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Writing Short Reports

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Short Reports
                                                                           learn how to
Organize information in reports.
Create a good writing style for reports.




Do different kinds of reports use different patterns of organization?
What are the basic strategies for organizing information?

Should I use the same style for reports as for other business documents?


Whenever you have a choice, write a short report rather than a long one. Never put information in reports just
because you have it or just because it took you a long time to find it. Instead, choose the information that your
reader needs to make a decision.

One report writer was asked to examine a building that had problems with heating, cooling, and air circu-lation. The
client who owned the building wanted quick answers to three questions: What should we do? What will it cost?
When will it pay for itself? The client wanted a three-page report with a seven-page appendix showing the payback
figures.1 When Susan Kleimann studied reply forms for a hotel, its managers said they didn't want to read a report.
So Kleimann limited the "report" to an executive summary with conclusions and recommendations. Everything else
went into appendixes.2

    Short reports normally use letter or memo format.

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Do different kinds of reports use different patterns of
organization?
        Yes. Work with the readers' expectations.

Informative, feasibility, and justification reports will be more successful when you work with the readers'
expectations for that kind of report.

Informative and Closure Reports

An informative or closure report summarizes completed work or research that does not result in action or
recommendation.

   Informative reports often include the following elements:
Introductory paragraph summarizing the problems or successes of the project.

Chronological account of how the problem was discovered, what was done, and what the results were.
Concluding paragraph with suggestions for later action. In a recommenda-tion report, the recommendations
would be based on proof. In contrast, the suggestions in a closure or recommendation report are not proved in detail.

Figure 23.1 presents this kind of informative report.

Feasibility Reports

Feasibility reports evaluate several alternatives and recommend one of them. (Doing nothing or delaying action
can be one of the alternatives.)

Feasibility reports normally open by explaining the decision to be made, listing the alternatives, and explaining the
criteria. In the body of the report, each alternative will be evaluated according to the criteria. Discussing each
alternative separately is better when one alternative is clearly superior, when the criteria interact, and when each
alternative is indivisible. If the choice depends on the weight given to each criterion, you may want to discuss each
alternative under each criterion.

Whether your recommendation should come at the beginning or the end of the report depends on your reader. Most
readers want the "bottom line" up front. However, if the reader will find your recommendation hard to accept, you
may want to delay your recommendation till the end of the report when you have given all your evidence.

Justification reports

Justification reports recommend or justify a purchase, investment, hiring, or change in policy. If your
organization has a standard format for justification reports, follow that format. If you can choose your headings and
organization, use this pattern when your recommendation will be easy for your reader to accept:

Indicate what you're asking for and why it's needed. Because the reader has not asked for the report,
you must link your request to the organiza-tion's goals.
Briefly give the background of the problem or need.
Explain each of the possible solutions. For each, give the cost and the advantages and disadvantages.
Summarize the action needed to implement your recommendation. If sev-eral people will be
involved, indicate who will do what and how long each step will take.

5. Ask for the action              you want.
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[Caption: Figure 23.1 An Informative Memo Report Describing How Local Government Solved a Problem]

400

[Caption: Figure 23.1 An Informative Memo Report Describing How Local Government Solved a Problem (continued)]

401

If the reader will be reluctant to grant your request, use this variation of the problem-solving pattern describers in Module 12:

1. Describer the organizational problem (which your request will solve). Use specific examples to prove the seriousness of the problem.
2. Show why easier or less expensive solutions will not solve the problem.


3. Present your solution impersonally.

4. Show that the disadvantages of your solution are outweighed by the advantages.


5. Summarize the action needed to implement your recommendation. If several people will be involved, indicate who will do what and how long each step
will take.

6. Ask for the action you want.


What are the basic strategies for organizing information.

Try one of these seven patterns.

Seven basic patterns for organizing information are useful in reports:

Comparison/contrast
Problem-solution
Elimination of alternatives
General to particular or particular to general

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Geographic or spatial
Functional
Chronological

Compare/contrast


            Comparison/contrast takes up each alternative in turn, discussing strengths and weaknesses. Feasibility studies usually use this pattern.

