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Long Reports

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To learn how to: Use your time efficiently when you write reports. Set up the parts of a full formal report. Continue to create a professional image.

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Module 24 Long Reports

To learn how to: Use your time efficiently when you write reports. Set up the parts of a full formal report. Continue to create a professional image.

Start by asking these questions: I’ve never written anything so long. How should I organize my time? How do I create each of the parts of a formal report? Formal reports are distinguished from informal letter and memo reports by their length and by their com-ponents. A full formal report may (but does not have to) contain all of the following components: Cover Title Page Letter of Transmittal Table of Contents List of Illustrations Executive Summary Report Body 413

Introduction (Usually has subheadings for Purpose and Scope; may also have Limitations, Assumptions, and Methods.) Background/History of the Problem (Serves as a record for later readers of the report.)

Body (Presents and interprets data in words and visuals. Analyzes causes of the problem and evaluates possible solutions. Specific headings will depend on the topic of the report.)

Conclusions (Summarizes main points of report.)

Recommendations (Recommends actions to solve the problem. May be com-bined with Conclusions; may be put before body rather than at the end.)

References or Works Cited (Documents or sources cited in the report.)

Appendixes (Provide additional materials that the careful reader may want: transcript of an interview, copies of questionnaires, tallies of all the ques-tions, computer printouts, previous reports.)

I've never written anything so long. How should I organize my time? Write parts as soon as you can. Spend most of your time on sections that support your recommendations. Figure 24.1 shows how you might allocate your time in writing a long report. To use your time efficiently, think about the parts of the report before you begin writing. Much of the Introduction comes from your proposal with only minor revisions: Purpose, Scope, Assumptions, and Methods. The bibliography from your proposal can form the first draft of your References or Works Cited. Save a copy of your questionnaire or interview questions to use as an appen-dix. As you tally and analyze the data, prepare an appendix summarizing all the responses to your questionnaire, your figures and tables, and a complete list of References or Works Cited. You can write the title page and the transmittal as soon as you know what your recommendation will be.

After you've analyzed your data, write the Executive Summary, the body, and the Conclusions and Recommendations. Prepare a draft of the table of contents and the list of illustrations. When you write a long report, list all the sections (headings) that your report will have. Mark those that are most important to your reader and your proof,


[Caption: Figure 24.1 Allocating Time in Writing a Report (Your time may vary)]

and spend most of your time on them. Write the important sections early. That way, you won't spend all your time on Background or History of the Problem. Instead, you'll get to the meat of your report.

How do I create each of the parts of a formal report? Follow the example here. As you read each section below, you may want to turn to the corresponding pages of the long report in Figure 24.2 to see how the component is set up and how it relates to the total report.

Title Page

The Title Page of a report contains four items: the title of the report, whom the report is prepared for, whom it is prepared by, and the release date. Sometimes title pages also contain a brief summary of the contents of the report; some title pages contain decorative artwork. The title of the report should be as informative as possible. Poor title: New Office Site Better title: Why Dallas Is the Best Site for the New Office


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


[Caption: Figure 24.2 A Long Report (continued)]


Large organizations that issue many reports may use two-part titles to make it eas-ier to search for reports electronically. For example, U.S. government report titles first give the agency sponsoring the report, then the title of that particular report.

Small Business Administration: Management Practices Have Improved for the Women's Business Center Program Small Business Administration: Steps Taken to Better Manage Its Human Capital, but More Needs to Be Done Small Business: SBA Could Better Focus Its 8(a) Program to Help Firms Obtain Contracts

In many cases, the title will state the recommendation in the report: "Why the United Nations Should Establish a Seed Bank." However, the title should omit recommendations when

The reader will find the recommendations hard to accept. Putting all the recommendations in the title would make it too long. The report does not offer recommendations.

If the title does not contain the recommendation, it normally indicates what problem the report tries to solve.

Letter or Memo of Transmittal

Use a memo of transmittal if you are a regular employee of the organization for which you prepare the report; use a letter if you are not. The transmittal has several purposes: to transmit the report, to orient the reader to the report, and to build a good image of the report and of the writer. Organize the transmittal in this way: Tell when and by whom the report was authorized and the purpose it was to fulfill. Summarize your conclusions and recommendations. Indicate minor problems you encountered in your investigation and show how you surmounted them. Thank people who helped you. Point out additional research that is necessary, if any. 5. Thank the reader for the opportunity to do the work and offer to answer questions. Even if the report has not been fun to do, expressing satisfaction in doing the project is expected.

