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Writing a Report
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How To Books
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Writing a Report
How to prepare, write and present
really effective reports
A ND U
ON
th
AT ED
8
HT
PD
ED
EIG
REVIS
John Bowden
H E DITI
For Paula, Forever.
Published by How To Content,
A division of How To Books Ltd,
Spring Hill House, Spring Hill Road
Begbroke, Oxford OX5 1RX, United Kingdom
Tel: (01865) 375794. Fax: (01865) 370162
[email protected]
www.howtobooks.co.uk
How To Books greatly reduce the carbon footprint of their books
by sourcing their typesetting and printing in the UK.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced
or stored in an information retrieval system (other than for
purposes of review) without the express permission of the
publisher in writing.
© 2008 John Bowden
First edition 1991
Second edition 1994
Third edition 1996
Fourth edition 1997
Fifth edition 2000
Sixth edition 2002
Seventh edition 2004
Eighth edition 2008
First published in electronic form 2008
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from
the British Library.
ISBN 978 1 84803 288 0
Cover design by Baseline Arts Ltd, Oxford
Produced for How To Books by Deer Park Productions
Typeset by Kestrel Data, Exeter, Devon
NOTE: The material in this book is set out in good faith for
general guidance and no liability can be accepted for loss or
expense incurred as a result of relying in particular circumstances
on statements made in the book. Laws and regulations are
complex and liable to change, and readers should check the
current position with the relevant authorities before making
personal arrangements.
Contents
List of illustrations
ix
Preface to the eighth edition
xi
Acknowledgements
xii
Part 1 The practical side of report writing
1
1
Preparation and Planning
Setting your objective
Assessing your readership
Deciding what information you will need
Preparing your skeletal framework
Testing and revising your skeletal framework
Summary
3
4
6
7
9
27
28
2
Collecting and Handling Information
Locating sources of relevant information
Obtaining the information
Sorting and grouping your findings
Evaluating your findings
Prioritising your findings
Checking your findings
Summary
30
30
36
51
52
54
55
55
3
Writing and Revising Your Report
Pre-writing
Drafting the main body and appendixes
58
59
59
vi / WRITING A REPORT
Reviewing the main body and appendixes
Drafting the conclusions, recommendations, introduction
and summary
Checking and amending the report
Issuing the report
Summary
60
61
62
68
69
Part 2 The Creative Side of Report Writing
71
4
A Style Guide to Good Report Writing
Report style
Achieving a good style
Choosing your words carefully
Principles for effective report writing
Summary
73
74
76
81
85
88
5
Improving the Presentation of Your Report
Word processing and desktop publishing
Layout and design
Typography
Illustrations
Colour
Paper, covers, binding and indexing
Summary
Part 3 Some Common Types of Report
Accident reports
Agendas for committee meetings
Annual reports
Appraisal reports
Audit reports
Comparative testing reports
Duty notes reports
90
91
94
102
108
126
128
134
137
140
140
144
146
147
150
153
CONTENTS / vii
Explanatory reports
Feasibility reports
Informative reports
Instructional manuals
Interview reports
Investigation into the financial affairs of a company
reports
Minutes
Process description reports
Progress reports
Research reports
Scientific reports
Student project reports
Systems evaluation reports
Technical reports
Technological reports
Trouble-shooting reports
153
155
156
156
158
160
161
163
164
165
167
169
170
172
173
177
Appendix 1: Sample Reports
181
Glossary
203
Resources
217
Index
220
This page intentionally left blank
List of Illustrations
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
Mind mapping the information you will need
An algorithm
A tally sheet
A questionnaire
Three page designs
Page orientation
Type alignment
Lines, arrows, boxes, frames and shading
A pie chart
A bar chart
A pictogram
A flow chart
An organisational chart
An isometric drawing
An exploded drawing
A cut-away drawing
Contrasting backgrounds and type
Indexing a report
9
20
42
46
95
96
107
112
114
115
116
121
122
123
123
124
128
134
This page intentionally left blank
Preface
to the eighth edition
Report writing can be described as a career skill. Not only is it a task
that forms part of an increasing number of business jobs, but also it can
make a huge difference to how you are perceived and even how well
you get on in your career. Today, good communication skills and the
ability to write effective reports are essential competencies for every
successful businessperson.
Now in its eighth edition, this extensively revised and updated
handbook explains how you can write reports that will be:
i read without unnecessary delay;
i understood without undue effort;
i accepted and, where applicable, acted upon.
To achieve these aims you must do more than present all the relevant
facts accurately; you must communicate in a way that is both acceptable
and intelligible to your readers.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 describes the systematic
approach needed to produce an effective report, regardless of the
subject-matter. It takes you step-by-step all the way from being asked
to write a report to issuing a tailor-made product which meets the needs
of all your readers.
xii / WRITING A REPORT
In Part 2 we turn to the creative side of writing. Producing a
professional report today requires the merging of the technologies
of communication, computers and graphic design. What you say is
important. But how you say it and how it looks are vital in creating a
high-impact report that stands out from the deluge of material your
audience inevitably receives.
Part 3 describes some common types of report in more detail. This
section complements Parts 1 and 2 by highlighting the particular
emphases associated with each report type.
With this book at hand, you can consistently produce high-impact,
professional reports that not only inform, but also guide and influence
your readers. In today’s communication age, that is an achievement not
to be undervalued.
John Bowden
Acknowledgements
Many people assisted in the production of this book and I am grateful to
them all. I would particularly like to thank Professor Ann Sommerville,
Head of Medical Ethics, and Dr Caroline Seddon, Head of Science and
Education, at the British Medical Association, for their kind permission
to reproduce various items from their reports, at Appendix 1, as
examples of current best practice.
This page intentionally left blank
Part One
The Practical Side
of Report Writing
This page intentionally left blank
1
Preparation and Planning
To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. The importance of preparation and
planning cannot be stressed too highly. Often, however, writers simply
ignore this aspect or dismiss it as too mechanical to be worthwhile. As
a result they plough too quickly into the writing process itself and end
up failing to realise their full potential. Anything you commit to paper
before your overall plan has taken shape is likely to be wasted; it will
be like a bricklayer starting to build the wall of a house before the
architect has drawn up the plans.
Before you write a single word you must:
i Set your objective.
i Assess your readership.
i Decide what information you will need.
i Prepare your skeletal framework.
i Test and revise your skeletal framework.
Collectively these activities constitute the planning stage of report
writing, and the amount of time and thought you spend on them will
make a vast difference to the effectiveness of all the work that will
follow, by:
i continually reminding you of your overall objective
i making you constantly ‘think readers’
4 / WRITING A REPORT
i ensuring you know what information you will need to gather
i giving you clear guidelines to follow when writing each section
i enabling you to rise above the detail and obtain an overview of the
entire report at any time.
SETTING YOUR OBJECTIVE
It is vital to establish your precise objective. You must first be absolutely
sure of the purpose of your report. Only then can you even begin to
think about what you are going to write and how you are going to write
it.
A clearly defined objective has a number of important benefits:
i It helps you decide what information to include – and leave out.
i It helps you pitch the report at the right level.
i It makes it easier to write the report.
Only by continually thinking about your objective – or Terms of
Reference – can you expect to remain relevant throughout and ensure
that everything that should be covered has been covered – and that
everything that should not be covered has not been.
An objective is not what you intend to write, it is what you intend to
achieve. Writing a research report is not an objective, it is a task. The
objective is to extend the readers’ knowledge of the world by reducing
their uncertainty and increasing their understanding of it. Writing a
trouble-shooting report is not an objective, it is a task. The objective is
to locate the cause of some problem and then suggest ways to remove
or treat it. Concentrate on the objective, not the associated task.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 5
So what do you want to achieve? What results are you hoping for?
What do you want to happen next? Only when you have identified this
‘bottom line’ can you begin to concentrate on getting your message
across effectively.
Here are some possible overall objectives for a report writer:
i to inform
i to describe
i to explain
i to instruct
i to evaluate (and recommend)
i to provoke debate
i to persuade.
So far, so good. But an objective to inform, describe or explain is too
general. You need to be more specific. Perhaps it is to inform sales staff
of the details of the new commission scheme. The more closely you can
identify your precise objective – preferably in just one sentence – the
more useful your report is likely to be.
There is a great advantage in setting a clear objective. If the report has
been commissioned, you can go back to the person who requested it
and ask them to have a look at your objective to make sure they agree
with it. If they don’t, find out precisely what they do expect from you.
By taking just a few minutes to clear this up at the earliest realistic time,
you will avoid the very real risk of wasting days, weeks or even months
on unnecessary and irrelevant work.
6 / WRITING A REPORT
ASSESSING YOUR READERSHIP
The next stage is to identify and assess your readership. In many cases,
you know who will be reading your report and the detailed content,
style and structure can then be matched to their level of knowledge and
expertise:
i Concentrate on points they will care about.
i Explain things they do not know.
i Address questions and concerns they would be likely to raise.
Often, however, you do not know your readers personally. Try to find
out something about them. The following questions will prove useful:
i Are the readers alike or mixed?
i Are they used to reading and understanding reports?
i How much time will they spend on this report?
i What do they already know?
i What else will they need to know?
Obviously there are many other questions you may wish to ask.
However, finding the answers to these five will always provide an
excellent start to your target audience research. It is essential that
you have a clear understanding of your readership while creating the
report so as to focus on their needs and expectations. A report which is
perceived as reader-friendly will always go down better than one that
is introspective.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 7
DECIDING WHAT INFORMATION YOU WILL NEED
For some reports, you will need to collect very little information, while
for others you will require a great deal. You will need to think this
through carefully, either on your own or with other people.
It is often useful to discuss this with the person who commissioned
the report and with prospective readers, particularly any key decision
makers. Are there any specific areas they would like covered? The very
fact that people have been consulted at this early stage will involve
them and, psychologically, this will greatly increase the likelihood
of them accepting your conclusions and any recommendations you
subsequently may make.
You have already written down your specific objective. Take another
look at it and see what it tells you. For example, if you were asked to
investigate the circumstances surrounding an accident in a canteen
kitchen, your objective could be agreed to be: To investigate how an
employee received injuries from a food mixer whilst working in the
canteen. You will now draw up a general list of areas you will need to
cover:
i What happened?
i What were the consequences?
i Was the employee properly trained?
i Was the machine properly maintained?
i Was it avoidable?
Consider everything, and later check it against your objective to make
sure it is relevant. Once you have done this you can start to list specific
questions that will need to be answered. For example, under Was the
8 / WRITING A REPORT
machine properly maintained? supplementary information you might
require would include:
i Was a full service record maintained?
i Was the machine in good working order?
i Have any other problems been reported?
You can draw up your lists of general areas to be covered and specific
questions that will need to be asked in any way you like. There are no
rules. Use whatever method suits you best. Many writers mind map the
information they will need to obtain.
Rather than starting at the top of the page and working down in
sentences, lists or words, you begin at the centre with the overall topic of
your report – and branch out as your information requirements become
readily apparent (see Figure 1).
Mind mapping your total research needs has a number of significant
advantages over relying on experience, random thoughts, or, worst of
all, good fortune:
i The objective of the report is more clearly defined.
i All the facts that will be needed are clearly identified.
i Unnecessary facts will not be included.
i The links between the key concepts and facts will immediately be
recognisable because of the proximity and connection.
i The nature of the structure allows for easy addition of new thoughts
and information.
The open-ended nature of a mind map will enable your brain to make
new connections far more readily. Expect to be surprised.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 9
Fig. 1. Mind mapping the information you will need.
At this stage what matters is that a complete picture of information
requirements is seen to emerge. How far does the picture radiate
naturally from the central objective? If a thought or fact or idea
does not radiate, it will be difficult to make the report coherent and
interesting. More importantly, it will not support your objective, so it
has no place in the report.
PREPARING YOUR SKELETAL FRAMEWORK
You are now in a position to think about the overall plan of your report.
This is known as the skeletal framework. It is like drawing up the plans
for a new house. Not only will it show its overall structure, it will also
remind you of the materials (information) you will need to gather
before the process of construction can begin.
10 / WRITING A REPORT
A number of significant benefits will accrue in constructing a skeletal
framework. In particular, it will enable the writer:
i to be sure there is no misunderstanding over the Terms of
Reference
i to have an overview of the entire report
i to be reminded of what information must be collected, what is
already available and what is not needed
i to order his or her thoughts before considering how they should be
expressed
i to appreciate the significance of, and the relationship between the
various items of information that will be gathered
i to identify any gaps in coverage or logic, and
i to maintain a sense of perspective while gathering this information
and, later, when writing the report.
A well-planned skeletal framework is the key to effective report
writing. There are three stages involved in the preparation of a skeletal
framework:
i Write a working title.
i Consider the overall structure of the report.
i Consider how information will be presented within the main body.
The first step then is to write a working title, which defines the subject
matter of the document. The title must accurately describe what the text
is all about. For the planning phase, use a functional title rather than a
creative, attention-grabbing title. For example, use Why ABC should
build a factory in Anytown, rather than Anytown: A Town of Growth.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 11
A functional working title is helpful in continually reminding you of
the document’s objective. Save the more creative title for the final,
published version of the report, possibly adding the working title as the
subtitle.
The second step is to consider the overall structure. Reports come in
a variety of shapes and sizes and are made up of a variety of sections,
or components. If you can design a suitable framework everything else
will then fall into place. Always remember this adage: tell them what
you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said. This may
sound trite; it isn’t, because it gives you the opportunity to highlight the
most important parts of your report. Also, people tend to remember
what they read first and last far more than what they read in the middle
of any document (this phenomenon is known as the effect of primacy
and recency).
So give them a beginning, a middle and an end. It is your task to select
the most appropriate components to build up each of these main
sections.
What options are available to you? All reports have a number of
commonly recognised components, including:
The beginning
i Title page
i Foreword
i Preface
i Acknowledgements
i Contents page
i Summary or Abstract
i Introduction
12 / WRITING A REPORT
The middle
i Main body, including substructures
The end
i Conclusions
i Recommendations
i Appendixes
i References
i Bibliography
i Glossary
i Index.
Do not be concerned about the large number of components that may
be used; no report ever uses all of them. However, it is as well to know
something about each of these components for two reasons:
— You can then choose the ones best suited to your report, and
— You may be asked to include one or more of them.
Let us take a look at each of these components. We’ll consider the
beginning and end first before going on to the middle, the main body
of the report.
Title page
Every report should have a title page. This tells the reader (and any
potential reader) what the report is about. A good title page will
include the following information:
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 13
i The title.
i The name and position of the person who authorised the report.
i The name of the author(s).
i His, her or their position within the organisation.
i The name of the organisation.
i The date the report was issued.
i A reference number.
i Copyright information, if necessary.
i Its degree of confidentiality.
i The distribution list.
Title
The title should be clear, concise and relevant; restate your terms of
reference in your own words. Do not choose a title which is similar to
any other report title. Providing a subtitle is a good way of keeping
the title crisp while also providing more detail about its content. Make
sure the title is more prominent than any headings that appear in the
report.
Authorisation
Then say who commissioned the report (for example, ‘Produced at the
request of . . .’).
Names and dates
The decision about whether to give your first name and any qualifications
you may have attained should be dictated by house-style. However, as
a general rule, people within your organisation will not need to be
reminded of your qualifications whereas relevant qualifications will
add authority to a report which is distributed externally. In the same
way it is not necessary to say that you work for ABC Ltd, if the report is
14 / WRITING A REPORT
for internal circulation alone. The date on the report should be the date
it was actually issued, which is not necessarily the date it was printed.
Write this issue date in full to avoid possible ambiguities. For example,
12.8.09 means 12th August 2009, in Britain. In the USA it means 8th
December 2009.
Reference number
The reference number given to the report will depend on company
practice. Some organisations number all reports sequentially; others do
so by department and yet others add some personal reference (perhaps
the initials of the author).
Copyright
The decision whether to refer to copyright depends on the nature of
the report. For the report writer the main interest in the English law of
copyright is its intention to prevent the copying of a ‘substantial part’
of any literary work without permission. The word ‘literary’ covers any
work expressed in printing or writing, provided it is substantial enough
to have involved some literary skill and labour of composition. If you
wish to know more about this, refer to the current edition of the Writers’
and Artists’ Yearbook at your local reference library.
Confidentiality
You may decide to stamp your report ‘Secret’ or ‘Confidential’. The
latter is a particularly useful marking when the report is about a
member of staff, as it would be a strong defence against any subsequent
charge of libel. Again you may wish to refer to the current edition of the
Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for further information. However, do not
overdo it. The most routine reports arouse exceptional interest when
marked ‘Secret’. Conversely a report giving a foolproof method of how
to become a Lotto Millionaire would probably go unnoticed as long as
it was not given a security marking.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 15
Distribution
Finally, the title page should include the distribution list of the report.
Ask the person who requested the report to tell you who should see
it. Their names will generally be listed in order of seniority. However
if you foresee any problems or disputes, perhaps because of internal
politics, or if the report is to be sent outside your organisation, list the
recipients alphabetically or by geographical location. Also remember to
include at least one copy for file. Record this at the foot of the list.
Foreword
This component is rarely used in a report. When it is included it
is generally not written by the report writer but by some (other)
acknowledged expert in the field – perhaps the person who
commissioned the report. A foreword should be concise.
Preface
This is another uncommon component. It is used when a writer wishes
to convey some personal background details behind the report’s
production.
Acknowledgements
This section is used to convey your thanks to people and/or organisations
who helped during the preparation of the report. For example they may
have provided information, help, finance, or granted permission for
you to use some copyright material. Do not go over the top with your
thanks and try to keep it balanced and in perspective. For example, you
may ‘wish to record (your) thanks to Mr X’ (who assisted you for an
hour) and later ‘to convey (your) special thanks to Mrs Y’ (who helped
for a week).
If a large number of people assisted you it may not be possible, or even
desirable, to name them all. One way of getting round this is ‘to thank
the management and staff of ABC Ltd’. Alternatively, you could record
a blanket acknowledgement such as: ‘I also wish to thank everyone else
16 / WRITING A REPORT
who assisted during the preparation of this report’. In this way you are
covered if you have forgotten to mention somebody by name.
As a general rule it is unnecessary to express your gratitude to people
who would have been expected to help you (such as your staff), unless
they made some special effort on your behalf. Read acknowledgements
in books – including this one – to see how they should be written.
Sometimes this section is placed at the end of the report.
Contents page
A contents page is essential for any report exceeding three pages. It
should be on a separate sheet of paper and it should list the various
sections of the report in the order in which they appear. The headings
on the contents page must be identical to those used in the text, with
the appropriate page (and/or paragraph) number alongside them. If
you have used more than just one or two illustrations then provide a
separate list of these below the section headings. Your page numbering
and paragraph numbering systems should be simple and consistent.
Summary or abstract or synopsis
This component is particularly useful when you have a diverse
readership. It has two functions:
i To provide a precis of what the recipient is about to read or has just
read.
i To provide an outline of the report if the recipient is not going to
read the entire report.
An average manager’s reading speed is between 200 and 250 words
per minute, and he or she comprehends only 75 per cent of this. It is
therefore extremely important to highlight the salient facts and the
main conclusions and recommendations, if any. Obviously it cannot be
written until after the other components of the report. Keep it concise;
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 17
it should never exceed one page. Do not introduce any matter which is
not covered within the text of the report.
A summary could contain just five paragraphs:
i Intention (your purpose and scope)
i Outline (what was done and how it was done)
i Main findings
i Main conclusions
i Main recommendations (if necessary).
As a general rule, the more senior the reader, the less detail he or she
will require. For this reason a reader is sometimes sent a summary
instead of the entire report. When this is done the covering letter should
offer a copy of the full report, if required.
Introduction
This section sets the scene. While the title page gives a broad indication
of the subject, the introduction tells the reader what it is all about.
A good introduction will engage the readers’ interest and include
everything that they will need to know before moving on to the main
body of the report. It will contain certain essential preliminaries which
would not be weighty enough individually to justify headings of their
own. These might include:
i Why was the report written? Who requested it, and when?
i What were your terms of reference? Always refer to these in the
introduction.
i What resources were available to you? (For example, staff, time
and equipment.)
18 / WRITING A REPORT
i What limitations, if any, did you work under? What were the reasons
for this? (For example, ‘The report does not analyse departmental
expenditure in June because the figures were not available.’)
i What sources of information did you use? How did you obtain this
information?
i What were your methods of working? A technical report will
require a technical explanation of methods used. (Some writers
prefer to provide this information in an appendix.)
i How is the report structured? Why did you choose this method of
presentation? This explanation helps your readers find their way
around the report and shows the logic of the layout.
In some reports the first two of these preliminaries are called aims and
the others are known collectively as scope.
Reports should not be anonymous documents, so it is usual for the
name and signature of the author to appear immediately below the
introduction. Some organisations prefer the signature to appear under
the writer’s name on the title page. Either way, it is best to sign every
copy rather than simply sign and photocopy the master copy. In the
case of professional firms preparing reports for clients, it is customary
for only the name of the practice to be given. This indicates the joint
responsibility of the partnership. The identity of the author is denoted
by the reference.
Conclusions
Your conclusions should link your terms of reference (what you
were trying to do, as stated in your introduction) with your findings
(what you found out, as presented in your main body). They should
flow naturally from your evidence and arguments; there must be no
surprises. Conclusions should always be:
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 19
i clearly and simply stated
i objective and not exaggerated
i written with the likely impact on the reader clearly in mind.
Recommendations
Do not make any recommendations unless your terms of reference
empower you to do so. While conclusions refer to the past and/or
the present, recommendations look to the future. Any comment not
concerned with the future has no place as a recommendation. Your
recommendations should follow logically from your conclusions.
Therefore, once again, there should be no surprises.
Effective recommendations are concise and to the point. They are also
specific. For example, management may need to know what should be
done by whom to overcome a specific problem; it will not want to be
told that some undefined action should be taken by some unidentified
individual for no apparent reason.
Your recommendations must also be realistic. Perhaps the security
at a warehouse should be improved. If so, do not risk the rejection
of a sensible recommendation, and the general undermining of the
credibility of your report, by asking for too much. It is not really
reasonable or feasible to expect it to be protected as thoroughly as Fort
Knox.
So think carefully about the implications of all your recommendations;
talk to the people involved and, where necessary, try to come to sensible
compromises. Jaw is better than war.
A good way to check whether your recommendations are well-written
is to extract them from the rest of the report and then read them in
isolation. Do they still make sense? If not, re-draft them until they do.
20 / WRITING A REPORT
Appendixes
The purpose of an appendix is to supplement the information contained
in the main body of the report. It is a way of providing adequate detail
for readers who require it without breaking the thread of the main
body. But how do you know what information to put in appendixes,
what to include in the main body and what to exclude from the report
altogether? Figure 2 is an example of an algorithm that will help you
decide the answer. Start at the top left.
Fig. 2. An algorithm.
Appendixes are useful as a way of:
i Meeting the needs of a diverse readership – some people will want/
need to refer to them while others will not.
i Substantiating and/or amplifying findings in the main body.
i Presenting documentary evidence to support arguments in the
main body (for example, copies of memos, reports, correspondence,
instructions, forms, standard letters, questionnaires, maps, charts
and so on).
i Providing detailed results of experiments or investigations.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 21
i Presenting summaries of results obtained elsewhere.
i Presenting statistical or comparative information.
i Illustrating relationships or relative proportions by means of charts
and diagrams.
i Explaining systems or procedures by flow charts and/or words.
An appendix is useless, however, unless it is clearly referred to in the
main body of the report and in the contents list. Tell the readers why
they may wish to refer to it.
References
This section provides full details of the books or journals which have
been specifically mentioned in the text, or from which extracts have
been quoted. They should be listed in the same order as referred to in
the report. Details of books should follow this style:
David Weil, Economic Growth,
2nd ed., Pearson Education (2008)
or Economic Growth, David Weil, (Pearson Education,
2nd edition, 2008)
Journals should be recorded in this way:
J.F.C. KINGMAN ‘On The Algebra of Queues’, Methuen’s Review
Series in Applied Probability, Vol 6, pp l–44 (1966).
Some report writers prefer to use footnotes rather than a reference
section. They list each reference at the foot of the relevant page, the
end of the relevant section or at the end of the report. This last method
is very similar to providing a reference section.
22 / WRITING A REPORT
Bibliography
A bibliography also gives full details of every publication referred to in
the text. However, unlike a reference section, it may also include books
and journals not referred to. A bibliography is useful when you have a
diverse readership since you can provide separate lists for background
reading, further reading and recommended reading. Details of
publications are given in the same format as are references, but it is
customary to list them alphabetically by the surname of the author or
by the title of the book.
Glossary
A glossary is necessary when you have used a good deal of specialised
or technical vocabulary. It is another useful device to help meet the
needs of a diverse readership, some of whom will be familiar with the
terminology and some of whom will not be. Make sure your definitions
are authoritative, precise and up-to-date (words come and go and some
change their meaning over time). For this reason it is important that
your dictionary or reference book is a current edition.
List the words alphabetically and place the section towards the end
of the report. However, if a large number of readers will need to
familiarise themselves with the vocabulary before reading the report, it
is better to place the glossary at the beginning.
Index
An index is necessary only for a large report. It should contain more
entries than a contents page and it is perfectly acceptable for it to be
presented in two or three columns. List items alphabetically and place
the index at the end of the report.
Facilities for providing at least a basic index should be found in most
word processors. However, always check any computer-generated index
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 23
very carefully or the silliest mistakes can go undetected. In particular
think about:
i the meaning of a word, and
i the context in which a word is used.
Some words are spelt the same way but have different meanings, such
as bank (an establishment where money is deposited) and bank (the
sloping ground on each side of a river). Make sure your index reflects
the true meaning of a word. Some indexes do not. This excerpt is taken
from page 19 of a report on local sports and recreational amenities:
The Leader of the Council stated: ‘The proposal to extend the sports
centre will, of course, be considered’.
The relevant index entry read:
Course,
golf-, 11
of-, 19
race-, 13
Equally importantly, watch out for the context. The following example
comes from a law report:
Mr Justice Straw said that he had a great mind to commit the man
for trial.
In the index we find:
Straw (Mr Justice), his great mind, 14
24 / WRITING A REPORT
Main body
The final step is to consider how information should be presented
within the main body of the report. If you have already mind mapped
the information you will need to obtain (page 9), you can now re-shape
this material into a structure that your readers will find both acceptable
and intelligible.
The report on the accident in the canteen would be confusing if it simply
recorded the supervisor’s, doctor’s and engineer’s comments in turn. An
improvement would be to extract the related parts of their respective
evidence and to record them together within appropriate sections, or
categories of the report.
Different levels of category must be organised into a hierarchy, with
the title at the top of the hierarchy. Level 1 categories are based on the
broad areas that are to be covered; Level 2 categories relate to the more
detailed findings which collectively cover each of these broad areas:
Working title: Results of Investigation into the Canteen Accident at
ABC Ltd.
Level 1 categories: The accident; The consequences; Condition of the
machine; Employee training provided
Level 2 categories: What it was; Where it occurred; When it occurred;
How it occurred (collectively covering ‘The accident’); Injuries
sustained; Treatment required; Absence from work resulting; Actions
taken to avoid recurrence (collectively covering ‘The consequences’);
. . . and so on.
In addition to the hierarchical organisation, each module, or group
of categories must be put into a logical order. Categories can be
considered as one of two types: verbs (relating to sequences, actions,
events) and nouns (relating to people, places, ideas).
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 25
i Verb categories describe actions, something that moves or changes
over a period of time; they involve time-sequence information, such
as when each of several events occurred or how to perform the
steps of a procedure. This book is structured in this way.
i Noun categories tell about something at a specific point in time;
they include such descriptions as who, what, why and where.
Verb categories are usually arranged chronologically according to order
of occurrence: sooner before later (e.g. procedure 1 before procedure 2,
cause before effect, stimulus before response, problem before solution,
question before answer):
Working title: Introducing Networks
i Using the network
i Setting up your computer to use the network
i Sharing your folders or printers
i Using resources located on other computers
i Connecting to the Internet.
Noun categories are sequenced according to quantity (e.g. more before
less), quality (e.g. better before worse), space (e.g. high before low),
alphabet (e.g. A before B), or some other comparative or otherwise
logical measure:
Working title: Comparison of Top Three Job Candidates
i Chris Brown
i Kim Jones
i Pat Smith
26 / WRITING A REPORT
Once these three stages have been completed (working title; overall
structure; order of information within the main body), the categories
must be suitably numbered:
Results of Investigation into Canteen Accident at ABC Ltd.
