Writing Reports with Dr Glen Thomas
The purpose of a report is to provide people with information so they can make decisions and solve
problems. They vary according to purpose, audience and the context. Reports are the dominant
business document, even though research suggests that nobody reads large portions of the reports.
There are three main kinds of report: The Information report, the Analytical report and the
Recommendation. They also exist for record-keeping purposes, but those three are the main
An informational report collects, records and present data to the reader. An example of this would
be a progress report, accident report, sales reports or a conference report.
An Analytical report interprets the significance of data for a reader. An example of this would be
eitheran investigative, an experiment or a research report.
A Recommendation report takes data and recommends actions or a solution. Examples recommend
feasibility studies, justification reports, ethics reports etc.
The way in which the report is organised demonstrates to the reader how the writer’s mind works.
Therefore, you need to make the report as clear as possible. Sloppy organisation = sloppy thinking.
Look for a logic of process, and ask yourself what the reader needs to know, in what order the
reader must know it, and whether or not it flows coherently. While there are many types of report
with their own structural peculiarities, this lecture focuses on the common elements.
Where possible, stick to three levels of headings, as further levels tend to get confusing.
In a report, you need a covering letter, a frontispiece, a table of contents, a summary, an
introduction, , references, and possibly a glossary or an appendix. You also want a method section,
containing the method of obtaining the facts, discussing them, the conclusions and if the report is a
A feasibility study should contain the criteria, the method of obtaining facts, an overview of the
alternatives, the evaluation, the conclusions and the recommendations.
Theoretically, a report should have most of its information in the middle, and the endings should be
the shortest section.
The cover letter should be addressed to the primary recipient of the report. It should identify the
report and formally present the report to the recipient.
A letter of Transmittal purposes should show how the report fulfils the reader’s expectations, how
successful the study was, acknowledges any assistance received, and should give a brief overview of
conclusions and recommendations. You can also show the personal insights gained, but this is not
strictly necessary. It may also mention the special problems the writer encountered, the limitations
of budget and/or time frame. Any other contextual material that the writer feels that the reader
needs. The letter of Transmittal purposes is one of the best chances to make your point. The frontispiece supplies the author of the report, the title of the report, the recipient of the report,
and other information (For example, telephone & fax numbers, e-mail addresses etc).
The table of contents sets out the sections of the report and their respective page numbers. Sections
should be numbered except the summary and the appendices.
A basic report structure will contain the (executive) summary, an introduction, the method and
sources of informa