Writing Effective Short Reports

CHAPTER 14

Writing Effective Short Reports

Philip C. Kolin

University of Southern Mississippi

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Short Reports

A short report is an organized presentation of relevant data on any topic. It may indicate whether:

work is being completed

schedules are being met

costs have been contained

sales projections are being met

trips or conferences have been successful

locations have been selected

unexpected problems have been solved

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Types of Short Reports

Short reports can address a variety of topics in the business world, but the seven most common types of short reports are:

periodic reports

sales reports

progress reports

employee activity/performance reports

trip/travel reports

test reports

incident reports

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Seven Guidelines for
Writing Short Reports

The following guidelines will help you write any short report successfully:

Anticipate how and why an audience will use your report. Consider how much your audience knows about your topic and what types of information they will need most. Three basic audiences for your reports are managers, co-workers and team members, and audiences outside your company (clients, government, community agencies).

Do the necessary research. You may have to verify data in reference manuals, search online archives, compare competitors’ products, and perform other tasks. Take careful notes, collect relevant data, and use an outline to plan the organization of the report.

Be objective and ethical. Avoid guesswork, do not substitute impressions or unsupported personal opinions for careful research, avoid biased/skewed/incomplete data, and double check that your report is relevant, accurate, and reliable.

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Seven Guidelines for
Writing Short Reports (continued)‏

Organize carefully. Include a purpose statement, findings, conclusion, and recommendations.

Write clearly and concisely. Use an informative subject line that gets to the point right away, write in plain English (for global readers use international English), adopt a professional yet personal tone, and balance being concise with providing essential information.

Create a reader-centered design:

Help readers locate and digest information quickly.

Make your report professional, readable, and easy-to-follow.

Be consistent in design and format.

Include only the most essential visuals.

Place visuals in the most appropriate location in the report.

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Seven Guidelines for
Writing Short Reports (continued)‏

Choose the most appropriate format. Depending on your audience, you can send your short report as an email, memo, or letter. For routine reports within the company, you will probably use memo format. When writing to clients or other readers outside of the company, it is nest to send your report as a formal letter.

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Periodic Reports and
Sales Reports

Depending on needs, periodic reports may be daily, weekly, bimonthly, monthly, or quarterly. They help a company or agency keep track of the quantity and quality of the services it provides and the amount and types of work done by employees.

Sales reports fulfill two functions: financial and managerial. As financial records, they list costs per unit, discounts or special reductions, and subtotals and totals. As managerial tools, they help businesses make both short- and long-range plans.

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Progress Reports

Progress reports can be written at any interval (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.) and inform readers about the status of ongoing projects. They are intended for people who are not working alongside you but need to know your activities. They consist of three parts:

Introduction. Indicate why you are writing the report, provide any necessary project titles and codes with dates, and help readers recall the job you are doing for them.

Body. Provide significant details about costs, materials, personnel, and times for the major stages of the project. Also describe any problems that may affect the work in progress.

Conclusion. Give a timetable for the completion of duties or submission of the next progress report.

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Employee Activity/
Performance Reports

Employee activity/performance reports provide employers with details on your specific tasks accomplished and ongoing projects during a specified period. Use these guidelines for writing an activity report:

Use the format dictated by your employer or agency.

Make sure you are honest, objective, and accurate.

Describe your major accomplishments.

Be sure your accomplishments correspond with your job description.

Include training sessions or workshops you attended, licensure/certification updates, committee memberships, and presentations you made.

Stress how your job accomplishments benefited the company, your department, or the community.

Be prepared to verify your activities with relevant documents.

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Trip/Travel Reports

Travel/trip reports may be field trip reports, site inspection reports, home health or social work visits, or sales/customer visit reports. Writing the travel/trip report will be easier and your report will be better if you follow these suggestions:

Before you leave, obtain contact information, do background research, gather necessary documents, bring a laptop or notebook, get directions, list all appointments and job titles of people you will meet, and bring a recording device.

When you return, write the report promptly In the report, detail where all you stayed and for how long, exclude irrelevant details, be objective about, anticipate readers’ questions and double check names and figures.

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Test Reports

Test reports, also called experiment, investigation, laboratory or operations reports, collect and document the results or tests. Test reports must supply the following information:

why you performed the test—an explanation of the reasons, your goals, and who authorized you to perform the test

how you performed the test—under what circumstances and controls you conducted the test, what procedures and equipment you used

what the outcomes were—your conclusions

what implications or recommendations follow from your test—what you learned, discovered, confirmed, or even disproved or rejected

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Incident Reports

Incident reports are submitted after an unexpected negative occurrence in the workplace, such as a fire delivery delay. They must contain identification details, the type of incident, the time and location of the incident, a description of what happened, an indication of what was done after the incident, an explanation of what caused the incident, and recommendations. Because incident reports may be used as official legal records:

Submit your signed report promptly.

Double-check spelling.

Be accurate, objective, and complete.

Give facts, not opinions.

Do not exceed your professional responsibilities.

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Short Reports:
Some Final Thoughts

For successful short reports:

take into account your readers’ needs and expectations

document carefully what you write about

take accurate and complete notes

write objectively and ethically

present complicated data clearly and concisely

provide background and context as needed

include specific recommendations

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