            A variation of the divided pattern is the pro and con pattern. In this pattern, under each specific heading, give the arguments for and against that
            alternative.

            Whatever information comes second will carry more psychological weight. This patter is the least effective when you want to deemphasize the
            disadvantages of a proposed solution, for it does not permit you to bury the disadvantages between neutral or positive material.

            A report recommending new plantings for a university quadrangle uses the pro and con pattern:


            Advantages of Monocropping

            High Productivity

            Visual Symmetry

            Disadvantages of Monocropping


            Danger of Pest Exploitation

            Visual Monotony

Problem-Solution

            Identify the problem; explain its background or history.; discuss its extent and seriousness; identify its cause. Discuss the factors (criteria) that
            affect the decision. Analyze the advantages and disadvantages of possible solutions. Conclusions and recommendations can go either first or
            last, depending on the preferences of your reader. This pattern works well when the reader is neutral.

            A report recommending ways to eliminate solidification of a granular bleach during production uses the problem-solution pattern.
            Recommended Reformulation for Vibe Bleach


            Problems in Maintaining Vibe’s Granular Structure

            Solidifying during Storage and Transportation


            Customer Complaints about “Blocks” of Vibe in Boxes

            Why Vibe Bleach “Cakes”


            Vibe’s Formula

            The Manufacturing Process


            The Chemical Process of Solidification

            Modifications Needed to Keep Vibe Flowing Freely


Elimination of alternatives

            After discussing the problems and causes, discuss the impractical solutions first, showing why they will not work. End with the most practical
            solution.


403

            This pattern works well when the solution the reader is likely to favor will not work, while the solution you recommend is likely to be
            perceived as expensive, intrusive, or radical.


A report on toy commercials eliminates alternatives.

The Effect of TV Ads on Children


Camera Techniques Used in TV Advertisements

Alternative Solutions to Problems in TV Toy Ads


Leave Ads Unchanged

Mandate School Units on Advertising


Ask the Industry to Regulate Itself

Give FCC Authority to Regulate TV Ads Directed at Children

General to Particular or Particular to General


            General to particular starts with the problem as it affects the organization or as it manifests itself in general and them moves to a discussion of
            the parts of the problem and solutions to each of these parts. Particular to general starts with the problems as the audience defines it and moves
            to larger issues of which the problem is a part. Both are good patterns when you need to redefine the reader’s perception of the problem in
            order to show it effectively.


            The directors of a student volunteer organization, VIP, have defines their problem as “not enough volunteers.” After studying the subject, the
            writer is convinced that problems in training, the way the work is structures, and campus awareness are responsible both for a high drop-out
            rate and a low recruitment rate. The general to particular pattern helps the audience see the problem in a new way:


            Why VIP Needs More Volunteers

            Why Some VIP Volunteers Drop Out
             Inadequate Training


             Feeling That VIP Requires Too Much Time

             Feeling That the Work Is Too Emotionally Demanding


             Why Some Students Do Not Volunteer

             Feeling That VIP Requires Too Time


             Feeling That the Work Is Too Emotionally Demanding

             Preference for Volunteering with another Organization


             Lack of Knowledge about VIP Opportunities

             How VIP Volunteers Are Currently Trained


             Time Demands on VIP Volunteers

             Emotional Demands on VIP Volunteers

             Ways to Increase Volunteer Commitment and Motivation

             Improving Training

             Improving the Flexibility of Volunteers’ Hours

             Providing Emotional support to Volunteers


             Providing More Information about Community Needs and VIP Services


Geographic or Spatial

             In a geographic or spatial pattern, you discuss problems and solution by units by their physical arrangement. Move from the office, building to
             building, factory to factory, state to state, region to region, etc.


