FORMATTING AND WRITING THE FORMAL REPORT
For formatting guidelines for the formal report, read Business Communication, chapter 12 and the
material in Nelson’s Study Notes under chapter 12 (particularly, Formatting Guidelines for the Formal
Report). When there are differing formatting guidelines between Business Communication and Nelson,
use the Nelson guidelines. For example, Business Communication provides different heading format
instruction than Nelson---use Nelson.
BASIC WRITING INSTRUCTIONS
Now you are ready to apply instruction by writing the long report. Basic writing instructions follow:
Writing style Use formal, personal (omit casual language) writing style. See Business
Communication pages 50-51 to review personal/impersonal writing styles.
Number of Write at least 15 pages from introduction through recommendations.
Graphic aids Include at least 2 graphic aids using the formal presentation style: (1) 1 pie or
bar chart, (2) 1 table.
References Cite at least 10 secondary sources in the text and on a References page using
the APA style of referencing. The references are to be dated 1998 or after.
You must give credit to references.
Start the writing process with the body (or message) section and then write the supplementary and
preliminary parts. Detailed information for writing each section follows, and the report should be written
in the order discussed here.
Introduction or Overview
The Overview (or Introduction) is the first section of the body of the report. The content of the overview
or the introduction of a formal report is more developed than that of a short, informal report. To help you
learn how to approach this type of introduction, I am providing a discussion of each part of the overview.
Use the heading OVERVIEW for this section formatted as a first-degree heading (Review Report
Headings under chapter 8 of Nelson’s Study Notes), and do not include other headings in this section.
The Overview section should be about two pages (doubled spaced) in length.
(Business Communication, page 177)
The first item in the Overview is a discussion of the background of the problem. In a formal report, the
writer spends some time “setting the stage” for the reader---a full discussion of the larger picture of the
problem or topic provided the audience needs such a discussion. In this discussion, include information
concerning the historical development of the topic or what happened previously about the topic or
problem. Bring the discussion down to your company or situation from the historical or global view. For
your assignment in ASBE 336, write at least two (but no more than three) paragraphs of background
information and include reference citations if applicable. Avoid including information in the background
portion of the report that you will want to use later in the discussion of factors. Do not include a separate
heading for the background.
(Business Communication, chapter 5; Nelson’s Study Notes, chapter 5; and The Analytical Report Process
handout). As the second piece of information in the Overview, provide the reader with a succinct
problem statement. The problem statement is included early in the overview so the reader is clear on your
purpose (what you have done and why you did it). You don’t want to keep the reader in the dark; your
reader must not be confused about your purpose for writing. Think of the problem statement as bringing
the topic down from the broader picture stated in the background to the particular situation and company.
The problem statement is one sentence written in the question, infinitive, or declarative form. Do not
include a separate heading.
(Business Communication, chapter 5; Nelson’s Study Notes, chapter 5; and The Analytical Report Process
handout). After the problem statement is written, include a discussion (in paragraph form) of the breadth
and depth of the factors. Do not include a separate heading for this information.
(Business Communication, chapter 10, page 177). After the discussion of the scope, include a statement
about limitations you have identified. You probably won’t have any limitations. Do not include a
separate heading for this information.
Sources and Methods of Data Collection
(Business Communication, chapter 10, page 177). The discussion of the sources (primary or secondary)
and methods (Internet, library) you used to gather information should include about two paragraphs of
information---one paragraph on the secondary data, and the second paragraph on primary data. Do not
include a separate heading for this information.
(Business Communication, chapter 10, page 8) To complete the Overview section, include a report
preview paragraph. In a report preview, the writer tells the reader the organization of the report.
Remember, in a report preview, you name the sections of the report body that follows the Overview. Do
not include a separate heading for this information.
Discussion of the Data Gathered on the Factors
After the introduction or overview where you “set the stage” for the reader, you discuss the information
gathered on each factor or subtopic. The headings for this section should be the names of your subtopics
(factors) and should be formatted as first-degree headings. Remember, to write the headings as topic
headings and to be parallel. Discuss the subtopics in order of most important and in the same order as
written in the report preview. The discussion of the factors should be the largest section of the report.
You will be graded on depth of content and must have about 11 or 12 pages of information.
