Creating a Report: A Guide

As a student, you have myriad experiences of solving numerical based problems. Howsoever, presenting the figures into words requires a level of demanding expertise as your report shall carry a lot of expectation for its stakeholders. So it becomes of immense importance to learn, how to write more effective reports for greater project and career success.

Whether formal or informal, interim or final, your report is an essential part of the problem-solving process. Begin by analyzing your communication situation  and reviewing communication basics, then find out how to structure and format your report as effectively as possible:

  • What elements should my report contain?
  • What is the best way to present those elements?

What elements should your report contain?

Whether you’re writing report for a client when you start working, your mentor at the college, or some other stakeholder, your audience will likely want to know :

  • What will we gain?
  • Are your facts reliable?
  • What do you know that is useful to us?
  • How do you interpret those facts from our point of view?
  • How are those facts significant to us?
  • What do you think we should do?

An effective report will be structured to answer these questions clearly and specifically. Depending on its level of formality, your report structure should include all or some of these elements:

  • Front matter
    This report element includes the title or cover page, letter of transmittal, acknowledgments, table of contents, and lists of figures and tables.
  • Executive summary and abstract
    These report elements provide an overview of what you’ll discuss in the body of the report.
  • Body
    This report element includes the introduction, summary/background, methods/procedures, results, discussion of results, conclusion, and recommendations.
  • Back matter
    This report element includes references, appendices, and attachments.

Front matter refers to the preliminary, supporting components of a report. It appears where you might expect: at the front of the report. You will typically attend to this element last and in conjunction with back matter, after you have written the body and executive summary and abstract.

Your report’s front matter includes:

  • Title or cover page
    Include a title, the name of the person authorizing the report, your name, your company’s name and contact information, and the date you submit the report.
  • Letter of transmittal
    Describe the problem you’re solving for, the purpose of the work you’ve done, the time period for the work, and your results and recommendations.
  • Acknowledgments
    Credit anyone who contributed substantially to the project, and include any permissions for copyrighted materials use.
  • Table of contents
    Provide a guide that includes every report element and the page on which it occurs. Page number front matter with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, etc.); page number the rest of the report with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). You can use Word to automatically generate your table of contents.
  • Lists of figures and tables
    Provide a separate guide, like a secondary table of contents, that includes the name and page location of every figure in your report, and another for tables.

Formal reports include every component listed above; an informal report may only include some of them. In some cases, your company may specify which of these components to use and how.

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