Almost everyone is called upon at some time to give a report, either oral or written, to a person or group. Minutes of meetings (see sections 11.22-11.27 Minutes, General to Model minutes), the proceedings of conferences, seminars or colloquiums, and descriptions or reviews of books, concerts or motion pictures—these are all reports. Business reports are generated in ever-increasing numbers, in a variety of formats ranging from memorandums to formal reports. The same principle applies to reports as to all other communications: say or write it clearly and succinctly. In the case of a written report, the reader should be able to determine quickly who wrote it, for whom it was written, and why it was written.
Before beginning to write a report or to collect the data for it, determine who is expected to read the report and what use the reader is likely to make of it. The content and format of a report will be significantly affected by whether it is written for specialists or non-specialists, and whether it is an internal document for a limited number of persons or a report for public distribution.
The purpose for which it is required is equally significant: it may be intended to note certain facts for information purposes, to make recommendations for action, to serve as a basis for discussion or debate, or to record the findings of an investigation or study.
Next, collect the data: documents, evidence, statistics and other potentially useful information. Then organize, analyse and evaluate the data collected, selecting what is essential. Finally, draw up a work plan in chronological order, order of importance, or a combination of the two. Now you should be ready to write the report.
A report may consist of a single paragraph or several volumes. A short report can be put on a memo sheet; a long report may be published. In all cases the format should be appropriate to the nature and length of the report. The most common report formats include the memorandum or letter report, the semiformal report and the formal report.
(a) Memorandum or letter report
The memorandum format is used for short, informal reports directed by one person to another within the same organization, while the letter format is directed to a person in another organization. This type of report usually has no preliminary or supplementary matter. The subject line replaces the title. Headings and lists are sometimes used to focus attention on specific points. Figures and tables may be included as well.
(b) Formal report
The formal report will have a plan and consist of three parts: the introductory or preliminary matter; the body of the report; and the supplementary or back matter.
The composition of formal reports can vary considerably according to each organization’s requirements. The following is a comprehensive list of the elements that may be included in a formal report and the order in which they are generally presented:
A shorter version of the formal report, used for topics that are limited in scope, may include all or some of the following:
The letter of transmittal may be in letter or memorandum form, depending on whether the report is intended for external or internal distribution. Like the preface, used when the writer is aiming for a wider readership, the letter of transmittal may contain a brief description of the background, purpose, scope and content of the report. Acknowledgments may be made. The letter or memorandum is clipped to the report cover or inserted as its first page.
A title page will feature some of the following elements: the full title of the report; the name of the organization or person for whom the report was prepared; the name of the originating organization; the name(s) of the person(s) who wrote the report; the date the report was released; and a distribution list.
Although not all reports have a title page, a written report normally has a title. This title should convey accurately, clearly and concisely the subject of the report to the reader. The omission of verbs and articles, as is done in newspaper headlines, can condense the message. A title in two parts—the main title followed by a colon and subtitle—can make a long title seem shorter. The title must nevertheless contain all the key words needed for a proper description of the text.
A long or complex report requires a table of contents. The table should be accurate and detailed enough to tell the reader what each section is about. It should list all the main divisions of the report that come after the table of contents, including supplementary matter. Titles for the different parts, chapters and main chapter divisions need to be shown, preceded by chapter or division numbers where appropriate, and followed by page numbers. The wording, capitalization and order of the headings must be the same as in the report (see section 11.16 Headings).
When a report contains numerous tables and illustrations, separate lists of tables and illustrations are included after the table of contents. The titles of the tables or illustrations are listed separately in numerical order and followed by the page number.
A report to be published as an article in a learned or scientific journal usually has an abstract, following the table of contents. It should be no more than 150–200 words long and be suitable for reprinting in a journal or collection of abstracts. An abstract is considered part of the preliminary matter. A summary, if needed, may run to several pages and is considered part of the body of the report. It may appear at the very beginning of the report proper or serve as a closing section at the end. Some reports may contain both an abstract and a summary.
The abstract or summary is prepared after the report is written and often by someone other than the author. It briefly indicates the purpose of the report, the method followed and observations made and, sometimes, the conclusions and recommendations. Its purpose is to enable a prospective reader to determine quickly whether the report contains useful information.
The introduction describes the purpose and scope of the report, the sources and methods used to collect data, the terms of reference, and any pertinent background information. In long reports, the introduction may also include an outline of the organization of the report.
The report proper develops the theme, giving details of the methods used and the observations or findings, and commenting on their significance. The ideas should follow logically and smoothly from beginning to end. Any non-essential material that might interfere with the flow of ideas should be put in a footnote, endnote or appendix, with a reference number referring to it at an appropriate place in the text. A footnote should not extend over more than half a page. If it is too long, it belongs in an endnote or an appendix (see Chapter 9 Reference Matter).