1 Summary
2 Introduction
3 The accident
3.1 What it was
3.2 Where it occurred
3.3 When it occurred
3.4 How it occurred
4 The consequences
4.1 Injuries sustained
4.2 Treatment required
4.3 Absence from work resulting
4.4 Actions taken to avoid recurrence
5 Condition of the machine
5.1 Condition at the time of the accident
5.2 Previous service and maintenance record
6 Employee training provided
6.1 General health and safety training
6.2 Specific training relating to the operation of this machine
7 Conclusions
8 Recommendations
Appendixes
1
Plan of kitchen
2
Photographs of kitchen and machine
3
Report of Environmental Health Officer
4
Statement from accident victim
5
Statement from supervisor
6
Statement from Witness A
7
Statement from doctor
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 27
8
9
10
Statement from service engineer
Service record of machine
Training record of accident victim
TESTING AND REVISING YOUR SKELETAL FRAMEWORK
At this stage, conduct the first test on each component and the other
tests on each module, or group of categories within the main body,
starting with the Level 1 categories and then progressing module by
module to the most detailed level of the hierarchy:
i Necessity test: Is each component necessary? For example: Is the
Title Page necessary? The answer must be ‘Yes’ because it identifies
the report to the reader. Or: Is the Glossary necessary? If all your
readers know (or at least are likely to know) the meaning of all the
technical words used, the answer will be ‘No’. In that case remove
it from the skeletal framework since it would serve no useful
purpose.
i Inclusion test: Given the heading of the module, are all appropriate
items included? If not, restrict the scope of the heading to fit the
items that are present, or add the missing items.
i Exclusion test: Given the heading of the module, are all
inappropriate items excluded? If not, delete the inappropriate
items, or expand the heading to fit all the items in the module.
i Hierarchy test: Are the items in the module hierarchically parallel?
Headings of similar rank should represent topics of roughly
equal importance. If they are not, move the problem items to the
appropriate level.
i Sequence test: Are the items in the appropriate sequence?
Determine whether the module is of the verb or noun type, and
then decide whether the sequence is most appropriate for each
module.
28 / WRITING A REPORT
i Language test: Are the items in the module grammatically parallel
(e.g. all verb types ending in -ing or all nouns types ending with
the word Department)? If not, change the wording to achieve
consistency.
i Numbering test: Is the numbering system appropriate and
consistent? Remember that the initial Level 1 category numbers
will need to have been reserved for each component of the
report that will appear before the main body (e.g. 1 Summary; 2
Introduction). Then you must ask yourself whether all Level 1
categories are numbered consistently (3, 4, 5). Similarly, are all
Level 2 categories numbered rationally (3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3)?
These seven tests collectively provide a comprehensive, yet relatively
simple writing tool. Important benefits will accrue from consistently
applying them:
i they ensure the structural soundness of the text
i they make the
straightforward
subsequent
writing
process
much
more
i they ensure that text will be easier to read and understand.
SUMMARY
i It is essential to prepare and plan your report very carefully. This
process will greatly reduce the time and effort subsequently on
writing and re-writing the report by:
—reminding you of the message you need to convey in order to get
the results you want
—providing you with a logical and considered structure which will
help you identify any gaps or illogicalities
—enabling you to obtain an overview of the entire report, thereby
helping you to maintain a sense of perspective
PREPARATION AND PLANNING / 29
—providing you with clear guidelines as you collect and handle the
information, and then write the report.
i Be crystal clear about your objective. Why are you writing this
report? What effect do you want it to have on your readers? The
status quo is not an option, or there would be no need for the report
to be written.
i Find out as much about your audience as possible. You will
say different things, and in different ways, to help achieve your
objective when addressing different people.
i Think carefully about the information you will need. Talk to the
person who asked you to write the report and speak to any key
readers. What would they like to see included? Don’t include
anything unless it is relevant and it helps you achieve your
objective. Good report writing is often more about what to leave
out than what to put in.
i Spend as much time as is necessary in designing, testing and
revising your skeletal framework. It is the key to effective report
writing. It should not only cover the structure and content of the
report, but also the relative significance and relationship between
the main findings. It has been estimated that 75% of the time spent
on effective report writing is devoted to planning, and 75% of that
75% is spent on preparing the optimal framework for any particular
report.
2
Collecting and Handling
Information
Once you have carefully planned your report, it is time to carry out all
the work that will be necessary before you can actually write it. In other
words, you are now ready to undertake your project or investigation.
Your task is to collect and handle enough relevant information to
enable you to put flesh on the bones of your skeletal framework. These
are the stages your research should follow:
i Locate sources of relevant information.
i Obtain the information.
i Sort and group your findings.
i Evaluate your findings.
i Prioritise your findings.
i Check your findings.
It is quite possible to write a bad report even after doing good research,
but it is impossible to write a good report after doing poor research. The
moral is clear: good research is essential.
LOCATING SOURCES OF RELEVANT INFORMATION
By now you will have identified the information you require, bearing
in mind:
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 31
i the precise purpose of the report
i the needs of your readers
i your objective(s)
i your resources
i your skeletal framework.
There are four sources of information available to you:
i People
i Books and other publications
i Information technology
i Events and places.
The information you will need may be found under any or all of these
categories, so you might consider each in turn.
People
You may be able to obtain the information you require from the
local, national, or even the international community. Here are some
possibilities:
i your colleagues
i members of the public
i politicians
i producers
i manufacturers
i retailers
i federations
32 / WRITING A REPORT
i unions
i pressure groups
i international organisations.
It is impossible to give details of the vast number of potential sources
available to you. However, here is one service that every report writer
should be aware of:
The Information Bureau
Formerly the Telegraph Information Service, the Information Bureau
has a reputation for being able to answer almost any question, either
instantly over the telephone or, after a telephoned request, by fax the
same day. A fee is charged for each enquiry.
The Information Bureau
51 Battersea Business Centre
103 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5QL
Tel: (020) 7924 4414
Email: [email protected]
Advances in information technology provide unprecedented
opportunities for report writers to communicate directly with experts
around the globe.
Books and other publications
Perhaps the information can be extracted from a printed source, such
as:
i encyclopaedias
i reference books
i text books
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 33
i guides
i handbooks
i journals and magazines
i newspapers
i maps and charts
i previous reports
i correspondence
i minutes.
Information technology
The information that a computer can put at your fingertips is almost
limitless. You can often have free on-line access to a veritable cornucopia
of information, providing you are prepared to put some time and effort
into tracking down the facts and figures you really want.
Information has a time value. Real-time stock prices from the London
Stock Exchange, for instance, are worth more than prices that are an hour
old, which, in turn, are worth more than those at the previous evening’s
close of business. Information also has a value that depends on how
specialised and detailed it is. A CD-Rom that contains comprehensive
details of British Case Law in a searchable form will be very expensive
because only a small number of customers would buy it.
Fortunately, for most report writers, plenty of useful information is
available at realistically low prices. You just have to set your course
through the mountain of data that is available. For example, if you
were looking for stock market prices, there are several possible routes,
each progressively more expensive. At the simplest level, you can add
a TV tuner card to your PC. That would allow you to watch television
in a small window of your PC. Add teletext facilities to such a card
34 / WRITING A REPORT
and it becomes possible to download information and feed it into
spreadsheets or software that analyses the data.
There are literally thousands of PC CD-Rom titles available, many
of them priced for the mass market. Generally, they are still more
expensive than individual reference books, but a lot cheaper than
printed sets of encyclopaedias. They represent excellent value for
money because they combine search facilities with multimedia, and you
can use them as often and for as long as you wish.
The information superhighway
When computers and other communications equipment are connected
a computer network is formed. The most famous of these is the Internet,
which connects thousands of smaller networks and millions of users all
around the world. The Internet was once the exclusive province of US
government-sponsored research scientists and academics, but now
almost anyone with a PC and modem can get Internet access in one
form or another. It provides entry to a vast array of information from
computer systems around the world.
Events and places
Perhaps the information you require is available at one or more
events or places. Here is a small sample of some local, national and
international possibilities:
i libraries
i learning resources centres
i research institutions
i exhibitions
i museums
i galleries
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 35
i laboratories
i theatres
i concerts
i talks.
Libraries
In addition to local, university and college libraries, many government
departments and business organisations run libraries that are open to
the public. These include:
i The City Business Library (London): (020) 7606 3030 (Main
switchboard).
[email protected]
i Westminster Reference Library (London): (020) 7641 1300.
[email protected]
i The Central Statistical Office (Newport, South Wales): (01633) 456
528.
[email protected]
The British Library is a copyright library. That is, it is entitled to receive
a copy of every book published in the UK. The library is divided into
sections by subject and the following list gives the telephone numbers
of some of its departments:
i Main Switchboard: (0870) 444 1500.
i Customer Services: (01937) 546 860.
[email protected]
i Business Information: (020) 7412 7454.
i Newspaper Library: (020) 7412 7353.
36 / WRITING A REPORT
i Patents: (020) 7412 7919.
i Science, Technology and Medicine: (020) 7412 7288.
It is best to phone or email before you visit any unfamiliar library to
check opening times and confirm that you will be allowed in.
OBTAINING THE INFORMATION
Information can be gathered by one or more of these methods:
i experimentation
i reading
i listening
i observation
i interview
i letter
i telephone call
i questionnaire
i research on the Internet.
Experimentation
An experiment should be carried out by a trained scientist who will
design and perform it in an acceptable way. The experiment should be
written up as follows:
i Begin with a dated heading stating clearly the objective of the
experiment: ‘To study . . .’, ‘To find . . .’.
i Give a brief account of the theory underlying the experiment.
i Provide a hypothesis (suggested answer), if you have one.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 37
i Give a clear and full account of how the experiment was carried
out. It is usually necessary to provide a diagram of the apparatus
used.
i Provide a complete list of the readings you obtained.
i Provide a full statement of the final result, showing the estimated
limits of error.
i Conclude with a clear and concise statement of what your results
lead you to infer or deduce about the problem posed. If you have
a hypothesis, refer to it here. If you have any relevant views on
the experiment or the result obtained, include these. Also, if you
believe that the experiment could have been improved in some
way, explain why and how.
Reading
The way you read should vary according to the complexity of the
material and the reasons for reading it. If you are reading to understand,
absorb or master a topic you must read it slowly. If you are reading a
novel for entertainment you can read it quickly.
Try the SQ3R method of reading:
S
Q
R
R
R
Survey
Question
Read
Recall
Review.
Survey
This is the preliminary review of the book or article. It involves
skimming (glancing over the material and getting the feel of it) and
scanning (looking at specific aspects of the publication – the title, the
author, the date, the preface, the introduction, the contents, any chapter
38 / WRITING A REPORT
summaries and the index). In the case of a book, it is also a good idea
to read the first and last paragraphs of potentially relevant chapters
and the first and last sentences of a sample of paragraphs within these
chapters. This scanning should give you an overall impression of the
publication, such as:
i Is it pitched at the right level?
i Is it up to date?
i Is the author a recognised authority in the field?
i Is the book factual or based on opinion?
Question
Then ask yourself these questions:
i What would I expect to gain if I read some or all of this material?
i Is some or all of the material directly relevant to my report?
i Does some or all of it provide a useful background to my report?
Read
Once you have decided to read some or all of a publication, divide your
reading into manageable segments, probably chapters or sections. Read
any summaries or conclusions first. Next read the chapter or section
quickly to get a grasp of the material. Finally, read it again, more slowly,
and ensure you understand it.
Recall
Think about the main ideas and facts you have been reading about and
make notes of them.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 39
Review
Are you satisfied that you have gained what you expected through your
reading? Have you gathered the information you will need to help put
the flesh on your skeletal framework?
Listening
Some researchers suggest that we function at only twenty-five per cent
efficiency and rarely remember what we have heard. In one investigation
the proportion of information which was correctly transmitted from a
senior director through middle and line management to operative
staff was as low as twenty per cent. Such ineffective listening can be
responsible for the following:
i Accidents at work.
i Production breakdowns.
i Lost sales and customers.
i Poor morale.
i Personality clashes.
i Inaccurate communication.
So how can you improve your listening skills?
Do not:
i Assume that the topic is boring or irrelevant. A good listener sifts,
screens and hunts for relevant information.
i Criticise delivery or presentation; concentrate on the content.
i Submit to emotional phrases. Do not allow the use of phrases which
you loathe to reduce your listening capacity.
40 / WRITING A REPORT
i Become overstimulated. Do not try to think of ‘clever’ or
embarrassing questions. Use your time positively, listening and
structuring your thoughts.
i Listen only to facts. Think also of the main ideas, concepts, structure
and how the values, attitudes and prejudices of the speaker affect
the presentation.
i Expect the speaker to structure the talk to suit your needs. As you
take notes, follow the speaker’s approach, otherwise your structure
will not fit in with the concepts and ideas presented. You can
rearrange your notes later.
i Remain passive. Listening is an active process, so stay alert.
i Tolerate distractions. If you cannot hear the speaker, or if you are
too hot or too cold, then say so.
i Listen to only what you want to hear. Be willing to consider
arguments and evidence which oppose your views. Be aware of
your prejudices.
i Evade difficult subjects. Face problems head on.
i Waste your thinking potential. People normally talk at about 125
words per minute, but they listen and can think at about 400 words
per minute. The differential of 275 words per minute is a breeding
ground for day dreaming.
Do:
i Run ahead of the speaker. What has been said? What might be
said? What is this all leading to? What are the implications of this
message? By asking yourself these questions you will improve your
concentration.
i Examine the evidence presented. Is it accurate, objective and
complete? Is it strong or weak?
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 41
i Recap every few minutes in order to avoid day dreaming.
i Remember that listening is an active process and is therefore very
hard work.
You have two ears and one mouth. Try to use them in roughly that
proportion.
Observation
Sometimes the best way to find out is simply to observe. For example,
you may be trying to find out how much traffic passes Anytown Primary
School. According to your purpose you might need to break this figure
down to the types of vehicle, specific days, and possibly to different
times of year. The simplest way of recording your results is to use a
series of tally sheets like the one illustrated in Figure 3.
Interview
Interviewing is a skilled technique and few people do it well. While the
interview should appear to be reasonably casual, it must be planned
and structured. Follow these key steps:
Step 1 Greet the interviewee in a friendly manner. Avoid too much
small talk and maintain a professional image.
Step 2 Explain the precise purpose of the interview. What do you want
to find out? Let the interviewee know that his or her input will
be valued.
Step 3 Ask your questions. Use open questions (who, what, when, why,
where, how), and try to avoid yes/no answers. Listen and show
you understand. Then follow up with secondary questions. Give
the interviewee time to answer. Cover one topic at a time; try
not to ‘hop about’. Empathise – do not judge or be seen to take
sides.
42 / WRITING A REPORT
Traffic Passing Anytown Primary School (west – east)
Tally sheet no.:
Date:
Time:
Name of observer:
No.
%
Cars
Buses
Lorries
Vans
Motor Bikes
Other (specify)
Total
Fig. 3. A tally sheet.
Step 4 Sum up the interview to check your understanding of facts,
opinions and circumstances.
Step 5 Thank the interviewee for his or her co-operation.
Letter
If you decide to ask for information by letter, remember to:
i Name the person you are writing to and give his or her designation
and organisation (for example, Miss V. Rich, Chief Finance Officer,
Midshire County Council).
i Give the letter a heading.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 43
i Explain the purpose of your report in the first paragraph.
i Courteously ask for the information you require. Keep it concise
but comprehensive.
i If possible, draw a table where this information can be inserted.
i Send the letter as early as possible and tactfully request a reply
within two or three weeks.
i Enclose a stamped addressed envelope.
i Conclude the letter by thanking the person in anticipation.
Telephone call
Sometimes you can obtain the information you need by making one
or more telephone calls. However, this method is not recommended
when the information is likely to be fairly complex and/or there are
figures involved (for example, ‘Did she say £4, £14, or £40?’). Telephone
calls are most appropriate when you know the person and when your
questions are straightforward (often requiring no more than yes/no
answers).
If you do decide to telephone, write down the questions you want to
ask and have a pen and a few sheets of paper handy. If you are using
a public call box, make sure you have plenty of change with you. Then
follow these key steps:
Step 1 Give your name (‘Good morning, I’m . . .’).
Step 2 Ask for the right person (‘May I speak to . . . ?’).
Step 3 Explain why you are telephoning. Emphasise that you are not
selling anything! (‘I’m phoning about a report I am preparing
on . . .’).
44 / WRITING A REPORT
Step 4 Politely ask for the information you require. Let them know
that their input will be appreciated (‘I would be extremely
grateful if you could help me on one or two points . . .’).
Step 5 Thank the person by name.
Speak distinctly, deliberately and a little more slowly than you
normally do. Make your voice pleasant, cheerful and positive. Keep the
conversation short without ever being abrupt.
Questionnaire
This method of information gathering involves questioning a sample of
people (respondents). Questionnaires seek two kinds of information:
i Factual. For example, ‘How often do you buy Product A?’
i Opinion. For example, ‘What do you think of Product A?’
Such a survey is necessary only if the information sought is not already
available, or if the information is out of date. There are two important
points to bear in mind when producing a questionnaire. First, you will
need to approach members of the public and they have no obligation to
assist you, so ensure that your questions (and your general approach)
are courteous. Second, make sure that your questions are relevant to the
subject of your report. Figure 4 is an example of a simple questionnaire
to find out what schoolchildren think about their school meals.
Here is a checklist for a good questionnaire:
i Does it have a title?
i Does it have a reference or questionnaire number?
i Does it record the name of the interviewer?
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 45
i Is it well spaced?
i Does it explain the purpose of the questionnaire?
i Where appropriate, does it emphasise that all replies will be treated
confidentially?
i Is it clear and unambiguous?
i Is it simple?
i Is it logically developed?
i Does it ask one question at a time (not two or more questions at the
same time)?
i Does it require definite answers?
i Does it avoid leading questions? (Ask: ‘What do you think of
product A?’ not: ‘Product A is fantastic. Do you agree?’.)
i Does it avoid an appeal for vanity? (Ask: ‘Do you take regular
exercise?’, not: ‘Most fit people exercise regularly. Do you?’.)
i Does it avoid an appeal to sympathy? (Ask: ‘Should the Health
Service be better funded?’, not: ‘People are dying needlessly.
Should the National Health Service be better funded?’.)
i Where appropriate, does it leave sensitive areas until last (for
example, the age of middle-aged or elderly respondents)?
i Is the questionnaire written in such a way that will make it straight
forward to record and analyse your overall results?
i Has the questionnaire been ‘pilot tested’ among a small number of
respondents to highlight any obvious errors, omissions, ambiguities
and other shortcomings before the survey goes live?
School Meals Questionnaire
Questionnaire No.
Interviewer:
Date:
‘I am carrying out a survey on school meals on behalf of Midshire
County Council. I wonder whether you would be willing to answer a few
questions?
Ask the respondent
Q 1 Which class are you in?
Year 6
Year 7
Year 8
Year 9
Year 10
Year 11
…
…
…
…
…
…
Q 2 Enter the sex of the respondent
Male
Female
…
…
Q 3 How often do you have school meals?
Every day
most days
2 or 3 days per week
Not often
Never
…
…
…
…
…
Go home to dinner
Buy dinner elsewhere
Bring own food
Have no dinner
Other (specify)
…
…
…
…
…
Very good?
Quite good?
Average?
Bad?
Awful?
…
…
…
…
…
If the answer is ‘Every day’, go straight to Q 5
Q 4 When you don’t have a school dinner,
what do you do instead?
Q 5 Do you think that school meals are:
Thank respondent for helping
Fig. 4. A questionnaire.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 47
Once you have designed your questionnaire and amended it as necessary,
you must decide on sampling methods. No strict rules can be laid down
for sampling. The methods used will depend on the circumstances of the
case, but unless the methods are random the reliability of the results is
no more than a matter of opinion.
The following are three common sampling techniques:
Simple random sampling
This is a quick and simple method, by which every person or item has
an equal chance of being selected. If you want to select 10 per cent of
a population of 100, simply take ten names out of a hat containing the
100 names.
Systematic random sampling
Again, every person or item has an equal chance of being selected, but
the choice is made to a prearranged plan (though it is still random). For
example, select every 100th name on the electoral register.
Quota sampling
This is used to get a balanced view from people in the street based on
age, sex and possibly social class. For example, select twenty males, aged
16–20; twenty males, 21–25; twenty males, 26–30; twenty females, 16–20;
twenty females, 21–25; twenty females, 26–30.
Finally, you should be aware of errors that can occur owing to bias in
sampling or questioning. Here are some ways of avoiding bias:
In sampling:
i Do not deliberately select people or items. All selections must be
random.
i Do not substitute or replace items selected randomly. For example,
if you decide to question somebody from every twentieth house, do
48 / WRITING A REPORT
not change to the twenty-first if you do not receive a reply at the
twentieth. The house-holders may be at work and should not be
excluded for this reason. Call at a different time or on a different
day.
i Do not deliberately omit items that should be selected randomly.
If you need to select ten males, aged 16–20, approach a random
selection – not, for instance, just young professionals.
In questioning:
i Do not vary the wording of your questions.
i Do not ask leading questions.
i Do not ask questions which appeal to vanity.
i Do not ask questions which appeal to sympathy.
Research on the Internet
The Internet has made it possible to find quickly vast amounts of
information on just about every conceivable subject. To use the
Internet efficiently, however, you need to keep a clear idea of the exact
information you are seeking. It is all too easy to get side-tracked:
i The Internet can take up all your research time. Researching
electronically can become a mesmerising activity, and you might
find that after a pleasant afternoon you have found nothing of any
value for your report.
i Remember what you are trying to achieve. Skip material that is
only loosely related to your specific requirements.
i Beware of the need to evaluate information obtained on the
Internet. Although there are many well-maintained and reliable
websites, the quality and accuracy of statements on the Internet
vary widely. Anyone can put up a website and can claim to be an
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 49
authority. Content is frequently opinion-based or factually out-ofdate.
Before you begin your research:
i Write down the questions you hope to answer.
i Spend time thinking about who would be likely to know the
answers. The most efficient research method on the Internet is
often simply to e-mail the appropriate person.
i Develop a list of subtopics and synonyms that you can use as search
terms.
Using a subject directory
One way to get plenty of information on your topic is to use a subject
directory on the Web. One of the best known directories is Yahoo! (http:
//dir.yahoo.com), which contains tens of thousands of sites. Although it
organises everything by categories, you can also search by keywords.
Once you find your topic, Yahoo! gives you a list of relevant Web
addresses (URLs) and a short description of the sites.
Using metasearchers
If the subject directory does not yield enough relevant information,
there are plenty of search engines which seek to catalogue the evergrowing content on the Web. Use a metasearcher, such as Dogpile (http:
//www.dogpile.com), or Google (http://google.com). These will utilise a
number of search engines simultaneously and organise the results. Ask
Jeeves (http://www.ask.co.uk) will actually search for you based upon
the question you pose. The same query will bring up different results
with different search engines, so from the metasearcher’s results you
may find that one search engine is best for your topic. Metasearchers
also save you time because they modify your phrases according to the
rules of each specific search engine.
50 / WRITING A REPORT
Using various combinations of search terms
Type the words you want the search engine to hunt for in the box
provided on the screen. Every search program uses slightly different
rules of operation, but most use two searching conventions:
i Quotation marks indicate that the phrase is to be treated as one
search term – for example, “Westminster Abbey”.
i ‘Boolean operators’ such as and, or and not tell the computer how
to interpret your list of search terms. In general:
and specifies that both terms should appear.
or specifies that either term should appear.
not specifies that a term should not appear.
The trouble is search engines tend to provide you with either far too
many references or far too few. If, in reality, there are 20 or 30 sites that
would be of value to access, the search engine is likely to come up either
with 2,000 or 3,000, or with 2 or 3!
If there is no match for your request:
i You may have misspelt one or more words.
i You may have used the wrong symbols or phrasing for that
particular search engine.
i You may need to try a different search engine.
i You may have submitted too narrow a search. Try widening it from,
say, Edgbaston to Birmingham. Once you find some sites, their
links will take you to others.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 51
i Give both the abbreviation and the full name, linked by or (UN or
‘‘United Nations”)
i Try adding more alternatives – both more general and more
specific:
cereals, grain, wheat, maize, corn, rice, millet, sorghum,
cornflakes, muesli, oatmeal, porridge.
i The information may be there, but your computer cannot reach it
right now. Try again later.
If there are too many listings:
i Take a look at the first ten results to see if they coincide with your
topic. For example, if an inquiry on uncultivated grain using the
phrase “wild oats” yielded thousands of articles, and the first ten are
all about indiscretions of youth, you’ll need to rephrase the search.
i If the first ten listings are on your topic, skim a few of them to
extract more search terms.
i Add more words to your search string, putting a more specific word
first.
After a while, though, you will become more proficient in selecting
the right syntax and combination of keywords that will bring you a
manageable list and it will become almost second nature to find the
most efficient routes as you surf the net, jumping from page to page and
from site to site.
SORTING AND GROUPING YOUR FINDINGS
If the report has been well-planned, this process will be quite
straightforward. Use the headings and sub-headings of your skeletal
framework and make sure you have gathered enough relevant
information to complete each section and subsection. If you need more
52 / WRITING A REPORT
information, gather it now – not once you have started to draft your
report.
EVALUATING YOUR FINDINGS
There are two aspects to this evaluation:
i How reliable are the findings?
i How significant are the findings?
Consider each in turn.
How reliable are the findings?
There are four factors by which the reliability of information should be
judged:
i accuracy
i objectivity
i completeness
i strength.
Accuracy
Sometimes you can check the data supplied. For example, are the
mathematical calculations accurate? If there are too many to check,
remember Pareto’s principle which states that eighty per cent of what is
important is represented by twenty per cent of what exists. Concentrate
on this twenty per cent.
Information may also be inaccurate if it is out of date. In experimental
work, was current equipment used? In legal matters, has account been
taken of any recent and relevant legislation or case law? When text
books have been consulted, were they the most recent editions?
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 53
Objectivity
When people have strongly held beliefs they will often see or hear
things which support these beliefs, but they will not see or hear things
which oppose them. For example, self-deception may cause results to
be interpreted incorrectly. Going further, it is not unknown for people
to perpetrate fraud, either to hoax or to provide ‘evidence’ to support
preconceived ideas.
So ask yourself whether all the major or relevant points of view have
been fairly represented. If the subject is controversial, the arguments
for both (or all) cases should have been presented. At the very least,
the person who provided the information should have made it clear
that the views expressed are his or her own, and should then provide
references to opposing viewpoints.
Finally, be very wary of statements without supporting evidence.
Completeness
In computer science a ‘hash total’ is used to ensure the completeness of
a batch of records. However, it is often extremely difficult to prove that
information is complete or, more accurately, that it is not incomplete.
For example, we know of many animals that once inhabited the world.
But how can we prove that they were the only ones? How can we prove
that unicorns never existed? What you must ask yourself, therefore, is
whether all relevant information has been provided and whether any
attempt has been made to deceive or mislead by omission. Then look
at it from the other side: is all the information provided relevant or is
someone trying to ‘blind you with science’?
Strength
Evidence is strong when:
i It can be verified or re-performed (for example, a scientific
experiment).
54 / WRITING A REPORT
i Independent observers have all come to the same conclusion.
i There have been a large number of consistent observations.
i It is in agreement with the general body of knowledge.
Conversely, evidence is weak when some or all of these conditions
cannot be satisfied. Always differentiate between fact and opinion, and
remember that the former provides the far stronger evidence.
How significant are the findings?
You must now step back and assess the implications of your findings.
How material are they? Many report writers simply list every piece
of information they have gathered without any consideration of its
relative importance. This is a mistake because it implies that each is of
equal weight. It is important to recognise that there will be a variety of
interconnected causes for, and consequences of, an event – and these
will not be of equal importance.
PRIORITISING YOUR FINDINGS
What you must do is highlight your most significant findings, and be
prepared to explain carefully why they are so important. You may find
it useful to amend your skeletal framework so that these key findings
will not get lost somewhere within the main body of the report or in
an appendix. But don’t overdo it: the more things you highlight in the
main body and summary, the less powerful each so-called ‘highlight’
will become.
At the other extreme, ask yourself whether everything you have found
is worth recording in the report. Perhaps some findings should merely
be placed in an appendix as evidence of work undertaken – or perhaps
they should be omitted entirely. If your readers dismiss any of your
findings as petty or irrelevant, this can undermine the entire report and
severely damage your credibility.
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 55
As you prioritise your findings, continually remind yourself that your
aim will be to tell your readers everything they need to know, but not to
waste their time with trivia.
CHECKING YOUR FINDINGS
Before you conclude your investigation or project, you must be sure
that:
i You have collected and handled all the information you will need
to write the report.
i You are satisfied that all this information is accurate and reliable.
It is far better to fill in any gaps in your research now – or perhaps reperform an experiment, or refer to some further management statistics,
or confirm your understanding of the way a system operates – while you
are still on site. Otherwise you may later have to rely on your memory,
or on someone’s uncorroborated evidence over the phone, or – and
worst of all – trust to luck, before you can complete your draft report.
So ask yourself: Could I confidently write the report now, relying only
on the information I have collected and handled? The investigation
should not be wound up until the answer to this question is an
unqualified ‘Yes’.
SUMMARY
While it is quite possible to write a bad report after completing a good
investigation or project, it is impossible to write a good report until you
have successfully located, obtained, sorted and grouped, evaluated,
prioritised and checked the right amount of relevant information.
56 / WRITING A REPORT
Locating information
There are four sources of information available to you:
i people
i books and other publications
i information technology
i events and places.
Obtaining information
Information can be gathered from these sources by various methods,
such as experimentation, interview and research on the Internet.
Sorting and grouping information
Do this under the headings and sub-headings of the skeletal framework.
Make sure you have gathered enough relevant information to be able
to complete each section and sub-section of the report.
Evaluating information
Critically evaluate the evidence and arguments. Are they:
i Accurate?
i Objective?
i Complete?
i Strong?
How significant are your findings? Some will be far more important
than others. As you review each finding ask yourself: So what?
