informational report includes only the information collected or the facts and events observed in an organized way. It presents the real circumstances as they are and not as they should be. In general, it does not include any conclusions or recommendations. As it presents relevant information in order, it is more functional and useful to the management. In most cases, it helps them to take quick decisions.

An interpretive report, like an informational report, contains facts but it includes an assessment or explanation or analysis of data and the reporter's conclusions. It may also have recommendations for action. An interpretative report which usually carries recommendations in it is also termed as a recommendation or recommendatory report.

There are some reports which are written in a prescribed form. In this case the report writer only puts a tick mark against some items which are listed in the form or write very short notes or comments against them. These reports are called routine reports as they are formal by their very nature and carries information and sometimes recommendations as well. These reports are usually written in an organized way and the purpose of such reports is to record routine matters such as writing reports on inspection of equipment, writing periodic reports on the onward position of projects etc. at regular intervals.


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