Common Business Reports
Fortunately, most of the same writing techniques apply regardless of the specific function or format a report requires. Many of the simple reports are periodic, or maintenance, reports and are required on a regular basis in most organizations. They are often available as printed forms or computer templates, which the writer simply completes. The reports of greater complexity are usually special, task reports, assigned to solve a specific problem. Such reports usually require at least some research, and the report writer frequently must draw conclusions and make recommendations. Because they are longer and more complex than routine reports, they employ more of the special techniques discussed in Report Forms and Functions.
Memos are used to communicate vertically (from superiors to subordinates and from subordinates to superiors) and horizontally (between personnel of equal rank). They also serve to communicate messages that range from the extremely informal to extremely formal. The majority of memos are brief (no more than one page) and differ from letters in format only, as Sample 3, Sample 7, and Sample 10 illustrate. Some organizations use letter format to convey important, formal information that might otherwise be communicated in memo format, such as the negative message illustrated by Sample 24.
When memos are used to convey complex information, they include the special techniques used by more formal reports, including headings, itemized lists, tables, and graphic aids, as Sample 43 illustrates.
Like other reports, letter reports need to be accurate, reliable, and objective, so they are more factual and tend to be less persuasive than typical business letters. Their objective is to provide information as clearly as possible so that the reader or readers can make an informed decision. Graphs, charts, tables, or drawings may be used to illustrate specific points, as Sample 46 illustrates.
|Note that agenda, a plural word, is usually considered a collective noun, taking a singular article. It may take either a singular or a plural verb.|
An agenda, sometimes called an order of business, is a list of topics arranged in the order they are to be discussed at a meeting. The following order of business is typical of most meetings:
Minutes are the official record of a meeting. The format may vary from organization to organization, but the content and order are standard.
Depending on the organization and the type of meeting, minutes may need to be a complete record of all that took place during the meeting, or the minutes may be a summary, as Sample 47 illustrates.
An itinerary is a combination of travel and appointment schedules. In recent years, travel agents have been providing fairly complete travel itineraries showing both travel and hotels, and most business travelers keep itinerary-type information in a paper-based day-timer or an electronic personal information manager (PIM).
The usual travel itinerary shows when, where, and how a person will travel. It may also include daily appointments and contain helpful reminders of where the individual is to be at certain times, of names of people he or she may encounter in the course of conducting business, andin the case of foreign travelof local customs. The itinerary gives the day, time of departure, name of airport or station, flight number, time of arrival, and hotel names and addresses as can be seen in Sample 48.
Most organizations use forms to help ensure objectivity and thoroughness in the evaluation process. The forms typically define the performance measures as functions of the job duties and provide a rating scale to evaluate an individual's performance. The forms may also provide space for comments by both the manager and the person being evaluated. The concerns expressed in the evaluation forms will vary from organization to organization and specific job functions.
Objectivity and thoroughness may be especially important when an individual's performance is not up to standards or expectations. Substandard personnel evaluations and other written evidence of poor performance may be required to demonstrate justification for dismissal.
Written progress reports typically provide management with the following information:
Progress reports help management track what is going on and determine whether resources are being allocated appropriately to ensure the timely completion of various projects. When research is involved, progress reports frequently contain preliminary findings and tentative conclusions. Formats for progress reports vary a great deal from organization to organization. Some are printed forms (sales reports, for example, are often forms). Progress reports that remain within the organization are typically prepared in memo format, although progress reports on major projects may be prepared as short, formal reports. Progress reports sent to client organizations often use letter-report format.
The content of progress reports will also vary depending on who is going to receive the report and how the information will be used. Progress reports may need to explain and justify delays, other problems, or unusual expenses. Most are arranged chronologically according to (a) what has been done, (b) what is being done, and (3) what will be done. Others may be organized according to topics or areas of concern, although time sequence is usually emphasized within each of the topics. Sample 49 illustrates a typical progress report.
Recommendation reports, more often than justification reports, may be assigned tasks. Whether reader-initiated or writer-initiated, however, a recommendation report employs the following structure:
As is true for all headings, the headings in a recommendation report should be specific rather than general:
Use your headings to specify what problem, facts, assumptions, and recommendations. Use generic headings only when your reader expects to see them.
Justification reports serve essentially the same function as recommendation reports. The problems they attempt to solve, however, are usually financialsolving the problem will result in saving money. Also, unlike recommendation reports, justification reports typically use the following generic headings:
The conclusion of a justification report should show convincingly that the recommendation is justified by the advantages that will be realized.
In spite of their persuasive component, however, proposals should still be accurate, reliable, and objective so that the reader can make an informed decision. Whether based on a request (usually called a request for proposal, or RFP) or submitted without specific solicitation, proposals should be clear about the problem to be solved and the procedures for solving it.
Proposals usually contain the following parts:
Any one of these parts may be omitted or modified depending on how much the reader (or readers) already knows or wants to know. Formal requests for proposals may specify additional details or alter the order of presentation. If you have an RFP, be sure to follow its directions exactly and completely.
Whether requested or volunteered, a proposal typically competes with others for acceptance. Your organization, for example, may submit a proposal to construct a building according to a set of architectural specifications. Other organizations would also submit proposalsor bidsfor the work. In addition to cost, the architects and engineers who would review the proposals would be influenced by their confidence in your ability to do the job, to do it correctly, to do it on time, and to do it for the amount specified. Your proposal needs to show that you can deliver what you promise.
If accepted, your proposal and the acceptance may constitute a contract, so be sure that you actually can meet all the specifications you include.
For these reasons, formal reports include some additional parts to help the reader keep track of the mass of information. Formal reports typically include prefatory parts, a report body, and supplemental parts, arranged in the following order:
In general, the longer the report, the more of these parts it would include. A short formal report (fewer than ten pages) would probably include only a title page, letter of transmittal, abstract, and bibliography in addition to the body.
The prefatory parts function to protect the report and to orient the reader to the report itself. Each of the parts has a specific function:
If the report contains several charts, tables, and illustrations, a separate list may be made for each of them. These pages would be called Figures, Tables, and so forth.
A descriptive abstract describes the contents of the report; it tells the reader what is there. A summarizing abstract relates the information contained in the form in reduced form; it shows the reader what the report contains. Because summarizing abstracts are generally more useful, they are more common than descriptive abstracts, as the sample abstract illustrates.
For more information on abstracts and summaries, see the material on summaries in the section on Special Considerations in The Form and Function of Business Reports.
Body of the Report
The body of the report generally consists of an introduction, the text (including explanations, methodology, and findings), a summary, conclusions, and recommendations:
The most common supplemental parts are the appendix and the bibliography.