COLLECTING AND HANDLING INFORMATION / 57
Prioritising information
Highlight your most significant findings – but only your most significant
findings. If necessary amend the skeletal framework to make your key
findings prominent within the main body as well as in the summary.
Use the rest of the main body and any appendixes to tell your readers
everything they need to know, but do not bore them with trivia.
Checking information
Before the project is completed, make one final check to ensure you
have gathered enough accurate, reliable and relevant information to
enable you to write the entire report.
3
Writing and Revising
Your Report
If sufficient time and thought have been devoted to preparing and
planning, and possibly revising, the skeletal framework, and to
collecting and handling the information, you will now have a practical
blueprint for the entire report. Writing will entail amplifying the points
in each section and ‘putting flesh on the bones’.
The highly subjective and mentally demanding process of effective
written communication is the subject of Chapter 4. This chapter
is concerned with the clinical process of ordering, classifying and
sequencing. The order of writing and reviewing is important, and should
be as follows:
i Pre-write.
i Draft the main body and appendixes.
i Review the main body and appendixes.
i Draft
the
conclusions, recommendations, introduction
summary.
i Check and amend the report.
i Issue the report.
Consider each stage in turn.
and
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 59
PRE-WRITING
Take an overview of your report before you begin to draft it. There
are three aspects to this (five if you are making recommendations),
namely:
i Targeting. Remember your readers. It is all too easy to write for
yourself and not for them.
i Outlining. Remember your purpose and objective(s). Make sure
your outline (general plan) is just wide enough to encompass them
– no more and no less.
i Structuring. Refer to your skeletal framework. Is it still the most
suitable, or will it need to be revised, perhaps to highlight some
particularly important finding?
i Developing. What will you recommend to overcome problems
identified?
i Checking. Are you sure that these recommendations are
practicable?
DRAFTING THE MAIN BODY AND APPENDIXES
These components should be written first. Begin with the section
or subsection of the main body, or with the appendix you feel most
confident about. There are two important reasons for doing this:
i For any writer there is little worse than the horror of facing that
first blank page. By choosing to write what you find the easiest
or most inviting, you avoid this initial trepidation by immediately
getting down to writing.
i The more difficult parts of a project seem less forbidding once the
easier ones have been accomplished.
60 / WRITING A REPORT
In the back of your mind you will be aware that this draft is likely to
be amended. This is not a reason to treat it lightly. The better your first
draft, the better your final draft will be. So write as if this is your final
draft.
REVIEWING THE MAIN BODY AND APPENDIXES
Once you have written your detailed findings, try to forget about them
for a while. Then come back with a fresh mind. Assess what you have
actually written and how it comes across, rather than still thinking about
what you had intended to write and get across. Put yourself in your
readers’ shoes and be highly self-critical. As you read and re-read your
draft, you should:
i Assess whether the sub-structure of the main body (logical,
sectional or creative) is really the most suitable one to present your
facts and arguments.
i Examine the layout and general appearance.
i Determine whether the tone and balance are correct.
i Review the use and format of tabulations and appendixes.
i Check the accuracy of figures and calculations.
i Check the use of English, punctuation and spelling.
This self-assessment should give you a good idea of whether it is
necessary to re-structure your framework and/or re-write any of the
main body or appendixes, in order to get your message across as you
had intended.
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 61
DRAFTING THE CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS,
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY
These sections should not be written until after the main body and
appendixes have been completed, reviewed and, where necessary,
redrafted. Each of these sections can now be directly related to what has
actually been written in the main body and appendixes. The first section
can now be an accurate summary of the report. Another advantage of
this approach is that it avoids the danger of writing the report twice: it
is very easy for an introduction to develop into a report if the detailed
findings have not been written first of all.
Most writers draft these sections in the order in which they appear
above, namely:
i conclusions
i recommendations
i introduction
i summary.
Conclusions, recommendations and introduction
Your conclusions must follow logically from your detailed findings.
Your recommendations must follow logically from your conclusions.
Your introduction should include everything your readers need to
know before they read the rest of the report.
The summary
While these sections are all important, you must pay particular
attention to your summary. Make sure that the overall opinion is
expressed accurately and unambiguously, and reflects the findings
and comments given in the main body and appendixes. It must be a
62 / WRITING A REPORT
true summary of the report and should highlight any areas requiring a
particular emphasis. As already stated, the summary should stimulate
the readers’ interest by outlining:
i The salient facts.
i The main conclusions and recommendations.
Remember that it is intended to serve two overall functions:
i To provide a précis of what the recipient is going to read, or has just
read.
i To provide an outline of the report if the recipient is not going to
read any more of the report.
A summary must be interesting; if a reader finds it boring, the report
will have failed.
CHECKING AND AMENDING THE REPORT
Hold it two weeks is a classic rule in advertising. For the report writer
this may not be practicable. However, once you have completed your
first draft, try to forget all about it for a few days – or at least a few
hours. Then re-read it. Does it flow? Are there adequate links and
signposts for the reader? Can you justify everything that you have
written? Finally, ask yourself whether you would be willing to say what
you have written to the recipients, face-to-face. If you would not be
willing to say it, do not write it either.
Now print a copy of the document you have prepared on your word
processor. It is usual for three people to be involved in checking and
amending this first draft:
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 63
i yourself
i a colleague
i your line manager.
Your check
Once again, read it very carefully. It is far easier to spot mistakes and
other shortcomings on a printed document than on a manuscript. Look
out for any factual or word processing errors, or instances of poor
presentation, including unrequired or inconsistent:
i variations in size or style of lettering
i headings and sub-headings
i numbering
i highlighting techniques
i margins and spacing.
Is every section, sub-section, paragraph, sentence and word really
necessary? Are they accurate? Do they convey the meaning you
intended?
A colleague’s check
However, by now you will have read and re-read the draft so often that
you may not be able to see the wood for the trees. So ask a sympathetic
colleague, who knows as much about the subject as your readers – but
not much more – to give his or her candid comments on the amended
report. It is far easier to detect flaws in other people’s writing than in
your own. Are there any obvious errors or ambiguities? What changes
or improvements would they suggest? What impact is it likely to have
on your readers? You have been too closely involved with the report to
assess this objectively.
64 / WRITING A REPORT
Your line manager’s check
Now pass the further amended report to your line manager. As well as
asking the same sort of questions about it as you and your colleague
did, your manager will probably be considering wider aspects of the
report:
i its technical content
i its overall relevance
i whether it is politically sensitive.
If the report was authorised by a senior officer, your line manager will
be particularly concerned that it does credit to the section, firm or
profession.
Managers often follow these steps as they appraise draft reports:
i Assimilate. What is the report trying to achieve? How has the
writer attempted to achieve this?
i Question. Are all the facts, arguments, conclusions and
recommendations accurate, complete, convincing and justified? Be
prepared to face some very detailed questioning.
i Evaluate. How significant are the findings?
i Check. Will the writer need to provide any further evidence or reassess the practicality of any recommendations?
i Amend. Will the report need to be re-structured?
i Edit. What changes will need to be made to the content or
presentation? Are the most important findings, conclusions and
recommendations given due prominence? Are less important
findings confined to the main body, an appendix, or perhaps
omitted?
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 65
i Finalise. Is the report now written to the standard the recipients
require, or, in an organisation with many levels of management, to
the standard other senior levels require?
If everything is now considered satisfactory, the section and paragraph
headings can be finalised, all paragraph and report references checked
or amended, the pages numbered, the frontispiece drawn up and, if
necessary, an index compiled.
You should be given the opportunity to discuss the reasons for any
changes made by your line manager. If this does not happen:
i You may feel that this is no more than unjustified criticism.
i You will not learn from the experience as you can only guess what
was wrong with your version.
i You may conclude that there is no point in spending so much
effort on subsequent reports if they are going to be re-written by
superiors.
By now this draft will have so many comments and amendments on it
that it will almost certainly need to be re-printed. This is likely to be
the final draft. After three drafts it is probable that the report will not
get better anyway. Re-writing to get it right is an excellent practice; rewriting as a matter of course is a very bad and wasteful practice.
Preparing the final version
You should be responsible for preparing the final version. There are
three reasons for this:
i It will save your line manager’s time.
i It will show that you have grasped any points of criticism.
66 / WRITING A REPORT
i It will result in a report written in one style, rather than a patchwork
from different hands.
Proofreading
It is essential that reports are carefully proof-checked before they are
issued. What does this say?
Paris
in the
the spring
And this?
A
bird
in the
the hand
If you were proofreading, you would be expected to have spotted the
extra ‘the’s.
Now, read the sentence below:
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
Go back and count the number of ‘F’s in the sentence. The answer will
be given towards the end of this section.
Here is another little proofreading exercise. How many errors are there
in this sentence?
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 67
THIS SENTENCE CONTAINES
FOUR MISSTAKES.
Again, the answer will be given below.
However much time and effort are put into researching and writing
the report, the required result will not be achieved without sufficient
care being devoted to the process of proofreading. A poorly presented
report, full of errors and inconsistencies in layout, has a damaging effect
regardless of the quality of the content. Mistakes, therefore, must be
identified and corrected; there really is no excuse for failing to do this
properly.
Proofreading your own work is difficult and inefficient. Because you
are so familiar with the report, you tend to race through and think of
the bigger picture – the next report. Someone else who has not been
working on the report can give it much fresher and more objective
scrutiny.
Here are some useful proofreading techniques:
i Print out a copy of the report. Spell-checkers and grammarcheckers miss things, and people do not read text onscreen with the
same diligence as they read from a page.
i Use a ruler to slow down your reading and make yourself read line
by line.
i Read the report out aloud. This process slows down your reading
and makes you listen to how it sounds.
i Read the report backwards. Obviously it will not make sense but it
is an excellent way to spot spelling mistakes.
i Limit your proofreading to one small section at a time. Then take a
short break before proceeding to the next small section.
68 / WRITING A REPORT
i Proofread when you are most fresh. This time may be early in the
morning or whenever you feel the most alert.
i Try to proofread when you know you will have peace and quiet and
can avoid interruptions from the telephone or visitors.
Now for the answers to those exercises. It is probable that you counted
three ‘F’s, whereas there are actually six. The human brain tends to see
the ‘F’ in ‘OF’ as a ‘V. The second sentence contains three errors: two
spelling mistakes and one false claim about its content.
ISSUING THE REPORT
In some organisations the report would now be issued. In others, the
following final steps are taken:
i Discussion. The writer discusses his or her findings with the key
recipients and confirms the factual accuracy of significant points.
i Clearing. Any corrective action is agreed and/or the report is
amended in the light of any mistakes or misapprehensions shown
to have occurred during the investigation.
i Circulation. The revised report, clearly annotated ‘Draft’ on the
cover and on every page, is circulated.
i Agreeing. The findings are agreed.
i Issuing. The final report is issued.
There are important advantages in following these additional steps:
i It paves the way for the recommendations.
i It prepares the recipients for any criticisms which may be in the
final report.
WRITING AND REVISING YOUR REPORT / 69
i It enables the writer to adapt the tone and emphasis of the report
in the light of the recipients’ initial reactions.
i It increases the probability that the findings will be accepted if they
have been fully discussed and the recipients’ views have been taken
into account.
i It enables the writer to avoid errors and misunderstandings which
would otherwise undermine his or her credibility and damage the
department’s or company’s reputation.
The responsibility for final approval of the report often rests with the
writer’s line manager. Once this approval has been obtained arrange
for, or make, the correct number of bound copies, including at least one
for file. By publication day the names, addresses and designations of
all the recipients should be known and checked. Envelopes, wrappers
and labels should have been made up, covering letters or compliments
slips prepared to explain why the report has been sent and to provide a
contact point (probably you), if further enquiry or comment is desired.
Record full details of all issues in a register and try to ensure that each
person receives his or her copy at the same time.
SUMMARY
If sufficient time and thought have been devoted to preparing and
planning, and possibly revising, a suitable skeletal framework, and to
collecting and handling the information required, writing the report
will be reasonably straightforward. You will need to amplify the points
in each section of the framework, and ‘put flesh on the bones’.
The order of writing and revising is important, and should be:
1.
Pre-write (targeting, outlining, structuring, developing and
checking).
70 / WRITING A REPORT
2.
Draft the main body and appendixes, beginning with a section, subsection or appendix you feel particularly confident about.
3.
Review the main body and appendixes.
4.
Draft the conclusions, recommendations, introduction
summary, in that order.
5.
Check and amend the report with the assistance of a colleague and
your line manager.
6.
Issue the report, possibly after discussing, clearing, circulating and
agreeing a draft report.
and
Part Two
The Creative Side
of Report Writing
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4
A Style Guide to
Good Report Writing
During World War II, the Prime Minister sent this memo to his War
Cabinet:
CONCISENESS
To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them
are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent looking
for the essential points.
I ask my colleagues and their staff to see to it that their reports are
shorter.
The aim should be reports, which set out the main points in a series of
short, crisp paragraphs.
If a report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on
statistics, these should be set out in an appendix.
Let us end such phrases as these:
‘It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations’, or
‘Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect’.
Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out
altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the
short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.
Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may first seem rough as
compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in
time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points
concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.
Winston Churchill, 9 August 1940
74 / WRITING A REPORT
This advice and instruction remains as valuable today as it was some 70
years ago – perhaps even more so.
Chapter 3 took a clinical view of report writing (the ordering,
classifying and sequencing of a document). This chapter turns to the
highly subjective and mentally demanding process of effective written
communication, and considers that elusive concept known as style.
Style is the most nebulous area of report writing. It is very easy to
criticise a writer’s style as ‘poor’ or ‘inappropriate’; what is not so easy
is to specify the stylistic improvements that should be encouraged. This
chapter attempts to do just that under these headings:
i Report style.
i Achieving a good style.
i Choosing your words carefully.
i Principles for effective report writing.
REPORT STYLE
To be completely successful, a report which makes recommendations
must ensure that the persons for whom the report is intended:
i Read it without unnecessary delay.
i Understand everything in it without undue effort.
i Accept the facts, findings, conclusions and recommendations.
i Decide to take the action recommended.
Achieving this demands more of you than merely presenting relevant
facts accurately. It also demands that you communicate in a way that is
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 75
both acceptable and intelligible to the readers. Take a look at Appendix
1 for some examples of how this can be achieved.
Good style
It is not possible to define precisely what good style is. Perhaps the
nearest working definition is that good style is the best way to get your
message across each time you write. Every situation on which a report
is prepared will vary, at least slightly. If this were not so, there would be
no need for the report to be written. The expression of every point must
therefore be drafted with the new situation in mind. Orthodoxy and
imitation (for their own sake) are the refuge of the bad report writer.
A good style in report writing involves constructing sentences and
paragraphs in such a way that the message you wish to convey is
conveyed accurately and quickly to the reader. This is far more difficult
to achieve than many writers realise. Reports abound with sentences
which their readers have to read two or three times before they can
understand.
Once you have issued the report you have no opportunity, at the
time the recipients read it, to explain, expand on, or modify what
you have written. You cannot reinforce your message by non-verbal
communication (as a speaker can by using gestures, facial expressions,
intonations and so on). The readers get no further assistance from you:
they have to work on their own to understand what you have said and
to fathom your meaning. And, if the report is written in a bad style, the
reader may get the wrong meaning, or perhaps no meaning at all. Your
constant aim, therefore, should be to make the readers’ task easier, and
to ensure that what they understand when they read the report is what
you intended them to understand.
The word ‘style’ is not used here – as it is normally used in discussing
literature – as a term for appraising the quality of a writer’s method of
76 / WRITING A REPORT
expression. A person may be well-educated and write in an excellent
literary style, yet use a bad style in writing a report – because he or
she fails to communicate with the reader. A good style in business
communication – unlike a good literary style – should combine:
i clarity
i conciseness
i and directness.
In a report the style of writing should be unobtrusive; if the reader
becomes aware of the style of writing it probably means that the
writing is pompous, or ostentatious, or ambiguous, or difficult to follow.
Above all else, the writing should be easy to read. Good style is good
manners.
Research into what makes a piece of writing readable started in
America over seventy years ago. Experts nowadays agree that the
factors that most affect readability are:
i an attractive appearance
i non-technical subject matter
i a clear and direct style
i short sentences
i short and familiar words.
ACHIEVING A GOOD STYLE
Your style of dress is different on a beach, at a wedding and at work.
Similarly, your style of writing should be different on a postcard, in a
prepared wedding speech and in a report.
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 77
There are certain conventions within the field of report writing. For
example, reports should always be serious (concerned with important
matters) without ever becoming solemn (gloomy and sombre).
However, a writer should be given as much freedom as possible within
these conventions. This encourages the development of a natural, less
inhibited writing style which, in turn, leads to better report writing.
There are numerous ways in which you can bring individuality to
whatever you write, which will not only enable you to communicate
more effectively, but also give your writing extra colour and impact.
Selectivity
Careful choice of words can enable you to convey many subtleties of
meaning. You cannot find a word you have forgotten or do not know in
a dictionary. Look up a word of similar meaning in a thesaurus and you
will find a variety of words and expressions which should include the
one in the back of your mind, or perhaps an even more appropriate one
which you had not even considered.
Accuracy
Check that everything you write is factually accurate. The facts should
be capable of being verified. Moreover, arguments should be soundly
based and your reasoning should be logical. You should not write
anything that will misinform, mislead or unfairly persuade your readers.
If you do, you will be doing a disservice not only to yourself but also
to your department and organisation. Accurate information is essential
for effective communication and decision making.
It is sometimes tempting to take short-cuts. If you are writing as a
specialist for non-specialists you may feel that you can make statements
which you would not make for a technical readership, in order to press
a case. The danger with such an approach is that you only have to be
found out once for your entire credibility to be destroyed, or at the very
least undermined.
78 / WRITING A REPORT
There is an old saying that liars must have good memories. In any case, it
is much easier to write honestly and fairly. This makes for an enhanced
personal reputation, and a growing confidence in the reliability of your
findings, conclusions and recommendations.
Objectivity
A report should not be an essay reflecting personal emotions and
opinions. You must look at all sides of a problem with an open mind
before stating your conclusions. The role is similar to that of a sports
referee or a High Court judge. In these situations, decisions are based
on the results, the evidence, or an interpretation of the evidence – not
on personal opinions and feelings.
Making it clear that you have an open mind when writing your report
will, in most cases, make your conclusions and recommendations more
acceptable to your readers. The emphasis, therefore, should be on the
factual material presented and the conclusions drawn, rather than on
any personal beliefs, biases or prejudices.
Conciseness
Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). That is how Julius Caesar
reported his visit to our shores. While none of your reports will be as
short as this, you should aim to keep them concise. In doing this, do not
mistake brevity for conciseness. A report may be brief because it omits
important information. A concise report, on the other hand, is short but
still contains all the essential details.
To ensure you do not include material which can safely be left out, you
should not ask: ‘Can this information be included?’ Rather, you should
ask: ‘Is it necessary for this information to be included?’ In this way, you
will be sure to put into your report only as much information as your
readers need in order to respond as you wish them to.
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 79
Several software grammar-checkers aspire to provide general advice on
conciseness. These include Gunning’s Fog Index, Flesch’s Reading Ease
Score, Fry’s Readability Graph and Morris’s Clear River Test. While
they all have at least something to offer, they disregard such things as
the use of actives and passives, the way the information is organised,
how it looks on a page, and the reader’s motivation and level of prior
knowledge. They give only the merest hint about how to write better
text and they encourage the idea that a clear document is one that
scores well on a formula. Few serious writers bother to use them.
While it may be a truism, keeping the average length of sentences short
is one of the best ways of ensuring conciseness. Aim for an average
sentence length of less than twenty words. This does not mean, of course,
that every sentence in a section must contain no more than twenty
words. In fact, it is preferable to vary the lengths and constructions
of sentences, otherwise your writing will have a staccato rhythm or a
terseness which many readers may find either childish or otherwise
irritating. (That sentence has thirty-four words.)
Clarity and consistency
The best way to achieve clarity in your writing is to allow some time to
elapse between the first draft and its revision. Try to leave it over the
weekend, or at least overnight. If you are really under pressure and this
is simply not possible, at least leave it over a lunch or coffee break. It is
essential to have a period of time, no matter how short, when you can
think of other things. In this way, when you come back to the report, you
can look at it with a degree of objectivity.
You can, however, increase your chances of writing with clarity and
consistency if, as you write, you try to keep certain things in mind.
Concentrate on a mental picture of your readers, and make sure you
are writing for them and not for yourself.
80 / WRITING A REPORT
Simplicity
Usually, if your writing is selective, accurate, objective, concise, clear
and consistent, it will also be as simple as it can be. You should guard
against over-simplifying, for example to the point of missing out
information which the reader needs to fully understand what you are
trying to say. You should again keep your readers firmly in mind and
keep asking yourself whether or not they will be able to follow the logic
of your presentation.
Many problems in communicating are caused by making things more
difficult than they need to be. Many writers also over-estimate the
reading capacity of the report’s recipients. They forget, or do not know,
that the average manager has a reading speed of about 225 words per
minute and comprehends only about seventy-five per cent of what is
read. That is why the summary is so important. Even if recipients are
going to read the whole report, the summary tells them the essential
points being made. It is always easier for readers to process information
when they have some knowledge of it in advance. Remember the adage:
tell them what you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you
said.
Keeping technical writing simple
The problem of how to keep things simple is particularly acute for
technical writers. The information they have to convey is difficult for
non-technical readers to understand. If they simplify their expression
too much they may distort the meaning of whatever they are trying
to say. It is all too easy for them to shrug their shoulders and tell
themselves that it is not their fault and their readers will just have to
follow them the best they can.
This simply will not do. The readers, after all, are the really important
people. If they do not understand, they will reject what the writer has to
say. If the writer depends on their approval for a course of action, he or
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 81
she is helping no one by refusing to take their limitations into account.
No writer can afford to be so self-indulgent.
Benefits of simplicity
The rewards of writing simply are considerable. Readers will at least
understand what has been said and will be more likely to respond
favourably to conclusions drawn and recommendations made. They
will form a higher opinion of the writer and they will read subsequent
reports with greater attention and enthusiasm.
CHOOSING YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
When children are learning English at school, they are encouraged to
use longer and longer words in progressively more complex sentences.
Paradoxically, the report writer should be encouraged to do just the
opposite. Generally, prefer short words in short sentences: the right
word, however modest, is never undignified.
Prefer plain words
Do not be afraid of plain English. Write to express, not to impress.
Prefer words your readers are likely to understand.
not
but
The ready availability of computer-based tutorials associated
with applications software has become prevalent since the
development of Microsoft Windows.
Computer-based tutorials associated with applications
software have become readily available since the development
of Microsoft Windows.
If you find yourself about to write a word that you would not use in
everyday conversation, ask yourself: ‘Do I really need to use this word?’
The overuse of uncommon words will make your report seem pompous,
officious and long-winded. Not that anyone should forbid you from
82 / WRITING A REPORT
ever using them, but judicious use of the alternatives will make your
report shorter, simpler and more conversational in style.
Avoid pointless words
Some words and phrases – like basically, actually, undoubtedly,
each and every one and during the course of our investigation – keep
cropping up in reports. Yet they add nothing to the message and often
can be removed without changing the meaning or the tone. Try leaving
them out of your writing. You will find your sentences survive, succeed
and may even flourish without them.
Avoid overwriting and padding
Weed out any meaningless, excess words.
not
but
Accounts Receivable is not concerned with the follow-up of
any of the items with the exception of delinquent accounts.
Accounts Receivable follows up delinquent accounts only.
Avoid redundant words
Repetition of a word can keep the reader aware of the topic. However,
saying the same thing twice over in different words for no good reason
is tautology.
not
but
Past history suggests that our future prospects are bright.
History suggests that our prospects are bright.
Avoid the careless positioning of words
This can cause misunderstanding and confusion.
not
but
The headteacher was urged to take a strong line on
absenteeism by the board of governors.
The board of governors urged the headteacher to take a
strong line on absenteeism.
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 83
Prefer the positive
Try to use positive statements wherever possible.
not
but
We do not believe the backup files are adequate.
We believe the backup files are inadequate.
Try to avoid qualifying introductions
Readers, seeing a qualification, are put on notice that they must keep
this in mind until they read the rest of the report. This irritates.
not
but
While repayment of these amounts is provided for, the ten per
cent interest is not included.
Repayment of these amounts is provided for, but the ten per
cent interest is not included.
Place emphasis at the end of the sentence
The strength of a sentence is at its end.
not
but
With a little clarification, the subcontractor would have
solved the difficulties occasioned by the specification changes
more readily.
With a little clarification, the subcontractor would more
readily have solved the difficulties occasioned by the
specification changes.
Prefer English to foreign words and phrases
Using uncommon foreign-language terms like inter alia, per se, and sine
die may look like showing off. Avoid them unless there are no good
English equivalents – and unless you are sure that your audience will
understand them.
Avoid sexist language
The tone of your writing should not reflect a gender bias – or any
other bias, such as race, religion, age or disability. Such writing can
84 / WRITING A REPORT
send the wrong or hidden message and may alienate readers. While an
awareness of the need to avoid sexual discrimination in writing goes
back many decades, it was in the 1980s that acceptance of this need
became widespread. Impetus was given by the increase in the number
of women in the workplace and today many schools and colleges teach
non-sexist writing.
The use of pronouns in a sentence where the gender of the noun has
not been revealed is often perceived as sexist, whether intentional or
not. For example, if you use personal pronouns referring to a manager
as ‘he’ and a secretary as ‘she’, you are stereotyping. You can avoid this
by omitting pronouns, changing to the plural form when possible, or by
using both genders.
not
but
A good manager will gain the respect of his staff.
A good manager will gain the respect of staff.
not
but
A secretary should be loyal to her boss.
Secretaries should be loyal to their bosses.
not
but
A report writer should get to know his readers.
A report writer should get to know his or her readers.
Various words and expressions can also be perceived as indicating a
gender bias. With a little thought, it is possible to use more acceptable
alternatives.
not
not
not
policeman,
fireman,
businessman,
but
but
but
police officer
fire fighter
businessperson.
However, it is not easy to prepare a long report which is entirely
gender-neutral. To do so tends to produce immoderately long sentences,
excessive use of the passive and, sometimes, ambiguous writing. Also, it
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 85
seems reasonable that where there is an overwhelming majority of one
sex in the report’s readership, the use of pronouns should reflect this.
Use warm words
Words are powerful. They conjure up images, evoke emotions and trigger
responses deep within us so that we react, often without knowing why.
So-called warm words make us feel secure and comfortable, while cold
words leave us uneasy and unsure. Writer Henry James said the two
most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon
because they evoke just the right emotions.
In the early days of instant coffee, advertisers got off to a bad start
by stressing words like quick, time-saving and efficient. These are all
words without warmth and feeling. Makers of fresh coffee fought back
with warm, happy, appetising words like aroma, fresh and tasty. Makers
of instant coffee soon learned the lesson and their product became
delicious, rich and satisfying. Sales blossomed. The rest, as they say, is
history.
Once you get into the habit of looking at the emotional colouring of
words, as well as their meanings, you will find yourself using the kind
of language that puts readers at ease and causes them to react more
favourably to your reports and to you.
PRINCIPLES FOR EFFECTIVE REPORT WRITING
There are several well-known and well-tested pieces of advice to
people who wish to communicate effectively on paper. Here are some
that should prove particularly valuable to report writers.
The importance of reports
The report is the major product of your project or investigation. Indeed,
for most people it is the only tangible evidence that any work has been
undertaken. It should not be silent on all your hard work. There is as
86 / WRITING A REPORT
much importance in presenting facts as in finding them; what is not
reported will soon be forgotten, and might as well never have been
discovered.
Drafting the report
i Try to write your draft report over consecutive days. You will find
that in two days you will achieve three times what you can in one;
in four days you will do four times what you might in two.
i Write in bursts of about forty minutes to an hour, each followed by
a short break.
i Never start a writing session without being clear what you intend to
achieve.
i Be flexible. You may have to postpone a writing session to do some
other work. However, flexibility works both ways, so make the most
of any unexpected writing opportunities.
i A ten-minute solo walk can often be more useful than an hour
sitting at your desk.
i Once you have started, keep the momentum going. Do not be overconcerned with writing conventions at this stage. There will be time
for this later.
i Read a passage aloud to yourself. If it sounds like the latest news
from Afghanistan, or staccato or complicated, you are failing.
The need for explanation
i Always begin by saying what you have been asked to do, who asked
you and when. Say how, where and when you did it, and with whose
help. Always explain what you are talking about. Never be afraid of
explaining too much.
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 87
i Try to consolidate highly factual reference into self-contained
sections which will be seen as help for those who require it, but not
as required reading for those who do not.
i Always make it clear what you have accepted, and what you have
verified. When you have verified something, say how.
i You cannot explain the present without first explaining the past.
Begin at the beginning. How do things come to be where they are
now?
i Be specific. Words like ‘mostly’, ‘largely’ and ‘substantially’ merely
raise the question ‘how much?’. Say instead ‘three-quarters’, ‘twothirds’, ‘about half’; there is no need to be finicky, but you must say
what you mean.
Differentiating between important facts and details
The best report writers are those who know which are the main facts,
and which are the details that illustrate them. If you did not fully
understand that sentence, please read it again. It is possibly the most
important there is in this book.