Table of Contents

In the Table of Contents, list the headings exactly as they appear in the body of the report. If the report is shorter than 25 pages, list all the headings. In a very long report, list the two or three highest levels of headings.

List of Illustrations

Report visuals comprise both tables and figures. Tables are words or numbers arranged in rows and columns. Figures are everything else: bar graphs, pie charts, maps, drawings, photographs, computer printouts, and so forth. Tables and figures are numbered independently, so you may have both a "Table 1" and a "Figure 1." In a report with maps and graphs but no other visuals, the visuals are sometimes called "Map 1" and "Graph 1." Whatever you call the


illustrations, list them in the order in which they appear in the report; give the name of each visual as well as its number. See Module 25 for information about how to design and label visuals.

Executive Summary

An Executive Summary tells the reader what the document is about. It sum-marizes the recommendation of the report and the reasons for the recommen-dation.

To write an executive summary, you must know the report's recommenda-tions and support.

In the first paragraph, identify the report's recommendations or main point (thesis). Often the problem can be stated quite briefly: "To market life insurance to mid-40s urban professionals, Interstate Fidelity Insurance should. . . . " Provide background on the problem only if needed to explain the goal of the recommendations. In the body, identify the major supporting points for your argument. Include all the information decision makers will need. Make the summary clear as a stand-alone document. If you have conducted surveys or interviews, briefly describe your methods.



The Introduction of the report contains a statement of purpose and scope and may include all the parts in the following list. Purpose. Identify the organizational problem the report addresses, the tech-nical investigations it summarizes, and the rhetorical purpose (to explain, to recommend). Scope. Identify the topics the report covers. For example, Company XYZ is losing money on its line of radios. Does the report investigate the quality of the radios? The advertising campaign? The cost of manufacturing? The demand for radios? If the report was authorized to examine only advertising, then one cannot fault the report for not considering other factors. Limitations. Limitations make the recommendations less valid or valid only under certain conditions. Limitations usually arise because time or money constraints haven't permitted full research. For example, a campus pizza restaurant considering expanding its menu may not have enough money to take a random sample of students and townspeople. Without a random sample, the writer cannot generalize from the sample to the larger popula-tion. Many recommendations are valid only for a limited time. For example, a store wants to know what kinds of clothing will appeal to college men. The recommendations will remain in force only for a short time: Three years from now, styles and tastes may have changed. Assumptions. Assumptions are statements whose truth you assume and which you use to support your conclusions and recommendations. If they are wrong, the conclusion will be wrong too. For example, recommenda-tions about what cars appeal to drivers ages 18 to 34 would be based on assumptions both about gas prices and about the economy. If gas prices rad-ically rose or fell, the kinds of cars young adults wanted would change. If there were a major recession, people wouldn't be able to buy new cars. Methods. Tell how you chose the people for a survey, focus groups, or inter-views and how, when, and where they were interviewed. Omit Methods if your report is based solely on library and online research. Instead, simply cite your sources in the text and document them in References or Works Cited. See Module 22 for details.

Background or History Even though the current audience for the report probably knows the situation, reports are filed and consulted years later. These later audiences will need the background to understand the options that are possible.


In some cases, the History may cover many years. For example, a report rec-ommending that a U.S. hotel chain open hotels in Vietnam will probably give the history of that country for at least the last hundred years. In other cases, the Background or History is much briefer, covering only a few years or even just the immediate situation.

Conclusions and Recommendation

Conclusions summarize points made in the body of the report; Recommendations are action items that would solve or partially solve the problem. Number the recommendations to make them easy to discuss. If the recommendations will seem difficult or controversial, give a brief rationale after each recommenda-tion. If they'll be easy for the audience to accept, simply list them without com-ments or reasons. The recommendations will also be in the Executive Summary and perhaps in the title and the transmittal.

Summary of Key Points

The Title Page contains the title of the report, whom the report is prepared for, whom it is prepared by, and the release date. The title of a report should contain the recommenda-tion unless The reader will find the recommendations hard to accept.

Putting all the recommendations in the title would make it too long. The report does not offer recommendations. If the report is shorter than 25 pages, list all the head-ings in the Table of Contents. In a long report, pick a level and put all the headings at that level and above in the Contents. Organize the transmittal in this way: Release the report. Summarize your conclusions and recommendations. 3. Mention any points of special interest. Indicate minor problems you encountered in your investiga-tion and show how you surmounted them. Thank people who helped you.

