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Readings on the “informal report:” these to get us started and share your suggestions

by Steve Krause on October 21st, 2014

This is where we’ll talk about some readings on the “informal report:”

I only have a couple of readings here because the definition of “informal report” for our purposes is quite broad and maybe it’s best defined by what it’s not, which is a formal report (that’s the last assignment for the term!). Informal reports can include lots of different kinds of reports that people write in professional settings: lab reports, progress reports, incident reports (a “police report” is an example of what I mean here), summaries of events, and a lot of writing textbooks call memos a formal of informal report. So very broadly, informal reports are:

  • Short (a page or two);
  • Organized with headings and bullets and the like to make them easy to read;
  • Objective in the sense that they aren’t “editorials,” though these kinds of reports often include some kind of recommendation (like the one you’re writing); and
  • Based on evidence in the sense that they aren’t “stories” or wishes based on no or little evidence.

Perhaps a better title for this assignment would be something along the lines of “observational report” or “event report.”  My goal here is I want you to go to attend some sort of event you wouldn’t normally attend, take notes, report back on what happened at that event objectively, and make some sort of assessment of that event– a review, if you will. I want you to do this for two basic reasons. First, I want you to have kind of a “warm up” assignment before we get into the more formal report at the end of the term. And second, I want to encourage (require?) you to attend events going on at EMU that are not tied directly to our class.

I think the assignment lays out what I’m asking for here fairly clearly, so review that first.  Remember: you need to go to an EMU event, or, if that’s not possible, let me know what you suggest instead!

So, what kinds of events are folks planning to attend for this assignment?

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  1. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    The most important element of report-writing seems to be organization. Both readings discuss the importance of grouping and organizing information under headings so readers can locate the information needed as quickly as possible.

    I particularly liked the second reading because it provided prompt questions for writers to ask themselves when composing an informal report. I think that will help us a lot as we begin our drafts.

    • Leah permalink

      I also agree, organization does play a huge role when writing a report, obviously, so that it has a steady flow and clear points. The second reading answered all of my questions and gave thorough information due to the prompt questions as well.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I agree as well. I thought that the second link was very helpful for format.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      Organization is definitely a key part, but I think knowing your audience is just as important. You won’t even know which report you need until you figure out who will be reading it.

      • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

        When you know your audience too you will know how to phrase your wording better. The audience could also determine whether or not it is a formal or informal report.

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        Some times there is just a broad audience. By putting down just the events that happened tells everyone the exact same thing. Simple, nice and neat reporting is what we use to call this. Nothing fancy or added to the story. Just the facts.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      The first one didn’t seem too useful, but then again I learn by example. The second is one I’ll definitely take another look at when I’m writing the report, since it outlines the format to use. Purdue OWL’s a pretty good source overall.

  2. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    Also, the first link didn’t work for me. I found the article through Google. This is the link I used:

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      Thanks for the article link, it wouldn’t work for me either. I actually preferred the second article myself to. I think both articles just kind of tell the basics such as being organized, clear headings, to put the most important information first and to be brief/only give an update.

  3. Nijea Wilson permalink

    The first link wouldn’t open for me and kept saying page not found. I followed the link that Natasha put up. This article just summed up to make sure you know you’re audience, be sure to know what you’re trying to update everyone about and organization.

    The second article “Informal Lab Reports, Short Memo, or Letter Reports” listed some key elements in organizing an informal report. I noticed that there was a big emphasis on putting the most important words at the beginning on the introductory statement, results and conclusion. Also when formatting your work it is best to be brief, use headings and to mark your key points so that the reader can quickly find what they need.

    I personally felt that the second article made my understand the topic a little bit better then the first.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree about the emphasis on putting important information at the beginning. It’s very similar to normal essay writing–a reader should be able to skim each topic sentence and gain a general understanding of what is being communicated. This is so important since people in the business world are always so busy, and don’t have time (or the desire) to read lengthy passages of text.

  4. Steve Krause permalink

    Sorry about that link– I thought I had fixed that before. It should work now though.

  5. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    Based on the directions that Professor Krause has presented for this project as well as suggestions given in the reading, I realize that format of these informal essays is every important. Being able to use headings is such a wonderful gift. I believe that they not only help guide the readers through the piece but they also help me properly format my ideas.

