7.3: Reports

Learning Objectives

Target icon1. Plan, write, revise, and edit short documents and messages that are organized, complete, and tailored to specific audiences.

4. Identify the parts of effective reports.

A vital part of any business or organization, reports document specific information for specific audiences, goals, or functions. The type of report is often identified by its primary purpose or function, as in an accident report, a laboratory report, a sales report, or even a book report. Reports are often analytical but sometimes just “report the facts” with no analysis at all. Other reports summarize past events, present current data, and forecast future trends. While a report may have conclusions, propositions, or even calls to action, presenting analysis is the primary function. A sales report, for example, is not designed to make an individual sale. It is, however, supposed to report sales to date and may forecast future sales based on previous trends (Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.4).

Report Topics

Before delving into reports in detail, however, let’s review the advantages, disadvantages, and occasions for writing them as given earlier in Table 2.3 on channel selection.

Table 2.3 Excerpt: Letter Pros, Cons, and Proper Use

Channel Advantages Disadvantages Expectations Appropriate Use
  • Allows presentation of a high volume of information presenting research and analysis
  • Can take various forms such a document booklet or proposal for reading alone or PowerPoint for presenting
  • Time-consuming to write with proper research documentation and visual content, as well as to prepare for (presentations)
  • Time-consuming for the busy professional to read or an audience to take in
  • Presentations can bore audiences if not engaging
  • Follow conventions for organizing information according to the size of the report, audience, and purpose
  • Augment with visuals (figures)
  • For providing thorough business intelligence on topics important to an organization’s operation
  • For internal or external audiences
  • For persuading audiences with well-developed arguments (e.g., recommendation reports)

7.3.1: Types of Reports: Informational and Analytical

Reports come in all shapes and sizes—from a couple of soft-copy pages shared electronically to a book-sized binder. The type of report depends on its function as expressed in the thesis or purpose statement. The function also influences the writing style and other elements such as visual content (figures) and presentation of numerical values. Reports also vary by style and tradition. Regardless of their specific function or type, however, there are two main categories of reports: informational and analytical.

An informational report informs or instructs and presents details of events, activities, individuals, or conditions without analysis. An example of this type of “just the facts” report is a police accident report. The report will note the time, date, place, contributing factors like weather, and identification information for the drivers involved in an automobile accident. It does not establish fault or include judgmental statements. You should not see “Driver was falling down drunk” in a police accident report. Instead, you would see “Driver failed sobriety tests and breathalyzer test and was transported to the station for a blood sample.” The police officer is not a trained medical doctor licensed to make definitive diagnoses but can collect and present relevant information that may contribute to a diagnosis.

On the other hand, an analytical report presents information with a comprehensive analysis to solve problems, demonstrate relationships, or make recommendations. For instance, a field report by a Public Health Agency of Canada physician from the site of an outbreak of the H1N1 virus will note symptoms, disease progression, and steps taken to arrest the spread of the disease. It will ultimately make recommendations on the treatment and quarantine of subjects. Table 9.3 below includes common reports that, depending on the audience needs, may be informational or analytical (Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.4).

Table 7.3.1: Report Types and Their Functions

Report Type Function
1. Lab Communicates the procedures and results of laboratory activities
2. Research Studies problems scientifically by developing hypotheses, collecting data, analyzing data, and indicating findings or conclusions
3. Field Study Describes one-time events, such as trips, conferences, seminars, as well as reports from branch offices, industrial and manufacturing plants
4. Incident or accident Describes events such as accidents or altercations in the workplace to officially document them for legal and insurance purposes
5. Progress Monitors and controls production, sales, shipping, service, or related business processes
6. Technical Explains processes and products from a technical perspective
7. Financial Analyzes status and trends from a finance perspective
8. Case Study Represents, analyzes, and presents lessons learned from a specific case or example
9. Needs Assessment Assesses the need for a service, product, project, program, or initiative
10. Comparative Advantage Discusses competing products or services with an analysis of relative advantages and disadvantages
11. Feasibility Analyzes problems and predicts whether current solutions or alternatives will be practical, advisable, or produce the desired outcome(s)
12. Instructional Explains step-by-step instructions on the use of a product or service
13. Compliance Documents and indicates the extent to which a product or service is within established compliance parameters or standards
14. Cost-benefit Analysis Analyzes the costs and benefits of products or services, including return-on-investment considerations
15. Recommendation Makes recommendations to management and serves as a tool to solve problems and make executive decisions
16. Benchmark Establishes criteria and evaluates alternatives by measuring against the establish benchmark criteria
17. Examination Reports or records data obtained from an examination of an item or conditions, including accidents and natural disasters
18. Physical Description Describes the physical characteristics of a machine, a device, or object
19. Literature Summarizes information available on a given topic
20. Book Summarizes a novel or other type of book, usually as an academic exercise in secondary school or college arts program

(Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.4)

Return to the Report Topics menu

7.3.2: Report Organization

Because reports vary by size, format, and function, writing them involves adjusting to the needs of the audience while respecting conventions and guidelines. Reports are typically organized around six key elements, the 5Ws + H:

