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Talking about readings for “formal reports”

by Steve Krause on November 2nd, 2014

First off, here is a Prezi presentation on different kinds of reports that I think is handy resource which compares the different kinds of reports we’ve been talking about this term. I think it’s worth looking through to get started.

Second, take a look at “Report Design” from David A. McMurrey, which is his part of his online textbook where he explains/exemplifies formal reports. Not unlike informal reports, the specific definition/parts of the report vary, of course. I think McMurrey lays out the parts fairly clearly (which is why I’d like everyone to read this over), but there are other points of comparison, too.

Now, for our purposes specifically, some things you’ll need to do and some things you won’t need to worry about as much for your group’s report:

  • These will be published/available on Google Docs, so obviously the stuff about binding and labeling and such doesn’t make sense. I would suggest an attractive “cover/title page” though.
  • I think a short transmittal letter is useful, and I would address it to the entire group. Remember, each of your peers will be reviewing and voting on these proposals.
  • You should have what McMurrey calls an “informative abstract” and what I’ve seen others call an “executive summary.” I think the term executive summary is fairly self-explanatory: basically, this is a summary that is detailed enough so that if this was all “the boss” read, that boss would have the basic idea about the report: what it’s about, what it’s conclusions are, etc.
  • I don’t think you will need a summary of illustrations and charts, but a simple “table of contents” is a good idea.
  • Of course, your report is essentially an essay, so it’ll include the usual parts of an essay– an introduction, the main body, a conclusion, etc.  McMurrey and other sources tend to emphasize the importance of section headings within formal reports, and I agree with that too. You want to create a report that is both readable and scannable.
  • You will  need to have some kind of “works cited” kind of section, and yes, this will require research and it will also require two slightly different kinds of research. Most of you are probably already familiar with the category of research I will generalize as “looking stuff up:” you know, a google search, the library, etc. You will certainly need to do this, but since this is a project that is very specifically about EMU, you will also as a group need to do some very local research here at EMU. That might involve contacting people on campus, it might involve some observations on campus, etc., etc.

Okay: so, what do you think?

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29 Comments
  1. Leah permalink

    What I enjoyed the most about the Prezi presentation was the explanations of the differences between “Informal” and “Formal” Reports. The differences provided here gave me great facts on these two types of reports. The Report Designs website goes very much into details of how the assignment should look. I don’t know about anyone else, but the second reading scares me a little based on the plenty of instructions provided. Both readings were great help.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I felt the McMurrey text was long but didn’t leave much to question. He is very clear and the examples from the link provided helped tie it together nicely.

      • Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

        I agree. The Prezi, like most Prezi pieces, was very short and to the point…sort of..? I understood the objective of the Prezi, but sometimes became a little confused by the wording, etc. As for the McMurrey text, his was long to read, but as you said, he did not leave a single bit out. He covered the topic from start to finish leaving almost nothing to question.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Was it the length of text that was intimidating, or just that there are so many requirements and you do not want to forget something? I wrote a formal recommendation report several years ago in a business writing course, and when I first read over the assignment sheet, I was a little intimidated by the amount of work, too. However, I took each section of the report one-at-a-time, and it wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be.

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        Did you do an outline of the whole paper and then take each part and write on it or did you write the whole thing at one time and then go back and edit it? What would be the simple way to do this and not get frustrated by trying to make the whole thing come together at one time

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        My bad, I see what you are saying, I guess I’m just asking if it was easier to write the way you did or work on the whole thing at once. I get a lot nervous about working on something this big and then I feel like I have worked on one thing really well and then given less thought to the other parts and I don’t do those as well as could be. Understand? I know my wording has a lot to be desired 🙂

        • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

          I’ll provide a brief summary of how I prepared and wrote my formal report. I was proposing the introduction of a firearm awareness program to public schools to help reduce gun violence. I started by conducting research. Not only did I conduct secondary research about offender/victim profiles, but I also conducted primary research by distributing surveys to local principals and superintendents. Based on this research, I wrote up my conclusions and outlined my recommendations (2 different firearm awareness programs).