Avoiding too many figures
A common mistake in writing reports is to produce too many figures
and too few explanations. The principles to follow are two-fold:
i Restrict figures to those which are meaningful.
i Make sure they are consistently produced and interpreted.
Never assume that the readers will draw the right conclusion from the
figures. They may quite easily not be reading them at all when they read
the text; or they may read them and make the wrong conclusion; or they
may fail to make any conclusion. Always say in words what they mean.
88 / WRITING A REPORT
Layout
Be consistent:
i Do not change names or descriptions without good reason.
For example, if you describe a unit in the main body as ‘the
manufacturing department’, do not refer to it as ‘the factory’ in the
summary.
i Write dates the same way throughout (6th December 2009, or
perhaps December 6, 2009).
i The numbers one to ten look better in words, larger numbers look
better in figures.
i The layout of headings, pages and paragraphs should not vary.
Keep cross-references to a minimum. Wherever possible exhaust a
topic the first time it comes up. If something does have to be mentioned
in two places, give the reference to the first discussion the second time
you deal with it, not vice-versa. To be told that something is going to
come up again casts doubt on what you have just read. Cross-reference
to part and section numbers, not to pages or paragraphs; the parts of the
draft report already revised can then be typed in final form before the
later parts are finished.
SUMMARY
Style is an elusive concept. Perhaps the nearest we can get to a working
definition is that good style is the best way to get your message across
each time you write. Your aim should be to write reports which are:
i read without unnecessary delay
i understood without undue effort
i accepted and, where appropriate, acted upon.
A ST YLE GUID E TO GOOD R E P O RT W R I T I N G / 89
Research has suggested that the factors that most affect readability
are:
i An attractive appearance.
i Non-technical subject-matter.
i A clear and direct style.
i Short sentences.
i Short, familiar words.
There are numerous ways in which you can bring individuality to
whatever you write, which will not only enable you to communicate
more effectively, but also give your writing extra colour and impact.
It should be selective, accurate, objective, concise, clear, consistent and
simple.
A report is an important document.
i Draft it in short, concentrated bursts.
i Pay particular attention to the need for explanation.
i Differentiate between important facts and details.
i Avoid too many figures.
i Be consistent throughout.
5
Improving the Presentation
of Your Report
Technology provides new, exciting and better ways of improving the
presentation of a report. A computer equipped with word processing
or desktop publishing software not only makes the work easier but also
provides the opportunity for you to create a report every bit as polished
and professional as one produced by an expert team including a writer,
typist, typesetter and graphic artist.
The differences between word processing and desktop publishing
(DTP) are fading. Word processing can be used to design documents.
Desktop publishing can be used for ordinary, simple documents as
well as highly sophisticated publications. Today, the two areas overlap
extensively and are frequently used interchangeably.
The objectives of good presentation are:
i To attract and retain the interest of the readers.
i To help them understand the contents of the report without undue
effort.
i To enable them to find their way around the report quickly.
i To demonstrate your professionalism and, where appropriate, that
of your department and/or your organisation.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 91
Word processing or desktop publishing software can help you achieve
these objectives. Unless you are using a steam-driven PC, you will be
able to work wysiwyg. Pronounced whizzywig, this acronym stands
for what you see is what you get. In most applications what you see
onscreen is an accurate representation of how the document you are
working on will print out. This means you can adjust the appearance
of your report, making revisions to the look, until you are completely
happy with the result.
This chapter provides a guide to determining the appearance of your
report. It begins with an overview of what word processing and desktop
publishing can do for the report writer. Then it considers how this
technology can be used most effectively to enhance each of the four
elements which collectively create a high quality, professional-looking
report, namely:
i layout and design
i typography
i illustrations
i colour.
Finally, it looks at other ways of making a report stand out from the
pack, through careful choice of paper, covers, binding and indexing.
Let us begin with the overview.
WORD PROCESSING AND DESKTOP PUBLISHING
Flexibility is the key attribute of word processing and desktop
publishing. Once you have got your text onscreen, you can edit it,
format it, save your work as a file and print it out. Whole blocks of text
can be inserted or deleted in the middle of a report with everything else
92 / WRITING A REPORT
moving around to accommodate the change. Paragraphs can be shifted
from one section of a report to another. Sentences can be amended.
Words can be highlighted. In short, you can do pretty much what you
like with it.
As well as providing basic tools for drawing line rules, boxes and other
embellishments, most word processors allow graphics and tabular
information to be imported from other programs – including accounts
packages and spreadsheets that can prepare charts and tables from the
data they hold.
If you have standard reports that need to be revised each time they
are used, you can create them as templates, then personalise copies
just before they are printed without the need to retype from scratch
or take the unprofessional-looking route of typing or writing onto
a photocopied standard report. Facilities for numbering pages and
providing headers and footers can be found in most word processors.
These automate repetitive processes.
On the design front, you can expect style functions that allow you to
save the attributes of text – font, size, colour and so on – as a style you
can apply easily to sections of text you highlight using the mouse. This
facility helps to keep consistency both within a report and between
reports. You can change the fonts that you use in a report at will,
providing you have installed fonts under your operating system.
You may wish to consider add-on packages in order to improve the
more popular word processing software. Task-specific programs that
help you structure, say, a marketing plan can help you and your word
processor enter into new fields by providing the examples and expertise
needed to create detailed and competent reports.
There are numerous business-specific applications that are designed to
address particular sectors of commerce or industry, which are referred
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 93
to as ‘vertical’ applications. Some can be applied generally, such as
Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages, but many are only relevant
to one field – estate agency, insurance or the like. Buying programs
of this nature is a complex subject, as your own requirements may in
reality be quite different from someone working in a different area of
the same profession. If you are looking for a solution of this kind, then
you should get in contact with your professional body or institute, which
will maintain a list of recognised software suppliers. It will sometimes
be able to make specific recommendations as to which package will be
best for you, but more likely will leave the research side up to you.
Checklist: word processing and desktop publishing
i Don’t worry about your typing speed. Most two-finger typists
can type faster than they think, and with practice your speed will
improve.
i Unless you are a graphic designer or have a real need to produce
documents for professional printing, you are unlikely to need the
facilities of high-end desktop publishing.
i Talk to other people who use word processors and see how they use
the features their program offers.
i Consider setting up a ‘house-style’ to use in your report, keeping
the number of fonts to a minimum but using standard, attractive
layouts. A set of templates can then be used as the starting point for
all your reports.
i Develop a filing system on your computer so you can easily find
and reload reports. If you are dealing with a large number of
reports, check that your word processor can search by summary
information or the content of a report, rather than just the filename
under which reports have been saved.
94 / WRITING A REPORT
LAYOUT AND DESIGN
Many considerations and decisions are required when choosing your
overall layout and design. In particular, you will need to think about:
i format
i page size and orientation
i margins and spacing
i headings and subheadings
i numbering.
Format
Reports of today do not have to look like the traditional reports of
yesterday. They can look interesting and make people want to read
them. Word processing and desktop publishing techniques can be
used to create new, reader-friendly reports in exciting formats such as
modern, ultra-modern and enhanced modern.
A traditional report is the kind produced on a typewriter. A modern
report takes this format one stage further by adding lines and boxes,
changing font sizes and using italics. An ultra-modern report has the
additional feature of a two- or three-column format. People read faster
and comprehend more information when reading short rather than
long lines of text. In an enhanced modern report, images are added and
manipulated. This is an excellent format for reports because people are
used to reading newspapers, journals and magazines presented in this
way.
Figure 5 illustrates three designs which offer possible starting points for
creating your own page layouts.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 95
Fig. 5. Three page designs.
96 / WRITING A REPORT
Throughout the remainder of this chapter you will find everything you
need to know to be able to create a professional report in any format. If
you choose a traditional single-column layout, it is advisable to use 12point type. A variation to this is to use just one column but to shorten
the line length. This not only makes the material easier and faster to
read, but also allows space for artwork, graphics, captions, headings
and subheadings. The use of two- or even three-column formats gives
a report a very professional look and increases the readability of copy.
Smaller 9-, 10-, or 11-type size is recommended.
Page size and orientation
What size of paper will you use? The standard pages are these:
Paper size
Al
A2
A3
A4
A5
Portrait
mm
594 x 841
420 x 594
297 x 420
210 x 297
148 x 210
inches
23.4 x 33.1
16.5 x 23.4
11.7 x 16.5
8.3 x 11.7
5.8 x 8.3
Landscape
Fig. 6. Page orientation.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 97
Writers tend to choose standard A4 paper as a matter of course.
However, at least consider other options. If you are using a photocopier
or laser printer, make sure the paper you choose will go through your
machine.
In addition to size of paper, you will need to think about its orientation
(see Figure 6). Will the report be portrait (vertical/tall) or landscape
(horizontal/wide)? Most reports are portrait. Consider whether
a landscape orientation for your report might work even more
effectively.
Margins and spacing
It is far easier for a reader to assimilate information presented in small
sections than in huge, uninterrupted blocks of print. Pages with too
much type and artwork give the appearance of being too heavy and
hard to read. White space (or whatever colour background is used) is
very important not only to help the reader, but also to give the report a
professional look. It is important to allow:
i Adequate space between the lines of print (reports are often
double-spaced with 1½-spacing for sub-paragraphs).
i An adequate and consistent margin on the left of the page for
binding (the size of margin on the left will vary according to the
type of binding selected).
i Clear and consistent gaps between sections and paragraphs.
i A margin of at least an inch at the top (the header zone) and
bottom (the footer zone) of the page.
Using short bulleted lists of related items (such as the one above) is
another good way of breaking up paragraphs of text to make it easier
to read. The list may be introduced by a colon, a dash, or both (:-), and
the size of any indentations must be consistent.
98 / WRITING A REPORT
Headings and subheadings
Headings and subheadings help busy readers of today by identifying
and labelling blocks of type. They are not standard. You must invent
them. Make sure that they:
i are comparatively short
i are descriptive
i would be expected, or at least would be easily interpreted
i cover all the ground (collectively)
i do not overlap (although the same information may appear under
more than one heading if it supports more than one argument)
i are never vague (for example, avoid headings such as ‘General’,
‘Miscellaneous’ and ‘Other’)
i are in an order which readers will find logical (perhaps in
alphabetical order, in chronological order, or in order of
importance)
i are identical to those listed in the table of contents (if used).
Once you have introduced a topic with a heading or subheading, you
cannot leave that topic and move on to another one until you provide
another heading or subheading. For this reason subheadings should not
repeat information provided in headings. For example, if your heading
is ‘ABC Limited’, your subheadings could be ‘Production Department’,
‘Accounts Department’ and ‘Personnel Department’. There is no need
to write, ‘ABC Limited – Production Department’.
Remember that the title of the report should be more prominent than
section headings; section headings more prominent than paragraph
headings; paragraph headings more prominent than sub-paragraph
headings, and so on. Similarly, headings of the same rank should
represent topics of roughly equal importance. Paradoxically, though,
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 99
the less prominent the heading, the more specific and precise must be
the wording below it.
Think of it this way. You are driving from London to South Wales. As
you approach the motorway you see a large sign giving fairly general
directions: ‘Wales and the West’. As you cross the Severn Bridge you
face a smaller sign providing more detailed information: ‘Newport’,
‘Cardiff’, ‘Swansea’. As you leave the motorway at Newport you
observe an even smaller sign giving quite detailed information: ‘Retail
Park’; ‘The Docks’; ‘Town Centre’. As you enter the industrial estate
you see a very small sign giving details of every individual store: ‘B&Q’;
‘Comet’; ‘Tesco’.
The principle applies equally to reports: the more prominent the
heading, the less specific the text; the less prominent the heading, the
more specific the text.
It is better to structure the report with several short sections, each
containing a few subheadings, than to have just a few sections, each with
several subheadings, sub-subheadings or even sub-sub-subheadings.
Numbering
The role of numbering systems is simply to identify the various
components of a report for reference and indexing purposes. There are
two aspects to this:
i numbering pages
i numbering sections and paragraphs.
Pages
Any time you have more than one or two pages, you need to number
them. Computer software has the capability of performing this function
automatically, but you must determine where you want the page
100 / WRITING A REPORT
numbers. Several choices are acceptable – either the upper or lower
outside corners or the middle of the bottom of the page. Placing the
numbers on the outside corners allows readers to locate a specific page
more easily when scanning through a report.
You can number the pages by following one of two methods. Either
simply number the pages from 1 to n (n representing the final page
number), beginning with the page after the title page. Or number the
‘preliminaries’ (the components before the main body) as (i), (ii), (iii),
etc – again beginning with the page after the title page, and number the
remainder of the report from 1 to n.
Sections and paragraphs
When it comes to numbering sections and paragraphs, it is very
important to keep the system simple. For many writers the numbering
seems to be an end in itself; and sometimes it appears that it determines
the structure rather than vice versa. Here are some possible methods:
(i) Combination of Roman and Arabic numbers
Popular throughout continental Europe, and used in all European
Commission reports, Roman numerals identify sections and Arabic
numerals identify related text. The breakdown is extended by decimals,
if required. For example, the third section of a report could be numbered
as follows:
III
III.1
III.1.1
III.1.2
III.1.3
III.2
III.2.1
III.2.2
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 101
(ii) Sections with unique sequential paragraph numbers
Here Arabic numbers are used to identify sections, letters are used for
subheadings and Roman numerals for sub-subheadings. For example:
5(a)i
5(a)ii
5(b)i
5(b)ii
5(b)iii
(iii) Simple decimal numbers
This method uses a two- or three-decimal numbering system, combined
with Roman numerals to identify paragraphs within subsections or subsubsections:
4.
4.1
4.1.1
4.1.2
(a)
(b)
4.1.3
(iv) All-decimal system
However, the most popular scheme of numbering is the all-decimal
system. There is no provision for any symbols other than decimal
combinations. Reports numbered in this way are clear and unambiguous,
but they can easily become extremely cumbersome:
1.1.1.1
1.1.1.2
1.2.1.1
1.2.1.2
1.2.2.1
1.2.2.2
1.2.2.3
102 / WRITING A REPORT
By numbering paragraphs rather than headings or subheadings, you
can avoid the complexity of three-part (1.1.1), four-part (1.1.1.1), or
even five-part (1.1.1.1.1) numbering.
If your organisation has no standard numbering system for use in all
its reports (it should have one), ask yourself what system would make
things as easy as possible for your readers. Look at earlier reports. What
numbering systems did they employ? Which of them worked best?
Would it work equally well for this report? Always remember that a
numbering system should be determined by the structure of the report,
not vice versa.
Checklist: layout and design
i Keep paragraphs fairly short (generally five to eight lines)
– particularly when using two- or three-column layouts.
i Break up text by using the technique of listing (enumerating) with
bullet, checkmark, arrow, or some other interesting character.
i Make your page breaks so that you avoid widow or orphan lines
– one line stranded from the rest of the paragraph.
i Avoid mixed or uneven columns, which result in a lack of visual
continuity. Stick to one column grid for each page.
i Aim for a minimum of 30 per cent and an average 50 per cent white
space on each page.
TYPOGRAPHY
Typography is the art and style of printing. Today users have at their
disposal literally thousands of typefaces (specific type designs) and
fonts (sets of characters in one weight and style of typeface) from
which to choose. The choice of type is important because it will set the
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 103
psychological mood and style of a report and create an impression of
formality or informality. Be selective, and, if appropriate, consider taking
advice from a designer who could help you develop a departmental or
corporate identity that works for your business.
But more likely, you will choose the type for your report. Three
elements must be considered:
i kinds of type
i size of type
i type alignment.
Kinds of type
Type can be classified into many different categories. One category is
serif or sans serif. Serif is the French word for tails and it refers to the
small cross strokes or flares at the end of a letter’s main stems. Even
though sans serif (meaning without tails) provides a cleaner, simpler
look, some people believe that a serif type is more distinguished as well
as easier to read.
Serif
Sans Serif
Typeface refers to a specific type design. Limit your selection to just
one or two typefaces in any particular report.
Centur y Old Style Bold
Arial Narrow
104 / WRITING A REPORT
A type family includes all the variations of a basic design in every
weight and point size. These variations are also called typestyle and
include:
Bold
Italics
Bold Italics
Underline
Fonts are complete sets of characters (the alphabet, numbers and
symbols) in one weight and style of typeface. Here are Gill Sans Light
(regular) and Univers Condensed (bold):
AaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIiJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQq
RrSsTtUuVvWwXxYyZzO123456789!”#$%
AaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIiJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQqRrSs
TtUuVvWwXxYyZzO123456789!”#$%&shifted()*+,
Sizes of type
Type is measured by using the language of printer-points and picas. A
point (1/72 of an inch) is the smallest typographical unit of measurement.
A pica is approximately 12 points or 1/6 of an inch. On a computer, text
can range in size from very small to very large.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 105
4
6
8 9
10
16 18
12
20
36 42
72
The usual size for report text is 10- or 12-point.
Headings are normally made in bold to capture the reader’s attention,
and can vary in size to show the level of importance. As we have already
seen, the more important the heading, the larger the letters. For this
reason, a hierarchy of sizes and styles is needed for showing the various
levels of headings and subheadings. The plan should be consistent and
logical and progress from higher to lower levels in an obvious pattern.
For instance, a heading could use an 18-point, bold font. A subheading
could be reduced to 14-point bold. A sub-subheading could be 12-point
bold italics. If a fourth level is needed, it could be an indented paragraph
heading using italicized type the size of the text.
If you recall the analogy of the car journey from London to South
Wales, under this hierarchy of sizes and styles, the signposts you
encounter would have looked like this:
Heading:
Wales and the West
Subheading:
Newport
Sub-subheading:
Retail Park
Fourth level:
B&Q
106 / WRITING A REPORT
Sometimes it is useful to draw attention to parts of the text by methods
other than headings. The major ways of doing this are by:
i Using upper case (capital) rather than lower case (small) letters.
i Changing the spacing either before or after the emphasised
word(s).
i Indenting the words or text.
i Bulleting the words or text.
i Underlining the words or text.
i Double spacing the text.
i Using characters with different width (pitch).
i Using different typefaces or fonts.
With any form of emphasis, it is important to be consistent and not
to overdo it. The more things you emphasise, the less powerful each
emphasis becomes. Also, when highlighting text, remember that:
USING UPPER-CASE LETTERS, SPECIALLY IN ITALICS
AND IN AN UNFAMILIAR TYPEFACE, MAKES SENTENCES
DIFFICULT TO READ AND COMPREHEND.
Using bold lower-case letters makes life much easier
for the reader.
Type alignment
Type alignment of left, centred, right or justified is possible either
before or after the words are keyed into the computer. Justification,
making both the left and right margins flush, gives a report a blocked
look and is preferred by some report writers. However, research has
shown that readability is improved if a ragged right margin is used. The
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 107
uneven line endings provide a visual support for the eyes in addition to
giving a more artistic look to the page. The choice is one for personal
judgement (see Figure 7).
Fig. 7. Type alignment.
Checklist: typography
i Use no more than two different fonts in any one document
– possibly a sans serif for headings and a serif for the body, or vice
versa.
i Experiment with different typestyles – bold, italics, shadow, outline
or a combination of these styles.
i Prefer clear typefaces that invite the readers’ attention.
i Use italics rather than underlining the names of books or
magazines.
i Remember to vary font size for better reading.
i Watch out for poor alignment. Keep everything neat and tidy.
i Do not cram too much in. Space creates a light, readable quality.
i Set up a house-style to use in your reports.
108 / WRITING A REPORT
ILLUSTRATIONS
Well produced and appropriate illustrations really enhance a report.
They make the information readily understandable, easily digestible
and memorable. It is much easier to assimilate information presented
pictorially. Anything on a page other than text is either artwork or
graphics. The word artwork refers to the images in the report, such as
photographs, drawings and cartoons; graphics are image enhancements,
such as lines, boxes and background tints.
When to use illustrations
Illustrations are useful only when they are easier to understand than
the words or figures they represent. Artwork and graphics should
clarify, add to, illustrate, or enhance the document in some way. They
should not be used without a specific reason or purpose. Otherwise,
they will merely distract and confuse your readers. Ask yourself the ‘so
what?’ question: does every illustration have something to say within
the overall context of the report? If there is no meaningful answer to ‘so
what?’, then the illustration is worthless. If you have a positive answer
to the question, then the illustration should be included.
Where to use visual illustrations
The algorithm on page 20 will help you decide where the illustration
should be placed. Ask yourself whether it would break the flow of
the report or distract the reader. If the answer is ‘no’, place it in the
main body of the report, after, and as close as possible to the point of
reference. If the answer is ‘yes’, put it in an appendix.
Another good way to help you decide the placing of an illustration is
to ask yourself whether it is fundamental to the arguments in the text,
or supplementary to them. If the reader needs to see an illustration
in order to understand the text – or if it is referred to several times
– it should be placed within the main body of the report. If the reader
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 109
does not need to see it, it may be preferable to place it in an appendix,
particularly if there are several other illustrations.
How to use illustrations
Artwork can be inserted in your report in two ways – by using either
the traditional pasteup method or the electronic pasteup method. In the
traditional pasteup method, you simply leave space for the art. Before
reproducing the copy on a duplicating machine, you paste the artwork
in place. In an electronic pasteup, you will have the entire document on
disk and can make a copy or copies from the printer.
Computer images come in two types, vector and bitmap. Vector images
are created from lines and shapes, each being mathematically described
within the software. The advantage with vector images is that they can
be manipulated by element and easily resized. Bitmap images describe
a colour photograph type of image, when stored on a computer. While
it is not possible to manipulate an element of an image as you can
with vector, clever software offers smart tools which allow areas of a
picture to be selected and transformed and smart filters, provided with
the software, make it simple to experiment with hundreds of special
effects.
Electronic art can come from a variety of sources and can be imported
into your document from:
i Drawings or diagrams created on the computer from a draw or
paint program such as CoralDRAW, Illustrator, FreeHand or
MacDraw.
i Artwork created by someone else and sold as clip art that you can
copy and paste into your document.
i Drawings or photographs scanned into the computer using a special
scanner – such work may need to be modified or retouched using
110 / WRITING A REPORT
a computer program such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel’s PaintShop
Pro or Macromedia’s Fireworks.
i Graphs or charts created from a spreadsheet program such as Excel
or Quatro Pro. If you wanted a pie chart showing which product
ranges make up which part of your business, or a bar chart showing
turnover each month of the year, then a spreadsheet would allow
you to produce these.
i Standard camera film can be developed and printed in the normal
way, but also written onto a CD-Rom in the form of high-resolution
scans that can read straight into an image manipulation package on
a PC. For an additional charge, Kodak Photo CD will provide this
service.
i Digital cameras, used in conjunction with their own software,
enable easy storage of and access to your images. Most medium to
high-end cameras will offer you a choice of file formats in which
to save your images. The most popular ones are JPEG, TIFF and
RAW. As far as quality and versatility goes, RAW files are the best.
However, RAW files also take the most work to get great-looking
images.
i Not all digital cameras will offer TIFF as a choice, but when you
have both TIFF and JPG available, consider the following facts.
TIFF files are higher quality than JPEGs yet they are also much
larger. This will cause your camera to slow down when trying to
write your images to the memory card loaded into your computer.
That also means that the number of images you can capture in a
minute will be much less with TIFF than with JPG.
i Most professionals will choose JPG when they either want to fit a
large number of images on a storage card, when they are capturing
fast action or when they do not want to spend time in Photoshop
adjusting their images. However, if they want the highest quality
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 111
possible, and do not mind spending some time adjusting their
images, they will choose RAW.
i Video can be captured as stills with a video capture card. However,
the quality is inferior to that of digital or scanned photographs.
Once an image is captured, the effects you can apply are almost
limitless; or they can be re-sized, edited, combined and retouched at
will, before they are used in reports created by your word processing or
desk top publishing package.
The choice of illustrations
Your aim is to include artwork which arouses readers’ interest and helps
them to a quicker and fuller understanding. Do not try to be clever. Use
clear, simple, uncluttered and appropriate illustrations, concentrating
on the essentials.
By also including some graphics – lines, boxes, patterns and background
tints – you can make your report even more stimulating and appealing
to readers. Uninterrupted blocks of text are daunting. Lines, arrows,
boxes, frames and shading are useful in creating divisions (see Figure
8). Icons or symbols available in various fonts will help focus or direct
the readers’ attention. Logos provide a subtle way of marketing your
company or providing a theme for a product or topic.
Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the illustration? Let us consider
three of the most common answers to this question:
i To give a general impression.
i To show detailed information.
i To show the structure and working of a system.
112 / WRITING A REPORT
Illustrations which give a general impression
Three of the best ways of illustrating this are by the use of a:
i pie chart
i bar chart
i pictogram.
Fig. 8. Lines, arrows, boxes, frames and shading.
Pie charts
A pie chart is a circle divided by radii into sectors whose areas are
proportional to the relative magnitudes of a set of items. It is an
excellent method of illustrating such relative proportions.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 113
Here is an example. In 2006, total advertising expenditure in the UK
was as follows:
Press
Television
Direct mail
Internet
Outdoor
Radio
Cinema
:
:
:
:
:
:
:
£8,303 million
£4,579 million
£2,318 million
£2,016 million
£1,083 million
£532 million
£190 million
Computer software will do all the calculations for you, but if you need
to work out the number of degrees in each sector yourself, use this
equation:
Sector total x 360°
_______________
Total population
For example, the calculation for the press is:
8303 x 360°
______________ = 157°
19021
Three variations on the basic pie chart are the:
i illustrated pie chart
i half-pie chart
i multi-pie chart.
The illustrated pie chart simply includes some illustration or drawing
relevant to each slice of the pie. In the example given in Figure 9, it
probably would be a few newspapers, a television set, and so on.
114 / WRITING A REPORT
Fig. 9. A pie chart.
The half-pie chart depicts only the top half of a circle. To calculate
the number of degrees appropriate to each division, multiply by 180°
instead of 360°.
The multi-pie chart consists of two or more pie charts each with similar
component parts. The size of each pie chart will depend on its relative
importance. For example, a pie chart illustrating the distribution of
trade in the USA would be larger than one for Britain. These charts are
quite difficult to draw.
Bar charts
This is a simple way of comparing values by using bars of various lengths,
drawn to scale. In other words, it is an excellent way of illustrating
relationships between items. Figure 10 is a bar chart showing the main
crops grown in Britain during 2007.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 115
Harvest (million tonnes)
Fig. 10. A bar chart.
Variations on the basic bar chart include the:
i Sectional bar chart
i Percentage bar chart
i Dual bar chart.
Sectional bar charts show the magnitude of items and their constituent
parts. For example, a chart showing passenger traffic at Britain’s
four main airports in 1995, 2000 and 2005 would comprise three bars
(showing the total traffic for the three years), each divided into four
(showing the traffic going through the individual airports).
Percentage bar charts show the percentage a constituent part bears to
the whole. For example, if you wanted to compare the number of votes
cast for political parties at the last general election with the number
of candidates elected, you would show two bars of identical size; one
divided to reflect the percentage of total votes cast for each party, the
other the percentage of total MPs elected.
116 / WRITING A REPORT
Dual bar charts compare two or more related quantities over time.
For example, they could show the percentage of households with cars,
central heating and telephones in 1998 and 2008. For each of these there
would be two bar charts, next to each other, one for 1998 and one for
2008.
Pictogram
This is similar to a bar chart except that it is usually horizontal and it
uses symbols instead of bars to represent magnitudes or frequencies.
Figure 11 is a pictogram which shows the passenger traffic at Britain’s
main airports in 2007.
c= 5 million passengers
London
(Heathrow)
ccccc cccc ccc
London
(Gatwick)
ccccc cc
London
(Stanstead)
cccc
Manchester
ccc
Fig. 11. A pictogram.
Illustrations which show detailed information
These illustrations must facilitate detailed readings or provide detailed
answers to questions. Three of the most effective ways of achieving
these aims are by the use of:
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 117
i graph
i algorithm
i table.
Graph
A graph shows the relationship between two variables, and it is an
excellent method of illustrating detailed relationships between items.
The vertical axis is usually scaled in units of the dependent variable (the
quantity which is being controlled or adjusted), while the horizontal
axis is usually scaled in units of the independent variable (the quantity
being observed).
A variation on the simple graph is the pictorial line graph where
‘pictures’ are added. For example, if you were comparing the efficiency
of postal services in different parts of the world, you could superimpose
national stamps to distinguish the countries represented by the various
lines on the graph. However, be careful not to make any graph too
complex. There are also several other types of graph, each associated
with one or more professions. For example, a financial or management
accountant would be interested in break-even charts, investment risk
profiles, sensitivity analyses, and so on.
Here are some rules to follow when drawing graphs:
i When undertaking experimental work, draw a rough graph as you
record your results. In this way you can check any irregularities
immediately.
i Choose a scale in which the lines or the curve will occupy most of
the graph.
i If possible the graph should be arranged so that it reads the same
way up as the text.
118 / WRITING A REPORT
i In most experimental work, lines should form smooth curves.
i Where results do not follow a smooth curve, or where the graph
does not represent experimental findings (perhaps it shows sales
results), points should be joined by straight lines. Where this occurs
you cannot read off between the points as with a curve.
Algorithm
An algorithm is a flow chart which will answer a question, or solve a
problem, or undertake a procedure, within a finite number of steps.