These sections, of course, should include information you gathered on the breadth and depth of all the
subtopics or factors. Include a transition paragraph at the beginning of each factor section. In other
words, you are “setting the stage” for the particular section. You are to be objective and use data you
gathered. Also, avoid including early conclusions---save the conclusions for later. Include text reference
citations in the parenthetical style using APA style guide for all information taken from secondary
sources, and tell the reader when you are using primary data you gathered. Ethical behavior involves
giving credit for reference sources, and plagiarism is not acceptable. Finally, include the required graphic
aids in this section.
Graphic aids are used in reports to simplify data and to provide visual interest. Graphic aids should be
included when relevant to the purpose and audience and when used in conjunction with words and not as
a substitute for words.
There are two basic types of graphic aids, tables and figures (figures may be referred to as charts). A
table is a presentation of qualitative or quantitative information in rows and columns. Tables are a good
choice for precise data but not to show trends or relationships. The word figure or chart is applied to any
other graphic aid (maps, bar chart, pie chart, or line chart, etc.). A figure is a good choice when you want
to represent approximate values and to show trends. The labels will be Table and Figure (or Chart---
Business Communication uses the word Chart) for the formal report.
The tables and figures will have numbers and titles. The tables and figures are numbered independently.
Therefore, you will have a Table 1 and a Figure 1 at the very least. These graphic aids will have a title as
well. The title should be short and to the point (Refer to Business Communication page 278).
Graphic aids must be introduced in the text formally. Use the information presented in Business
Communication page 276, and use the information included under Formal Graphic Aid Presentation
(under chapter 14) in Nelson’s Study Notes. See also the Charts and Tables PowerPoint lecture. Graphic
aids are placed right after being introduced in the text---not in the appendix. While material can be placed
in the appendix, reserve that placement for supplementary information (nice to know but not necessary).
The formal presentation of a table (Refer to Formal Graphic Aid Presentation in Nelson’s Study Notes,
see also the Charts and Tables PowerPoint lecture) includes a general introduction, label and number,
title, table, source (for primary data use the word Primary and for secondary data include the full APA
citation), and specific discussion of something important on the table.
The formal presentation of a figure (Refer to Formal Graphic Aid Presentation in Nelson’s Study Notes,
chapter 14) includes the general introduction, figure, label and number, title, source (For primary data use
the word Primary, and for secondary data include the full APA citation.), and specific discussion of
something important on the figure. Note the difference in the table and figure presentation. Be aware that
graphics can be used to distort facts, and make certain your graphics adhere to good ethical behavior. In
particular, watch that the scale begins at zero, watch that both the x and y scales are represented on the
grid by equal intervals, and watch the proportion of the chart construction to avoid distortion.
The closing section of summary, conclusions, and recommendations in a formal, analytical report is the
writer’s opportunity to present analysis and to end the report. The closing section can probably be
covered in about two or three pages, and the first-degree headings should be SUMMARY,
CONCLUSIONS, and RECOMMENDATIONS.
Summary and Conclusions
(Business Communication, chapter 9 and chapter 10, page 178) A summary is a brief restatement of the
main facts presented under each factor and is frequently included in a formal report either at the end of
the report or at the end of the discussion for each factor. No new information is included in this section,
and do not cite sources. Reminder: each factor should be summarized in a separate paragraph. Use the
words SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS as a first-degree heading for this section.
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 (use the main facts you gave in the Summary). 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. Again, use the words SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS as a first-degree heading for
this section. You should have a summary and a conclusion for each factor (you will probably write a
paragraph for each factor).
(Business Communication, chapter 9 and chapter 10, pages 178) 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. Use the word RECOMMENDATIONS as a first-
degree heading for this section.
Finally, as a reminder---you will have discussed the data (both primary and secondary) for each factor.
The summary is developed from the data you discussed, the conclusions are drawn from the main facts
repeated in the summary, and the recommendations are developed from the conclusions. The
recommendation answers the problem statement. Thus, the logic goes full circle from the problem
statement, factors, data, summary, conclusions, recommendations, and back to the problem statement.
After you have written the body of the report, you are ready to write the supplementary section. The
supplementary section of the long report contains the References page and the Appendix. Place
References on the next page after Recommendations. The References page contains only the sources
cited in the body of the report. Use the APA style. Review the material found in the Formal Report
Documentation PowerPoint presentation.
