Reports – how to present?

We would like to clarify here that even in the days of e-mails, SMS, and other means of electronic communications there are certain statutory documents required which have to be presented in a proper form even as an attachment to an e-mail or website. In this article we are giving the guidelines for such documents and in this case they are business or other types of reports.

An introduction provides a better starting point to the reader who is not familiar with the subject of a report though an abstract or summary is often the first important element to read. The main function of the introduction is to say what the report is about, what work has already been done on the subject and what new grounds are covered in the present study. In specific terms of information that may be included in it are the following:

1. Historical and technical background
2. Scope of study, specifying its limitations and qualifications.
3. Methods of collecting data and their sources.
4. Authorization for the report and terms of reference.
5. Definitions of special terms and symbols, if their number is small.

Since the introduction sets the scene and prepares the reader for what is to follow, take utmost care in writing it. The introduction of a report is however different from that of an essay or a popular article in which you are expected to quickly arrest the reader’s attention and gradually lead him on to the subject matter. The introduction to a report states in a forthright manner what you are going to discuss and does not admit of any vagueness.

In the ensuing paragraphs we are discussing or describing the main business of the report. It naturally fills most of the report and contains almost all the illustrations. Usually it has several sections grouped under different headings and sub headings. It is, however, not necessary to use the term ‘Discussion’ or ‘Description’ itself as a heading; other apt words or phrases may serve this purpose better.

The main function of this part is to present data in an organized form, discuss their significance and analysis and the results that flow there from. Sometimes the whole of this process is gone into for each topic or sub-topic and an inference is drawn at the end of each. If the data are too numerous and likely to impede the explanation or discussion, give it in the appendix; in this part refer to them either by means of footnotes or parenthetical statements.

There is no set procedure for writing the discussion. Many report writers see an advantage in using what has been called the ‘backward order’ that is, first stating the results and then describing how they were arrived at. This view is based on the observation of the psychology of the reader who is more interested in knowing what finally happened than in wanting to know how something happened.

Conclusions: The term conclusion is generally used to describe remarks at the end of a piece of writing. The function of such a conclusion is to bring the discussion or description to a close and to signal to the reader gracefully that he reached the end. But as an element of the report, this term refers to the body of logical inferences drawn and the judgments formed on the basis of analysis of data presented in the report or to the findings of the investigation made.

All conclusions must be supported by what has gone before; nothing new should be included at this stage. If their number is large, they may be itemized in descending order of their importance.

In some reports mini-conclusions are drawn at the end of the discussion of each topic or sub-topic. These should now be grouped suitably and presented in this part.

Recommendations: The terms of reference would usually indicate whether recommendations are required In real life situations the report writer will often be asked to investigate a problem, discuss the results and report conclusions. On the basis of these materials action will be recommended by someone else. It is not wise to make recommendations if the report writer has not been asked to do so. Otherwise reader for whom the report is prepared may think that the report writer has assumed the authority which rightly belongs to him.