A formal report is usually written to present findings and information to the reader. It presents information in a succinct manner, and should be professionally presented (Canberra, 2011). A good report is well written, organized, and planned. A formal report contains many elements which work to present the report in a professional manner. This paper explores the various elements that compromise of a formal report.
A title page, also be known as a cover page, contains the title of the report which relays the purpose of the report. It should also have details of the person who prepared the report and the details of the person who drafted the report. It also gives the date of the presentation or submission of the report.
Letter of Transmittal
A letter of transmittal is usually the first part of a formal report (Pearson, 2011). This letter is addressed to the person who commissioned or requested the report. It includes a salutation, and states the rationale for the letter. It then explains the findings contained in the report and highlights any significant considerations. The letter must also acknowledge any sources any noteworthy help received in the process of drafting the report. It usually concludes with an expression of gratitude for the opportunity to work on the report.
Table of Contents
The table of contents gives a list of the main headings and subheadings in a hierarchical manner. It displays the general structure of the report, with the corresponding page number of the headings. The Table of Contents assists the reader to navigate through the report and is especially useful if the report is lengthy. The reader can find a topic of interest, find the page on which it is located, and access it with ease. This section is optional and may be omitted in shorter reports.
List of Illustrations
This records all graphical material which is contained in the report like graphs, tables, charts, or figures. In case the report contains figures only, it is called a ‘List of Figures’, while if it contains tables only; it is called a ‘List of Tables’ (Canberra, 2011). This list is usually placed immediately after or together with the Table of Contents.
Abbreviations and/or Glossary
In case the report has utilized some abbreviations, this section lists them alphabetically while writing out what they mean. A glossary is essential if the report contains many technical terms which need to be defined. A glossary may also be placed at the end of the report, depending on the format that the researcher may adopt.
This is a short section which expresses gratitude to the people who assisted in the research and preparation of the report.
Abstract or Executive Summary
This section contains summarized and concise information about the report to enable the person who is quickly scanning through the report to quickly understand what the report is about (Pearson, 2011). It gives the critical findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the report. This section is normally between one hundred and one hundred and fifty words. While this section is independent of the report, (it does not refer to any figures or tables in the report), all information in the report can be found in the abstract, and no data given in the abstract is absent in the report.
The introduction acts as a preparation for the reader to understand the report. It clearly states the objectives of the report, and its significance. In addition, it gives the background upon which the report is structured, and any historical information which plays a role in the report. The introduction also outlines the scope which the report covers, and the manner in which the subject matter will be developed, either chronologically or other suitable means. It also communicates what research methods were employed in the preparation of the report (Canberra, 2011).
The content of the main section depends mainly on the nature of the report. It depends on whether the report is based on primary or secondary research (Pearson, 2011). A report with primary research will include a section titled a ‘Literature Review’. A literature review presents what other authors have written about the subject matter in question and any research findings as well.
The methods section describes the methods used to carry out the research including details of location, sample size, and design of the research. This section is written in past tense. The next section describes the results or findings of the research study. It includes any statistical data retrieved, observations, or discoveries. The next section is the discussion, which relates the findings of the research to the research objectives and problem statements. The discussion should also refer to any inconsistencies, equipment failures, or sources of error that were part of the study. It also compares the study results with those of other values which had been previously published on similar studies. In case unexpected results were realized, this section must give an account of how and why they came about. This section utilizes the present tense so that generalizations can be made (Canberra, 2011).
A report based on secondary research (readings) uses subheadings to organize information on different topics. It requires a thorough analysis and discussion of the sources being used. Secondary research must ensure that credible sources are used to gather information. Examples are scholarly journals, books, online databases, credible websites, and credible news articles.
Conclusion and/ or Recommendations
This section summarizes the critical or significant points of the report. It clearly relates the report objectives to the findings and does not include any information which is new. Recommendations are suggestions of possible solutions and steps to take. The most important conclusion or recommendation is usually listed first, they are written in order of importance. In cases where the conclusions and recommendations of reports are lengthy, they can be separated into two different sections (Pearson, 2011).
References or Bibliography
This section lists in alphabetical order the original sources which were used to compile the report. There are many formatting techniques which can be employed in formatting the references, and consistency must be maintained.
University of Canberra (2011).Report writing. Available at http://www.canberra.edu.au/studyskills/writing/reports
Pearson Education, (2011). Formal reports and proposals. Available at http://www.pearsoned.ca/highered/divisions/virtual_tours/northey/sample_chapter_9.pdf