Formal Report Writing
Report writing is an important part of many professional and academic subjects.
Reports play an increasingly important role in the workplace, where they are a
crucial instrument in all business processes. They are also widely used in
government, technology, health care, social services, and many other areas.
What is a formal report? A formal report is a document that is written following a
fixed procedure and is used to describe an investigation
and give results and recommendations based on the
What is the purpose of a The purpose of a formal report is to investigate a problem
formal report? or a need, find workable solutions, and make
What are the differences Different types of reports are intended for different
between different types of audiences and have different purposes. They may deal
reports? with different kinds of topics, and therefore use different
types of vocabulary. They may vary greatly in length.
However, the general form of most reports is similar.
What are the parts of a Title
formal report? Summary
Findings and Discussion
A formal report requires very clear, concise and accurate use of
language to convey very specific information to its audience. Therefore,
as a pre-test, select the most appropriate formal expression for use in a
formal report from the options given under each item:
1. I ____________ the inspector to perform a thorough check on
the functioning of company machinery and workstations.
b. talked to
d. spoke to
2. Extensive supplies of specimens _____________________ for
testing at the laboratories for further research.
a. were required
b. were wanted
c. were needed
d. were booked
3. The objective of the formal report is ______________ problems
and to bring out suitable solutions and recommendations.
a. to search for
b. to investigate
c. to identify
d. to find
4.The CEO___________ shortly to discuss general issues on
improving efficiency in manufacturing.
b. will sit
c. will arrive
5. The motion to reduce working hours _______________ by the
company board, due to the fear of a drop in the required
a. was not allowed
b. was dismissed
c. was passed
d. was accepted
Example of a Report
A report has a well-defined structure. In the following report, as in most reports, all
the parts are named. Sections and sub-sections are numbered.
To the left of each section is an explanation of the type of information and
language used in that section.
Begin with a specific title. The title Survey of Overseas Students at
should convey useful information about
the content of the report Festina Lente University: 1985-
This is followed by the name(s) of the University Marketing and Survey
author(s), along with the date when the Committee, June 10, 2000
report was finished.
Number each section. 1 Summary
The summary is optional. To write a
summary: A report on overseas students at Festina
1. Briefly state the aim of the report. Lente University was undertaken to
2. Briefly describe the methodology determine what (if any) problems these
followed. students face. Students were surveyed on
3. Group the conclusions of the several matters. In general, students
investigation into categories.
expressed satisfaction with the university;
however, a few areas of concern were
The following parts are found in the 2 Introduction
introduction of a report:
• What is to be investigated / aim (A)
• Who requested the report (R) This report was requested by the president
• When it was requested (D) of Festina Lente University on November 5,
• What methodology is to be used (M) 1999. A University Marketing and Survey
Committee was formed, consisting of the
These are known as the terms of president; the bursar; the registrar; the
reference of the report. (A), (R), and
(D) may appear in any order. (M) is deans of arts, science, and business. The
always last. In the sample report on the committee was asked to submit its findings
right, the order of the terms of reference by June 15, 2000.
is (R), (D), (A), (M).
The main purpose of the study is to explore
Some expressions commonly found in ways of attracting more overseas students
the aim of...is to ...., will outline, was to to study at Festina Lente. An additional
determine..., determine the feasibility of purpose is to help to make the existing
..., the purpose of… is to..., to environment more conducive to study for
investigate these students.
Some expressions commonly found in Our major source of information about the
(R): needs and wishes of overseas students at
was requested by, as requested by, was
instructed, was asked, make appropriate Festina Lente is the students themselves.
recommendations, ...was asked to Therefore, the committee decided to
submit... construct a questionnaire, aimed at eliciting
relevant information from overseas
Some expressions commonly found in students who have studied at Festina Lente
by (date), on or before (date) since 1985. Copies of the questionnaire are
on file with the Student Union and the
Some expressions commonly found in Faculty Office, and they are available for
(M): public viewing. A total of 242 responses
was collected, with discussions, was were received, 233 of which were usable.
used, obtain, carry out (a task, etc.), was
undertaken, findings, were surveyed, the Three hundred and sixty nine overseas
scale was used to measure..., responses students had been enrolled at Festina
were identified, questionnaires, Lente during the period in question. The
tabulate, noted responses, therefore, can be taken to
reflect the views of a significant majority of
Tense: Usually past. Use present tense
only to describe ‘aims/goals’. these students. The questionnaire included
24 variables, grouped into five categories:
a. Information received about Festina Lente
before the student’s arrival here;
b. The student’s reception into the country
c. The student’s courses at Festina Lente;
d. Interaction with academic and
e. Learning resources.