    Also, the readings reminded of the fact that the informal reports should be short and to the point. As a stated in a previous post, I have a hard time keeping my pieces succinct instead of wordy. I think it will be interesting for me to briefly summarize the even that I will be attending since I am sure I will have a lot to say about it.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I understand the struggle of keeping writing concise. I have a literature background, so I’m all about that flowery description lifestyle. The first time I had to write short reports like this for class, it took me several revisions to weed out all the extra stuff I didn’t really need.

      Now that I’ve started to get the hang of it, it is almost easier to write reports like this. All we have to do is just say what we need to say and move on. It’s less personal in some ways, but it’s functional. (Not to say that we completely ignore the relationship with our readers… but still).

      • Kourtney Lovett permalink

        I can completely understand where you’re coming from. I believe that with the help of wonderful suggestions from great peer reviewers like yourself, I have a least slightly improved in this area. Thanks!

      • Chelsea Idzior permalink

        I struggle to keep writing concise as well, but can do it when I need to. In creative writing and essayistic writing, I will over describe and ramble on. However, I can usually switch into journalism mode (I am a journalism major) when I need to and write in a more concise fashion. The more I have to write concisely, the better I get at it. Like anything, it takes practice.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        It is a relief to get away from academic writing and into more something more functional. I agree with Chelsea about it taking practice to get better. It’s starting to get easier but I still sometimes slip into old habits.

        • Carly permalink

          After reading these and figuring out the formats, I kind of wonder why more academic writing isn’t like this? I’ve done an ethnography before… what is this really but a shorter version of that? It seems to me that lots of classes could require informal reports in the place of many essays, just to give us some real world connection.

          I agree that writing concise is difficult though. School generally doesn’t teach you how to write small, but encourages that bigger is better (as long as it isn’t rambling.) I think more classes could take 323’s lead.

          • Jessica Kane permalink

            Agreed. This is a much more efficient way of conveying information.

          • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

            I find it fascinating that we are required to write so often for classes in an effort to build writing skills for the work force. Yet, the type of writing that is done in the professional world is opposite to academic writing in almost every aspect. It would make much more sense for students to do professional writing assignments in their classes as well.

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        I usually have the opposite problem. I just write down the plain simple facts and go from there. I have a problem with jazzing up my articles. I guess that’s why I it takes me longer to edit and revamp my papers.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I believe that I have the opposite problem. I tend to always stay straight to the point and never write enough. So I hope this assignment will be a little better for me.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        I struggle with this sometimes, too. And being straight to the point can sometimes be misconstrued as curt or rude, which usually isn’t the intent of the writer. It’s tricky.

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        I have the same problem too 🙂 I guess that’s why I have to tell myself “patience is a virtue (hope that’s spelled right)” because I want to get to the end. Then afterwards I realize that I missed getting there and that it wasn’t all that bad on the way

      • Brian Gardner permalink

        Same here, I usually write too quickly to the point for business writings (especially for trying to connect with consumers). It’s a huge matter of preference, though, and especially with assignments like the rejection letter or email assignment, the best approach to take is “can’t be too careful”.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      The title “informal report” seems misleading, obviously it follows a pretty specific format, and I wouldn’t really consider memos as informal. Maybe it’s a bit more so than other instances.

  6. Leah permalink

    Being that I am a Speech Pathologist Major, I’ve once written an IPE (Individual Education Plan) for a student diagnosed with Autism. I am guessing that this is a form of an “informal report”. IEP’s are required for children who receive special education in school settings. The child’s guardians and teacher’s meet weekly to discuss his or her educational outcome improvements or decreases of improvements, due to their disability. This is an actual write up that the teacher would give to the students guardians to work over specific takes to better their education at home. When reading the second suggestion of an informal report I see that if I chose to write an IEP it would fall under the category of Academic Settings.

    Both of theses reading suggestions were useful and I cant wait to get started with this assignment.

    • Leah permalink


    • Steve Krause permalink

      I think that’s a pretty good example, Leah. In the past, this was a class that was required by special ed majors, and one of the things I learned in working with those students is a lot of the work special ed teachers end up doing is a lot of short/informal reports like this.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I was actually majoring in Speech Pathology for a little while but I ended up like my minor more which was Human Nutrition. That is definitely a good example. Its like a brief summary of whats going on with the child. Dealing with something as important as Autism, its important for the childrens guardians to have an organized and clear update of whats happening.

    • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

      I appreciate you sharing that with us. I was trying to think of something that would fall under that category. That is a nice way for the parents to evaluate and better help their child’s education.

