Creating Reports for Any Occasion
The objectives of this chapter are to
Present these types of reports: formal, informal, letter, memo, online, and
Discuss the legal liability associated with all reports.
Explain the general report requirements, and review the necessity of planning reports and
choosing content, organization, style, and tone that are suitable for your audience, your
message, and your relationship to both in the organizational context.
Explain the importance of the introduction and summary in any report.
In terms of the applications of technical writing, Chapters 13, 14, and 15 are some of the
most important chapters in Reporting Technical Information. If, through your guidance,
students develop confidence in producing reports, consider your semester a success. You can
build your entire course around the types of reports presented in these chapters. For example,
students can write application letters and résumés for a job at a hypothetical technical
research firm. Once hired, they can write a proposal to get that firm to do some technical
research that would result in a recommendation, feasibility, or empirical research (Chapters
14 and 15) report. Along the way, they can write a progress report, inquiry letters, and other
The hard part is implementing these powerful, practical applications in the college classroom.
Few students work in environments where they typically write the samples offered in the
text. However, the exercises at the end of Chapter 14 offer some possibilities, as will the
writing projects discussed here, in Chapter 15, and in the sample assignments found
elsewhere in this manual.
Chapter 13 introduces students to the universal report writing concepts that they should apply
when they write any report, and students should approach the recommendation, feasibility,
and/or empirical reports discussed in Chapters 14 and 15 with the understanding that as this
chapter argues, each report is unique and must be written as a unique response to its context.
This chapter encourages students to think about the reader, purpose, and context of a report
rather than to just try to plug data into a pre-determined report format. This is also an
excellent chapter to use to reinforce previous discussions about the importance of the
The best way to discuss the issues in Chapter 13 is in conjunction with Chapters 14 and 15,
so you may wish to use the workshop activities contained in those chapters rather than try to
use a separate set of activities relating just to this chapter. However, if you want to use some
activities that deal with reports in a general fashion, here are some ideas.
1. Show-and-tell unusual reports. Have students find and bring in unusual reports, that is,
reports that are unconventional in some way (typically this will mean in terms of design,
organization, or tone). Ask the students to present their reports to the class and discuss
what makes them unique and to speculate about why the reports were written as they
were. Most students will go to the World Wide Web to locate reports, so you may want to
suggest that they search government Web sites (either federal or state) and Web sites of
state agencies, such as agriculture extension sites. Many corporate reports, such as
stockholder reports, are also available online. You will want need to be broad-minded
about the types of reports, audiences, and contexts that students may work with. Don’t
limit the students too much or they will become frustrated in their search. If your college
or university is a repository for state or federal documents, students will have no
difficulty locating hard copy reports if they prefer to go this route.
2. Show-and-tell reports written for a variety of audiences. Ask specific groups of
students—either as groups or individually—to locate several reports written for specific
types of audiences. For instance, you might ask four or five students to locate reports
written for the public, ask another group to locate reports written for engineers, and
perhaps have another group locate reports written for farmers/ranchers. Perhaps you
would like to have students locate reports that would be written for audiences relating to
their future professions. Almost anything will do here: the goal is to have students locate
several reports written for a specific type of audience and to compare the approaches the
reports use to communicate with their audiences: Are there similarities? Patterns of
presentation? Similarities in tone and style? Or is there a wide variety with little
You will want to make sure that the students consider the contexts in which the reports
are produced and read; these should have as much impact on the reports as the audiences.
Also ask the students to consider how effective the reports are: not every document
available online or in print is high quality!
1. Complete one of the show-and-tell activities above, but use online reports. In addition
to the questions discussed above, ask students to consider how the reports are structured
for the online environment.
2. Complete textbook Exercise 2.
Rather than assign writing assignments for this chapter per se, you will probably want to
assign one of the projects discussed in Chapter 14 or 15 and have your students apply the
concepts discussed in Chapter 13 as they create their recommendation, feasibility, or
empirical reports. If your students will be creating reports that do not fit neatly into one of
these categories, you will want to stress the importance of the concepts in Chapter 13 as
students design their unique reports.
Students in a distance learning context can also create and submit reports—even lengthy,
complex ones—via the Internet, so you can assign the same type of report assignments in this
context as you would in a traditional classroom.
The Rauch Center: Analytical Reports
The Plain English Campaign: The Plain English Guide to Writing Reports
The University of Toronto, Engineering Communication Centre: Online Handbook
University of Surrey, Guildford: Skills Pilot Project Pack: Communications: Report
Online Technical Writing: Technical Reports
(http://www.io.com/~hcexres/tcm1603/acchtml/techreps.html) and Other Types of
Technical Reports (http://www.io.com/~hcexres/tcm1603/acchtml/otherep.html)
The figures on the following pages may be reproduced as overhead transparencies or simply
shown on a computer. The following set of discussion questions associated with each of the
figures may be used to elicit student reflections on the concepts.
Discussion Questions for Figure 13-1
Why do you suppose such a variety of reports is necessary?
Have you ever written, received, or worked with one of these types of reports? In what
context? How did the report function?
Discussion Questions for Figure 13-2
Have you ever encountered a report that was obviously poorly planned? What were its
What do you think would be the effect if a person, a business, or an organization
routinely produced reports without going through the planning process?
Discussion Question for Figure 13-3
Examine a sample informal report from the RTI Web site and discuss how it incorporates
each of these characteristics. Do these characteristics help you use the report?
Discussion Questions for Figure 13-4
Think about the reports you typically write for college. Do their introductions contain any
of these elements? How might incorporating some of these in your academic reports
Examine the introductions to some of the sample reports on the RTI Web site, and
discuss them in light of these guidelines.
Types of Reports
Letter and Memo
Figure 13-1: Types of Reports
General Report Requirements
Credible reports begin with planning:
Understanding the situation that has led to the
Understanding what you want your readers to
know after they read the report
Understanding their perspective on the
Applying your knowledge of how people read
and process information to the development and
presentation of the message
Choosing content, organization, style, and tone
that are suitable for your audience, the
message, and your relationship to both in the
Figure 13-2: General Report Requirements
Characteristics of a Good Informal
State the subject early (clear title in subject
Begin with the main information
Keep additional paragraphs short
Use design principles to highlight information
Tell readers where to get additional
If you plan to e-mail the report as an
attachment, include critical information on the
first page of the report
Figure 13-3: Characteristics of a Good Informal Report
The Report Introduction
All reports include some type of introduction
The introduction must clearly state the report
subject, purpose, and plan
The introduction may include:
The purpose of the report
The rationale for the report
The scope of the report—what will be
A summary of the main ideas covered in
the main body of the report
Perhaps a combination of the summary
and an introduction
The length of the introduction should depend
on the readers’ needs
A reader may resist the report; then the
introduction must encourage the reader to
consider the content
Figure 13-4: The Report Introduction