It does this by considering only those factors that are relevant to the
question, problem or procedure. Algorithms are often difficult to
write but, once prepared, they are excellent illustrations, particularly
for instructional manuals. For example, they can be used to describe
fault finding procedures, or how to carry out complicated checks
on machinery. They can be used by readers with no knowledge of
operational theory. In Chapter 1 (Figure 2), there is a very simple
algorithm to help the report writer decide whether to include a
particular piece of information in the report and, if so, where to place
it.
Table
Your aim is to make the report as readable as possible and the use of a
table is often the best way of achieving this aim while also presenting
some essential, detailed information.
A common mistake in writing reports is to produce too many figures
and too few explanations. The principles to follow are three-fold:
i Always check figures very carefully before including them.
i Restrict figures to those which are meaningful.
i Make sure they are consistently produced and interpreted.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 119
However, in some reports it is essential to include a large number of
highly detailed findings. The strength of these reports is often based
almost entirely on their factual content. In such cases it is usually best to
use appendixes. Where appropriate, it is perfectly acceptable for your
appendixes to be longer than all the rest of the report. But think of your
readers. How are they likely to read the report? They will probably read
the preliminaries and then the main body. The appendixes may well
be an afterthought. So highlight any particularly significant findings in
these preliminaries and in the main body. If you find it necessary to
refer to certain tables on several occasions, it is better to include them
in the main body.
Here are some rules when compiling statistical tables:
i Avoid tables where there are over ten columns.
i Label each column and row to identify the data.
i If a column shows amounts, state the units.
i If columns are too long, double space after every fifth entry.
i If a particular column or row lacks data, use dashes in each space
lacking the data.
i If they improve legibility, use vertical lines to separate columns.
i Do not mix decimals (29.3) with fractions (17½).
Never assume that your readers will draw the right conclusion from
the figures. They may quite easily not be reading them at all; or they
may read them and come to the wrong conclusions, or perhaps no
conclusions. Always say in words what they mean.
Illustrations which show the structure and working of a system
Here the word system is used in its widest sense to include any structure
or process composed of interrelated, interdependent, or interacting
120 / WRITING A REPORT
elements forming a collective entity. The management structure of a
company is a system. So is a clerical or production process. So is the way
a piece of machinery is built, and is used.
Three of the best ways of illustrating the structure and working of a
system are by the use of a:
i chart
i diagram
i photograph.
Chart
We have already considered pie charts, bar charts and graphs. Other
charts of potential value to report writers include:
i flow charts
i organisational charts
i maps and plans
i systematic diagrams.
A flow chart is a diagrammatic representation of the sequence of
operations or equipment in a natural, industrial or organisational
process. It is commonly used to describe industrial and clerical
processes, and computer systems and programs. Figure 12 is a flow
chart illustrating inventory control by means of the calculation of the
value of the inventory. As you will see, a flow chart uses a standard
set of symbols. In this instance the symbols are those associated with
computer science.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 121
Fig. 12. A flow chart.
An organisational chart depicts the hierarchy of, and the lines of
command within, an organisation. Figure 13 represents a simple
organisation which could well exist within the transport services
function of a small manufacturing company.
When maps or plans are included in a report it is important to state
whether or not they are completely to scale. Always include a small
arrow pointing northwards.
Systematic diagrams are useful when you wish to illustrate what
connects with what. They are commonly used for wiring diagrams and
transport connections. The famous map of the London Underground is
an example of a systematic diagram.
122 / WRITING A REPORT
Fig. 13. An organisational chart.
Diagram
This is a drawing or sketch which demonstrates the form or working of
something. There are several types of diagram, including:
i orthographic drawing
i isometric drawing
i perspective drawing
i exploded drawing
i cut-away drawing.
An orthographic drawing is composed of the plans of the back, front
and side elevations of an object. It must be drawn to scale. While it
is very useful for designers and manufacturers, it is of little value for
anyone who wants to know what it actually looks like.
An isometric drawing provides a pictorial method of illustrating
something. Three faces are shown at once but no allowance is made
for perspective; all the lines that are parallel on the object are drawn
parallel. It is easy to draw but the lack of perspective makes it look
peculiar, as can be seen in Figure 14.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 123
Fig. 14. An isometric drawing.
Fig. 15. An exploded drawing.
A perspective drawing, on the other hand, shows an object as it is
seen by the human eye. It is more difficult to draw but it looks more
natural.
124 / WRITING A REPORT
An exploded drawing provides a pictorial representation of how
something is constructed. It does this by showing its components in
assembly as though they were spread out along an invisible axis. Figure
15 is an exploded drawing of a lawn mower dog clutch.
A cut-away drawing shows an object with its ‘cover off’ in certain
places, or with a slice removed to reveal the inside. Figure 16 is a cutaway drawing of an electric bell.
Fig. 16. A cut-away drawing.
In general, a line drawing is better for technical illustrations than a
photograph since it can be shaded or highlighted to emphasise essential
points. It also reproduces well. However, a report writer should also
consider whether the inclusion of a photograph would be useful and
justifiable.
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 125
Photograph
A good photograph will show the exact appearance of an object or
a situation at a particular moment in time. It is therefore useful for
showing newly created objects, ones never seen before, ones at the end
of a particular stage of development, or ones worn out or damaged. If
you need to show the size of an object, it is a good idea to include some
familiar object in the photograph – perhaps a hand, a finger, a coin, or
a ruler.
Unless you are already a very competent photographer, it is best to
keep things as simple as possible. Use an automatic 35mm SLR (Single
Lens Reflex) or a digital camera. You will see exactly what has been
captured; you will achieve an accurate focus; you will be using a system
of lenses and accessories which will allow an enormous variety and
flexibility of output, and you can expect good results in a variety of
lighting conditions.
However, things do go wrong – especially if you are not an experienced
photographer. For this reason also use a back up Polaroid camera. You
will be able to see your results within seconds. If you are not satisfied
with them, keep clicking away until you are.
Checklist: visual illustrations
i Use artwork to enhance, illustrate or provide additional
information.
i Make sure it proves what you intended it to prove.
i Refer to it in the text before it appears, not after.
i Discuss and explain its significance.
i Size art to fit your needs but be sure that you keep it in
proportion.
i Use a sensible scale and give details of this scale.
126 / WRITING A REPORT
i Crop art to eliminate unwanted portions.
i Keep it simple; do not include too much detail.
i Do not use so many special effects that they cease to be special.
i Do not overdo it; too many illustrations will overwhelm the reader.
One large image is far more eye-catching than half a dozen small
ones.
i Make sure that any artwork (including charts and graphs) is viewed
at the same distance as the text – a reader should not have to hold
a page closer or farther away when looking at an illustration.
i Give each illustration a caption and figure number.
i Where appropriate, acknowledge your source.
i If there are more than just one or two illustrations, list them on the
contents page.
i Remember that non-digitized art can be mechanically pasted up
and reproduced on a copying machine or taken to a professional
printer.
COLOUR
Colour adds a whole new look to a document. Today, full-colour
computer-generated reports can be a reality through ink jet, thermal
or laser printing. Systems are becoming more sophisticated all the time
and as the technology is advancing, so the price of having colour printers
connected to your computer is decreasing. Black and white reports are
rapidly becoming as outdated as black and white television sets.
If colour printers are not available to you, you still have the option of
using coloured paper. Light-tinted paper with black type is less glaring
for readers. In addition, the use of a variety of colours of paper is helpful
in coding your work. For instance, different sections can be produced
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 127
in different colours or a variety of handouts can be made in a variety of
colours for easier referencing.
Coloured paper:
i prevents glare
i codes pages
i adds variety.
Several companies now provide paper with pre-printed colour designs.
Many also offer computer templates which enable you to see these
designs onscreen. Print, graphics and art can then be planned and
keyed aesthetically around them. When you insert the paper into the
tray of the computer, you are able to run black print onto the design.
The result is the look of a full-colour document; yet you are using only
a traditional black and white printer.
In general, for most documents you will want to use a light background
with dark type (see Figure 17). Full-colour clip art is available for
importing into your documents. A revolution is now underway in using
colour for presentations, and the use of colour for reports will become
more and more available in the future.
Sophisticated readers of today expect and deserve more than black
printing on a white background. Use this to your advantage. Colour
creates moods, sensations and impressions that can be highly effective
in achieving your objectives.
Checklist: colour
i Be sure that you have the capability to print in colour at an
affordable price before planning and producing your report in
colour.
128 / WRITING A REPORT
i Limit the use of colour to about three or four pages unless full
colour is used.
i Use sufficient contrast for effective reading – dark print on light
background or light print on dark background.
i Give objects their proper colour, such as green leaves or yellow
bananas.
i Remember that approximately ten per cent of males and seven per
cent of females are colour-blind – red and green used side by side
may merge.
Dark
Text
Light
Text
Fig. 17. Contrasting backgrounds and type.
PAPER, COVERS, BINDING AND INDEXING
Finally, a word about the choice of paper, covers, binding and possible
indexing for your report. Appearance really does matter. So does
durability. It is obvious that glossy, professional-looking reports will
project the sort of image that most companies wish to foster with
existing and potential customers and/or shareholders. Perhaps what
is less obvious is that sometimes it is desirable to produce low-budget
reports for more than just reasons of economy. For example, it is rarely
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 129
necessary to produce an ornate product if it is for internal consumption
only. Even if your department does have money to burn, it is not a good
idea to advertise the fact.
As you think about the physical construction and appearance of a
report, bear these points in mind:
i Your purpose (the action you intend the report to generate).
i The readership (number and nature).
i The expected life of the report (including the number of likely
references to be made to it).
i What materials
organisation.
and
facilities
are
available
within
your
i The cost of these various options (and your budget).
Paper
There are three aspects to consider when choosing paper, namely its:
i size
i quality
i colour.
Most reports are written on A4 size paper (210 x 297 mm). However,
there are other possibilities (see page 96). The quality of paper you
choose will depend on all the factors listed above. For example, do
not use poor quality paper if the report is likely to be referred to
frequently.
The importance of conciseness has been stressed throughout this book.
However, this does not mean use as little paper as possible. It is also
important not to present the reader with huge blocks of uninterrupted
130 / WRITING A REPORT
type. If you are really concerned about the future of the Scandinavian
and Amazonian forests, the amount of paper saved at the planning
stage will more than compensate for an extra few sheets in the report
itself. You could also think about using recycled paper.
It is customary for reports to be written on white paper. However, as
we have seen, sometimes it is useful to use different colour paper in
different sections of the report. If you do this be sure that:
i The colours are easily distinguishable.
i Dark colours are avoided.
i The different sections are logical and rational.
Alternatively, you could use white paper throughout and coloured
partitions between the sections.
Covers
Every report should have covers, if only an extra sheet of paper at the
back and front to serve as a dust jacket. However, most reports will be
enclosed by glossy boards (cards). Other covers will be made of plastic
or even imitation leather, perhaps with a pocket so that other related
documents can be kept with the report. Customised covers on a report
can set it apart.
Covers protect reports which are likely to be read by many people or
saved for a long period of time. A report is twice as likely to be read
and three times as likely to be saved if it has attractive (though not
necessarily expensive) covers.
Many reports will have no more than a title on their covers. Others will
include the organisation’s name and logo and/or a space for a reference
number, the date of issue and the name of the department responsible
for the production of the report. Sometimes a ‘window’ will have been
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 131
cut out of the front cover. This allows the reader to see the title as it
appears on the title page.
Think carefully about the colour of your covers. Dark ones are often
very depressing while very light ones or ones using a combination of
bright colours may give an unwanted impression of light-heartedness.
‘Safe’ colours for reports are either blue or green.
Binding
There are several inexpensive binding systems available. Your choice
will depend largely upon:
i The size of the report.
i Whether amendments will be necessary.
i Whether inserts will be necessary.
i The distribution requirements.
i The quality requirements.
i The binding methods used for other related reports.
i What system or systems are available within your organisation.
Here are some common methods of binding:
i treasury tag
i stapling
i plastic gripper
i gluing
i stitching
i ring binding.
132 / WRITING A REPORT
Treasury tag
Tags come in various sizes identified by their colour. Punch a hole in the
top left of the report. Make sure it is at least an inch into the paper both
from the top and the left, otherwise sheets will soon become detached.
For larger reports, also punch a hole at the bottom left, or use a fourhole punch. This method of binding is suitable where amendments will
be likely and/or where inserts such as maps and plans are expected. Do
not use tags to bind reports which are larger than 100 sheets.
Stapling
Here you simply staple the covers and pages at the top left corner. For
reports of 10 to 20 pages, it is best to staple them from the front and the
back. Then place the report in a plastic wallet. A more sophisticated
method is to staple down the left hand side and cover them with
adhesive binding strip. Be sure to leave wide margins, and double staple
at the top and bottom of the report. Never use paper clips. Pins are
slightly better, but for reasons of safety they are not recommended.
Plastic gripper
This method is an improvement on the use of staples down the left side
of the report, but the principle is the same. Use a plastic slide-grip along
the left hand edge of the assembled covers and sheets. Once again,
remember to leave wide margins if you intend to use this system.
Gluing
The edges of the sheets are glued and fixed into the spine of a fabric,
card or plastic cover. This method is suitable only for reports of about
25 pages or more and it should be attempted only by the most dexterous
of report writers. A more sophisticated method is known as hot metal
gluing.
Stitching
Here the report is made up of sheets folded in the middle to make
two single-sided or four double-sided pages. They are then bound by
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 133
a method known as saddle stitching. This system is not suitable for
larger reports because the pages tend to become distorted. It is possible
to have reports stitched and cased commercially in hardback form.
However, this would be a far more expensive exercise.
Ring binding
This gives a report a professional appearance and it is suitable for
works of up to around 20 sheets. You will need to have access to a
special machine which perforates the binding edge and then threads the
binding (plastic or wire) through the holes in the covers and the report.
The pages of the report will then lie flat when opened. Plastic binding
is preferred because sheets can be added or removed, as required. This
is not possible with wire binding. Any organisation which produces
reports regularly and/or in quantity should seriously consider acquiring
a ring binding machine.
Indexing
The report will have a contents page and it may have an index. It is
possible to improve the presentation further by making it even easier
for readers to find their way around the report. This can be done in a
number of ways, as illustrated in Figure 18.
The thumb-index pages method is quite complex and it needs to be
undertaken professionally. Therefore it is only appropriate where there
will be a wide external circulation. On the other hand, the overlapping
pages method is very simple: each section is identified by pages of
unique width. It is most suitable for short reports. Side indexing is
another straightforward method. It is achieved simply by attaching
protruding self-adhesive labels to the first page of each section of the
report. Each of these methods can be complemented by the use of
different colour pages to identify the various sections of the report.
134 / WRITING A REPORT
Fig. 18. Indexing a report.
SUMMARY
Appearance matters. The way you present your text and artwork, and
your choice of paper, covers, binding and possibly indexing, will be
strongly influenced by your purpose, your readership, the expected life
of the report, the options available to you within your organisation, and
their relative cost.
Word processing and desktop publishing
Modern word processing and desktop publishing packages present
opportunities to the report writer that were unthinkable a decade ago.
However, do not get carried away with the possibilities. Remember
IMPROVIN G T H E PR ESEN TAT ION OF YO U R R E P O RT / 135
that your purpose is to communicate simply and effectively with your
readers.
Layout and design
Presentation can be greatly assisted if sufficient thought is given to the
report’s:
i format
i page size and orientation
i margins and spacing
i headings and subheadings
i numbering.
Typography
This is the art and style of printing. A very wide range of typefaces
and fonts is available. Be selective, and choose ones that will help you
develop the right departmental or corporate image and identity for
your business.
Illustrations
i Well produced and appropriate illustrations really enhance a report.
They make information readily understandable, easily digestible
and memorable. It is easier to assimilate information presented
pictorially.
i However, illustrations should only be used if they are easier to
understand than the words or figures they represent. They should
never be included for their own sake. Ask yourself: are they relevant
to the text?
136 / WRITING A REPORT
i Before you decide the kind of illustration you will use, ask yourself
what is its purpose: is it intended to give an overall impression of
something, to show some detailed findings, or to show the structure
and working of a system? Then choose the most appropriate
illustration to achieve this end.
i If a reader will need to see the illustration in order to understand the
text, place it as close to the point of reference as possible. However,
if it is merely supplementary to the text, it is often preferable to
place it in an appendix.
Colour
Reports printed only in black, and always against a white background,
are rapidly becoming as old fashioned as black and white television sets.
Today’s technology can make full colour printing a reality.
Paper, covers, binding and indexing
Finally, consider the overall appearance and required durability of your
report.
i Think about the size, quality and colour of paper you will require.
i Remember that your report should have covers and that customised
ones would set it apart.
i Consider which binding system you will use.
i Ask yourself whether the report should be indexed and, if so, which
would be the best method to employ.
Part Three
Some Common
Types of Report
i Accident reports
i Agendas for committee meetings
i Annual reports
i Appraisal reports
i Audit reports
i Comparative testing reports
i Duty notes reports
i Explanatory reports
i Feasibility reports
i Informative reports
i Instructional manuals
138 / WRITING A REPORT
i Interview reports
i Investigation into financial affairs of a company reports
i Minutes
i Process description reports
i Progress reports
i Research reports
i Scientific reports
i Student project reports
i Systems evaluation reports
i Technical reports
i Technological reports
i Trouble-shooting reports.
This section considers some of the most common types of report which
you may be required to produce. They cover different subjects, and
they have different purposes and readerships. For this reason they have
different structures; they are made up of a variety of combinations of
report components (introductions, summaries, and so on), and these
components are often given different names in different types of report.
Every report should have a title page.
In Chapter 1 we discussed report components in some detail. The
comments here are intended to complement that discussion by pointing
out the particular emphases associated with each report type. We shall
do this by answering two questions:
1.
What points should I bear in mind?
2.
What would be a suitable format?
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 139
Use this information and advice to help you decide the most appropriate
style, format and contents for your report. However, use them flexibly;
you must also bear in mind:
i The requirements of the person who commissioned the report.
i House-style.
i Custom and conventions.
i Your objective(s).
i Your readership.
i Common sense.
As you plan and later draft your report, remember that while every
report should be different, every report also should have some
similarities. It must present relevant facts accurately and in a way that
is both acceptable and intelligible to its readers. In other words, it must
have a beginning, a middle and an end. Only then can you expect to
achieve these three essential aims:
i to be read without unnecessary delay
i to be understood without undue effort
i and to be accepted.
So always think about the needs of your readers. They are the important
people, and they have a right to expect you to make things as easy for
them as possible. If you do not help them, why should they help you?
Refer also to Appendix 1 to see how the style, layout and content of a
report should reflect its overall purpose and readership.
140 / WRITING A REPORT
ACCIDENT REPORTS
These reports hopefully will not be required on a regular basis.
What points should I bear in mind?
Balance speed with accuracy. The reason for speed is so that all salient
facts are accurately recorded before details are forgotten. The reasons
for accuracy are to minimise the risk of any possible recurrence, to
comply with the law and to be prepared to face a possible claim for
damages. You will require accurate illustrations supplemented by
statements from participants, witnesses and experts.
What would be a suitable format?
If you have no formal report form, use these headings:
1.
What was the accident?
2.
Where and when did it occur?
3.
Who was involved?
4.
Was any injury sustained? If so, what was it?
5.
Who reported the accident?
6.
What medical treatment was applied – when and by whom?
7.
What caused the accident?
8.
What has been done to correct the trouble?
9.
What recommendations do you have to avoid a recurrence?
AGENDAS FOR COMMITTEE MEETINGS
An agenda is a list of items to be discussed during a meeting. It must be
drawn up in advance.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 141
What points should I bear in mind?
An agenda may take various forms, according to the requirements
and, in some cases, the kind of meeting to which it refers. Be sure you
know precisely what is expected of you. Here are two common forms
of committee agenda:
i the standard agenda
i the discussive agenda.
The standard agenda simply lists the subjects to be discussed, and the
order in which they will be taken.
The discussive agenda is designed to stimulate thought before and
comment at the meeting. It is often used for ‘one-off’ meetings.
No business should be placed on an agenda unless it comes within the
scope of the committee, and it is within the power of the committee
to deal with it. Conversely, no relevant item of business should be
omitted.
In deciding what to include on an agenda, bear these points in mind:
i Talk to the chairperson and other committee members who may
have business to include.
i Refer to the minutes of previous meetings for any business or
discussions which were then deferred, and for reminders of routine
annual, half-yearly, quarterly or monthly recurring items.
i Keep a special file of documents which are likely to be required
at the next meeting. Sort and arrange them before drafting the
agenda.
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Then think carefully about the order in which items should come up for
discussion. Consider these factors when deciding the order:
i Refer to any rules governing the meeting which regulate the order
in which items of business are dealt with.
i If there are no such rules, make sure the items are in a logical order.
Wherever possible, the end of the discussion on one item should
lead naturally on to the next.
i It is normally preferable to put routine business first.
i Try to place difficult or contentious items just after half-way
through the agenda, with some simple, uncontentious items before
and after them. This is known as a bell-curve structure. Begin with
some items likely to achieve a consensus. Then move on to your
more ‘difficult’ subjects. Conclude with more simple, uncontentious
items so that the meeting will end amicably.
Make it easy for the committee members to find their way through the
agenda by using these devices:
i Number all items consecutively, beginning with ‘1’.
i If separate documents are required for any item, quote the
reference number under the appropriate heading together with the
date of circulation. If they are to be circulated later, or handed out
at the meeting, say so.
i Where an item on the agenda is being continued or carried forward
from a previous meeting, quote the minute and date of that
meeting.
i At the end of the agenda provide a checklist of the documents
required for the meeting, in the order in which they will be
needed.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 143
Finally, obtain the chairperson’s approval of the agenda before
circulating it. This agenda will form the basis of the minutes of the
meeting (see below).
What would be a suitable format?
Standard agenda
A suitable format for a standard agenda would be as follows:
1.
Heading (including where and when the meeting will take
place)
2.
Apologies for Absence
3.
Minutes of the Previous Meeting
4.
5.
6.
7.
}
Items requiring the attention of the committee
8.
Any Other Business (‘leftovers’, not items that should have been
discussed within section 4–7)
9.
Date of Next Meeting (also give the time and location)
10.
Papers Required for the Meeting (in the order that they will be
needed).
Items 1–3 and 8–10 are standard. Between them come all other items
requiring the attention of the committee.
Discussive agenda
A discussive agenda could be structured as follows:
1.
Heading (including where and when the meeting will take place)
144 / WRITING A REPORT
2.
Introduction (what will be discussed, and why – keep it fairly
general)
3.
Scope (what are the boundaries of the discussion?)
4.
Discussion points (list the items to be discussed and the reasons for
discussing them)
5.
Possible action (what options are open to the committee?)
6.
Summary (the reason for the meeting; what it hopes to achieve and
why members should attend and contribute)
7.
Papers required for the meeting (in the order that they will be
needed).
ANNUAL REPORTS
An annual report lists the achievements and failures of an organisation.
It is a progress report in which every department is accounted for.
What points should I bear in mind?
The physical appearance of annual reports is crucial. For that reason
they are usually prepared professionally. The cover and the first few
pages must attract and then maintain the readers’ interest. Make the
cover attractive and eye-catching; keep the text well spaced and content
not too heavy. Begin with some simple facts about the organisation
and what it does. Use short paragraphs with bold print to emphasise
the key points. Include illustrations to attract interest and to break
up overbearing columns of figures. When you use photographs of
people, record their names. Too many reports give the name of their
chairperson but then describe a member of staff as ‘an engineer’, or
whatever. Workers, like chairpersons, have names.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 145
As a general rule, the shorter the report the better the chances of
attracting a fringe readership. So make sure you gather relevant data
from all parts of your organisation. Obviously every department will
wish to emphasise its successes and gloss over (or simply ignore)
its failures. For this reason the use of standard questionnaires is
recommended. This will provide only the information you require, and
it will be in a uniform format and style. Use this as the basis of the main
body of the report.
Annual reports usually include a chairperson’s statement. Most of these
statements are far too long. Tactfully explain that all that is required is a
résumé and critical analysis of the past year’s work, and an assessment
of prospects. This section should pass logically from topic to topic. It
should be informative, businesslike and balanced. It should also be
concise – no more than 1,000 words (less if possible).
What would be a suitable format?
This depends on the nature of the organisation and the readership.
Here is one possible format:
i contents list
i what the organisation does
i some of the year’s highlights
i chairperson’s statement
i main body (possibly department to department, or task to task)
i accounts
i appendixes.
A standard format is useful for year-to-year comparisons.
146 / WRITING A REPORT
APPRAISAL REPORTS
These appraise a person’s performance in his or her current job,
identify methods of improving this performance, highlight training
needs, and often assess suitability for another job, promotion, and/or a
change in salary.
What points should I bear in mind?
Appraisal reports are very important because what you write will have
a direct effect on people’s career prospects. They are very difficult to
write. The dilemma is that, on the one hand, you need to know a person
quite well in order to write a fair report while, on the other hand, it
can be difficult to be objective when you know a person quite well.
Not only that, you will need to decide what is relevant and what is not.
For example behavioural patterns are likely to change according to
circumstances, and we tend to remember extremes of behaviour. Ask
yourself: ‘Are they really typical?’ Try keeping a notebook and update
it regularly in order to build up an accurate and balanced picture of
people. Also talk with them about this throughout the year, not just at
counselling and appraisal interviews.
The responsibilities of an appraisal report writer, therefore, are acute.
Be specific and avoid euphemisms. You must be able to justify every
tick in the matrix boxes, and every word and phrase you use.
What would be a suitable format?
You may be required to complete a standard form. Details will vary
from organisation to organisation, but the broad outline of an appraisal
report should cover the following headings and questions:
1. The Job
i The job description, its objectives, component tasks, methods and
resources.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 147
i Are they satisfactory?
i If not, why not?
i What changes are required?
i What action is recommended – by whom, how and why?
2. Job Performance
i What objectives must be met and what tasks must be fulfilled?
i Have these been achieved?
•
What is the actual evidence from work performance, indicating
success or failure?
i How far have any failures been within or outside the job-holder’s
control?
i What does the evidence of past performance show about the
strengths and weaknesses in knowledge, skills and attitudes of the
job-holder?
i What precise action is recommended – by whom, how and when
– to build on strengths, to remedy weaknesses and to develop the
individual by means of training and further work experience?
3. Summary of Action Proposed
i What action has been agreed to be taken by whom, how and
when?
AUDIT REPORTS
There are two types of auditor: the external auditor and the internal
auditor. The role of the former is laid down by statute and in case
law; that of the latter, while also affected to some extent by case
law, is ultimately what management wants it to be. Therefore the
148 / WRITING A REPORT
structure of audit reports will depend on the type of audit work being
undertaken.
External auditors are independent of the companies on which they
report. They are required to report to the shareholders at general
meetings on whether the final statements of a company give a ‘true and
fair view’ of the state of the company’s affairs. If they are uncertain, or
if they do not believe this to be so, they must say so in what is known
as a qualified audit report. It is now normal practice also for external
auditors to issue reports to management which are more akin to
internal audit reports.
Internal auditors are concerned with the segregation of duties and
the internal control of the business for which they are employed. The
structure of their reports tends to be fairly consistent, but it is not
defined by any Auditing Standards.
What points should I bear in mind?
In a few words the external auditor commits himself or herself to a high
degree of responsibility. If the contents of the report do not reflect the
due care, skill and diligence expected of a qualified person, the auditor
may be held liable for damages. It is essential, therefore, that the report
should be carefully prepared to reflect an opinion within the limits
of the examination, and sufficiently clear as to leave no likelihood of
misinterpretation by those whom it concerns.
The internal auditor does not face such an onerous responsibility
because the report is not written for the same audience – it is for internal
consumption (although the external auditor may decide to place some
reliance upon it). However, like all report writers, the internal auditor
must always strive for objectivity and accuracy.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 149
What would be a suitable format?
The usual format for an external audit report on the financial statements
of a company incorporated in Great Britain is as follows:
1.
Introduction
2.
Respective responsibilities of directors and auditors
3.
Basis of opinion
4.
Opinion.
An external auditor’s report to management will include any or all of
the following sections:
1.
Weaknesses in internal control and recommendations on how they
may be rectified.
2.
Breakdowns in the accounting systems and any material errors
arising.
3.
Additional audit time required as a result of either section 1 or 2, or
the client’s failure to adhere to timetables.
4.
Unsatisfactory accounting procedures or policies,
recommendations as to how they may be improved.
5.
Suggestions as to how financial and accounting efficiency may be
improved.
6.
Constructive suggestions not necessarily related to accounting
procedures but noted by the auditor during the course of his or her
investigations, with the benefit of an outsider’s viewpoint.
A suitable format for an internal audit report is as follows:
1.
Contents page
and
150 / WRITING A REPORT
2.
Summary (the main findings, conclusions and recommendations)
3.
Introduction (what broad subjects were audited, where and when)
4.
Scope (what precisely was audited, and possibly what was not)
5.
Main body (the findings, divided into logical sub-sections)
6.
Conclusions (flowing naturally from the main body)
7.
Recommendations (flowing naturally from the conclusions)
8.
Appendixes.
COMPARATIVE TESTING REPORTS
Perhaps the best known of these reports is Which? magazine. Its
purpose is to select a number of standards, make comparisons of these
standards from item to item, and then reach logical conclusions and
recommendations about which are the best and/or which represent the
best value for money.
