5.3 Writing reports
Reports are formal documents presenting information based on facts. They are structured as follows:
- The title should be short and informative, e.g. ‘New Product Sales, October–December’.
- In the Introduction, explain why the report has been written and what it covers (and, if appropriate, what it does not). For example, ‘This report has been written at the request of the marketing department and looks at sales of new products between October and December. The report does not cover sales of other products.’
- In the main body, present the information you want to pass on.
- In the Conclusions, summarise what you believe the information shows, e.g. ‘The figures indicate that products promoted online have enjoyed higher sales than products promoted through trade journals.’
- In the Recommendations, make any recommendations for action (based on your conclusions), e.g. ‘This report recommends increasing online promotion of new products.’
- use formal language
- be brief and to the point
- use short paragraphs
- make use of headings, bullet points, numbered lists, charts and graphs where appropriate
- avoid technical jargon if possible
- explain any technical terms that must be used but that readers may not understand.
Report writing tends to focus on ‘what’ not ‘who’. You might say to a colleague:
- ‘I told my supervisor what happened.’
In a report, however, it would be better to write:
- The incident was reported to a supervisor.
Note that in addition to using a passive verb form, other words have been changed without altering the sense.
Active and passive verbs: Many verbs can be active or passive. Take ‘bite’, for example:
The dog bit Ben. (Active)
Ben was bitten by the dog. (Passive)
In the active sentence, the subject (the dog) performs the action. In the passive sentence, the subject (Ben) is on the receiving end of the action.
Here are two more examples.
What you might say:
They all find the machines on the new line difficult to operate.
What you would write:
Operating difficulties are being experienced with the machines on the new line.
What you might say:
No one I spoke to could tell me anything about it.
What you would write:
No information was available.
Here is an example of a paragraph in the active and passive voice:
For my end-of-year project, I prepared a poll of public transport use in my street. I interviewed my neighbours in their homes and created a spreadsheet to record and analyse the data. I completed the project by the due date and achieved a pass.
A poll on public transport use in my street was prepared by me for my end-of-year project. My neighbours were interviewed in their homes and a spreadsheet was created to record and analyse the data. The project was completed by the due date and a pass was achieved.
Activity 33 Focusing on the ‘what’, not the ‘who’
Use the text boxes to rephrase the sentences below to focus attention on the ‘what’, not the ‘who’. The first has been done as an example.
- I told the team what the new arrangements are.
- I’ve had several customers complaining about the new system.
- I found a number of problems with the machine.
- I keep telling the line manager but she has not done anything. No action has been taken although the issue has been reported.
- Everyone agrees the new canteen is a big improvement.
Compare your sentences with the ones below. Examine any differences carefully and note anything you learn from them. Where there are differences, look back at the original sentences and identify the words that tell you what the sentence is about.
- The new arrangements have been explained to the team.
- Complaints about the new system have been received.
- Problems with the machine were experienced.
- The line manager has been informed but no action has yet been taken.
- The new canteen has been welcomed.
Activity 34 Planning a report
Imagine you work for a local college that wants to start a staff award scheme to support recruitment and retention. Your manager has asked you to produce a report for senior management on the available options. You have obtained details of schemes run by other local colleges and employers. You have spoken to some of the managers involved in those schemes and asked them what impact the schemes have had on recruitment and retention of staff, and whether the managers believe the schemes represent good value for money to the organisation.
Two schemes in particular sound promising. One of these schemes would link in with local shops and restaurants. If local businesses were cooperative, this would offer good value. When you contacted local shops and restaurants they expressed interest, but wanted more details.
When you interviewed staff in your own college to find out what they would like, they expressed little interest in the idea of staff awards. Several people, however, said they were sick of the drinks machine breaking down and two others complained that the staff canteen was disgustingly dirty.
Try planning your report, which will describe what you have done and make recommendations. Use the following headings:
Your plan may look something like this.
Title: Staff Award Scheme
- Report on staff award scheme to support recruitment and retention
- Details of other schemes in use locally
- Cost of schemes
- Effect of schemes on recruitment and retention
- Response of own staff to scheme idea
- Two schemes offer good value but staff not enthusiastic about concept of awards.
- Trial scheme involving local shops and restaurants