FORMAL REPORTS THE ANALYTICAL REPORT PROCESS Using the time-honored method of problem solving described here can result in a logical approach to a situation. Use this process when developing and writing the long report for BEIT 336. See the Business Communication textbook chapters 5, 8, 9, and 10 and the supplementary information in Nelson’s Study Notes. First, you must define the problem by completing the following steps: Identify the problem by writing the problem statement. Identify the scope (factors, subtopics, or areas of information needed to answer the problem). Identify any limitations. Establish the hypotheses, if necessary. Develop the research plan and identify the sources and methods of data collection. Gather the data on the factors. Organize the data and develop the outline. Interpret the data, summarize the facts, draw conclusions, and develop recommendations. Write the Problem Statement (Business Communication, chapter 5, pages 81-87, 176; Nelson’s Study Notes under chapter 5) A problem statement is developed as the first step in the analytical process. A clear, cogent problem statement is written to define the problem for both the writer and reader. The problem statement may be written in the question, infinitive, or declarative form. Write your problem statement in one of these three forms. Identify the Scope (Factors) (Business Communication, pages 82-87, 144-149, 177; Nelson’s Study Notes under chapter 5; ) Next in this process is the identification of the scope, or factors, which is the breadth and depth of the problem. The breadth is how broad the problem needs to be investigated to reach a good decision. The breadth, in our case, is often defined as the factors, subtopics, or areas of information needed before a recommendation is made. The depth refers to the extent each factor or subtopic is researched. You will identify sufficient factors (and the data concerning each factor) to be able to answer the problem statement. In other words, ask yourself, “What do I need to know to answer the problem statement?” The answer to that question identifies factors or subtopics to research. Identify the Limitations (Business Communication, chapter 10, page 177) Limitations are the shortcomings of the report. You probably will not identify any limitations for your formal report assignment. However, if something (lack of time, money, or other resources) prevented you from doing a thorough job in researching the problem, such limitations would be identified and acknowledged in the introduction. Establish Hypotheses (Business Communication, chapter 5, pages 84-85) As stated in the textbook, hypotheses (singular form: hypothesis) are tentative explanations of factual information. After developing the hypotheses, you gather information to prove or disprove those particular hypotheses. For our problem, you will not establish hypotheses. Identify the Sources and Methods of Data Collection (Business Communication, chapter 5, pages 87-88; chapter 10, page 177) The next step in the report process is the development of a research plan that includes the identification of the sources (primary or secondary) and methods (books, journals, Internet, survey, interview, etc.) for gathering data. Gather Data on the Factors (Business Communication, chapters 19) After developing the research plan, you collect data. Data are classified as secondary or primary. Secondary data are gathered first. Secondary data are items of information that have been gathered, compiled, or recorded by others. Methods for gathering secondary data include books, brochures, journals and magazines, and, to a limited degree, Internet data (limited degree because a great deal of data available from the Internet has questionable voracity). If need be, primary data are collected after all secondary methods have been exhausted. Data gathered by the researcher are called primary data. The researcher gathers new data that has never been gathered by anyone else. Primary data comes from such methods as experimentation, interviews, focus groups, surveys, and observation. You will be given primary data (which you will assume you gathered) in your formal report case, and you are to use this primary data as part of your analysis. Organize the Data and Develop the Outline (Business Communication, chapter 8; Nelson’s Study Notes under chapter 8) Once you have gathered the information you need to answer the problem statement, you must organize that data. The primary data given to you in the assignment case is fairly organized, but you may need to further classify that data. You will need to organize the secondary data you have collected. One common sense method is to organize that data by factor. While the index card method is a sure way to organize secondary data, few of us take the time to develop those index cards. I suggest that you use the following steps for a simple organization of your secondary material: Assemble a different color of pen or highlighter for each factor. Read the articles, highlighting the items of specific interest to a particular factor in a specific color. Indicate on the front of the article, the names of the factors highlighted in that article. By following this simple organizational method, you can easily find the material needed when discussing the data for each factor. Once your data is organized, you are ready to develop the outline. As you already know from the instruction and application of the informal short reports, reports have three parts—introduction, message, and closing. The three parts are necessary for informal and formal reports. The organization and content of informal and formal reports differ. Basically, the formal report contains more sections (Review page 170 of the Business Communication textbook), the language is likely to be more formal (writers may use impersonal writing style, omit contractions, and omit casual language), the introduction is longer and more fully developed, and the report ends with the recommendation (if analytical) instead of an informal, goodwill closing. Looking at Content Outlines (located under Chapter 8) in Nelson’s Study Notes, you see that the three sections of the total formal report are the preliminary parts, body or message section, and supplementary parts. Also notice that the body or message section contains three parts—introduction, presentation of data (or discussion of factors or subtopics), and report ending. While formal reports can be written using the indirect, direct, or modified direct order, the formal report for BEIT 336 will be written in the indirect order. As a reminder, in the indirect (or inductive) order, the writer begins with the introduction, discusses the facts, and moves to the closing (conclusions and recommendations if the report is analytical). Notice that the two outlines presented in Content Outlines are different. Using the first outline, you would have more (and more formal) headings; and using the second outline, the formality is reduced with fewer (and less formal) headings. Use the second outline for your formal report assignment. In reading Business Communication, chapter 8, you find a thorough discussion of the organization of the discussion of data section. For this formal report, use the factors division and use topic headings. Interpret the Data, Summarize the facts, Draw Conclusions, and Develop Recommendations (Business Communication, chapter 9 and chapter 10, pages 178-179) After you know the organizational pattern and have gathered data, it is time to interpret, or analyze, the data. Business Communication presents a good discussion of cautions when interpreting data. Read and study the chapter carefully. While you are studying the data you collected, draw conclusions. The next step in the analytical process is to summarize the main facts. A summary is a brief repetition of the main facts discussed and from which you will draw conclusions. No new information is discussed in the summary. A conclusion is an interpretation of the facts you gathered and discussed. A conclusion is an observation based on the facts and not a repetition of those facts. In other words, a conclusion is a statement answering the question, “What do the facts mean?” and not a repetition of the facts (percents, dollars, numbers, etc.). A conclusion is not an action the company must take. Conclusions must come from the facts you gathered and discussed. In our case, you should be able to develop a conclusion for the facts gathered for each factor. To give you a simple example: assume you are researching alternative sites for a new plant and have gathered the following data: Site A: $50,000 cost, 5 acres, and 5 miles from the interstate Site B: $75,000 cost, 7 acres, and 1 mile from the interstate The conclusions could be that Site A is least expensive and that Site B has more acreage and is closer to the interstate. A recommendation is a suggested action the company should take based on the conclusions (conclusions were based on the facts) and answers the problem statement. A recommendation cannot come from new facts but comes from facts and conclusions already discussed. The suggested action should be explicit (use action verbs such as purchase, implement, explore, etc.) and detailed. In addition, the recommendation includes a “how” to implement or the next step the company should take. As you can see, the logic goes full circle from the problem statement, factors, data, summary, conclusions, recommendations, and back to the problem statement. The process involves developing the problem statement, identifying the factors, gathering the data (both primary and secondary), developing a summary of the main facts, drawing the conclusions, and developing the recommendations to answer the problem statement.
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