What points should I bear in mind?
It is essential to choose sensible standards and then to define them
very carefully at the beginning of the report. Here are some standards
important in any well-designed product:
i Does it work properly? A pop-up toaster should pop up toast.
i Is it fit for its purpose? A portable television should be portable.
i Can it cope with the likely conditions of use? A public telephone
should be vandal-resistant.
i Is it durable and easy to maintain for its expected lifespan? For
example, are spare parts readily available?
i Is it safe and easy to use? A cooker should have no sharp edges and
its controls should be clear.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 151
i Is it pleasing to look at and to handle? Wallpaper must be attractive
to potential customers.
i Does it have ‘style’? A well-designed product combines a careful
choice of colours, patterns and textures. It should be aesthetically
pleasing.
Obviously the precise standards you choose will depend on the items
being compared. Here are some examples of standards important when
choosing a telephone:
i target price (comparing similar models)
i colour options
i features:
—last number redial
—number of memories
—a display
—battery back-up
—weight of handset
—maximum loudness of ring.
What would be a suitable format?
There are two basic ways of presenting these reports. The first is to
define the first standard and then compare the performance of each
item before moving on to the next standard. The second is to name
the first item and then record how it matches up to various standards,
before moving on to the next item.
There are three customary formats for comparative testing reports, as
follows:
152 / WRITING A REPORT
Comparison by Standard – Format A
1. Contents page
2. Introduction
3. Explanation and description of items to be compared
4. Comparison by Standard:
Standard A
– Item (i)
– Item (ii)
– Item (iii)
Standard B
– Item (i)
– Item (ii)
– Item (iii)
Etc.
5.
6.
Conclusions
Recommendations.
Comparison by Standard – Format B
1. Contents page
2. Introduction
3. Summary of Standards and Data
4. Conclusions
5. Recommendations
6. Appendixes
(i) Explanation and description of items to be compared
(ii) Comparison by Standard A:
– Explanation of Standard A
– Comparison of items
(iii) Comparison by Standard B:
– Explanation of Standard B
– Comparison of items
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 153
– Etc.
Comparison by Items
1. Contents page
2. Introduction
3. Explanation of Standards
4. Comparison by items:
Item (i):
– Standard A
– Standard B
– Standard C
Item (ii):
– Standard A
– Standard B
– Standard C
Etc.
5.
6.
Conclusions
Recommendations.
If the comparison requires quite sophisticated technological
investigation, you should also consider the use of formats B or C of
Technological Reports.
DUTY NOTES REPORTS
See Instructional Manuals.
EXPLANATORY REPORTS
These are factual reports which provide an account of something that
has happened.
154 / WRITING A REPORT
What points should I bear in mind?
You must be unbiased and objective. Do not give any recommendations
unless you are asked to do so.
What would be a suitable format?
This is a suitable format for an explanatory report:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
7.
9.
Contents page
Introduction
– Why was the report prepared, and who requested it?
– Give a ‘pen picture’ of whatever has happened.
– What is the position and authority of the writer?
Persons involved
– Give their names and positions, where relevant.
Sequence of events
– A simple, straightforward account of what happened.
Action taken
– List all the critical actions taken in the order in which
they occurred and the reasons for them. If necessary
use appendixes.
Cause and effect
– What were the causes and effects of these actions?
Conclusions
– How was the information for the report gathered?
– How long did this take?
– What degree of accuracy can the reader reasonably
assume?
– Are any important facts omitted
– If so, why?
Recommendations
– If required.
Appendixes
– See section 5.
See also Informative Reports.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 155
FEASIBILITY REPORTS
These discuss the practicality, and possibly the suitability and
compatibility of a given project, both in physical and economic terms.
They also discuss the desirability of the proposed project from the
viewpoint of those who would be affected by it. Report writers must
come to a conclusion, and must recommend that some action is taken or
is not taken and/or that some choice is adopted or is rejected.
What points should I bear in mind?
You must be unbiased and your approach must be logical. Be sure
that you know the precise purpose of the proposed project and also its
scope. See also Systems Evaluation Reports.
What would be a suitable format?
This is a suitable format for a feasibility report:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Abstract
Summary
Contents list (including a separate list of illustrations)
Glossary
Introduction (purpose and scope)
Discussion (the main body providing the evidence – use appendixes
if necessary)
7. Conclusions (flowing naturally from the discussion)
8. Recommendations (flowing naturally from the conclusions)
9. References (if necessary)
10. Appendixes (see section 6).
Sometimes sections 1 and 2 are combined.
156 / WRITING A REPORT
INFORMATIVE REPORTS
These are more general than explanatory reports (see above), but
there is a degree of overlap. The purpose of an informative report is
to increase the readers’ knowledge of an event or to bring them up to
date.
What points should I bear in mind?
You must present a clear overall theme. Each section of the report must
be appropriate to this theme; there must be a good reason for including
it. It is important to provide a logical plan because some readers may be
interested in perhaps just one or two sections of the report.
What would be a suitable format?
This is a customary format for an informative report:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Contents page
Introduction (why was the report produced and what is hoped to be
achieved by it?)
Plan (how the Main Body is structured)
Main Body (possibly one subsection for each main piece of
information)
Conclusions (flowing naturally from the Main Body – also what, if
anything, is it hoped will happen next?).
Sometimes sections 2 and 3 are combined. See also Explanatory
Reports.
INSTRUCTIONAL MANUALS
Instructional manuals and duty notes are written to explain how a job
or process (or perhaps how a particular aspect of a job or a process) is
to be performed.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 157
What points should I bear in mind?
Good instructional manuals and duty notes are written by people who
know the job or process well. They know how much detailed instruction
to include, and how much to leave out. Once you have drafted your
instructions, try them out first on someone who is likely to use the
report.
Do not confuse instructional manuals with Process Description Reports.
As already stated, the former explain how a process is to be performed;
the latter help the reader understand that process. So be absolutely sure
of your purpose before deciding on a suitable format.
What would be a suitable format?
This is a typical format for an instructional manual or a set of duty
notes:
1.
2.
Contents page
Job/Duty/Process objective (a brief statement of subject, purpose
and scope)
3. Theory or principles of the operation (the mechanics of the
process)
4. List of materials and equipment needed
5. Description of the mechanism (an overview of the equipment,
possibly breaking it into its component parts)
6. List and number of steps necessary to complete the job
7. Instructions for each step (the main body)
8. Precautions necessary (explain why)
9. Show what must be done (use illustrations to support section 7)
10. The degree of difficulty at each stage.
Sections 3–5 and 8 are often omitted from clerical duty notes.
158 / WRITING A REPORT
INTERVIEW REPORTS
Effective interviewing techniques are not within the scope of this book.
However, a brief discussion on the preparation of interview reports is
appropriate.
What points should I bear in mind?
Clear and adequate reports are essential to an interviewer who seeks
a detailed and accurate recall and evaluation of interviewees (perhaps
job applicants). Interviewers who lack the technique of interview report
writing will merely attempt to rationalise their decision.
There are two types of interview report. The first is designed to ensure
that an interview is well-structured, comprehensive, and that adequate
and relevant notes are taken. The second is used to evaluate the
material gathered during the interview.
What would be a suitable format?
The following format provides a useful framework for an interview.
There will also be several sub-subheadings which are not given here.
However the framework must be used with discretion. A good interview
is organic, not mechanical.
A Structured Interview Report
1. Interviewee, interviewer, reference, date, time and location
2. Physical:
– First impression
– Appearance
– Speech
– Health
3. Attainments:
– Work
– Educational
– Extramural
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 159
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
Interests
Circumstances:
– Family background
– Domestic and social situation.
Special aptitudes
General intelligence
Disposition.
After the interview the interviewer will need to evaluate the
interviewees. This report format will be of assistance:
An Interview Evaluation Summary Report
1. Interviewee, interviewer, reference, date, time and location
2. Able to do
3. Willing to do:
– Disposition
– Motivation
4. Summary
5. Recommendation.
Before sections 2 and 3 can be completed the candidate will first be
given a raw score of 1–5 (poor to outstanding) for every ability and
willingness raised by the interviewer. However, as some of these
qualities will be more important to the job than others, they will all be
given a weighting, or relative importance score (often 1–7; useful to
vital). The raw score will then be multiplied by the weighting, and the
separate products will be totalled.
The top scorer is not necessarily the best candidate. For example, there
may be a minimum total required for some or all the qualities, and
these may not have all been met. However, this method does force the
interviewer to think about the specific requirements of the job, and
about how far the various interviewees meet them.
160 / WRITING A REPORT
INVESTIGATION INTO THE FINANCIAL AFFAIRS OF A
COMPANY REPORTS
There are numerous types of investigation – some private (for example,
ones undertaken on behalf of a prospective purchaser of a business);
others governed by statute (for example, reports for prospectuses and
for Department of Trade investigations).
What points should I bear in mind?
In the case of a private investigation, the accountant must obtain precise
instructions from his or her client (the terms of reference). In the case
of an investigation governed by statute, the reporting accountant must
be fully conversant with the statutory regulations, and must also obtain
necessary instructions where applicable.
Throughout the investigation never lose sight of your purpose. It is
all too easy to become side-tracked. First make preliminary inquiries
to ascertain the information that is necessary to be able to plan the
investigation. Draft a skeletal framework, detailing the headings
which will be used in the final report. Then undertake all the necessary
detailed work, recording your findings on working papers. From these
the final report will be drafted.
What would be a suitable format?
This will depend on the nature of the investigation, but a typical
structure is as follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Introduction (including the terms of reference and the nature and
history of the enterprise being investigated)
Main body (the work performed and the facts ascertained – see
below)
Conclusions (drawn from the main body)
Recommendations (drawn from the conclusions)
Appendixes (any voluminous statistics).
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 161
In the case of an investigation into a retail business on behalf of a
potential purchaser, section 2 – the main body – could be subdivided
as follows:
i 2.1 Management and Staff
i 2.2 Sales and Marketing
i 2.3 Purchases and Supplies
i 2.4 Trade Results (per audited accounts)
i 2.5 Prospects and Trends
i 2.6 Assets and Liabilities.
MINUTES
Minutes can be defined as a written record of the business transacted at
a meeting. They may well have some legal and authoritative force.
What points should I bear in mind?
As a general rule, the fewer the words used the better. Ask yourself,
what was the purpose of the meeting? Minutes of a formal meeting must
include: decisions taken, motions passed and the names of the people
who attended. Those of a standing committee must provide enough
information and discussion so that absent members can participate
on equal terms at the next meeting. Minutes of a subcommittee
must include enough to keep its parent committee in touch with
developments and to explain the reasons for decisions.
Write in the simple past tense (Mr Smith reported that . . .), and as soon
as possible after the meeting. Selective note taking at the meeting will
greatly assist this process. Concentrate on conclusions. Do not record
controversy; state what was decided.
162 / WRITING A REPORT
The way minutes are numbered varies from organisation to organisation.
Here are three common methods:
i consecutively, from the first meeting onwards
i consecutively, beginning each set of minutes with ‘ 1’
i and consecutively, beginning each year with ‘1’.
Check that your minutes:
x
provide a true, impartial and balanced account of the proceedings;
x
are written in clear, concise and unambiguous language;
x
are as concise as is compatible with the degree of accuracy
required;
x
follow a method of presentation which helps the reader assimilate
the contents.
Once the minutes have been drafted, ask the chairperson to check
them. Then circulate them to anyone who will be expected to act upon
them. It is a good idea to clearly identify these people by putting their
names in an ‘action’ column on the right of the page and opposite the
appropriate references in the text.
If someone asks for a correction, try to negotiate an acceptable form
of words. However do not be fooled by people who want you to report
what they should have said, not what they actually said. At the following
meeting these minutes will be discussed and any arguments over them
will be resolved. The chairperson will then sign them as correct.
What would be a suitable format?
Headings in the minutes of a meeting should broadly correspond with
those which appear in its agenda, as follows:
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 163
1.
2.
3.
4.
}
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
Heading (including where and when the meeting was held)
Present (who was there)
Apologies for Absence (who should have been there, but was
not)
Minutes of the Previous Meeting (note any corrections and state
‘The minutes were accepted as a true record of the meeting [with
the above corrections]’)
Simple statements of what actually occurred at the meeting
Any Other Business (the ‘leftovers’)
Date of Next Meeting (also give the time and location).
PROCESS DESCRIPTION REPORTS
A process is a specific series of actions that bring about a specific
result.
What points should I bear in mind?
It is important not to confuse instructional manuals (see above) with
process description reports. The former explain how a process is to be
performed; the latter help the reader understand that process. Process
description reports are used to describe the following:
i how something is made
i how something is done (for information, not instruction)
i how a mechanism works
i how a natural process occurs.
164 / WRITING A REPORT
The report is essentially chronological or sequential and it is most
commonly used within the world of business and industry. Almost every
such report will include illustrations.
What would be a suitable format?
A suitable format for a process description report would be as follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.
Contents page (with a separate list of illustrations)
Introduction (identify the process; record its purpose and
significance; give an overview of the steps involved)
Main body (discuss each step in turn)
Summary (concentrate on the purpose and importance of the
actions or the significance of the facts).
PROGRESS REPORTS
These are periodic reports which, as their name suggests, describe how
some activity or process is progressing. They are often built up from
workers’ daily logs, supervisors’ reports, and so on.
What points should I bear in mind?
Progress reports will be required in one of three circumstances:
i on a regular basis
i at certain times during an activity or process, or
i as and when required.
They record progress over a specific period of time, and they make
comparisons from period to period by identifying changes and their
underlying causes and effects. They are essential for effective decision
making so they must be clear, accurate and unambiguous.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 165
What would be a suitable format?
Most organisations have standard printed progress report forms,
although headings vary considerably. Here is one simple format:
1.
2.
Introduction
– the period of work covered
– the work planned
– the authority for the work
– the progress to date
Main Body
– the work completed
– how the work has been completed
– the work planned for the future
– an overall appraisal of the progress to date.
RESEARCH REPORTS
The purpose of a research report is to extend our understanding of the
world by reducing uncertainty and increasing our understanding of it.
What points should I bear in mind?
Results alone are never enough. As you will see from the typical
format described below, you must be able to assess and then evaluate
the reliability of the results. You must say precisely how the work was
carried out, what methods were used to collect the data, and how it
was analysed. Conclusions and recommendations must be drafted with
great care.
What would be a suitable format?
This is a typical format for a research report:
1.
2.
Contents page
Introduction
– Set the scene; give a clear statement of the objectives and scope
of the research.
166 / WRITING A REPORT
3.
4.
5.
6.
– What was known about the subject at the beginning of the
research?
– Put the project into its proper context.
– Give the reason(s) for the research.
– Discuss the events which led up to it.
– Assess the importance of other, related work.
Work carried out
– Describe the overall shape and design of the research.
– Describe the methods used (for example, sampling methods).
– Describe the actual work carried out, probably in chronological
order.
– Explain how the results were analysed (for example, input to a
computer).
The Results
– In an academic report, give full results (with an interpretation in
a separate section).
– In a non-academic report, you can omit some results (or at least
put them in an appendix) and emphasise significant results.
– Concentrate on each objective of the research in turn.
– Structure your results around these objectives.
– Discuss the results; form links; build up an overall picture.
– Distinguish ‘facts’ from interpretations, inferences, predictions
or deductions.
Conclusions
– Make sure they flow naturally from the results.
– Each one must be supported by your findings and/or other
research.
– If no clear picture has emerged, then say so.
– Do not see relationships that do not exist.
Recommendations
– These should flow naturally from your conclusions, with no
surprises.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 167
7.
Appendixes
– Include items which would disturb the flow of the report (for
example, survey forms and questionnaires).
SCIENTIFIC REPORTS
A scientific report consists of an account of a test or experiment, of its
findings, and of its conclusions.
What points should I bear in mind?
Before you can write the report, you must carry out the test or
experiment accurately and you must record your results as you proceed.
Here are some points to bear in mind:
i Make sure you understand the purpose of the test or experiment.
i If you are not familiar with the relevant theory, look it up before
you start.
i Make sure you select appropriate equipment with reference to
its accuracy, sensitivity and safety. Ensure you know how the
equipment works, and then set it up in the most sensible way for
you to make all the required measurements and observations.
i Carry out the test or experiment, recording every observation as
you proceed. Ensure you observe and record accurately.
i Always record the units of measurement. All readings must be
consistent, for example to two decimal places.
i There is no point in giving a reading of, say, 0.2317mm unless you
have a good reason to believe that it lies somewhere between 0.231
and 0.232mm. If you do not have good reason to believe this, then
record the result only to the degree of precision to which you have
confidence – perhaps 0.23mm.
168 / WRITING A REPORT
i Record the estimated limits of error. If a spring can measure with
an accuracy of plus or minus 0.1mm, you should record this as, say,
length of spring = 21.7 ± 0.1mm
i If you add a mass to the spring and re-measure, the error could be
plus or minus 0.1mm on both figures; so record this as, say,
change of length of spring = 14.9 ± 0.2mm
i Calculate the results and draw any necessary rough graphs in
pencil. If the results are unreasonable or inconsistent (out of line),
then make the tests again.
i Form a conclusion based on your accumulated evidence.
i Write the report.
What would be a suitable format?
This is the usual format for a scientific report:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Name of class, group or department; experiment number;
reference; date and time
– The time is relevant only if it is likely to affect results (for
example, was barometric pressure a factor?).
Title of experiment.
Summary (or Abstract or Synopsis)
– A brief statement about the structure of the report; why the
experiment was carried out; what you found, and the significance
of what you found.
Contents page.
Introduction
– Your purpose and scope.
Apparatus
– A list of apparatus and details of its arrangements, with
diagrams.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 169
7.
Circuit theory
– Where applicable. A brief account of the theory underlying the
experiment.
8. Method
– A full and clear account of how the experiment was carried out.
Write in the passive (A glass stopper was weighed).
9. Results (or Findings)
– All your readings neatly tabulated with graphs neatly drawn.
Give the estimated limits of error (see above). If necessary use
appendixes.
10. Conclusion (or Discussion)
– The inferences drawn from the results obtained (these results
show . . .). Interpret results and explain their significance.
– Could this experiment have been improved in some way? If so,
explain why and how.
11. Appendixes
– To support section 9, if necessary.
STUDENT PROJECT REPORTS
Many students are required to undertake projects and produce reports.
For example, they are an important part of many GCSE examination
schemes.
What points should I bear in mind?
Here are some points to bear in mind when carrying out a project:
i Be aware of who will choose the topic. It may be chosen by your
teacher, or by you, or through discussion between the two of you.
i The topic chosen must be acceptable to your examining group.
So talk to your teacher and refer to your syllabus. Then select a
suitable topic, preferably one that can be investigated locally.
170 / WRITING A REPORT
i Decide what sources of information you will require.
i Decide how you will gather this information.
i Gather the information.
i Analyse the information.
i Write the report.
If you want to know more about student project reports, refer to
Chapters 9 and 10 of How to Succeed at GCSE, John Bowden (Cassell,
1989).
What would be a suitable format?
If your teacher tells you the required format, or if it is given in your
syllabus, comply with it. If you have no such instruction or guidance,
consider this simple format:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Contents page
Introduction
Main body
Conclusions
Recommendations (where appropriate)
Appendixes
Sources
Beginning
Middle
End
See also Technological Reports.
SYSTEMS EVALUATION REPORTS
A systems evaluation report serves one of these purposes:
i To discover which system out of several alternatives is most suitable
for a particular application.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 171
i To test an apparatus or system which it is intended to employ on a
large scale, or with multiple applications, if the initial operation is
deemed worthwhile.
i To enquire into the causes of failures in an existing operational
system.
The last of these is considered under Trouble-Shooting Reports.
What points should I bear in mind?
The purpose of the first two types of report is to inform those concerned
with selection, implementation and utilisation about:
i the requirements of the application
i the criteria by which the systems should be judged
i the features of available systems
i data on their performance in the field
i and recommendations or conclusions about the best course of
action.
These reports are important – mistakes are costly. You must be
independent; do not rely on the word of manufacturers or suppliers.
You probably will need to use supplementary text, footnotes, a glossary
and illustrations (diagrams, flow charts and perhaps photographs).
What would be a suitable format?
A suitable format for a report with the purpose of discovering which
system out of several alternatives is most suitable for a particular
application is as follows:
1.
2.
Contents page
Preface (personal background: why have you written the report?)
172 / WRITING A REPORT
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
System Requirements
Systems Available
Criteria for Selection
The Final Choice
Appendixes (System Data Sheets).
A report on the initial performance of an apparatus or a system could
follow this format:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Contents page
Preface (personal background: why have you written the report?)
Apparatus/System Requirements
Apparatus/System Performance (use appendixes, if necessary)
Conclusions
Recommendation
Appendixes (to support section 4, if necessary).
See also Feasibility Reports and Trouble-Shooting Reports.
TECHNICAL REPORTS
Technical reports are often written at an early stage in a production
process. They are usually generated internally, either by the technical
publications department of an organisation or by staff involved in this
production process. Here are some examples of technical reports:
i a technical proposal
i a feasibility study
i design and research reports
i pre-production reports
i evaluation documents
i ad hoc reports.
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 173
What points should I bear in mind?
These reports are often written by engineers who are not always
familiar with the techniques of effective writing. The advice given
throughout this book, therefore, will be of assistance. If you wish to
read more about this wide yet specialised area of report writing, refer
to Spring into Technical Writing, Barry J. Rosenberg (Addison Wesley,
2005).
What would be a suitable format?
Every organisation will have its own format requirements. This is a
typical layout:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Contents page
Aims (why it was written, its terms of reference and its general
purpose)
Summary (the salient facts and a concise summary of conclusions, if
any)
Main body (main discussion of the subject matter)
Conclusions (if necessary)
Bibliography (if required)
Index (in larger reports only).
TECHNOLOGICAL REPORTS
A technological report is concerned with the application of practical or
mechanical sciences in order to achieve a desired aim.
What points should I bear in mind?
A good technological report should combine and demonstrate these
qualities:
i planning
i communication
174 / WRITING A REPORT
i ability to reason
i ability to evaluate
i a logical and realistic solution.
Show the ‘thinking’ that has gone into the report. Make sure it is well
organised and well-presented. Present it logically to show a wellconstructed development of the problem-solving process. Reach a
solution which achieves your objective. Evaluate your work: are you
satisfied with it? Is it economically viable?
What would be a suitable format?
Here are three formats. As always, select the one that best suits your
needs:
Format A
1. Contents page
2. Brief (what you were attempting to do)
3. Analysis (your analysis of the problem – include the research
material you have gathered)
4. Thinking (your initial thinking and your evaluation of it)
5. Solution (explain how you developed your solution)
6. Evidence (include drawings, photographs and other evidence of
your solution – the artefact)
7. Evaluation (an objective evaluation of your solution).
This format would be suitable for a Student Project Report about the
production of an artefact (a physical thing created by one or more
human beings, such as a working model or a piece of woodwork).
Format B
1. Contents page
2. Purpose
– why was the work undertaken?
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 175
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Methods Used
– the apparatus and equipment used (with illustrations)
– a step-by-step account of the procedure
– observations taken (tabulated) – use appendixes, if necessary
– calculations necessary to give meaning to the observations
Results
– use tables and illustrations (and appendixes, if necessary)
Conclusions
– a survey of the work undertaken:
x compare actual results with theoretical results
x compare actual results with others obtained elsewhere
x give reasons for such discrepancies or variations
x assess the relevance of the methods used
x assess the efficiency of the equipment used
x discuss any human errors and/or any relevant environmental
factors
Recommendations
– flowing naturally from your conclusions
Appendixes
– to support sections 3 and/or 4, if necessary.
Format C
1. Contents page
2. Summary
– concentrate on your findings
3. Object
– a brief statement of your aim
3. Introduction
– why was the work undertaken?
– provide any relevant background information
– discuss any limitations/conditions you faced (for example: cost,
time, or environmental)
176 / WRITING A REPORT
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
Apparatus
– describe it (with illustrations)
– why was it chosen?
Procedures
– a step-by-step account of what was done
Observations
– give details of components, specimens, equipment or machinery
during and after the test
– record the readings made during the investigation in tables and/
or illustrations – use appendixes, if necessary
Calculations
– based on your observations
– based on theoretical considerations
– analyse errors
– summarise your results
Results
– use a separate section or appendix, if necessary
Comments
– discuss the degree of accuracy achieved
– compare your results with those from other sources
– comment on quality of the materials and workmanship of the
item tested
– what alternative method(s) of presenting your findings could
you have used?
– why did you present your findings as you have?
– make your acknowledgements
Conclusions
– flowing from your results and, where appropriate, your
comments
Recommendations
– flowing from your conclusions
Appendixes
– to support sections 7 and/or 9, if necessary
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 177
14. Index
– in larger reports only.
Formats B and C are suitable for technological tests or investigations,
perhaps assessing the suitability of two or more items for a defined
purpose. Format C is particularly useful for a long report. See also
Comparative Testing Reports.
TROUBLE-SHOOTING REPORTS
These reports aim to locate the cause of some problem, and then
suggest ways to remove or treat it. In the main they deal with people,
organisations or hardware.
What points should I bear in mind?
These reports highlight problems. When they are caused by people you
must be especially careful to word the report thoughtfully. Be candid
but be fair. Most of all, be accurate. When you are discussing problems
caused by the structure of an organisation, you must expect to meet the
objection: ‘But we’ve always done it this way’. People are generally not
keen on change. Reports on hardware are less complicated and often
less contentious.
What would be a suitable format?
Here are four possible structures. Choose the one that best suits your
needs:
Format A
1. Contents page
2. Present situation (the salient points)
3. Options for Change (the pros and cons of each option)
4. Recommendations (well-argued, clear, unambiguous and concise)
5. References (if required).
178 / WRITING A REPORT
Format B
1. Contents page
2. Introduction (purpose and scope)
3. Evidence (concise, balanced and unambiguous – use appendixes, if
necessary)
4. Arguments for (present all the pros logically and objectively and
respond positively to weaknesses in your case)
5. Arguments against (list them and refute them in turn)
6. Recommendation (be clear, unambiguous and precise)
7. Appendixes (to support section 3, if necessary).
Format C
1. Contents page
2. Introduction (your purpose)
3. Summary of Recommendations (clear, unambiguous and precise)
4. Present Position (the salient points)
5. Scope (what work was done, and possibly what was not)
6. Observations on Recommendations (the main body – repeat each
recommendation and give the main pros and cons for each – say
why the pros prevailed)
7. Conclusion (keep it concise)
8. Appendixes (if required).
Format D
1. Contents page
2. The Problem
– nature and cause
– extent
– effects (perhaps on safety or production)
3. The Need for Change
– reasons (perhaps labour problems or competition)
4. Proposed Solution
– options available
– details of proposed solution
SOM E C OM M ON T YP E S O F R E P O RT / 179
– previous experience of this scheme (perhaps elsewhere)
– advantages
– disadvantages (and how they can be overcome)
– effects (perhaps improved efficiency or sales prospects)
5. Time Factors
– when can it be implemented?
6. Costs
– for each option:
– implementation costs
– running costs
– estimated savings, if applicable
7. Conclusion
– for the chosen option:
– overall effects
– overall benefits
8. Recommendations
– item by item, clear and unambiguous
9. Appendixes
– if required.
See also Feasibility Reports and Systems Evaluation Report.
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Appendix 1
Sample Reports
Here are excerpts from four recent BMA reports, written in differing
styles reflecting their differing purposes and readerships.
The premise of the first report is that an essential component of the
relationship between the medical profession and disabled citizens is
not just about the way disabled patients are treated, but also the way
healthcare organisations treat their disabled employees.
The report unequivocally places disability as a mainstream priority
concern and gives a powerful insight into the cultural challenges faced
by healthcare service employees with impairments and/or long-term
health conditions. It also demonstrates how issues need to be addressed
by tackling traditional fears, attitudes and myths. The language used is
direct and uncompromising.
The publication is aimed at policy makers; healthcare, academic training
and regulatory organisations that have strategic and operational
responsibilities within the medical profession; the UK health
departments; and medical workshop managers. The BMA intends this
seminal report to be the basis for a significantly improved relationship
for disabled people working in and using healthcare services.
182 / WRITING A REPORT
DISABILITY EQUALITY IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Equal opportunities for disabled doctors and disabled medical
students
Disabled doctors and disabled medical students are invaluable within
the medical profession. In living with an impairment and/or disability
discrimination, they are uniquely placed in terms of responding to
the healthcare needs of disabled people and fostering a diverse and
inclusive environment. There are numerous examples of disabled people
with successful careers in the medical profession; yet, disabled doctors
and disabled medical students are disproportionately undervalued. As
a result, a medical career is often not supportive or enabling towards
disabled doctors and disabled medical students.
Significant difficulties are also faced in accessing the medical profession,
as evident from the low numbers of disabled people applying to study
medicine. It is essential that disabled doctors, disabled medical students
and any individual who acquires an impairment while studying, training
or practising medicine have appropriate support and are provided with
the same opportunities as their non-disabled colleagues. The amount
and type of support available and the reasonable adjustments which
are made for disabled doctors and disabled medical students is entirely
dependent on the organisation involved, be that a medical school,
Royal College, postgraduate deanery or general practitioner (GP)
directorate.
