characteristics of a perfect report

What are the characteristics of an effective report?
An effective report is:

  • appropriate to its purpose and audience;
  • accurate;
  • logical;
  • clear and concise; and
  • well organised with clear section headings.

Report structure
One important advantage that a report has over other written communication is that it follows a standardised format. This enables readers to find and focus on specific pieces of information. Most reports are modelled on the following structure (modified where necessary).

  1. Transmittal document
  2. Title page
  3. Table of contents
  4. Abstract/Executive Summary
  5. Introduction
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Recommendations
  9. Bibliography

Recommended procedure for report writing
The following is a suggestion as to how you might proceed in compiling and presenting a report. There are three stages:

Stage One: Planning

1. Defining the purpose – read the brief carefully
– identify key words
– make sure you know what’s really being asked
2. Defining the audience – determine your audience’s level of understanding
– determine what your audience needs to know
3. Establishing parameters – determine the scope and level of detail required
– determine the length of the report and what can be covered in that length
4. Gathering information – make sure the information you gather is relevant, contemporary and factually correct
– make sure that you transcribe facts and figures correctly

Stage Two: Writing

Write the report in three stages:

1. Writing the body

There are four components of the body of the report: the introduction, the discussion, the conclusion and the recommendations.

The Introduction section: The introduction leads into the main subject matter by giving the necessary background of the report, its aims, premises, scope, limitations, approach intended audience, possible benefits and any instructions that may be useful for the reader. If specialist terms are used in the report, define them clearly.
It puts the discussion in perspective, explains why the report is necessary and gives background information on the subject matter.

The Discussion section: The discussion is the main body of the report. Use headings and sub-headings. It describes, analyses, interprets and evaluates the procedures, data, findings, relationships, visual material, methodology and results in the report. This material should be presented in an order that leads logically towards the conclusions and recommendations.
In writing the discussion section of the body, you should:

  • pitch at appropriate level
  • organise material logically
  • use clear, concise language
  • give concrete examples

The Conclusion Section: Conclusions are drawn from evidence, analysis, interpretation and evaluation presented in the discussion. No new material should be introduced; the conclusions should follow logically from the Discussion. The Conclusions section should give:

  • Conclusions
  • Key points
  • Main findings

The Recommendation section: The Recommendation section (when used – not all reports give recommendations) should present your informed opinions, suggestions, possible actions to be taken, applications and recommendations arising from a rational consideration of the discussion and conclusions.
– Be definite
– Be perceptive
– Be imaginative
– Be rational

2. Writing the abstract/executive summary

Once the body of the report is written, write the abstract. The abstract (also known as the Executive Summary) is a concise summary presentation of the essential elements of the report, from the introduction through to and including the recommendations. It should be independent (can be read on its own), comprehensive (covers all the main points), clear and concise. As a general rule it should be short, only 10-15% of the length of the report, and should be written in full sentences and paragraphs. It should include a summary of the following:
– Purpose
– Scope
– Achievements
– Main points
– Conclusions
– Recommendations

3. Writing the supplementary material

Transmittal document
The transmittal document is not part of the report, but accompanies the report. In letter, memo, or minute form, it personalises the report for a specific reader and calls attention to those items or sections in the report which are of particular interest to that person.

Title page
Identifies the report with the following information:
– Title
– Author’s name, position and qualifications
– Authority for report
– Place of origin
– Date

Table of contents
The table of contents shows the section titles and major headings listed in order of appearance and indicates page locations. Standard page numbering begins with the Introduction. The Abstract or Executive Summary is usually numbered with lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.)

The bibliography lists all publications either cited or referred to in preparing the report. Use the Referencing System recommended by your School.

Stage Three: Formatting, revising and proof-reading

Apply the following “report checklist”

  1. Have I fulfilled the purpose of the report?
  2. Is it written at a level appropriate to its audience?
  3. Are its facts correct?
  4. Is it comprehensive?
  5. Is all the included information relevant?
  6. Are the layout and presentation well thought out?
  7. Is the style clear, concise and professional?
  8. Does the abstract summarise?
  9. Does the introduction adequately introduce the discussion?
  10. Is the discussion organised logically?
  11. Does the conclusions section interpret, analyse and and evaluate?
  12. Are the recommendations reasonable?
  13. Does the table of contents correspond with the actual contents? Are page numbers correct?
  14. Have I acknowledged all sources of information through correct referencing?
  15. Have I checked spelling, grammar and punctuation?
  16. Have I carefully proof-read the final draft
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