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A sales report uses a geographic pattern of organization:


Sales Have Risen in the European Economic Community

Sales Have Fallen Slightly in Asia


Sales Are Steady in North America

Functional


             In functional patterns, discuss the problems and solutions of each functional unit. For example, a report on a new plant might divide data into
             sections on the costs of land and building, on the availability of personnel, on the convenience of raw materials, etc. A government report might
             divide data into the different functions an office performed, taking each in turn.

             A strategy report for a political party uses a functional pattern of organization.

Current Makeup of the Senate

Senate Seats Open in 2008
Seats Held by a Democratic Incumbent


Races in Which the Incumbent Has a Commanding Lead

Races in Which the Incumbent Is Vulnerable


Seats Held by a Republican Incumbent

Races in Which the Incumbent Has a Commanding Lead


Races in Which the Incumbent Is Vulnerable

Seats Where No Incumbent Is Running


Chronological

           A chronological report records events in the order in which they happened or are planning to happen.


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Many progress reports are organized chronologically:

Work Completed in October

Work Planned for November


Should I use the same style for reports as for other business documents?

      Yes, with three exceptions

The advice about style in Modules 15 and 16 also applies to reports, with three exceptions:

Use a fairly formal style, without contractions or slang.
Avoid the word you. In a document to multiple audiences, it will not be clear who you is. Instead, use the company
name.

   3. Include in the report all the definitions and documents needed to understand the recommendations. The
   multiple audiences for reports include readers who may consult the document months or years from now. Explain
   acronyms and abbreviations the first time they appear. Explain the history or background of the problem. Add as
   appendixes previous documents on which you build.

The following points apply to any kind of writing, but they are particularly important in reports.

Say what you mean.
Tighten your writing.

   3. Use blueprints, transitions, topic sentences, and headings to make your organization clear to your reader.

Let's look at each of these principles as they apply to reports.

Say What You Mean

Not-quite-right word choices are particularly damaging in reports, which may be skimmed by readers who know
very little about the subject. Putting the meaning of your sentence in the verbs will help you say what you mean.
Vague: My report revolves around the checkout lines and the methods used to get                                   price checks when they
arise.

                   Better: My report shows how price checks slow checkout lines and recommends                                       ways to reduce
                   the number of price checks needed.

Sometimes you'll need to completely recast the sentence.

                                                                          not use good
Incorrect: The first problem with the incentive program is that middle managers do
interpersonal skills in implementing it. For example, the hotel chef openly ridicules the program.
As a result, the kitchen staff fear being mocked if they participate in the program.

Better:The first problem with the incentive program is that some middle managers undercut it. For example, the
hotel chef openly ridicules the program. As a result, the kitchen staff fear being mocked if they
partici-pate in the program.

Tighten Your Writing

Eliminate unnecessary words, use gerunds and infinitives, combine sentences, and reword sentences to cut the
number of words.

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Wordy: Campus Jewelers’ main objective is to increase sales. Specifically, the objective is to double sales in the
next five years by becoming a more successful business.

Better: Campus Jewelers’ objective is to double sales in the next five years.

Use blueprints, transitions, topic sentences, and headings

      Blueprints are overviews or forecasts that tell the reader what you will discuss in a section or in the entire report. Make your blueprint easy to read by
      telling the reader how many points there are and numbering them. In the following example, the first sentence in the revised paragraph tells the
      reader to look for four points; the numbers separate the four points clearly. This overview paragraph also makes a contract with readers, who now
      expect to read about tax benefits first and employee benefits last.


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Paragraph without numbers:

Employee Stock Ownership Programs (ESOPs) have several advantages. They provide tax benefits for the company.
ESOPs also create tax benefits for employees and for lenders. They provide a defense against takeovers. In some
organizations, productivity increases because workers now have a financial stake in the company's profits. ESOPs
are an attractive employee benefit and help the com-pany hire and retain good employees.

Revised paragraph with numbers:

Employee Stock Ownership Programs (ESOPs) provide four benefits, First, ESOPs provide tax benefits for the
company, its employees, and lenders to the plan. Second, ESOPs help create a defense against takeovers. Third,
ESOPs may increase productivity by giving workers a financial stake in the company's profits. Fourth as an
attractive employee benefit, ESOP’s help the company hire and retain good employees.
Transitions are words, phrases, or sentences that tell the reader whether the discussion is continuing on the same
point or shifting points.

