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reports: format

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.

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.

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:

  1. Preliminary matter
    • Covering letter
    • Fly page or cover page
    • Letter or memorandum of authorization
    • Letter of transmittal
    • Title page
    • Table of contents
    • List of tables
    • List of figures
    • List of abbreviations and symbols
    • Abstract or summary
    • Preface or foreword
    • Acknowledgments
  2. Body of the report
    • Introduction
    • Background
    • Authorization information
    • Purpose
    • Scope and limitations
    • Materials and methods
    • Body of text
    • Findings or results
    • Discussion
    • Summary of findings
    • Conclusions
    • Recommendations
  3. Supplementary matter
    • Appendixes
    • Glossary
    • Notes, references or bibliography
    • Index

A shorter version of the formal report, used for topics that are limited in scope, may include all or some of the following:

  • Title page
  • Summary
  • Authorization information
  • Statement outlining the purpose of the report, its scope and the methods used
  • Findings
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Appendixes
  • List of endnotes
  • Bibliography