Arrange the body of the report in a logical manner, using headings and subheadings to separate the text into major divisions and the divisions into sections (see 11.16 Headings). To increase readability, break up solid text with graphic elements and lists. Use short, easily read lists to clarify information, and tables, graphs and illustrations to help readers understand it.
The body of the report ends with the results, conclusions and recommendations, if any. Some reports simply end in a summary of major findings. Others offer conclusions derived from the findings and discussion. The conclusions are enumerated or given in running text and may be combined with recommendations, if required. Conclusions and recommendations are sometimes placed at the beginning of the report and only summarized at the end.
The appendixes will contain notes and supplementary information such as copies of documents, formulas, statistical data, maps, charts, plans or drawings that the author believes will be useful to the reader.
All appendixes must be briefly mentioned in the report so that it is not necessary to refer to them to understand the report. Appendixes are numbered, generally with a capital letter, in the order that they are first mentioned.
Special terms are defined when first used in the text. If they are numerous, an alphabetical list of terms with their definitions can be placed at the end of the report or immediately following the table of contents.
A report that is the culmination of a study will probably contain endnotes or footnotes and a bibliography. A serious yet common failing of writers of reports is inaccuracy, especially in quotations and references. A quotation should correspond exactly to the original. (For omissions and changes, see 8.09 Omissions and 8.10 Insertions, alterations and parentheses) If a quotation is not exact or is attributed to the wrong author, or if the date, volume number or page number of the reference is wrong, a reader who needs to refer to the source will waste time and lose patience. It is therefore wise to check all references both before and after they are inserted into the report.
A bibliography lists the works most often consulted, as well as those likely to be of particular interest to the reader, even if not referred to in the text. See Chapter 9 Reference Matter for detailed information on footnotes, endnotes and the various ways of listing bibliographic entries.
A well-prepared illustration can take the place of several paragraphs or even pages of narration, and thus help the author make, explain or emphasize a point strongly and succinctly.
Although illustrations can be grouped together in an appendix, the best place for them is in the text, as close as possible to their first mention. Each illustration should be identified by a figure or table number and a caption.
If you are conveying two or three short pieces of statistical information, incorporate them into a sentence in the text. Show more extensive information in the form of a table or, in order to highlight relationships and trends, in the form of a chart, graph or diagram. Significant aspects of the tables or charts should be interpreted in the text. Create tables and charts using the appropriate functions in your word-processing or spreadsheet program, and insert them as soon as possible after the paragraphs in which they are mentioned.
Follow these guidelines on form and content:
directly beneath the column head.
Consult Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers1 for further information on tables, graphs and illustrations.
The model table below illustrates many of the recommendations made in this section:
Headings (or heads) are used to introduce a change of subject in a report or other document and to indicate a hierarchy of topics. They are designed to guide readers and enable them to find the pages where a particular topic is discussed. The size and appearance of a heading should match its importance, and the same type of heading should be used consistently throughout a document to indicate subdivisions with the same degree of subordination. Headings that are of equal importance should have parallel grammatical structures.
You can set off the heading by various means depending, among other things, on how many levels of heading there are. These means include capitalization (full or initial letter only), underlining, centring, spacing, type size and the use of italic or boldface type. The specific means chosen to indicate the gradation of headings matter less than consistency in using them. The system adopted should be as simple as the nature of the text will allow.
Limit the number of levels of headings to three or four; otherwise the structure of your document will be cumbersome and complicated. If there are many headings or subheadings of equal importance, a numbering system, as used in this guide, can help to distinguish among them for reference purposes. Letters can be used for further subdivision of topics. This is less confusing than a system using several levels of numbers and producing subdivisions such as 126.96.36.199. Another common method of numbering combines both Roman and Arabic numerals with letters and, if needed, parentheses:
I. Technical training needs
A. First quarter objectives
1. National Capital area
a. Windows environment
Punctuation should be kept to a minimum in headings, and the wording should be as succinct as possible without being ambiguous. No periods are required, except in run-in heads.
Unless a heading is centred or full capitalization is used, only the first word and proper nouns are normally capitalized. In centred headings, capitalize the first letter of each word except the following (unless they are the initial word):
Do not footnote a heading.
Make the top margin about 5 cm deep on the first page, so that the beginning is clearly marked, and 2.5 cm deep on the following pages. The bottom margin should be from 2.5 to 4 cm deep. The side margins should be at least 3 cm wide if room has to be allowed for stapling or binding; otherwise they can be narrower, but should be at least 2 cm wide in any case, to allow for reproduction and to ensure that the complete text on both pages can be seen when the document is opened flat.
There are two important spacing requirements. First, determine the minimum amount of space needed for clear separation of paragraphs, headings, extracts and illustrations. Second, be consistent in the spacing.
The preliminary matter is numbered with Roman or Arabic numerals in the bottom centre of the page. The title page is understood to be the first page, although no page number appears. The pages of the body of the text, beginning with the introduction, are numbered with Arabic numerals in the upper centre, lower centre or upper right corner of the page. A combination of chapter number and page number is sometimes used for long reports with several chapters written by different authors (i.e. 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, etc., for the first chapter). The pages of appendixes are numbered independently, often with a combination of the appendix letter and Arabic numerals (i.e. A-1, A-2, A-3, etc., for Appendix A). When supplementary matter is generated by the author, it can be paginated as a continuation of the report.