Point out additional research that is necessary, if any. Thank the reader for the opportunity to do the work and offer to answer questions. The Introduction of the report contains a statement of Purpose and Scope. The Purpose statement identifies the organizational problem the report addresses, the technical investigations it summarizes, and the rhetor-ical purpose (to explain, to recommend). The Scope statement identifies the topics the report covers. The Introduction may also include Limitations, problems or factors that limit the validity of the recommendations; Assumptions, statements whose truth you assume, and which you use to prove your final point; and Methods, an explanation of how you gathered your data. A Background or History section is included because reports are filed and may be consulted years later. Conclusions summarize points made in the body of the report; Recommendations are action items that would solve or partially solve the problem.

Assignments for Module 24

Questions for Comprehension

24.1 What parts of the report come from the proposal, with some revision? 24.2 How do you decide whether to write a letter or memo of transmittal?

24.3 How should you organize a transmittal? 24.4 What goes in the Executive Summary?

Questions for Critical Thinking

24.5 How do you decide what headings to use in the body of the report? 24.6 How do you decide how much background to pro-vide in a report? 24.7 How much evidence do you need to provide for each recommendation?


Exercises and Problems

As Your Instructor Directs,

Turn in the following documents for Problems 24.8 through 24.10: The approved proposal

Two copies of the report, including

Cover Title Page Letter or Memo of Transmittal Table of Contents List of Illustrations Executive Summary Body (Introduction, all information, recommen-dations). Your instructor may specify a minimum length, a minimum number or kind of sources, and a minimum number of visuals. References or Works Cited Appendixes, if useful or relevant

c. Your notes and rough drafts.

24.8 Writing a Feasibility Study Write an individual or group report evaluating the feasibility of two or more alternatives. Explain your criteria clearly, evaluate each alternative, and rec-ommend the best course of action. Is it feasible for your school to build additional parking spaces for students? Where should this parking be? How will it be funded? Is it feasible for a local restaurant to offer delivery service to your campus? Will there be an extra charge? Is it feasible for your school to offer free space for student Web pages? Will content be monitored? By whom? Is it feasible for the local transit service to offer free rides to students? With your instructor's permission, choose your own topic.

24.9 Writing a Library Research Report

Write an individual or group library research report.

1. Choosing a Hospital. As part of your job in human resources, you write articles for your company's quarterly newsletter to help employ-ees get the most out of their benefits. Your boss has asked you to research the topic of choosing a good hospital. He shows you an article that says health care is most effective at hospitals that are fully staffed with nurses, but he isn't sure how your company's employees can get data about staffing levels at local hospitals. "See if you can set up some kind of information source," he says. Write a report that recommends how employees can gather information about hos-pitals. If you think the company will need to set up a source of this information, also recommend to your boss a way of doing this. Start with Laura Johannes, "Serious Health Risks Posed by Lack of Nurses," The Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2002, D1, D3.

2. Advertising on the Internet. You work on a team developing a marketing plan to sell high-end sunglasses. Your boss is reluctant to spend money for online advertising because she has heard that the money is mostly wasted. Also, she associates the ads with spam, which she detests. Recommend whether the company should devote some of its advertising budget ton online ads. Include samples of online advertising athat supports your

recommendation. To start, read Heather 2003, 75.

Green, "Online Ads Take Off—Again," Business Week, May 5,

3. Improving Job Interview Questions. Turnover among the sales force has been high, and your boss believes the problem is that your company has been hiring the wrong people. You are part of a team investigating the problem, and your assignment is to evaluate the questions used in job interviews. Human resource personnel use tried-and-true questions like "What is your greatest strength?" and "What is your greatest weakness?" The sales manager has some creative alternatives, such as asking candidates to solve logic puzzles and seeing how they perform under stress by tak-ing frequent phone calls during the interview. You are to evaluate the current interviewing approaches and propose changes where they would improve hiring decisions. Start by reading William Pound-stone, "Beware the Interview Inquisition," Harvard Business Review, May 2003, 18-19. 4. Making College Affordable. The senator you work for is concerned about fast-rising costs of a college education. Students say they cannot afford their tuition bills. Colleges say they are making all the cuts they can without compromising the quality of education. In order to propose a bill that would help make college affordable for those who are qualified to attend, the senator has asked you to research alternatives for easing the problem. Rec-ommend one or two measures the senator could

434 include in a bill for the Senate to vote on. Start with William C. Symonds, "Colleges in Crisis," Business Week, April 28, 2003, 72-79; and Aaron Bernstein, "A British Solution to America's College Tuition Problem?" BusinessWeek, February 9, 2004, 72-73.