  7. Kristen Smith permalink

    Both of these readings stress organization (as others have said) as well as the broad range of topics and reasons informal reports can be written. Although I didn’t realize it at the time I wrote them, reading these two pieces made me realize I have written informal reports throughout my education. I have had to evaluate my own work as well as the work of peers in an informal report style. Another key thing I picked up on from both of these articles is the importance of making the informal report something that addresses a specific topic and does so in a condensed manner. I have a tendency to be long winded and over-describe things, so this factor is something I will have to keep in mind while writing my report.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I think it’s interesting that we’ve probably all written some form of a short, informal report before. We probably just never thought about that writing task as a report.

      I also like that these reports are so focused. The problem/situation is so focused that it helps writers keep their text clear and concise.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        Good point. I start out large papers in an informal report style by listing just the points and a few bits of descriptive information then expand from there. This perspective helps prepare me for this assignment a little more.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I also tend to be long-winded in my writing. I am hoping that being a journalism major will help me with this assignment. The informal reports on events sound pretty similar to how a reporter might go about doing a news story on an event.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I was thinking of a journalism class I had years ago when I had read about putting all of the important information first. Since it has been such a long time, I was going to ask about whether it is similar or whether I was thinking of something else . Thanks for the confirmation!

  8. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    I would like to attend the Storytellers Lounge on campus for this assignment. It said in the “Writing a Short/Informal Report” reading that “Sometimes, however, as in the case of meeting minutes or travel reports, a report is simply a description of what happened.” Therefore, I think that this event should work for this assignment. I am actually excited for this, as I have been wanting to go to Storytellers Lounge, but never make time for it and this assignment will force me to do so.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      That sounds like something like The Moth or a TED talk. Should be fun; enjoy!

    • Carly permalink

      I think I may also attend that. I’ve never had a reason to go to any events on campus before, but I love connecting with people through their life experiences and seeing what they’re all about. To have an event built around that just sounds like fun to me.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I’ve always wanted to go to the Storyteller’s Lounge. I’ve heard very positive reviews, so I look forward to reading your description! The other night, I attended the Rainbow Variety Show, and I thought about writing my informal report about that event.

    • Kristen Smith permalink

      I am considering attending the Storytellers Lounge as well! As you stated, I think writing the informal report based on this event would be interesting and the event is something that is interesting to me in general. Events like this are very interesting to me and it’s always so intriguing to hear other’s stories.

  9. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    I like how straight to the point Pearson’s article is. It gives me exactly what I need to know, without all the fluff. In a way, the article itself is an informal report. Giving facts to a small group of people.

    Purdue was a bit more extensive, but that’s understandable because it goes over more than just an informal report. Heck, LAB REPORTS are being described. Those are very specific, and contain a lot of info. I’m glad Professor Krause isn’t asking for one of those.

    But, really, I think reports really come down to audience. You have to know who’s going to see your report to know which one you’ll be writing. And isn’t that the case with anything you write?

    Today, I will be attending the event:

    Writers in Conversation: Robert Glück and Miranda Mellis.

    I got lucky enough to be going with a class already, so I didn’t have to fit the event into my schedule. Yay!

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I always love when I am able to double-dip on event attendance for different classes. I look forward to hearing about the event! 🙂

    • Kristen Smith permalink

      I agree with you on the Pearson article. I liked that it was straight to the point and laid out the way to write an informal report in a quick, easy way. Since I have never actually learned about informal reports, having the information presented in this way was great.

  10. Melanie Waller permalink

    I enjoyed reading the two different readings. They reminded me of how I used to do things way, way back in my life. I was the secretary of different clubs in school and always had to report the events of meetings and specials put on by the clubs. We didn’t elaborate much, usually just wrote down exactly what happened and that was it. This report seems to be a lot like that, only I can spice it up some.

  11. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    I know exactly what you mean about reporting as a secretary. I currently take meeting minutes for my sorority, and it is very much just a documentation of what was said and decided. I never thought about my meeting minutes as an informal report, but I suppose they are. Great observation!

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I think that’s right, and the connection there is that in the minutes, you don’t make judgements or opinion observations. In other words, “Smith moved that we table the motion” rather than “That idiot John Smith didn’t want to talk about it so suggested we table the motion.”

      The difference with this assignment is in the end– the last part of the report, probably– you want to make some kind of recommendation/evaluation about the event that you are writing about.

  12. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    I like how both pieces get to the point and not spend too much time on explanations. Sometimes, when reading through a how-to article, I feel as though some people get off track and start to ramble (which I am guilty of doing all the time) and then the piece gets boring and I end up not reading until the end. These however, as simple and easy to follow/get through and help me better understand the task at hand.

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