  There are economic advantages, too.

  (Tells the reader that we are still discussing advantages but that we have now moved to economic
  advantages.)

  An alternative to this plan is .. .

  (Tells reader that a second option follows.)

  These advantages, however, are found only in A, not in B or C. (Prepares reader for a shift
  from A to B and C.)

A topic sentence introduces or summarizes the main idea of a sentence. Readers who skim reports can follow your
ideas more easily if each paragraph begins with a topic sentence.

Hard to read (no topic sentence):

Another main use of ice is to keep the fish fresh. Each of the seven kinds of fish served at the restaurant requires one

gallon twice a day, for a total of 14 gallons. An additional 6 gallons a day are required for the salad bar.

Better (begins with topic sentence):

Twenty gallons of ice a day are needed to keep food fresh. Of this, the biggest portion (14 gallons) is used to

keep the fish fresh. Each of the seven kinds of fish served at the restaurant requires one gallon twice a day (7 x 2
= 14). An additional 6 gallons a day are required for the salad bar.

Headings are single words, short phrases, or complete sentences that indi-cate the topic in each section. A heading
must cover all of the material under it until the next heading. For example, Cost of Tuition cannot include the cost of
books or of room and board. You can have just one paragraph under a heading or several pages. If you do have
several pages between headings you may want to consider using subheadings. Use subheadings only when you have
two or more divisions within a main heading.

Topic headings focus on the structure of the report. As you can see from the following example, topic headings give
very little information.

  Recommendation

  Problem

      Situation 1

      Situation 2

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Causes of the Problem
Background

Cause 1

Cause 2

Recommended Solution

Talking heads, in contrast, tell the reader what to expect. Talking or infor-mative heads, like those in the examples
in this chapter, provide an overview of each section and of the entire report:

Recommended Reformulation for Vibe Bleach

Problems in Maintaining Vibe's Granular Structure

Solidifying during Storage and Transportation

Customer Complaints about "Blocks" of Vibe in Boxes

Why Vibe Bleach "Cakes"

Vibe's Formula

The Manufacturing Process

The Chemical Process of Solidification

Modifications Needed to Keep Vibe Flowing Freely

Headings must be parallel (p. 78), that is, they must use the same gram-matical structure. Subheads must be parallel
to each other but do not neces-sarily have to be parallel to subheads under other headings.

Summary of Key Points

Comparison/contrast takes up each alternative in turn. The pro and con pattern divides the alterna-tives and
discusses the arguments for and against that alternative. A problem-solving report identifies the problem, explains
its causes, and analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of possible solutions. Elimination identifies the problem,
explains its causes, and discusses the least practical solutions first, ending with the one the writer favors. General to
particular begins with the problem as it affects the organization or as it manifests itself in general, then moves to a
discussion of the parts of the problem and solutions to each of these parts. Particular to general starts with specific
aspects of the problem, then moves to a discussion of the larger implications of the problem for the organization.
Geographic or spa-tial patterns discuss the problems and solutions by units. Functional patterns discuss the
problems and solutions of each functional unit.

Reports use the same style as other business documents, with three exceptions:

Reports use a more formal style than do many letters and memos.
Reports rarely use the word you.

  3. Reports should be self-explanatory.

To create good report style,
Say what you mean.
Tighten your writing.

       3. Use blueprints, transitions, topic sentences, and headings.

Headings are single words, short phrases, or complete sentences that cover all of the material under a heading until
the next heading. Informative or talking heads tell the reader what to expect in each section.

      Assignments for Module 23

      Questions for comprehension

      23.1 What are the seven basic patterns for organizing information?


      23.2 What is a blueprint?

      23.3 What is a talking head?


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Questions for Critical Thinking

        23.4 Why shouldn't you put all the information you have into a report?

        23.5 Why do reports often use a more formal style than other business documents?

23.6 Why should you avoid you in reports?

23.7 Why are topic sentences especially useful in reports?

Exercises and Problems

         23.8 Explaining "Best Practices"

                Write a report explaining the "best practices" of the unit where you work that could also be
                adopted by other units in your organization.

