Reports vary by function, style, and tradition. Within your organization, you may need to address specific expectations. This section discusses reports in general terms, focusing on common elements and points of distinction. Reference to similar documents at your workplace may serve you well as you prepare your own report. While there are many types of reports, we will examine just a few, as shown in Table 9.2.1.
Table 9.2.1. Types of Reports
|Report type||Purpose/ Description|
|Progress report||Monitor and control production, sales, shipping, service, or related business process.|
|Recommendation report||Make recommendations to management and provide tools to solve problems or make decisions.|
|Summary report||Present summaries of the information available on a given subject.|
|Research Report Proposal
||Get approval to spend time preparing a research report on a topic responding to an identified need of the organization.|
A progress report is used to give management an update on the status of a project. It is generated at timed intervals (for example, once a month) or on completion of key stages. It records accomplishments to date and identifies any challenges or concerns. It is usually written by the project lead and is one to two pages long.
When you write a progress report, begin by stating why you are writing the report:
- Identify what you’ve accomplished
- List any problems you have encountered
- Outline what work still remains
- Conclude by providing an overview of the project’s status and what should be done next.
It’s helpful to think about a report not just in terms of what should be included, but why certain elements are included. Most reports have a persuasive element, so when reporting your progress you are trying to:
- Demonstrate that you have taken appropriate, competent action so far.
- Assure readers that they can trust you to finish the remainder of the work effectively and that your plan remains a good one.
- Convince the reader that the project has been successful so far.
- If the project hasn’t been successful, then you will want to explain why and suggest ways to improve. Never downplay or lie about challenges you are experiencing. Not only will this damage your reputation when the truth comes out, but you’ll also be defeating the purpose of the progress report: which is to evaluate the project and address issues as they happen.
Having a clear strategy will help you organize and write your progress report.
A recommendation report is used to help management make decisions. The goal of this report is to identify a solution to a problem or suggest a course of action. In it, the writer might suggest that a procedure be adopted or rejected, assess an unsatisfactory situation, or persuade decision makers to make a change that will benefit the organization. For example, the report might suggest ways to enhance the quality of a product, increase profit, reduce cost, or improve workplace conditions. The intention of a recommendation report is not to assign blame or be overly critical but to suggest improvements in a positive manner.
Most recommendation reports try to demonstrate one or more of the following:
- That a problem or opportunity exists and the organization should take it seriously. Why should your organization devote its resources to this issue? Why now?
- That you have done the necessary research and have the expertise to solve the problem.
- That your research and expertise has led you to the best of all possible solutions.
- That your solution offers benefits to the company and has minimal risks. If there are risks, you are aware of them and have a plan to mitigate them.
The importance and expense of what you’re recommending will dictate the form, amount of detail, length and use of visual aids like charts and graphs. It will also dictate how you lay out your argument.
As you craft a persuasive strategy for your recommendation report, let’s take a look at the example of an argument.
To: Ralph Niblet, CEO
From: Hannah Vuong, Communications Manager
Subject: Migrating to MailChimp
Date: Sept. 1st, 2021
Last week, you asked me to research whether we should switch our email marketing software from Constant Contact to MailChimp. I think that we should go with MailChimp for the following reasons:
- MailChimp is free for a business of our size, while Constant Contact costs us $57 a month.
- MailChimp integrates with Salesforce and would allow us to use our database more effectively. I spoke to Sam Cho, who currently administers our Salesforce account, and he shared many exciting ways that we could integrate the two platforms without much effort. He also offered to host a webinar to train our staff.
- MailChimp allows us to segment audiences more effectively. I’ve included some links to a few blog posts that illustrate what we could do. A lot of our current unsubscribes happen because we can’t target emails to specific groups of customers effectively. Our email marketing report from last quarter showed that 70% unsubscribed because of emails that were “not relevant.”