5. With your instructor's permission, choose your own topic.

24.10 Writing a Recommendation Report

Write an individual or group recommendation report. Recommending Courses. What skills are in demand in your community? What courses at what levels should the local college offer? Improving Sales and Profits. Recommend ways a small business can increase sales and profits. Focus on one or more of the following: the prod-ucts or services it offers, its advertising, its decor, its location, its accounting

methods, its cash management, or any other aspect that may be keeping the company from achieving its poten-tial. Address your report to the owner of the business. Improving Customer Service. Evaluate the ser-vice in a local store, restaurant, or other organi-zation. Are customers made to feel comfortable? Is workers' communication helpful, friendly, and respectful? Are workers knowledgeable about products and services? Do they sell them effec-tively? Write a report analyzing the quality of service and recommending ways to improve. Evaluating a Potential Employer. What training is available to new employees? How soon is the average entrylevel person promoted? How much travel and weekend work are expected? Is there a "busy season," or is the workload consis-tent year-round? What is the corporate culture? Is the climate nonracist and nonsexist? How strong is the company economically? How is it likely to be affected by current economic, demo-graphic, and political trends? Address your report to a college placement office; recommend whether it should encourage students to work at this company. With your instructor's permission, choose your own topic.

Polishing Your Prose

Improving Paragraphs

Good paragraphs demonstrate unity, detail, and variety.

The following paragraph from a sales letter illustrates these three qualities:

The best reason to consider a Schroen Heat Pump is its low cost. Schroen heat Pumps cost 25% less than the cheapest competitor’s. Moreover, unlike the competition, the Schroen heat Pump will pay for itself in less than a year in energy savings. That’s just 12 months. All of this value comes with a 10-year unlimited warranty—if anything goes wrong, we’ll repair or replace the pump at no cost to you. That means no expensive repair bills and no dollars out of your pocket. A paragraph is unified when all its sentences focus on a single idea. As long as a paragraph is about just one idea, a topic sentence expressing that idea is not required. However, a topic sentence makes it easier for the reader to skim the document. (Essays use a thesis statement for

the central idea of the entire document.) Sentences through-out the paragraph should support the topic sentence or offer relevant examples.

Detail makes your points clearer and more vivid. Use concrete words, especially strong nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs, that say what you mean. Avoid redundancies. Variety is expressed first in sentence length and pat-terns and second in the number of sentences in each para-graph. Most sentences in business writing should be 16 to 20 words, but an occasional longer or very short sentence gives punch to your writing. The basic pattern for sentences is subject/verb/object (SVO): Our building supervisor sent the forms. Vary the SVO pattern by changing the order, using transitions and clauses, and combining sentences.

Also vary paragraph length. First and last paragraphs can be quite short. Body paragraphs will be longer. When-ever a paragraph runs eight typed lines or more, think about dividing it into two paragraphs.

Transitions        





and, also, first, second, third, in addition, likewise, similarly,

        

for example (e.g.), for instance, indeed, to illustrate, namely, specifically, in contrast, then, and on the other hand.


Rewrite the following paragraphs to improve unity, detail, and variety.

1. I spent the last three years as the chief information offi-cer for the Jefferson County Commissioners. My duties as chief information officer included coordinating media relations, producing an employee newsletter, and work-ing with printers and graphic designers. As chief infor-mation officer, I used my writing and speaking abilities every day. I worked with the media on many projects. These included sending out news releases and schedul-ing interviews with the media and the commissioners. I often contacted people on the phone, so I had to speak clearly and effectively. The newsletter required me to write and edit quickly. On the phone, I often had to establish good relationships with constituents and gov-ernment partners. I wrote a column for the newsletter titled "First Word." I wrote about employee accomplish-ments in the newsletter. Printers and graphic designers have their own jargon, so I had to learn to communicate properly with them. I wrote memos, letters, and reports and edited the work of others.

2. Barbara Gillespie-Kim joins our Web Development Department after more than 10 years working with Lerner and Thorpe Associates in San Jose, California. There, she led

several project teams, including those specializing in Web development, market research, and customer relations. Please welcome her aboard. She received her B.A. in English from San Jose State University and her M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from California State University, Los Angeles. She started as a technical writer at Lerner and Thorpe, which is a technology consulting firm specializing in helping companies use the Internet. She graduated summa cum laude from San Jose State and with a perfect GPA from San Jose State University. While at Lerner and Thorpe Associates, Barbara worked closely with clients throughout the west coast, as far away as Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Osaka, Japan. She speaks Korean fluently and, in her words, "just enough Japanese and Indonesian to embar-rass myself!" She specialized in technical writing in her bachelor's program at California State and in a combi-nation of multimedia design, Web page development, and graphic design at San Jose State.

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

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