Barriers to a career in medicine for disabled people
The lack of equality for disabled doctors and disabled medical students
results from direct forms of disability discrimination (for example,
failure to make reasonable adjustments) and from more implicit forms
of discrimination that can be attitudinal, assumptive, exclusionary or
segregational. This implicit discrimination results from the culture in
the medical profession where doctors are traditionally viewed as having
to be flawless and fully fit.
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 183
The historical culture behind medicine and medical training means the
approach to disability has traditionally focused on finding a cure or
providing care in accordance with the traditional models. One example
of this is the GMC publication Tomorrow’s doctors (GMC, 2003) which
states that graduates must recognise the importance of ‘reducing or
managing impairments, disabilities and handicaps’. Viewing disability
in this way sees the individual disabled person’s impairment as the
problem and ignores the social model of disability.
It is likely that many doctors and medical students find it difficult
to move away from this traditional mind-set. This is compounded
by external pressures on how disability is viewed. For example, the
definition of disability in the DDA 1995 (as amended) also corresponds
to the traditional models of disability, where an individual’s impairment
is seen as the problem. In its Recommendations to Government July
2006 (DRC, 2006) the DRC suggests changing the DDA definition to
one consistent with the social model of disability.
Under-reporting of impairment
Due to the culture within the medical profession, and the stigma
attached to the term ‘disabled’, there is a great deal of underreporting of impairment by doctors, particularly in the case of hidden
impairments (for example, mental health problems), as it is felt this may
adversely affect career progression. Under-reporting of impairment is
also probable among medical students and those applying to study
medicine. The problem of under-reporting of impairment is however,
not unique to medicine as it is generally acknowledged as being
prevalent throughout the higher education sector and in the workplace.
There are a number of potential reasons why individuals choose not to
disclose information on their impairment, including:
i concerns about discrimination or being rejected by people with
pre-set ideas about the effects of a particular impairment. The
184 / WRITING A REPORT
reluctance of doctors and medical students to declare their
impairment most likely arises as a result of concern that an
impairment may be considered by colleagues and employers to be
a sign of weakness that limits professional competence
i concerns that it will give the employer or education provider
the chance to label individuals by their impairment and make
assumptions about what they can and cannot do on the basis of
their impairment
i a reluctance to provide information on an impairment as this
may not allow an individual to convey an accurate understanding
of their impairment, or they may find it difficult to explain it in
words
i the belief that their impairment will have no effect on their ability
to do a job or undertake a course.
Under-reporting of impairment is not easily solvable. It necessitates a
fundamental shift towards a culture and environment that encourages
openness about impairment and views disability positively. It also
requires a better understanding of the barriers to declaring impairments
and targeted approaches to encourage doctors and medical students to
declare information on their impairment. It is important to understand
the extent to which impairments are under-reported, as well as the
types of impairment that are most/least likely to be declared and the
barriers to declaration in the medical profession.
One approach towards reducing under-reporting is to ask doctors and
medical students to identify as disabled people using the social model,
that is asking them if they experience discrimination on the grounds of
impairment, rather than if they are unable to carry out normal day-today activities. This would encourage more disabled people to self define,
and encourage a culture where organisations and individuals recognise
and deal with discrimination on grounds of impairment, and related
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 185
matters. Using the application process for the Access to Work scheme,
to allow employees the opportunity to disclose as disabled people for
monitoring purposes, would provide a more accurate reflection of the
number of disabled employees.
Disclosure of impairments
Personal and sensitive information, such as that relating to impairment,
should be treated as confidential, and access to this information should
be strictly regulated. Organisations that collect, store, monitor and
analyse personal sensitive information are governed by eight principles
set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, which ‘make sure that personal
information is:
i fairly and lawfully processed
i processed for limited purposes
i adequate, relevant and not excessive
i accurate and up to date
i not kept for longer than is necessary
i processed in line with [the individual’s] rights
i secure
i not transferred to other countries without adequate protection’.
Personal sensitive information must only be obtained and held where
consent has been given, and only then when it is of relevance to the
provision of a service. Data must be safeguarded by technical and
organisational measures, for example, password-protecting electronic
information, and storing paper-based records in lockable cabinets or
cupboards. It is important that data are accurate and be kept up to date,
and should be disposed of following the elapse of a reasonable time.
186 / WRITING A REPORT
‘Experience shows that anonymous monitoring leads to a better
response rate – because individuals are often concerned about
disclosing personal information.’ Where it is not possible to collect
information on an anonymous basis, for example, when tracking the
progress of individuals, confidentiality must be guaranteed and reports
of such exercises should be anonymised so that individuals cannot be
identified. It is important that personal information is only provided
when necessary and only where appropriate.
Documents such as application forms and CVs should not include
sensitive information. Information such as disclosure of a specific
impairment should be used by occupational health services to assess
an applicants’ physical and mental ability to practise as a doctor, and
not to influence the admission selection procedures regarding academic
performance and personal qualities.
Developing disability equality
Disability equality must be a central component of all equal
opportunities policies and strategies in the medical profession. This
requires leadership from the GMC, as well as commitment at the most
senior levels. There have been a number of recent initiatives aimed at
improving disability equality within the National Health Service (NHS)
such as Improving Working Lives (IWL) and positive action. These
initiatives are NHS-wide, however, and are not sufficiently focused on
providing disability equality for doctors and medical students which
may lead them to believe that these initiatives are not relevant to
them.
It is important that equal opportunity policies are developed and kept
up-to-date and that disabled people are consulted about, and involved in,
their on-going development. This commitment must extend throughout
all organisations with strategic and operational responsibility for
doctors and medical students and cover all aspects of education,
training and employment. It is important that all organisations clearly
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 187
set out their equal opportunities policies with respect to disability, and
that these policies are communicated to all members of staff.
It is important to acknowledge that in addition to addressing disability
equality among doctors and medical students, the required actions
and adjustments relating to education, training and employment
can have a significant impact upon service provision for disabled
patients. Improvements in patient care should result directly from the
adjustments and policies put in place within healthcare organisations
and also indirectly through having a workforce which supports and
includes a greater number of people with impairments. In this way the
workforce will better reflect the user population, meaning that it can
relate to the needs of disabled patients and create a more responsive
service. This is further discussed in the BMA publication Disability
equality within healthcare: the role of healthcare professionals (BMA,
2007).
*
*
*
This second report describes the damage that adult smoking causes
children. It is aimed at a wide audience, including heath professionals,
policy makers and members of the public. The approach is to provide a
clear synthesis of the available research, and to develop evidence-based
recommendations for policy.
BREAKING THE CYCLE OF CHILDREN’S EXPOSURE TO
TOBACCO SMOKE
Smoking in pregnancy and the impact on neonatal health
Maternal smoking during pregnancy is the largest preventable cause of
neonatal and infant ill health and death in the UK. It places the mother
at risk of life-threatening complications. There is evidence to show
that exposure to SHS in pregnancy causes harm that extends through
infancy and childhood into adulthood.
188 / WRITING A REPORT
Smoking is associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and
miscarriage. Women who smoke are between 50 and 150 per cent more
likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy, and 25 per cent more likely
to miscarry. Smoking in pregnancy has been established as a cause of
placental abnormalities and premature rupture of the fetal membranes.
Smoking increases the risk of placental abruption by between 1.4
and 2.4 times. Smoking also increases the risk of placenta praevia
by between 1.5 and 3.0 times. In both cases, the risk increases with
cigarette consumption. Smokers have a two to three-fold increased risk
of rupture of the chorion and amnion membranes that surround the
fetus in the womb before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Babies born with low birth-weight are at increased risk of illness and
death in infancy. Babies born to mothers who smoke are around 40 per
cent more likely to be stillborn or to die within the first four weeks of
life. The more cigarettes that are smoked during pregnancy, the greater
the risk. One study found that first-time mothers who smoked up to
a pack a day were 25 per cent more likely to experience a stillbirth
or neonatal death than non-smoking mothers, while those smoking
more than a pack a day had a 56 per cent increase in risk. Smoking in
pregnancy is also a cause of cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS) (see page 18).
Maternal smoking in pregnancy is a cause of low birth-weight, via both
interuterine growth retardation and premature delivery, although the
impact of smoking on fetal growth is greater. In developed countries,
cigarette smoking is the most important factor affecting birth-weight.
SHS exposure is also associated with low birth-weight. On average,
babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy are 200 to 250g lighter
than those of non-smokers. A review in 2004 found that the risk of
premature birth was between 20 and 30 per cent higher for smoking
mothers than for non-smokers.
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 189
There is conflicting evidence about whether reducing tobacco
consumption during pregnancy reduces risks such as low birth-weight.
No safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy has been
identified.
Smoking in pregnancy has been associated with a modest increase in
risk for specific fetal malformations, although the evidence is complex
and difficult to interpret. The strongest evidence is for oral clefts (cleft
lip and cleft palate). There is more limited evidence that smoking
may be associated with absent or shortened limbs, and urogenital
abnormalities. A 2004 review has resolved that there is insufficient
evidence to conclude that smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of
fetal abnormalities in general.
Mothers who smoke are less likely to start breastfeeding their babies
than non-smoking mothers, and tend to breastfeed for a shorter
time. The more cigarettes smoked, the sooner the baby is weaned. In
breastfeeding mothers who smoke, milk output is reduced by more than
250 ml/day compared with non-smoking mothers.
There is substantial research linking maternal smoking in pregnancy to
the development of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A review in 2005 concluded that children exposed to maternal smoking
in utero were more than twice as likely to develop ADHD. Another
study has found that women who smoke during pregnancy can cause
permanent cardiovascular damage to their children, putting them at
higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. The study found that
pregnancy was a critical period for harm from exposure to tobacco
smoke and that the effect was independent from exposure to SHS after
birth.
Some research suggests that maternal smoking in pregnancy may
predispose those exposed to tobacco smoke in utero to become addicted
smokers later in life. In one study, children of mothers who smoked
190 / WRITING A REPORT
more than 10 cigarettes a day while pregnant were five and a half times
more likely to start smoking than the children of non-smoking mothers.
It is possible that smoking in pregnancy may affect the development
of nicotine receptors in the brain, increasing the risk of addiction if
smoking is taken up later in life.
Smoking in pregnancy – women’s experiences
More women give up smoking while planning to conceive or while
pregnant than at any other point in their lives, but approximately half
of the women who smoke in the year before they become pregnant
continue to smoke throughout their pregnancy.
Women smokers who are pregnant are more likely to give up smoking if
it is their first pregnancy compared to women who have smoked during
their previous pregnancies. Single mothers are more likely to smoke
while pregnant than those with partners, and women with partners
are more likely to smoke while they are pregnant if their partners are
smokers. Women who continue to smoke while they are pregnant report
strong feelings of guilt, which can prevent them from admitting how
much they smoke. Women who contributed to a 2004 review identified
that guilt, anxiety and stress resulting from continuing to smoke could
damage relationships with their families and antenatal care staff. Most
women are aware that smoking in pregnancy is harmful to the baby, but
many downplay the impact that it will have on their baby as a process of
rationalising this knowledge. In 1999, four out of five pregnant smokers
surveyed agreed with the statement that “there are things which are far
worse for an unborn baby than smoking”.
Survey data show that more women report cutting down on smoking
while they are pregnant than quitting. A study which analysed
cotinine levels in urine suggests that women may not actually reduce
consumption during pregnancy.
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 191
It has been reported that some women mistakenly believe that low
birth-weight babies are desirable or that they result in easier labours.
One study that modelled the impact of a 100g increase in birth weight
found that the overall risk of caesarean section was greatly reduced.
While there was a slightly increased risk of caesarean section due to
obstruction, there was a reduced risk of caesarean section due to fetal
distress.
Smoking in pregnancy – the role of partners
A number of studies have shown that partners have a strong influence
on whether women continue to smoke while they are pregnant. One
study has shown that women with partners who smoke are four times
more likely to smoke while pregnant than those with non-smoking
partners.
Some research has shown that expectant fathers did not believe that
their SHS would have an effect on the fetus. One recent Northern
Ireland study showed that the majority of male partners wanted their
partners to quit or cut down smoking, while making no real changes to
their own smoking behaviour. Other studies have suggested that fathers
can undermine women’s quit attempts by giving ‘negative support’ in
response to smoking cues and lapses.
In addition to the potential to support mothers to quit, the impact of
continuing paternal smoking on maternal and fetal health, as well as on
children is a strong argument for encouraging fathers to quit.
*
*
*
The third report cited is intended to raise awareness of Fetal Alcohol
Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a series of totally preventable mental and
physical birth defects resulting from maternal alcohol consumption
during pregnancy. To date, there has been limited research into FASD
in the UK.
192 / WRITING A REPORT
The report identifies and examines the incidence, cause and outcomes
of the various associated disorders and is targeted at healthcare
professionals and relevant bodies in the fields of education and social
services with strategic or operational responsibility for public health
and health protection.
FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDERS (FASD)
Alcohol consumption in women of childbearing age and during
pregnancy
Approximately 90 per cent of women in Britain consume alcoholic
beverages at least occasionally, and there has recently been a significant
increase in heavy drinking among young British women. A survey in
2000 showed that eight per cent of women aged 18–24 years had
consumed at least units of alcohol during the previous week. A study of
drinking trends in the UK found 38 per cent of women in their 20s had
engaged in binge drinking.
The General Household Survey (GHS) 2003 found that the proportion
of women aged 16–24 years who had consumed six units or more on
at least one day in the past week had risen from 24 per cent to 28 per
cent over the period 1998-2002. It also found that women aged 16–24
were far more likely than other age groups to have consumed six units
or more in one day and that nine per cent of all women aged 16 and
above were heavy drinkers in 2003. A report from the Parliamentary
Office of Science and Technology (POST) found that 60 per cent of
alcohol consumed by women aged 20 to 29 is consumed in bouts of
heavy drinking.
The increasing level of alcohol consumption among women in the UK
has been accompanied by a substantial rise in alcohol-related morbidity
and mortality. According to the ONS, the number of alcohol-related
deaths among UK women aged 35–54 years has doubled between 1991
and 2005, from 7.2 to 14.2 per 100,000 population. Recent years have
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 193
seen a significant rise in deaths from liver disease in England and Wales
and an increasing proportion of such deaths involve relatively young
adults. In 2000, cirrhosis accounted for nearly 300 deaths in women
aged 25–44 years. In the past decade the most common age for mortality
from chronic liver disease has dropped from 55–64 years to 45–54 years.
If the age at which the onset of chronic liver disease continues to fall
this may increasingly affect women of childbearing age who may be
at risk of becoming pregnant with a liver which is already less able to
process alcohol efficiently.
In the 2000 UK survey on infant feeding, the reported rates of drinking
during pregnancy were found to have declined consistently since 1995
when two-thirds of mothers throughout the UK consumed alcohol
during pregnancy. The survey found that 87 per cent of mothers had
sometimes consumed alcohol before pregnancy; around six in 10
drank alcohol while they were pregnant, and approximately three in
10 drinkers gave up during pregnancy. In 2000, 71 per cent of a sample
of mothers who continued to drink during their pregnancy reported
drinking on average less than one unit of alcohol in a week. In light
of the recent increasing levels of alcohol consumption in women of
childbearing age in the UK, it is reasonable to suggest that this will
lead to an increased risk of heavy drinking during pregnancy and
subsequently an increased risk of having a baby who is affected by prenatal alcohol exposure.
According to the 2003 BMA report, Adolescent health, adolescents in
the UK have one of the highest levels of alcohol use, binge-drinking
and getting drunk in Europe. The rate of teenage pregnancies in the
UK is the highest in Western Europe. In England and Wales the rate
of conception in women under 18 was 41.3 per 1,000 in 2005, and in
Scotland it was 42.4 per 1,000 in 2003–04. In Northern Ireland, 6.9 per
cent of total live births in 2001 were to women under the age of 20.
194 / WRITING A REPORT
The rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK increased
significantly between 1996 and 2005 with the numbers of individuals
presenting with an STI at genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
across the UK increasing by 60 per cent. Recent evidence suggests
that unplanned pregnancies are common, not only in young women
but in women throughout their childbearing years. Many women will
not therefore know they are pregnant during the early part of the first
trimester, during which time they may continue to drink in their prepregnancy fashion with no awareness of the risk to their unborn child.
Underestimating maternal alcohol consumption
Data on rates of drinking during pregnancy are commonly based on self
reporting and therefore often unreliable as a result of poor estimation,
poor recollection and the social stigma associated with heavy drinking
during pregnancy. This is compounded by variation in the alcoholic
concentration of different types of drink, variation in serving size
(different sizes of wine glass), and the difference between the standard
measures used in bars and restaurants as well as measures poured in
the home.
Maternal alcohol consumption levels are therefore often significantly
underestimated. This can lead to difficulties in studying the association
between alcohol and poor health outcome, and in recording patient
histories of alcohol consumption. Underestimating alcohol consumption
can also affect an individual’s perceptions of their level of drinking and
how much they think is safe to drink.
Is there a safe level of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy?
The damage caused by alcohol on the developing fetus is dependent
on the level of maternal alcohol consumption, the pattern of alcohol
exposure and the stage of pregnancy during which alcohol is consumed.
This is confounded by a number of other risk factors including the
genetic makeup of the mother and the fetus, the nutritional status of
the mother, hormonal interactions, polydrug use (including tobacco
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 195
use), general health of the mother, stress, maternal age and low
socioeconomic status. For example, research to identify specific genetic
factors contributing to FASD has found that polymorphisms of the gene
for the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme ADH1B in both the mother and
the fetus, can contribute to FASD vulnerability.
There is robust and consistent evidence from human and animal
studies that heavy maternal alcohol use is associated with FAS. This is
particularly apparent in cases of alcohol dependence or severe alcohol
problems; however, only four to five per cent of children born to
women who consumed large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy are
affected by the full syndrome presentation. The pattern and duration
of drinking are important considerations in defining the risk of heavy
drinking during pregnancy. The occurrence of FAS has been found to be
associated with the frequency of heavy dose drinking (binge drinking).
Women who binge drink are much more likely to have children with
facial dysmorphology, cardiac anomalies or cognitive impairment than
women who drink the same total amount of alcohol over an extended
period of time.
The stage of pregnancy during which alcohol is consumed determines
how and which cells of the developing fetus are affected. Research has
shown there to be vulnerable periods of neonatal development that
can be adversely affected by exposure to heavy doses of alcohol intake.
Evidence from animal experiments suggests these critical periods of
exposure occur during the first and third trimesters in humans. Studies
in mice have found the very early stages of embryogenesis to be critical
periods for damage to the developing brain and induction of alcoholinduced craniofacial alterations.
Prenatal alcohol exposure during the third trimester is highly-related to
damage to the cerebellum, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. A smallscale study examining children with school problems who had been
prenatally exposed to alcohol found that damage to the cerebellum
196 / WRITING A REPORT
can also occur following heavy maternal alcohol consumption during
the first trimester of pregnancy. The occurrence of PFAS, ARBD
and ARND is not fully understood. It has been postulated that the
anomalies characteristic of PFAS, ARBD and ARND result from
exposure to heavy doses of alcohol intake on specific days of fetal
development, and that exposure to heavy doses throughout pregnancy
results in the development of the pattern of anomalies found in FAS.
There is considerable debate as to the adverse effects of maternal
alcohol consumption at low-to-moderate levels of drinking. This may
be explained by the variability in the definitions of consumption
levels, differences in the way drinking behaviour is characterised,
methodological problems in the design and analysis of relevant studies,
and in determining the relative effect of confounding factors (for
example, genetic predisposition).
Existing evidence on the adverse irreversible effects of prenatal
alcohol exposure at low-to-moderate levels is inconclusive and there is
currently no consensus on the level of risk or whether there is a clear
threshold below which alcohol is non-teratogenic. A 2006 review of the
existing evidence on the effects of alcohol on the developing embryo,
fetus and child conducted by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit
(NPEU) found there to be no consistent evidence of adverse health
effects from low-to-moderate prenatal alcohol exposure. Other reviews
have drawn similar conclusions.
It is worth noting that the current evidence is not robust enough to
exclude any risk from low-to-moderate levels, and that evidence is
continuing to emerge as to the possible effects of prenatal alcohol
exposure at these levels. Evidence from animal experiments suggests
that damage to the CNS may occur at low levels of alcohol exposure.
Moreover, a prospective study of 501 mother-child dyads found that
the child’s behaviour at age six to seven was adversely related to lowto-moderate levels of prenatal alcohol exposure. A dose-response
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 197
relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the behaviour
exhibited was also found.
Studies examining the effects of alcohol on the fetus have shown that
exposure at low-to-moderate levels can alter fetal behaviour. These
studies have consistently shown that acute exposure to one to two units
of alcohol rapidly suppresses fetal behaviour through a rapid decrease
in fetal breathing. Studies examining the effects of chronic consumption
indicate that low-to-moderate levels of exposure (two to five units per
week) elicit a developmental delay in the functioning of the fetus’s
nervous system and may result in a permanent effect. It is not currently
clear what effect these changes in behaviour have on fetal development
and the health outcomes of pregnancy.
A recent large prospective study has found that occasional low-tomoderate drinking during the first trimester may have a negative and
persistent effect on children’s mental health. Clarification is required as
to the effect of different levels, patterns and timings of prenatal alcohol
exposure on the health outcomes of pregnancy. There is a significant
amount of research currently focused on this area. It is important that
this is consolidated with further research to generate a consensus on
the relationship between different levels of prenatal alcohol exposure
and the range of conditions associated with FASD. This should then
help inform the debate on whether there is a safe threshold for prenatal
alcohol exposure.
As many of the epidemiological methods used to examine the risk
factors associated with FASD rely on retrospective extrapolation from
existing cases and information, it is important that future research – if
methodologically possible – is based on a prospective ascertainment
process of whole populations with better recording and stratification of
alcohol dose levels.
*
*
*
198 / WRITING A REPORT
This final excerpt is from a report which aims to publicise domestic
abuse as a highly important healthcare concern that must be tackled
from many different angles, not just the health service. It is therefore
intended for a wide readership and advocates a multi-agency approach
to facilitate co-ordination of action against family abuse, and to
encourage research to understand the prevalence, risk factors, outcomes
and optimal care for victims of family abuse.
Domestic violence affects over 350,000 people in England and Wales
alone. It is a challenging crime to tackle as it occurs within relationships,
where emotions are highly entwined. For this reason, as well as others
explored in the report, it is a crime that is largely under-reported.
DOMESTIC ABUSE
Specific vulnerable groups
The impact of domestic abuse on children
Child abuse usually takes place within the immediate family circle; it
is, however, not within the remit of this report because by definition,
domestic abuse only involves abuse between adults. Nevertheless, as
reported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in 2004,
children witness about three-quarters of abusive incidents occurring
within relationships where there is domestic abuse. Approximately
half the children in such families have themselves been badly hit or
beaten. The DH (2002) found that a minimum of 750,000 children
a year witness domestic abuse. Nearly three-quarters of children on
the child protection register live in households where domestic abuse
occurs, which in England (2002) would equate to nearly 19,275 children.
ChildLine receives almost 2,000 calls a year from children who are
experiencing problems with domestic abuse.
Children can witness domestic abuse in a variety of ways and suffer
a broad range of both physical and psychological consequences as
a result. In nine out of 10 cases of domestic abuse, children are in
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 199
the same or next room when the abuse is taking place. All children
witnessing domestic abuse, whether they are in the same room, caught
in the middle of an incident, or simply witnessing the physical injuries
inflicted on a parent, are being subjected to emotional abuse.
Edleson (1999) reviewed several studies on the impact on children
who witness domestic abuse, and reported some robust underlying
themes. A child’s behavioural and emotional functioning can be
severely influenced by living within a household where domestic
abuse is occurring. Children from such environments can exhibit more
aggressive and antisocial behaviour as well as fearful and inhibited
characteristics. Many children may want to protect the parents from
abuse, thus putting themselves at risk in the process and experiencing
feelings of guilt when they are unable to help. They show signs of
anxiety, depression, anger and behavioural difficulties.
Younger children may demonstrate their anxiety with physical
problems, such as complaining of tummy-aches, wetting the bed,
having difficulty sleeping and having temper tantrums. Children who
witness abuse may also learn to use it, but this effect has been found to
differ between boys and girls. Boys have been shown to express their
distress more outwardly with hostility and aggression, whereas girls are
commonly found to show evidence of more internalised problems. They
may withdraw from other people, become anxious or depressed. There
are also long-term effects seen in these children.
Adults who witnessed domestic abuse as children have been found to
experience depression, trauma-related symptoms and low self-esteem.
In addition to these emotional wounds, children who have witnessed
abuse are more likely to be either abusers or victims themselves. It is
natural for children to learn from their parents and this can therefore
lead to a child falling into an abusive adult relationship. It is, however,
also the case that children who witness domestic abuse may reject such
behaviour, and will try not to repeat it.
200 / WRITING A REPORT
Neglect is a form of child abuse which can result from domestic abuse.
When a parent is suffering abuse they will almost certainly strive to
continue to provide love and support for their children yet this may
be extremely difficult in such circumstances. Children living in abusive
family environments may be left to look after themselves at an age
where hands-on parenting would normally still be occurring.
It is recognised that educating children about domestic abuse is a
key step in the process of eliminating domestic abuse. Women’s Aid
believes that ‘the most positive way to reduce and eliminate domestic
violence and its effects on children and young people is through a
strategy of preventive education work’ and ‘all children and young
people should have access to domestic violence preventive education
programmes’. Working within schools to build awareness and change
attitudes towards domestic abuse is described by the Home Office as a
primary prevention method. Research by Hague et al (2001) indicates
that violence prevention programmes may change attitudes, however, it
is less well known whether there is a link between raised awareness and
any long-term domestic abuse reduction.
Education at a young age should catalyse a change in the public
perception of domestic abuse. The role of friends, relatives, neighbours
and colleagues in helping victims of domestic abuse is underestimated.
Educating the public about domestic abuse would help to reduce
cases such as that described by Channel Four television programme
‘Dispatches’, ‘When did you last beat your wife?’ where a women ran
from her home as her partner was violently abusing her, calling for help,
while her neighbours watched and did nothing. She was subsequently
dragged back in and subjected to further physical abuse. It is vital that
the public are aware that there are domestic abuse helplines that can be
contacted should they suspect domestic abuse. Both family and friends
of the victim are also well placed to encourage and support the victim
to seek help.
APPENDIX 1 – SAMPLE REPORTS / 201
In July 2000 the Home Office awarded £6.3m as part of the £250m
Crime Reduction Programme to fund 34 pilot projects that aimed to
develop and implement local strategies to reduce domestic abuse, rape
and sexual assault. Of these 34 projects, 27 focused on domestic abuse
and as a result of three ‘education’ projects the following has been
found:
i children and young people want and value lessons on relationships
and on abuse
i following a primary prevention project, pupils had increased
awareness of factual information regarding domestic abuse
i training for teachers is important and teachers who do not feel
supported are likely to feel underconfident in using the materials
and dealing with domestic abuse
i education in schools can make both primary and secondary school
pupils think more deeply about domestic abuse
i in line with the recommendations stated by the Home Office in
2001, the BMA would support implementation of domestic abuse
education programmes in all primary and secondary schools.
The impact of domestic violence on pregnant women
It has been estimated by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and
Child Health for England and Wales (CEMACH) that around 30 per
cent of domestic abuse begins during pregnancy. Studies, however, have
shown a variable incidence of domestic abuse of pregnant women. In
the WHO worldwide survey, it was reported that in the majority of
settings, between 11 per cent and 44 per cent of pregnant women who
had been abused in the past, were assaulted during pregnancy, and that
in 90 per cent of all settings this abuse was carried out by the father of
the unborn child.
202 / WRITING A REPORT
An American study found that each year approximately 324,000
pregnant women in the country are abused by their intimate partner,
which makes abuse more common for pregnant women than gestational
diabetes or pre-eclampsia – both conditions for which pregnant women
are routinely screened. The impact of domestic abuse during pregnancy
is recognised to be a significant contributory factor to maternal and
fetal mortality and morbidity. The CEMACH reported that in its 2000/
02 study Why mothers die? 14 per cent of maternal deaths occurred
in women who have either self-reported a history of domestic abuse
to a healthcare professional caring for them, or the abuse was already
known to health and social services.
Research has found that in comparison with other victims of domestic
abuse, pregnant women are more likely to have multiple sites of injury,
including the breasts and abdomen, implying that the fetus as well as
the woman herself is the focus of the perpetrator’s anger.
The RCM has produced guidance for midwives dealing with cases,
or suspected cases, of domestic abuse in pregnant women. The RCM
advises midwives to look for a number of possible indicators of domestic
abuse, which include a high incidence of miscarriage and termination of
pregnancies; stillbirth; preterm labour/prematurity; smoking; alcohol
and drug abuse; gynaecological problems; repeated chronic injuries;
physical symptoms related to stress or depression and signs of rape
or sexual assault. The RCM states that ‘midwives are ideally placed to
recognise and detect ongoing domestic abuse and to offer care, support
and information to the woman’.
Glossary
Abstract (or Summary, or Synopsis). A condensed version of a report
which outlines the salient points and emphasises the main conclusions
(qv) and, where appropriate, the main recommendations (qv). It has
two functions: either to provide a précis of what the recipient is
about to read, or has just read; or to provide a summary of a report if
the recipient is not going to read all of it.