Some colleagues have voiced the objection that they already know how to use Constant Contact and they find MailChimp less intuitive. We will also have to migrate our existing data and clean it. I believe, however, that these barriers can easily be overcome with employee training and good data migration practices.
I am happy to show you a demo of MailChimp this week if you are free.
If Hannah wanted to turn this email into a report, she would likely find that the major elements are there. She’s done some research, she has used that research to come up with a solution, and she’s anticipated some potential risks or downsides to her plan. As you read about the parts of the report, think about how Hannah might turn her email into a longer, formal recommendation report.
A summary report is used to give management information. For example, if you work in the marketing department, your boss might ask you to find out about your competitors’ online activities so that your company can effectively compete with them. To do this, you would research your competitors’ websites, social media profiles, digital advertising campaigns, and so on. You would then distill what you find down to the key points so that your boss can get the essential information in a short time and then decide how to act on it. Unlike the recommendation report, the summary report focuses on the facts, leaving it to management to decide on a course of action.
In general, the main persuasive point that you are making in summary reports is that you have done enough research and have used appropriate sources, and that you have organized this information in a logical and useful manner. Because summary reports give a general overview, it’s important to think about how your reader can skim through the document. Remember: your goal is to save your audience time, so part of the challenge of the report is determining what information your audience needs, and what is irrelevant. You will also have to condense material.
Research Report Proposals
A research report proposal is a short report asking for management approval to spend time writing a research report in response to a specific company need. (It could be a need everyone is aware of or one you yourself have identified.) In writing your proposal, you would have to convince your audience that writing the full report would be worthwhile and that you are the best person to write it.
Obviously, to convince your audience that writing the full report would be worthwhile, you’d have to be clear concerning what specific issue you will approach and what exactly you will provide.
- For which specific problem would the research project offer a solution? Why is it essential to deal with that problem right away? Would your ideas eliminate or reduce the problem?
- What exactly will you provide? (A short report? A long report? A short-term solution? A long-term solution? A way to limit losses? A way to increase profits? A new policy or strategy? Etc.)
Next, you will have to convince your audience that you can deliver what you promise. Do you have the authority, credentials, knowledge, problem-solving skills, etc. to offer a viable solution?
Finally, you’d be expected to provide a timeline (specify how long the completion of the report will take). If you are not an employee of the company and are pitching a research report proposal as an independent consultant, you would also have to clarify how much you will charge.
Your research report proposal should include the following sections:
- Introductory paragraph: no heading, brief presentation of the topic and purpose of the document (a few sentences)
- Problem/ opportunity statement: short description of the problem that needs to be solved/ the opportunity available. Make sure you explain the importance of that problem/ opportunity (avoiding risks, making profits, etc.)
- Topic(s) to investigate: list any specific questions the report will answer (for complex questions, you might want to list “sub-questions,” too)
- Methods: specify what research methods you will use, what types of sources you will use for your findings, how you plan to analyze those findings (your criteria), and how you plan to select the best course of action. Note: At work, you may be able to do primary research in preparation for your report (interviews, surveys, etc.). You won’t have the time to do anything of that nature in our course — you have a few weeks to prepare both the proposal and the report. For this reason, you’ll have to do secondary research only (use information from published paper/ online sources). Make sure you keep this in mind as you select your topic and write your research report proposal for our class.
- Qualifications/ facilities/ resources: provide some details concerning your qualifications (degrees, certifications, work experience, etc.) to prove that you have the knowledge needed to write the report; mention if you have access to relevant sources of information, and how.
- Work schedule: this part can take the form of a table with tasks (steps), brief explanations, and time frames (time required and completion date). Here are some examples of tasks: gathering information; analyzing information; organizing information; drafting the report; revising the draft; preparing visuals; editing the draft; proofreading the report. You can group related tasks together in your table.
Don’t be vague in any of the sections. Your reader should have a clear, specific idea of what your report will provide by the time he/she finishes reading the research report proposal. Otherwise, your proposal won’t be accepted.