         23.9 Recommending Action

                Write a report recommending an action that your unit or organization should take. Address
                your report to the person who would have the power to approve your recommendation.
                Possibilities include

                • Hiring an additional worker for your department.

        23.10 Writing up a Survey

                Survey two groups of people on a topic that interests you. Possible groups are men and
                women, people in business and in English programs, younger and older students, students and
                townspeople. Nonran-dom samples are acceptable.

                As Your Instructor Directs,
Survey 40 to 50 people.

Team up with your classmates. Survey 50 to 80 people if your group has two members, 75 to 120 people if
it has three members, 100 to 150 people if it has four members, and 125 to 200 people if it has five
members.

Keep a journal during your group meetings and submit it to your instructor.

Write a memo to your instructor describing and evaluating your group's process for designing, conducting,
and writing up the survey. (See Module 18 on working and writing in groups.)

            As you conduct your survey, make careful notes about what you do so that you can use this
            infor-mation when you write up your survey. If you work with a group, record who does what.

            Use complete memo format. Your subject line should be clear and reasonably complete. Omit
            unnecessary words such as "Survey of." Your first paragraph serves as an introduction, but it
            needs no heading. The rest of the body of your memo will be divided into four sections with
            the following head-ings: Purpose, Procedure, Results, and Discussion.

            In your first paragraph, briefly summarize (not necessarily in this order) who conducted the
            exper-iment or survey, when it was conducted, where it was conducted, who the subjects were,
            what your purpose was, and what you found out.

         In your Purpose section, explain why you con-ducted the survey. What were you trying to learn? Why did
         this subject seem interesting or important?

         In your Procedure section, describe in detail exactly what you did.

         In your Results section, first tell whether your results supported your hypothesis. Use both visuals and
         words to explain what your numbers show. (44 See Module 25 on how to design visuals.) Process your raw
         data in a way that will be useful to your reader.

In your Discussion section, evaluate your sur-vey and discuss the implications of your results. Consider these
questions:

Do you think a scientifically valid survey would have produced the same results? Why or why not?
Were there any sources of bias either in the way the questions were phrased or in the way the subjects were chosen?
If you were running the survey again, what changes would you make to eliminate or reduce these sources of bias?
Do you think your subjects answered honestly and completely? What factors may have intruded? Is the fact that you
did or didn't know them, were or weren't of the same sex relevant?
What causes the phenomenon your results reveal? If several causes together account for the phenom-enon, or if it is
impossible to be sure of the cause, admit this. Identify possible causes and assess the likelihood of each.
What action should be taken?

The discussion section gives you the opportunity to analyze the significance of your survey. Its insight and
originality lift the otherwise well-written memo from the ranks of the merely satisfactory to the ranks of the above-
average and the excellent.

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      23.11 Writing a Report Based on Your Knowledge and Experience Write a report on one of the following
      topics.
What should a U.S. or Canadian manager know about dealing with workers from ____ [you fill
in the country or culture]? What factors do and do not motivate people in this group? How do they show respect
and deference? Are they used to a strong hierarchy or to an egalitarian setting? Do they normally do one thing at
once or many things? How important is clock time and being on time? What factors lead them to respect some-one?
Age? Experience? Education? Technical knowledge? Wealth? Or what? What conflicts or miscommunications may
arise between workers from this culture and other workers due to cul-tural differences? Are people from this culture
pretty similar in these beliefs and behaviors, or is there lots of variation?
Describe an ethical dilemma encountered by workers in a specific organization. What is the background of the
situation? What competing loyalties exist? In the past, how have workers responded? How has the organization
responded? Have "whistle-blowers" been rewarded or pun-ished? What could the organization do to foster ethical
behavior?