  1. Whom the report is about and/or prepared for
  2. What was done, what problems were addressed, and the results, including conclusions and/or recommendations
  3. Where the subject studied occurred
  4. When the subject studied occurred
  5. Why the report was written (function), including under what authority, for what reason, or by whose request
  6. How the subject operated, functioned, or was used

Pay attention to these essential elements when you consider your stakeholders, or those who have an interest in the report. That may include the person(s) the report is about, whom it is for, and the larger audience of the business, organization, or industry. Ask yourself who are the key decision makers reading the report, who the experts or technicians will be, and how executives and workers may interpret your words and images. While there is no universal format for a report, there is a common order to the information. Each element supports the main purpose or function in its own way, playing an important role in the representation and transmission of information (Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.4).

Table 7.3.3: Common Report Elements

Page Element Function Example
1. Outside Letter of Transmittal Optional cover letter that addresses the report’s intended recipients and introduces it See How to Write a Transmittal or Cover Letter (Techwriter, 2010)
2. Cover Title and image Gives the reader and immediate sense of what the report is all about See Papers and Reports templates (Microsoft Office, 2014)
3. Title fly Title only Optional Feasibility Study of Oil Recovery from the X Tarpit Sands Location
4. Title page Label, report, features title, author, affiliation, date, and sometimes for whom the report was prepared Feasibility Study of Oil Recovery from the X Tarpit Sands Location Peak Oilman, X Energy Corporation Prepared for X
5. Table of Contents A list of the main parts of the report and their respective page numbers Orients the reader around the scope of the report and helps them find specific information Abstract…………….1
6. Abstract or Executive Summary
  • Informational abstract: highlight topic, methods, data, and results
  • Descriptive abstract: (All of the above without statements of conclusion or recommendations)
Enables the reader to get a sense of the entire report at a glance to make quick decisions based on the findings This report presents the current status of the X tarpit sands, the study of oil recoverability, and the findings of the study with specific recommendations.
7. Introduction Introduces the topic of the report Establishes the context in which the report topic makes sense Oil sands recovery processes include ways to extract and separate the bitumen from the clay, sand, and water that make up the tar sands. This study analyzes the feasibility of extraction and separation, including a comprehensive cost/benefits analysis, with specific recommendations.
8. Body Key elements of body include:
  • Background
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Analysis and Recommendations
Provides a detailed presentation of evidence
  • Background: History of oil extraction and separation from tarpit sands
  • Methodology: Specific analysis of the site based on accepted research methods
  • Results: Data from the feasibility study
  • Analysis and Recommendations: Analysis of the data and recommendations based on that analysis
9. Conclusion Concise presentation of findings Presents the main results and their relation to recommended actions or outcomes
10. References Bibliography or Works Cited List of source references cited throughout
11. Appendix Related supporting materials May include maps, analysis of soil samples, and field reports

The following is a 14-point checklist for helping to ensure that a report fulfills its goals:

◻  1. Report considers the audience’s needs

◻  2. Format follows function of report

◻  3. Format reflects institutional conventions and expectations

◻  4. Information is accurate, complete, and documented

◻  5. Information is easy to read

◻  6. Terms are clearly defined

◻  7. Figures, tables, and graphic elements support written content

◻  8. Figures, tables, and graphic elements are clear and correctly labeled

◻  9. Figures, tables, and graphic elements are easily understood without text support

◻  10. Words are easy to read (font, arrangement, organization)

◻  11. Results are clear and concise

◻  12. Recommendations are reasonable and well-supported

◻  13. Report represents your best effort

◻  14. Report speaks for itself without your clarification or explanation

(Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.4)

Return to the Report Topics menu

For more on reports, see the following resources:


Key Takeaway

key iconInformational and analytical reports require a clear purpose, solid organization, and adherence to conventions.


1. Find an annual report for a business you would like to learn more about. Write a review for it and share it with classmates.

2. Write a report on a trend in business that you’ve observed. For example, write a report recommending open textbooks as a solution to the rising cost of traditional textbooks being a significant issue for students.


Cember, E., Heavilon, A., Seip, M., Shi, L., & Brizee, A. (2018, March 23). Handbook on report formats. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/726/1/

Driscoll, D. L. (2013, March 12). Writing report abstracts. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/656/1/

Purdue OWL. (2010, April 29). Reports, proposals, and technical papers [PowerPoint File]. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/656/02/

Microsoft Office. (2014, December 14). Papers and Reports. Templates. Retrieved from https://templates.office.com/en-us/Papers-and-Reports

Techwriter. (2010, September 24). How to write a transmittal or cover letter. Technical Communication Centre. Retrieved from https://www.technicalcommunicationcenter.com/2010/09/24/how-to-write-a-transmittal-or-cover-letter/


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7.3: Reports Copyright © 2019 by Jordan Smith; Melissa Ashman; eCampusOntario; Brian Dunphy; and Andrew Stracuzzi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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