Acknowledgements. An author’s statement of thanks to people and
organisations who helped during the preparation of a report.
Addendum (pl. Addenda). Additional material; an update or
afterthought often produced and circulated after a report has been
issued.
Agenda. A type of report listing items to be discussed during a meeting.
Therefore it must be drawn up in advance.
Aims. A statement of why a report was written; who requested it, when
it was requested; and its terms of reference (qv). It usually appears in
the introduction (qv).
Algorithm. A flowchart (qv) which will answer a question, or solve a
problem, or undertake a procedure within a finite number of steps.
Annual Report. A type of report which lists the achievements and
failures of an organisation; a progress report (qv) in which every
department is accounted for.
Appendix (pl. Appendixes or Appendices). A section of a report which
gives details of matters discussed more broadly in the main body
(qv). It provides additional information for readers who require
it without breaking the thread of argument in the main body for
readers who do not.
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Appraisal report. A type of report which evaluates a person’s
performance in his or her current job; identifies methods of
improving this performance; and often assesses suitability for
another job, promotion and/or a change in salary.
Artwork. The images in a report, such as clip art (qv), original art or
photographs.
Audit report. An external audit report is addressed to shareholders and
contains an independent assessment of whether a company’s final
statements provide a true and fair view of its affairs. An internal
audit report is addressed to the management of a company by which
the auditor is employed, and is more concerned with segregation of
duties and internal control.
Bar chart. A method of presenting figures visually. Very useful for
illustrating relationships between items.
Bias. Errors that occur in statistical sampling (qv) if the sample is not
random (qv) or if the questioning is not objective and consistent. See
Leading question.
Bibliography. A full list of books and other material used in the
preparation of a report. Unlike a reference section, it may also
include publications not referred to in the report, but considered
potentially valuable or of interest to readers – cf References.
Binding. The process of assembling the pages of a report in order and
then enclosing them within covers.
Bitmap. A computer image, like a colour photograph – cf Vector.
Bulleting. A method of highlighting (qv) important text (qv) by
indenting (qv) it and placing a bold dot or bullet in front of the first
word.
Caption (or Legend, or Underline). Descriptive words or lines
accompanying an illustration (qv).
Centring text. A method of refining the appearance of text (qv) where
each line is placed centrally between the right and left margins. This
can be used for whole blocks of text but is more frequently applied
to headings (qv).
Circulation list. See Distribution list.
G LO S S A RY / 205
Clip art illustrations (qv) available commercially in digital form.
Column. A format (qv) using one, two, or three vertical groupings on
a page.
Comparative testing report. A type of report which tests similar
items, assessing each against a number of well-defined standards,
and reaching logical conclusions (qv) and recommendations (qv)
about which are the best and/or which represent the best value for
money. The Consumers’ Association Which? magazine contains such
reports.
Components. The various sections which collectively make up a
report.
Conclusions. A section of a report where the author links the terms
of reference (qv) with the findings, as presented in the main body
(qv), and reaches clear, simply stated and objective conclusions (qv)
that are fully supported by evidence and arguments and which come
within and satisfy the terms of reference (qv).
Confidentiality. The degree to which the availability of a report is
restricted. Reports are often classified as confidential when they
contain politically or industrially sensitive information or comment,
or when they discuss personnel. Confidential reports should be
stamped as such on the title page (qv) and should be kept under
physically secure conditions.
Contact point. The name, address and telephone number of a person
the reader can contact if further enquiry or comment is required. It
should be given in a report’s covering letter (qv).
Contents page. A list of the various sections of a report in the order
in which they appear, with the appropriate page and/or paragraph
numbers alongside them. If there are more than just one or two
illustrations (qv) they should be listed separately below the main
contents, giving their captions (qv), figure numbers and page and/or
paragraph numbers.
Copyright. Legal protection against the use of literary or artistic
property without permission. The protection afforded by English
law lasts for the duration of the author’s life and seventy years
206 / WRITING A REPORT
thereafter. Copyright is different from a patent in that it cannot exist
in an idea, but only in its expression.
Covering letter. An explanatory letter accompanying a report and
including a contact point (qv).
Creative substructure. A substructure (qv) where information is
presented in an apparently haphazard way. A hybrid of the logical
substructure (qv) and the sectional substructure (qv).
Cross-reference. A method of directing readers to another part of a
report for related information.
Cut-away drawing. A pictorial method of illustrating what something
looks like. An object is shown with part or all of its outer casing cut
away to reveal its internal components.
Desktop Publishing (DTP). The use of a personal computer system
as an inexpensive production system for generating typeset-quality
text (qv) and graphics (qv). Desktop publishers often merge text and
graphics on the same page and print pages on a high resolution laser
printer or typesetting machine – cf Word processing.
Digital. A format (qv) used by a computer system that scans the image
into computer bits.
Distribution list (or Circulation list). A list of people who will see a
report; its readership (qv). It usually appears on the title page (qv).
Double spacing. Double the usual space between each line of text (qv).
It helps a typist or printer read a manuscript (hand written) report;
it makes it easier to correct and amend drafts (qv); and it can help
readers of a report. Other line spacings include 0, ½, 1½, 2½ and 3.
Obviously the choice will affect the number of lines on a page.
Draft. An early version of a report drawn up for initial consideration.
Duty notes report. A type of report which explains how a job is to be
performed.
End matter. The pages of a report after the main body (qv) – cf
Prelims.
Enhanced modern format. An ultra-modern format (qv) of report
with the additional features of added and manipulated images – cf
Modern format and Traditional format.
G LO S S A RY / 207
Explanatory report. A type of report which provides a factual account
of something that has happened. More specific than an informative
report (qv).
Exploded drawing. A pictorial method of illustrating what something
looks like. The components of an object are shown in assembly as if
they were spread out along an invisible axis.
Feasibility report. A type of report which discusses the practicality, and
possibly the suitability and compatibility of a given project, both in
physical and economic terms. It must come to a conclusion (qv) and
must recommend (qv) that some action is taken or is not taken and/
or that some choice is adopted or is rejected.
Flowchart. A diagrammatic representation of the sequence of
operations in a natural, industrial or organisational system.
Font. A set of characters (the alphabet, numbers and symbols) in one
weight and style of typeface (qv).
Footers. Identifying information placed at the bottom of each page of a
report – cf Headers.
Footnote. A note or reference (qv) placed at the foot of the relevant
page; at the end of the relevant section; or towards the end of a
report.
Foreword. An introductory section of a report, similar to a preface (qv)
and an introduction (qv), but usually written by someone other than
the author of the report.
Format. The general appearance of a report including type style, paper,
binding (qv), covers, layout (qv), shape and size.
Front matter. See Prelims.
Glossary (of Terms) (or Gloss). An alphabetical list of unfamiliar
difficult, specialised or technical words and phrases, acronyms and
abbreviations used in a report.
Gluing. A method of binding (qv) a report where the sheets are glued
and fixed into the spine of a fabric, card or plastic cover.
Go live. To actually undertake a statistical survey (or to operate a
system), as distinct from pilot testing (qv) it.
Graph. A method of presenting figures visually. Particularly useful for
208 / WRITING A REPORT
illustrating detailed relationships between items or to show a trend
over time.
Graphics. Image enhancements, such as lines, boxes and background
used to create interesting and appealing visual design.
Headers. Identifying information placed at the top of each page of a
report – cf Footers.
Heading. A means of identifying and labelling a block of type. It
should be specific; comparatively short; expected, or at least easily
interpreted; and should cover all the ground collectively. It should
be more prominent than a subheading (qv), but less prominent than
the title (qv). Headings of similar rank should introduce topics of
roughly equal importance.
Highlighting. Drawing attention to important parts of the text (qv) by
methods other than headings (qv) e.g. using upper case or changing
spacing (qv).
House-style. A consistent style of report writing developed by and used
within an organisation.
Illustration. A pictorial representation of information as distinct from
text (qv). Every illustration should have a caption (qv) and figure
number and must be referred to in the text. If there are more than
just one or two illustrations, they should be listed separately on the
contents page (qv).
Indentation. A method of refining the appearance of text (qv) where
the beginning of a line is inset a number of spaces to indicate a new
paragraph; for emphasis; or to break up a large passage.
Index. An alphabetical list of items discussed in a report together
with their page and/or paragraph numbers. An index should contain
more entries than a contents page (qv). Necessary only in a large
report.
Indexing. A method of improving the presentation of a report and a
way of helping readers find their way around it. The various sections
or subsections are separated and distinguished, perhaps by means of
overlapping pages or protruding self-adhesive labels.
Informative report. A type of report which increases the readers’
G LO S S A RY / 209
knowledge of an event or brings them up to date. More general than
an explanatory report (qv).
Instructional manual. A type of report which explains how a process (a
specific series of actions that bring about a specific result) is to be
performed – cf Process description report.
Internet. The most famous computer network (qv) which connects
thousands of smaller networks and millions of users all around the
world.
Interview report. A type of report which forms the framework of an
interview (although it must not dictate it), and which records facts
and opinions about a candidate in a consistent format to facilitate
subsequent evaluation and comparison with other candidates.
Introduction. A section of a report which sets the scene. It states the
author’s intentions – the terms of reference (qv) – and gives the
aims (qv) and scope (qv) of the report. An introduction must include
everything the readers will need to know before they read the rest
of the report.
Investigation into the financial affairs of a company report. A type of
report concerned with some specific aspect of a company’s financial
affairs as defined by the terms of reference (qv) and/or by statutory
regulations.
Isometric drawing. A pictorial method of illustrating what something
looks like. Easy to draw but the lack of perspective makes the object
look peculiar.
Justification. A method of refining the appearance of text (qv) where
both the left and the right-hand edges are straight.
KISS. Stands for Keep It Short and Simple. A very useful principle in all
aspects and in all stages of report writing.
Landscape. A page orientation (qv) where printing is aligned
horizontally on the long edge of the paper – cf portrait.
Layout. The arrangement of illustrations (qv) and text (qv).
Leading question. A question phrased so as to suggest the answer
expected. In statistical sampling (qv) it leads to a bias (qv) in the
results obtained. Therefore it must be avoided.
210 / WRITING A REPORT
Legend. See Caption.
Libel. A false statement of a defamatory nature about another person
that tends to damage his or her reputation and which is presented in
a permanent form, such as in writing.
Logical substructure. A substructure (qv) where procedures or events
are discussed in the sequence in which they occur or occurred.
Lower case. Non-capital letters – cf Upper case.
Main body. The section of a report which contains the main discussion
on the subject-matter as defined by the terms of reference (qv).
Minutes. A type of report which provides a record of business transacted
at a meeting. It may well have some legal and authoritative force.
Modern format. A report which takes advantage of the ability to add
lines and boxes, change font size (qv) and use italics. Otherwise it is
basically like a traditional format (qv) – cf Enhanced modern format
and Ultra-modern format.
Network. A collection of telecommunications equipment and
transmission lines, used to interconnect devices, such as computers,
at different locations so they can exchange information.
Numbering system. A method of identifying the various components
of a report for reference and indexing (qv) purposes. Keep it simple.
Organisational chart. A diagram which depicts the hierarchy of, and the
lines of command within, an organisation.
Orientation. Whether the print of a report is aligned horizontally on the
long edge (landscape, qv) or vertically on the short edge (portrait,
qv) of the paper.
Orthographic drawing. A pictorial method of illustrating something. It
shows the back, front and side elevations of an object. Of little use
where the reader needs to know what it actually looks like.
Pareto principle. 80% of what is important is represented by 20%
of what exists. Not to be taken literally, but a very useful general
concept to consider during all stages of report writing.
Patterned notes. A method of note taking based on the formation of
visual links between facts and ideas, both already known and to be
G LO S S A RY / 211
discovered. A very useful way of planning a report, as distinct from
writing it – cf Traditional notes.
Perspective drawing. A pictorial method of illustrating what something
looks like. It shows what an object actually looks like. Often difficult
to draw.
Pictogram. A method of presenting figures visually by the use of
symbols. Very useful for illustrating relationships between items.
Pie chart. A method of presenting figures visually. Very useful for
illustrating relative proportions – or how the total pie is divided up.
Pilot test. An initial test of a questionnaire (qv) or other statistical
device among a small number of respondents (qv) (or an initial
test of a new system) to highlight any obvious errors, omissions,
ambiguities or other shortcomings before it goes live (qv).
Plastic gripper. A method of binding (qv) a report by placing a plastic
slide grip along the left hand edge of the assembled covers and
sheets.
Population. The total number of people or items within a defined
group.
Portrait. A page orientation (qv) where printing is aligned vertically on
the short edge of the paper – cf Landscape.
Preface. An introductory section to a report. Often used to convey some
personal background details behind the production of a report.
Prelims (or Preliminaries, or Front matter). The pages of a report
before the main body (qv) – cf End matter.
Probability theory. A statistical concept concerned with the effects
of chance on an event, experiment, or observation. The basis of
statistical sampling (qv).
Process description report. A type of report which helps readers
understand a process (a specific series of actions that bring about a
specific result) – cf Instructional manual.
Progress report. A type of report which describes how some activity or
process is advancing.
Proofreading. Checking and making corrections on a document
prepared by a typist or printer. It is very important to identify and
212 / WRITING A REPORT
correct spelling mistakes and errors and inconsistencies in layout
before a report is reproduced and issued.
Questionnaire. A method of gathering information by questioning
respondents (qv).
Quota sampling. A method of statistical sampling (qv) used to obtain
a balanced view from people based on their sex, age and possibly
social class. However, within every defined group or population (e.g.
Females, aged 21–30; or Males, aged 41–50), the sample is random.
Random sample. In statistical sampling (qv), each member of the
population has an equal chance of being selected.
Readership. The people who will read a report, as listed on the
distribution list (qv). The report is written for them so they must
be given the information they need and in a form that they can
understand without undue effort.
Recommendations. A section of a report where the author states what
specific actions should be taken, and by whom and why, given the
terms of reference (qv), the findings as presented in the main body
(qv), and the conclusions (qv) reached. Recommendations therefore
must look to the future and should always be realistic. Do not make
them unless they are required by the terms of reference.
Reference number. A unique number allocated to a report. It should
appear on the title page (qv).
References. A section of a report which provides full details of
publications mentioned in the text (qv), or from which extracts have
been quoted – cf Bibliography.
Report. A document produced to convey information to a specific
audience at a certain moment in time.
Research report. A type of report which extends our understanding
of the world by reducing our uncertainty and increasing our
comprehension of it.
Respondent. A person who answers questions, perhaps posed in the
form of a questionnaire (qv).
Ring binding. A method of binding (qv) a report where a special machine
G LO S S A RY / 213
perforates the binding edge and then threads the binding through
the holes in the covers and the report. Looks very professional.
Saddle stitching. A method of binding (qv) a report by means of thread
or wire through the fold. See Stitching.
Sampling. See Statistical sampling.
Scientific report. A type of report which gives an account of a test or
experiment together with findings and conclusions (qv).
Scope. A statement of what was done, and perhaps what was not done
– and why it was not done – if the readers could reasonably have
assumed that it would have been. It may also include discussion
on the resources available to and utilised by the report writer; the
sources of information (qv); the working methods employed; and the
structure (qv) of the report. It usually appears in the introduction
(qv).
Sectional substructure. A substructure (qv) where information is
presented in meaningful sections, e.g. the work of each department
in turn or each engineering or clerical function in turn.
Simple random sampling. A method of statistical sampling (qv) where
every person or item in a population has an equal chance of being
selected, e.g. take ten names out of a hat.
Skeletal framework. An initial overall plan of the structure (qv) of a
report. A well-planned skeletal framework is the key to effective
report writing. It may be revised at any stage(s) during the
preparation of the report.
Source (of information). Any person, book, organisation etc supplying
information or evidence (specially of an original or primary
character) used in a report.
Spacing. See Double spacing.
SQ3R. A method of reading. Stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall,
Review. The way you read should vary according to the complexity
of the material and the reasons for reading it.
Statistical sampling. A method of drawing conclusions about a
population by testing a representative sample of it. It is based
214 / WRITING A REPORT
on probability theory (qv). See Quota sampling; Simple random
sampling; and Systematic random sampling.
Stitching. A method of binding (qv) a report where sheets are folded in
the middle to make two single-sided or four double-sided pages, and
are then bound by saddle stitching (qv).
Structure. The arrangement of the components which collectively make
up a report.
Subheading. A means of more specifically and precisely identifying and
labelling a block of type which comes under an overall heading (qv).
Do not use too many subheadings; if necessary re-structure the report
to have more headings. Make the subheadings less prominent.
Substructure. The arrangement of material within each of the
components of a report, although often applied specifically to the
main body (qv). See Logical substructure; Sectional substructure;
and Creative substructure.
Subtitle. A secondary title expanding the main title (qv).
Summary. See Abstract.
Synopsis. See Abstract.
Systems evaluation report. A type of report that evaluates which
system out of several alternatives is most suitable for a particular
application; or which tests an apparatus or system with a view to
possible large scale employment or multiple applications; or which
enquires into the causes of failures in an existing operational system.
When it serves the last of these purposes, it is sometimes referred to
as a trouble-shooting report (qv).
Systematic diagram. A visual method of illustrating how items within
a system are connected to one another, eg the map of the London
Underground shows how stations are connected.
Systematic random sampling. A method of statistical sampling (qv)
where every person or item in a population has an equal chance of
being selected, but the choice is made to a prearranged plan, e.g.
every 100th name on the electoral register.
Tally sheet. A sheet used to mark or set down, and later to total, the
number of observations of specified items; or to mark or set down,
G LO S S A RY / 215
and later to total, the various answers given by all respondents (qv)
to a questionnaire (qv).
Technical report. A type of report often written at an early stage in a
production process.
Technological report. A type of report which is concerned with the
application of practical or mechanical sciences in order to achieve
a desired aim.
Terms of Reference (T of R). A concise statement of precisely what a
report is about. It is essential that these are known/agreed before
any work is undertaken and they should be referred to in the
introduction (qv).
Text. The words of a report as distinct from its illustrations (qv).
Title. The overall heading (qv) of a report; a restatement of the terms of
reference (qv), but usually using different words. It should be clear,
concise, relevant and unique and should be more prominent than
any other heading which appears in the report.
Title page. A sheet at the beginning of a report which bears the main
title (and subtitle [qv], where appropriate); the reference number
(qv), the name of the author; and other important information.
Every report should have a title page.
Traditional format. A report produced on a typewriter – cf Enhanced
modern format, Modern format and Ultra-modern format.
Traditional notes. A method of note taking where relevant material is
condensed using headings (qv) and subheadings (qv), with the most
important points and arguments being highlighted (qv). This method
is also the basis of report writing, as distinct from report planning – cf
Patterned notes.
Treasury tag. A simple method of binding (qv) a report. Holes are made
in the pages and covers using a punch and then tags are inserted.
Useful where amendments and/or inserts such as maps and plans are
expected.
Trouble-shooting report. A type of report which locates the cause of
some problem, and then suggests ways to remove or treat it. It can
216 / WRITING A REPORT
deal with people or organisations; or hardware or systems, where it is
sometimes referred to as a systems evaluation report (qv).
Typeface. A specific type design, such as Times New Roman or
Rockwell.
Typography. The art and style of printing.
Ultra-modern format. A modern format (qv) of report with the
additional feature of two or more columns – cf Enhanced modern
format and Traditional format.
Underline. See Caption.
Upper case. Capital letters – cf Lower case.
Vector. A type of computer image created from lines and shapes – cf
Bitmap.
White space. The empty space on a page.
Word processing. The use of a personal computer system to enter
text from a keyboard, import it from a file, or open a ‘standard’
document and then edit, format, save or print it. As well as offering
tools for basic graphic (qv) embellishments, most word processors
allow graphics and tabular information to be imported from other
programs – cf Desktop publishing (DTP).
Working papers. Notes recording the detailed information, evidence,
findings and sources (qv) that will form the basis of the main body
(qv), and of any appendixes (qv). Therefore they must be complete
and accurate.
Wysiwyg. An acronym meaning what you see is what you get. In other
words, what you see onscreen is an accurate representation of how
the report will print out.
Resources
BOOKS
A good dictionary is an essential tool for any writer expecting his or her
work to be read by others. Chambers, Collins, Longman and Oxford
University Press each offer a comprehensive range to suit every
need and every pocket.
The Complete Plain Words, Sir Ernest Gowers (Penguin). An excellent
guide to using plain English and avoiding jargon.
Copyediting: The Cambridge Handbook, Judith Butcher (Cambridge
University Press). An authoritative text used by professional
publishers and their editors.
Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler, revised by Sir
Ernest Gowers (Oxford University Press). A classic guide to English
usage, full of fascinating information.
How to Publish A Newsletter, Graham Jones (How To Books). A
complete step-by-step handbook which covers all the basics from
editing right through to publication.
How to Write and Speak Better (Reader’s Digest Association Ltd.).
Excellent but expensive.
Improving Your Written English, Marion Field (How To Books).
Learn to Draw Charts and Diagrams Step-by-Step, Bruce Robertson
(Macdonald Orb). It starts with basic pie charts and ends with
sophisticated computer graphic programs.
Mastering Business English, Michael Bennie (How To Books). A very
practical, straightforward and comprehensive book illustrated with
numerous examples.
218 / WRITING A REPORT
Mind the Stop, G.V. Carey (Penguin). Everything you ever wanted to
know about punctuation.
The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers,
Casey Miller and Kate Swift (Women’s Press).
The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Oxford University
Press).
The Oxford Writers’ Dictionary, compiled by R.E. Allen (Oxford
University Press). Roget’s Thesaurus. You cannot find a word you
have forgotten or do not know in a dictionary. Look up a word of
similar meaning in Roget and you will find a variety of words and
expressions which should include the one in the back of your mind,
or perhaps an unfamiliar word which, when checked in a dictionary,
proves even more appropriate. There are many versions available,
including a revision by E.M. Kirkpatrick (Longman).
Titles and Forms of Address – A Guide to Their Correct Use, (A. & C.
Black).
Using the Internet, Graham Jones (How To Books). Taking research
into the twenty-first century.
Writing for Publication, Chriss McCallum (How To Books). A really
writer-friendly introduction for everyone wishing to write articles,
books, dramatic or other works.
Writing Good Reports, John Bowden (How To Books). A handbook
which concentrates on the essentials of report writing.
ONLINE
Pages on the Internet are added, removed and revised so rapidly that
any listing provided here would soon become obsolete. It is therefore
advisable to use a major search engine, such as Yahoo! or Google, to
establish which sites are currently available to you. As the majority
will be US-based, you may first need to filter your search in order to
focus on styles, approaches and conventions that apply in your own
country. You will find that your results will include many pages that are
dedicated to specific fields, such as engineering or accountancy, and to
R E S O U R C E S / 219
specific users, such as undergraduates or scientists. Do not immediately
dismiss them if they do not coincide with your particular background
and interests. Much of their advice and instruction is likely to be of
value to all report writers, not merely to target audiences.
Three excellent introductions to report writing available at the time of
writing are:
http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/reportsguides.pdf
http://www.surrey.ac.uk/skills/pack/report.html
http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/main.html
Index
abstracts, see summaries
accessing information (see also
information technology), 48–51
accident reports, 140
acknowledgements (see also
copyright), 15–16
agendas for committee meetings,
140–4
vocabulary), 55, 62–3, 65–6
a colleague’s check, 63
your check, 27–8, 55, 63
your line manager’s check, 64–5
circulation lists, see distribution lists
collecting information, see
obtaining colour, 126–7
checklist, 127–8
aims, 17–18
covers, suitable for, 131, 133
alignment, type, 107 (illus.)
paper, 130
amending drafts, see checking
printing, 126–7
annual reports, 144–5
comparative testing reports, 150–3
appendixes, 18, 20–1 (illus.), 54, 108–9
components of a report, see skeletal
drafting, 59–60
reviewing, 60
appraisal reports, 146–7
importance of confidentiality, 14
approval, seeking final, see issuing
artwork, see illustrations
audit reports, 147–50
frameworks
conclusions, 18–19, 61
confidentiality, 14
contact points, 69
contents pages (see also headings;
numbering), 16
copyright, the English law of, 14
covering letters (see also letters), 17,
bibliographies (see also copyright), 22
binding, the choice of, 131–3
69
covers, the choice of (see also colour,
covers), 130–1
checking and amending drafts
cross-referencing, 88
and reports (see also figures;
grammar, proofreading;
designs, page, see layout
punctuation; spelling;
desktop publishing (DTP) (see also
INDEX / 221
presentation), 90–134
books and other publications, 32–3
checklist, 93
events and places, 34–6
overview, 91–3
information technology, 33–4,
distribution lists, 15
drafting, advice on, 59–60, 61–2, 86
duty notes reports, 153
48–51
people, 31–2
illustrations
checklist, 125–6
emphasising, methods of, see
highlighting
how to use, 109–11
in appendixes, 20–1, 108
evaluating information, 52–4
listed on contents page?, 16, 126
experiments (see also scientific
options available, 111–25
reports), 36–7, 117, 118
explanation, the need for, 86–7
explanatory reports, 153–4
external audit reports, see audit
when to use, 108
where to use, 108–9
indexes (see also numbering), 22–3
potential problems with computer
generated, 22–3
feasibility reports, 155
indexing, 133–4 (illus.)
figures in reports, 60, 87, 118, 119
information, collecting and handling,
statistical tables of, compiling, 119
see checking, evaluating,
footnotes (see also copyright), 21
identifying, obtaining,
forewords, 15
prioritising, recording and
formats, see presentation and skeletal
frameworks
sorting
informative reports, 156
instructional manuals, 118, 156–7
glossaries, 22
internal audit reports, see audit
graphics, see illustrations
Internet, the, 33–4
accessing, 48–51
headings and subheadings, 27, 51–2,
63, 98–9, 105–6
highlighting (see also headings)
most significant findings, 54–5, 63,
106, 119
reasons for, 16–17, 54–5, 105–6
interview reports (see also
interviewing), 158–9
confidentiality, importance of, 14
interviewing (see also interview
reports), 41–2
introductions, 17–18, 61
investigations into the financial
identifying and finding relevant
information, 7–9, 30–51
affairs of a company report,
160–1
222 / WRITING A REPORT
investigations, undertaking, 30–55
observation, 41–2 (illus.)
issuing reports
obtaining information, 36–51
final steps before, 68–9
recording date of, 13–14
order of writing, reviewing and
amending, the correct, 58–66
summary instead of?, 16–17
paper (see also colour, paper)
layout and design (see also
headings; margins; numbering;
presentation; skeletal
frameworks), 63, 88, 94–102
checklist, 102
letters requesting information (see
also covering letters), 42–3
the choice of, 128–30
size and orientation, 66–7 (illus.)
planning a report (see also skeletal
frameworks), 3–28 (illus.)
prefaces, 15
preparation, see planning
presentation
libel, the English law of, 14
improving, 67–8, 90–134
listening, 39–41
objectives of good, 90
pre-writing, the stages of, 59
main bodies, 24–7
prioritising findings (see also
drafting, 59–60
highlighting; skeletal
reviewing, 60
frameworks), 54–5, 87
substructures of, 24–7
process description reports, 163–4
margins and spacing, 97
projects, see investigations
minutes, 161–3
progress reports, 164–5
proofreading
numbering, systems for, 99–102
pages, 16, 28, 63, 99–100
sections and paragraphs, 16, 28,
techniques for efficient, 67–8
purpose, knowing your precise, see
terms of reference
100–2
numbers in reports, see figures
questionnaires, 44–7 (illus.)
objectives
readability, factors affecting, 76,
common types of report, 137–79
overall, see skeletal frameworks,
influences
106–7
readers
accessing, 6, 139
report writers, of, 74, 90
reading, 16, 36–9
specific reports, of, possible, 4–5
recommendations, 19, 61
objectivity, the importance of, 78
reference numbers, 14
INDEX / 223
references, (see also copyright), 21
surveys, see investigations
registers of issues, see issuing
synopses, see summaries
research, see investigations
systems evaluation reports, 170–2
research reports, 165–7
technical reports, 172–3
sampling, see statistical sampling
scientific reports (see also
experiments), 167–9
sexist language, avoiding, 83–5
skeletal frameworks, 9–27
importance of simplicity, 80–1
technological reports, 173–7
telephone calls, requesting
information, 43–4
terms of reference, 4–5, 7, 17, 19
amending, 27–8, 54
title pages, 12–15
for various types of report, 137–79
titles, 10–11, 13, 98
passim
influences affecting the choice of,
9–12
planning, 9–28
software, see word processing
sorting and grouping information (see
also skeletal frameworks), 51–2
sources (of information), see
identifying
trouble-shooting reports, 177–9
importance of confidentiality, 14
typefaces, see typography
types of report
a list of, 137
specific, 140–7
typestyle, see typography
typography, 102–7
checklist, 107
spacing, 97
special effects, 109–11, 125–6
statistical sampling (see also figures),
47–8
structures of reports, see skeletal
frameworks
student project reports, 169–70
vocabulary
general rules about, 76–7
importance of accuracy and
precision, 81–5
selecting appropriate, 83–5
technical, 22, 80
style
good, 75–6, 76–81
principles for effective, 74–5, 85–8
report, 74–6
word processing (see also desktop
publishing)
checklist, 93
subheadings, 24–8
overview, 91–3
summaries, 16–17, 61–2, 80
software, business-specific, 92–3

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