Findings are the facts that were 3 Findings
discovered by using the methodology
described in the introduction. For
3.1 Before arrival at Festina Lente:
example, if a survey was used, the
findings are the responses to the survey. Students were asked if they had received
The findings are grouped, presented in thorough, partial or no information about
tabular form, or reduced to statistics for
easy understanding. An example of a the university, their chosen program of
finding is, “Eight percent of all study, local culture, and travel and visa
respondents considered their courses on matters. Results suggest that insufficient
the whole to be unsatisfactory because information on local culture and traditions
they were unable to understand their was provided to students before they
arrived here. In addition, some
departments apparently sent out flyers and
other information sheets that were
insufficient, incomplete, or unclear.
Divide complex information logically 3.2 Arrival at Festina Lente:
into parts and number each part as
Using a scale of dissatisfied, satisfied, or
The past tense is often used in this very satisfied, students were asked to rate
section of the report, and the passive
voice is common.
five different aspects of their arrival in the
country and at the university. Mean
responses suggest that local food and
campus orientation seem to require
This section is sometimes called 4 Conclusions
“Discussion and Conclusions.”
Conclusions are statements of fact This survey of overseas students at Festina
derived from the findings. They are Lente over the last 15 years shows why
answers to the question: “What is the Festina Lente continues to be a sought-
problem?” An example of a conclusion after place of study for students from many
is, “There are not enough computers in countries. However, two main concerns
the head office.”
Usually the present simple tense or
have been highlighted by the survey:
the present perfect tense is used.
4.1 In some cases, inadequate or erroneous
information has been sent to overseas
students prior to their arrival at Festina
4.2 Problems with housing and cuisine have
Recommendations are suggestions 5 Recommendations
about how to solve the problems. They
often contain the word should. They
answer the question, “What should we Based on the survey results, the committee
do to solve the problem(s)?” An makes the following recommendations:
example of a recommendation is the
following: “Management should install The university should provide information on
eight new computers in the head office.” 5.1 local culture and traditions as part of the
Verbs with should appear in the active
voice (“The university should provide mailing to overseas applicants.
information…”) or the passive voice
(The Student Union should be It should identify departments whose
departmental brochures and flyers are in
need of updating or expansion.
Formal Report Language
Formal reports should be written using formal language. Can you replace the underlined
words in the following short text with more appropriate business language?
On June 20th, 2004, I had to have a look at complaints about the time-keeping of the guys in the
general office. To get some information I had a chat with each of the 12 workers concerned, and
watched out for their time of arrival over a two-week period.
(Suggested answers: investigated, punctuality, staff, obtain, conducted interviews, employees, noted)
Practising What You Have Learned
Now practise what you have learned about report writing and the language of formal reports by
selecting the best option from each set of words contained in square brackets in the following
[Note that this report does not have a Summary, so the numbering begins with the Introduction.]
Complaints about the Poor Service Offered by the Library of the
University of Bilgewater
The University of Bilgewater Library Committee, September 20, 1995
The objective of this report was to [address, receive, answer] complaints about
poor service provided by the library and to make appropriate
recommendations, as [demanded, requested, recommended] by S. I.
Pennington, President, on 25 March 1995. An interview [conducted, was
conducted, held] with Mr. Vernon English, Chief Librarian, on 15 March.
Questionnaires [were distributed, distributed, sent out] to a cross-section of
staff who used the library between 15 and 20 March.
2.1 Interview with Chief Librarian
Mr. English has 13 full-time assistants. Five of these [at the, work the, are
employed by the] college on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week.
They [work, stay, duties] from 2-5 p.m. on those days.
A schedule of current items of equipment and their year of purchase
[examined, was examined, is examining.] No problems with this equipment
[noted, were noted, can be noted]. However, he requested purchase of
additional equipment as follows:
3 trolleys to transport books around the library
2.2 Views of the academic staff
22 staff [asked, asking, were asked] to fill in a questionnaire, 20 responded.
The problems identified are shown below:
2.2.1 75% of the respondents thought the photocopying facilities were inadequate.
2.2.2 100% [has, reported, found] difficulty in recalling books.
2.2.3 50% reported difficulty in communicating in English with some library staff.
3.1 There [are, were, should be] not enough library assistants to cope with the
day-to-day running of the library in the morning.
3.2 The present photocopying equipment is insufficient.
3.3 The standard of English of some library assistants is not sufficient to
enable effective communication to take place between the library staff
and the academic staff.
3.4 There [was, could be, is] no system in place for recalling books.
4.1 Five new library assistants should be [made, recruited, brought in] to
work from 0900-1400 hours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
4.2 A new photocopier and three new trolleys [shall be, will be, should be]
4.3 The front line staff [should give, should be given, should be taken]
English classes wherever needed.
4.4 The Chief Librarian [should be asked, should ask, is asking] to devise
and implement a recall system.
Based on: Henry, Alex, & Roseberry, Robert L. (2001). Help Yourself to English in the Business School. (2nd ed.).
Ashhurst, N.Z.: One2One Training and Consultancy, by permission of the authors.