          After all this was done, I then added all the stuff that goes before/after the report. eg. letter of transmittal, executive summary, table of contents, works cited, appendices, etc.

          I would just recommend starting with research. Once you’ve synthesized the data you’ve collected, then you can start creating an outline for the report.

          I hope this helps!

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I am 100% with you that the second reading scared me. After reading Professor Krause’s assignment description I didn’t think the assignment sounded too bad. However, the second reading left me with a lot of questions: Will we be required to hit all of these little details? How strict is Professor Krause going to be on making sure all of the formatting is perfect? How many outside sources will we be required to use?

  2. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    McMurrey’s “Report Design” was more thorough than anything we’ve read. He broke down the transmittal letter, the table of contents, the summary. He even gave details on labeling. Wow.

    I’ve never done a formal report, at least not of this caliber, so I can tell you right now McMurrey’s directions are going to help A LOT.

    Just like Jessica said, this text was long, but clear and understandable. It’s going to be my bible for this assignment, I think.

    • Kourtney Lovett permalink

      I completely agree! I will definitely be using this while I write my formal report. Like you, I’ve never written a formal report before so I’m excited to see how this will pan out.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I used your same terminology in that “Report Design” will be a “bible” for this assignment. I have never written a formal report so I am going to print out this reading and just use it as a checklist for everything that I need to include. Having all of the elements of the formal report spelled out is really helpful but also overwhelms me and gives me that feeling of, “Where do I even start?!”

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I absolutely agree with you to. McMurrey’s report will definitely be looked at repeatedly to get through this assignment. It pretty much gave in detail what the report should have and look like.

  3. Melanie Waller permalink

    I too think that there is a lot of requirements for this paper. Let’s hope I don’t forget any of them. I will probably keep a copy of this right next to the computer and use it a lot when writing this one.
    Does anyone yet have an idea as to what topics can be written about? Some please give me some ideas so that I know in which direction to go.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      As I say in the assignment:

      “This initiative can be about anything that a) explicitly benefits students at EMU, and that b) adheres to the general principles of the mission/tagline of EMU, ‘Education First.'”

      I don’t want to give you too many specific ideas here because I want you to be creative and think for yourself about the assignment. But the key thing is it has to be something local– at EMU– and it has to have something to do with the whole “Education First” part of things. For example, using the $5 million to improve the football stadium or to build an elaborate indoor water park or to just distribute the money to people doesn’t seem like it would help the “education first” part of things.

  4. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    Like most of my fellow peers, I enjoyed the straightforward Prezi presentation. It offered a lot of good hints that I’ll definitely reference while I write my report.

    I also found McMurrey’s piece to be very detailed but understandable. Similar to the Prezi, I picked up on a lot of info that I did not know before (especially because I have never written a formal report). Although all of the points that he made were helpful, one in particular stuck out to me: “… remember that readers don’t necessarily start at the beginning of a report and read page by page to the end.” I found this to be very important to know. Most of the time when we right documents, we are told that we should avoid repetition. However, with formal reports it is important to note that repetition is expected because readers will skip around.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I thought this was a good point as well. I feel it might be beneficial for me to rank the information in order of importance before composing. This could help with many of the different parts (table of contents, summary, info to repeat throughout the text). Since this is a large project, I know I’ll need as much organization as possible.

      • Latasha Davis permalink

        I agree it does seem like a long project and I hope that we will have a good amount of time to complete it but the presentation reading with prezi does give use a guidelines on where to start! I didn’t know it takes so much to put together a formal report. It will be very interesting to see what topic people have chosen.

        • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

          I think it’s less a long project and more just a long checklist. I’m willing to bet that once the report is done, we’re all going to say, “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

  5. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    Not going to lie, I am a little intimidated by this assignment. The overall assignment itself isn’t that daunting, but after reading “Report Design” I am worried about hitting all of the little details. Also, which citation style will we be required to use for this report? Will it be APA or MLA? The Prezi presentation did a pretty good job of letting me know how the informal report and formal report would be different, but it made me confused about elements of the formal report. It didn’t really explain what a transmittal letter was but just listed the components of it and gave an example. I was confused about the transmittal letter until I read “Report Design.” “Report Design” was essentially a Bible for formal report writing and I am sure I will be referring back to it throughout the creation of my formal report. Once again, the assignment in general doesn’t seem to bad, but it almost seems like formatting it will be the worst part.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree. I’m glad that the reading explained a lot of the details that the prezi simply presented in broad and vague terms. It will definitely be a great resource for all of us as we move forward in the drafting process of our reports.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I am extra intimidated by this assignment. I’ve never written a formal report before and its so many steps that are involved with writing one.

  6. Kristen Smith permalink

    I enjoyed the overall presentation and information given in the Prezi. I liked that it compared informal and formal reports (although I wish it would have done one at a time opposed to bouncing back and forth) and I think the definitions given were very clear and concise. I found this presentation to be a great introduction while McMurrey’s piece was a bit more formal and detailed. I did enjoy the examples in the McMurrey piece and found the visual aids presented to be very helpful.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      One way to look at these presentations and how they talk about formal reports is what I’m asking for is probably closer to what is being described in the Prezi presentation, but the McMurrey reading is useful to fill in some of the details and to also get a sense of how detailed these kinds of reports can really be.

      And yes, this is a big project. But that’s why we’re spending so much time on it this semester, so you have the time to do the research, planning, and writing.

  7. Latasha Davis permalink

    I have been reading everyones posts and I too agree that its going to be a challenging assignment but will Preiz presentation about the different types of reports it have gave me better understanding of what were up again with this project. I think that he does a great job explaining the format of the different types of reports. Its a great reference for the report that we have to write. I think that a list of options would be even better so that we can decided on what to write about.

  8. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    I like that the second reading focuses relatively heavily on the idea that formal reports need to be scannable. In the business world, people usually only read things because they need to in order to gain specific pieces of knowledge. Headings and subheadings are exceptionally useful in formal reports.

    Additionally, I know a lot of us are a little intimidated by the extent of this project; however, I truly believe that reports are not as bad as they may seem. It’s just like any other essay you’ve written in other classes. We’ll conduct research, synthesize that information, and present it in the appropriate sections. Don’t be scared, friends! 🙂

    I’m also very excited to hear what everyone is thinking about for their proposal topics, too!

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      I was pretty scared of the idea of writing a “formal” report. The MacMurry piece was great because it said that it’s mostly like a regular essay, but a few additional parts attached. It’s kind of like research writing all over again, but following a different, more business-oriented format, as it seems.

      Also, scannability will definitely be a big part. I don’t always read pieces thoroughly so I wouldn’t be surprised if higher-ups who are much more pressured by time don’t read the whole thing. I feel like the most important part is the summary and the rest is just there to make sure information is available for the reader.

  9. Nijea Wilson permalink

    McMurrey’s work was straight to the point and very informative. When people read things they usually skip around in a hurry looking for the important information, so I like that he stated that the challenge to a report is to make sure the readers encounter your key facts and conclusions no matter how much of the report they read or in what order. He gave some very clear and simple directions as to what should be put in a report and good images/examples to refer to. Prezi’s article was also really informative. It was good to see the difference between what goes into a formal and informal report.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      I thought it was helpful to know the big differences too. Even though we’ve talked about it before, it doesn’t hurt that the prezi reinforced what informal reports are like – what we want to avoid. Especially as MacMurry talked in his article – when we get to the business world, we need to be prepared to make pieces for bosses (or at least somebody who pays us), not professors.

      MacMurry’s piece will definitely be something to reference later on. Seems like most assignments we get some very good guides on how to tackle our assignments – it sure takes away some anxiety to have a handy, pre-approved reference.

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