Do not underline a heading in which all letters are capitalized.
Avoid underlining for emphasis. Attention can be focussed on a particular point with headings, indentation, bullet lists, italics and other typefaces.
Avoid using algebraic symbols and mathematical formulas in all but highly technical reports. Symbols should be defined at their first use. If they are numerous, include a separate list of symbols and definitions in the report.
Indent or centre an equation on the line immediately following that in which it is first referred to in the text. Break equations before an equal, plus or multiplication sign. Align a group of separate but related equations by the equal signs.
Keep in mind that equations (a=b) and inequalities (a><b) correspond to sentences in ordinary narrative and must therefore be grammatically correct. The expression a=b is read "(The quantity) a is equal to (the quantity) b." The expression a>b is read "(The quantity) a is greater than (the quantity) b."
When you write E = mc2 you are writing an equation that is read "The amount of energy in a mass is equal to that mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light." A formula, on the other hand, corresponds to a phrase and thus contains no equivalent of a verb. The formula for calculating E (the amount of energy in a given mass) is mc2 (the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity of light).
Another principle to keep in mind is that equations and formulas can be written in more than one form. This is useful for fitting them on a page. For example,
can be shown as
and thus take up only one line.
The minutes of a meeting are a record of the circumstances of the meeting, including the names of the participants, the topics discussed and the decisions reached. The minutes should include all essential information in as concise a form as possible. Special attention should be paid to the wording of resolutions, motions and other decisions, particularly if there is a chance that there will be differences of opinion on what was resolved, moved or decided. If it is a formal meeting, all motions must be written out verbatim.
The agenda lists the order of business for a meeting and may include the items listed below, in the following order:
If the agenda is short and few decisions are to be made, it can be incorporated into the minutes. If the agenda is long and many points are to be discussed and acted on, the agenda may be omitted and the following style adopted: a wide column at the left for the point discussed, and a narrower column at the right for the person or body responsible for carrying out any action decided on (see 11.27 Model minutes). The points are numbered and may be given subject headings.
Regional Development Branch
Meeting of Branch Executive Committee
Friday, January 19, 1996
9:00 a.m., Room 214
An organization should use the format prescribed in its rules or regulations. If no restrictions exist, a standardized format should be adopted. Word processing simplifies the task greatly. Once a format suited to the needs of the organization has been developed, it can be used as a template and stored on disk.
The minutes should normally follow the order in which the business was conducted, even though this may differ from the agenda. They may include the items listed below:
Reports from officers and committee chairpersons are sometimes appended to the minutes, as are motions.
Bear in mind that minutes are a record of what was said at some point in the past. Therefore indirect (reported) speech is called for. This involves placing verbs in a past or conditional tense, if they express statements by persons at the meeting (e.g. said, not says; had forecast, not has forecast; would decide, not will decide).
However, the present or future forms of verbs may be used for general statements of fact not directly attributed to participants (e.g. Alberta requires a finance officer, in point 5 of the model minutes). In this example there is no specific source for the statement, other than the minute-writer. See 8.04 Indirect (reported) speech for more information on indirect speech.
Regional Development Branch
Minutes of Branch Executive Committee Meeting
Friday, January 19, 1996
9:00 a.m., Room 214
|Attendee Status||Column 1||Column 2||Present:||R. Burnett (Chair)||M. Benesh|
|B. Parkins||B. Boucher|
|S. Garnett||A. Farrell (Secretary)|
The minutes were approved with the following amendments:
No decision had yet been made on what system would be
used for pay management as of April 1, 1996. Mrs. Benesh
requested that all branch heads be advised in writing.
This was approved.
The deadline could not be met because decisions on some
action items had yet to be made.
The Operational Planning Framework was discussed, but
members did not get past the opening statement. It was agreed
that the statement was incomplete and would be reviewed.
A revised draft would be prepared.
The Cabinet Agenda was discussed. Items covered included
a paper on a water resources strategy for Canada, the Alberta
Memorandum to Cabinet, the Dairy Program and the Livestock
The Deputy Minister and Mr. Burnett were to meet with
J. Faulds, the Regional Director for Nova Scotia, on February 5.
The Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding had been
signed on January 8.
The message from Colin Jamieson was sent to 35 out of
48 accounts in the Branch. With over 45 percent of the
Branch’s disk allocation now in use, it was agreed that the
Branch would not reduce its disk space allocation until the
Information Systems Committee had met with Mr. Jamieson
and obtained a clear definition of what the requirements were.
Alberta requires a finance officer for a short-term assignment.
Finance and Administration would be approached.
The meeting closed at 10:30 a.m.
|Left Signature||Right Signature||__________________ |
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