Place the appendix immediately after the list of references (see Business Communication, chapter 10,
page 179). An appendix contains supplementary material for the reader. Obviously, important material is
discussed in the text. Sometimes, however, only a portion of a piece of information is discussed in the
text, but the writer feels the entire piece of information might be interesting to some readers and that
material is placed in the appendix. The appendix of your formal paper will include at least a copy of the
employee survey and/or results (you will, of course, discuss the pertinent results in the text).
Each item of supplemental information is included in a separate appendix (if you have more than one
appendix, the appendices are each given a letter such as Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.). If you have just
one appendix, the material is titled Appendix without letters. A title page is included before each item of
information. The title page contains the word appendix formatted in first-degree heading format (with a
letter if you have more than one appendix) and the title of the appendix contents (again, formatted as a
first-degree heading). The word appendix and the title are centered horizontally and vertically. See
Formatting Guidelines for the Formal Report under chapter 12 of Nelson’s Study Notes.
Preliminary pages are included in front of the body of the formal report. The pages that are included will
vary according to the formality of the report. Our formal report will contain the following preliminary
pages in this order:
Memo of transmittal
Table of Contents (first-degree heading)
List of Illustrations (first-degree heading)
Executive Summary (first-degree heading)
Memo of Transmittal
The memo (or letter if the reader is external or you wish to be very formal) of transmittal is a very short
message giving (transmitting) the report to the reader and must be included in your formal report. See
Business Communication, chapter 10, pages 173-174. The following content should be included in the
memo of transmittal:
Paragraph 1 – transmit the report to the reader (use more polished words---“you asked me to do such and
such project; I did as you asked; report is attached”).
Middle paragraphs – discuss the report giving such information as the problem statement, factors,
recommendations, or problems associated with the project.
Last paragraph – include a goodwill closing with your contact numbers.
See a sample transmittal letter (change format to memo) in Business Communication on page 183.
While you are including only a memo of transmittal, a letter (or memo) of authorization and a letter (or
memo) of acceptance could be included. However, these items are usually included in very formal
reports only. The authorization letter or memo is from the person who assigned the project to you and
includes the project assignment. The letter or memo of acceptance is the writer’s reply to the letter or
memo of authorization stating acceptance of the project.
Title Fly and Title Page
Both a title fly and a title page are often included in a formal report. In ASBE 336, you will include only
a title page. Review the discussion of the title fly and the title page in Business Communication, chapter
10, pages 172 and 173. See samples on pages 181 and 182. Format your title page according the
Business Communication discussion and sample. Follow the directions in Business Communication on
pages 172 and 173 for writing a title. The title should not be “cutsey” or clever.
Table of Contents
The table of contents includes every heading in the report with the page number. Include a first-degree
heading of TABLE OF CONTENTS in your long report. By looking at the table of contents and the
placement of items on that page, you can immediately see the organization of the report (note the
capitalization and indentation of the headings in the sample). Place the table of contents immediately
after the title page. See Business Communication chapter 10, page 174 and 184. Note the dots running
from an item on the table of contents to the page number. Those dots are called leaders. Leaders help
guide the reader from the item to the page number. Insert leaders in your Table of Contents. See the
Microsoft Word mini-manual in Nelson’s Study Notes for instructions on inserting leaders in Word.
List of Illustrations
A list of illustrations is included in a formal report. The list of illustrations is placed after the table of
contents (first-degree heading LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS) and is a categorized list of the tables and
figures (with titles and page numbers) in the report. The label, number, title, and page number is included
for each graphic aid. See Business Communication, chapter 10, pages 174 and 185.
An executive summary is a condensed version of the entire report from overview through
recommendations. Other terms for the executive summary are synopsis, precis, and epitome. The
executive summary may be written in the indirect or direct order. However, you may find it simpler to
use the indirect order for the formal report assignment. Use the heading EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
(first-degree heading format). Include the following items in your executive summary: problem
statement, factors, summary, conclusions, and recommendations. The Executive Summary should be
single spaced (even though the rest of the report will be double spaced) and be no longer than one page in
Note the difference between an executive summary and a summary. The executive summary is a
condensed version of the report from overview to recommendations, and the summary is a brief
restatement of the main facts presented in the discussion of factors sections only. For discussion and a
sample see Business Communication chapter 10 pages 174, 175, and 186.