         3. Describe a problem or challenge encountered by an organization where you've worked. Show why it
         needed to be solved, tell who did what to try to solve it, and tell how successful the efforts were.
         Possibilities include

How the organization is implementing work teams, downsizing, or a change in organizational culture.
How the organization uses e-mail or voice mail,
statistical process control, or telecommuting.
How managers deal with stress, make ethical choices, or evaluate subordinates.
How the organization is responding to changing U.S. demographics, the Americans with Disabili-ties Act,
international competition and opportu-nities, or challenges from dot.com companies.

Polishing Your Prose
Being Concise

Being concise in business writing means using only nec-essary words to make your point, without sacrificing
politeness or clarity. Wordy sentences may confuse or slow readers:

          Wordy: All of our employees at Haddenfield and Dunne should make themselves available for a seminar
          meeting on the 5th of August, 2004, at 10 o'clock in the morning. Please make sure you come to the
          conference room on the 2nd Floor of the Main Complex.

          Concise: Please plan to attend a seminar at 10 AM on August 5 in the Main Complex 2nd Floor
          conference room.

Being concise does not mean eliminating necessary information. Sometimes you'll have to write longer sen-tences to
be clear.

Nor does tightening your writing mean using short, choppy sentences.

          Choppy: We have a new copier. It is in the supply room. Use it during regular hours. After 5 PM, it will
          be shut down.

          Concise: A new copier is available in the supply room for use before 5 PM.

Use Concrete Words.

Instead of vague nouns and verbs with strings of modi-fiers, use specifics.

Vague: The person who drops off packages talked about the subject of how much to charge.
Concrete: The delivery person discussed fees.

Avoid Vague or Empty Modifiers.

Words like very, some, many, few, much, kind of/sort of, and so forth usually can be cut.

Cut Redundant Words or Phrases.

Don't say the same thing twice. Cease and desist, first and foremost, the newest and latest, official company policy,
24 stories tall, said out loud, and return the form back to me are a11 redundant.

Avoid Unnecessarily Complex Constructions.

Instead of the bid that won the contract, use the winning bid.

Stick to Simple Verb Tenses.

Standard edited English prefers them. Instead of "I have been attending the University of Michigan" use "I attend
the

411

University of Michigan." Instead of "By 2006, I will have completed my junior year" use "I will be a senior by
2006."

Exercises

Rewrite the following sentences to make them concise.

Return the keys back to me when you're finished, please.
I wanted to thank you so very much for your very kind help on our project.
Karen, one of the people that does rounds as part of security, said she found your door open and unlocked last night.
The bid that won the contract was opened by the per-son who manages our Purchasing Office.
Mark said that the person who runs the Accounting Department was interested first and foremost in hir-ing more
diverse staff.
Logan is sort of thinking about the possibility of returning to school for an MBA in Finance.

   7. By this time in the very next year, our newest and lat-est payroll system will be up and running. To help
   ensure a very smooth transition from the old, out-of-date system to the newer, more recent one, all of our
   employees should make sure to take the appropriate training. That training will be offered to all of our
   employees at times convenient to the work day hours.

Though it's official company policy that employees who wish to take advantage of their accrued personal leave time
first and foremost must complete the appropriate requisition form, given the personal emergency circumstances of
Kaylee, our employee, we can find a way to waive or not require that requirement for this one particular time.
As you can plainly see, my letter of application pro-vides details about the many, many skills and experi-ences that I
intend to bring to the job for which I am applying with said letter. In addition to those very valuable skills and
experiences, I will have obtained many, many more through a series of most excep-tional workshops being offered
through the local career center, and I should like to be able to employ with you these skills and experiences learned
there should I be hired in the future.
   10. Though Will has been attending Rockingham Com-munity College full time for more than a year, he still is
   quite able to find a successful way to balance all of his time commitments there as a student with his work with
   us as an intern. We are very, very impressed with him and would most certainly expect to offer Will a permanent
   job once his schooling ceases and desists and he graduates.

Check your answers to the odd-numbered exercises at the back of the book.

								
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