Part 5: Message types

5.5 Reports

Reports are designed to record and convey information to the reader and can be used both internally and externally. Reports serve to document new information for specific audiences, goals, or functions. The type of report is often identified by its primary purpose, as in an accident report, a laboratory report, or a sales report. Reports are often analytical or involve the rational analysis of information. Sometimes they report the facts with no analysis at all. Other reports summarize past events, present current data, and forecast future trends. This section will introduce you to the basics of report writing.

Types of reports

Reports come in all sizes but are typically longer than a page and are somewhat shorter than a book. In this chapter, we’re focusing on short reports. The type of report depends on its function, and different industries have reports specific to them. For example, science researchers write lab reports, while incident reports are common in health-and-safety environments.

Reports vary by function, style, and tradition. Within your organization, you may need to address specific expectations. This section discusses reports in general terms, focusing on common elements and points of distinction. Reference to similar documents at your workplace may serve you well as you prepare your own report. As shown in Table 4.5.1, there are many types of reports.

Table 4.5.1 Types of reports

Report type


Progress report

Monitor and control production, sales, shipping, service, or related business process.

Recommendation report

Make recommendations to management and provide tools to solve problems or make decisions.

Summary report

Present summaries of the information available on a given subject.

Progress report

A progress report is used to give management an update on the status of a project. It is generated at timed intervals (for example, once a month) or on completion of key stages. It records accomplishments to date and identifies any challenges or concerns. It is usually written by the project lead and is one to two pages long.

When you write a progress report, begin by stating why you are writing the report:

  • Identify what you’ve accomplished
  • List any problems you have encountered
  • Outline what work still remains
  • Conclude by providing an overview of the project’s status and what should be done next.

Recommendation report

A recommendation report is used to help management make decisions. The goal of this report is to identify a solution to a problem or suggest a course of action. In it, the writer might suggest that a procedure be adopted or rejected, assess an unsatisfactory situation, or persuade decision makers to make a change that will benefit the organization. For example, the report might suggest ways to enhance the quality of a product, increase profit, reduce cost, or improve workplace conditions. The intention of a recommendation report is not to assign blame or be overly critical, but to suggest improvements in a positive manner.

Summary report

A summary report is used to give management information. For example, if you work in the marketing department, your boss might ask you to find out about your competitors’ online activities so that your company can effectively compete with them. To do this, you would research your competitors’ websites, social media profiles, digital advertising campaigns, and so on. You would then distill what you find down to the key points so that your boss can get the essential information in a short time, and then decide how to act on it. Unlike the recommendation report, the summary report focuses on the facts, leaving it to management to decide on a course of action.

Report organization

Reports vary by size, format, and function. You need to be flexible and adjust your report to the needs of the audience. Reports are typically organized around six key elements:

  • Who the report is about and/or prepared for
  • What was done, what problems were addressed, and the results, including conclusions and/or recommendations
  • Where the subject studied occurred
  • When the subject studied occurred
  • Why the report was written (function), including under what authority, for what reason, or by whose request
  • How the subject operated, functioned, or was used

Pay attention to these essential elements when you consider your stakeholders. That may include the person(s) the report is about, whom it is for, and the larger audience of the organization. Ask yourself who the key decision makers are, who the experts will be, and how your words and images may be interpreted. While there is no universal format for a report, there is a common order to the information. Each element supports the main purpose or function, playing an important role in the transmission of information. Some common elements in a report are shown in Table 4.5.2.

Table 4.5.2 Parts of a report



Title page

Report title; date of submission; name, title, and organization of the person who prepared the report; name, title, and organization of the person receiving the report.

No page number.

Table of contents

A list of the sections in the report and their respective page numbers.

All headings/sub-headings in the report should be listed on this page.

This page is not labelled with a page number.

Executive summary

Summarize the topic, methods, data/evidence, results, and conclusions/recommendations.

On its own page.

Labelled as page iii.


Introduces the topic of the report, states the purpose of the report, and previews the structure of the report.

Begins on a new page.

Labelled as page 1.


Key elements of the report body may include the background, methods, results, and analysis or discussion.

Uses descriptive or functional headings and sub-headings (is not labelled “Body”).

Pagination continues from the introduction.

Conclusion and/or recommendations

Concise presentation of findings and/or recommendations. Indicate the main results and their relation to the recommended action(s) or outcome(s).

Pagination continues from the body of the report.


A list of all references used in the report.

All in-text citations included in the report should have an accompanying entry in the reference list.

Begins on a new page.

Pagination continues from the conclusions and/or recommendations.

Appendix or appendices

Related supporting materials.

All materials in the appendix (or appendices) must be referred to in the body of the report.

Only one item per appendix.

Each appendix begins on a new page, is labelled as Appendix A, B, C, etc, and is given a title.

Pagination continues from the reference list.

Executive summaries

An executive summary is a brief overview of a document’s purpose, results, and conclusions condensed for the quick reading of an executive or manager. It is placed at the beginning of a longer report or proposal and summarizes specific aspects of its content. The reader of the summary is usually not interested in the technical details of a project but is instead interested in costs, marketing, productivity, or efficiency.

Executive summaries vs. abstracts

Executive summaries and abstracts are similar, but an executive summary is typically longer. It usually runs about one or two double-spaced pages (or about five percent of the length of the full report), while an abstract is usually only six to eight sentences. An executive summary is geared to executives, managers, or investors, while an abstract is intended for an academic audience. An executive summary stresses results or conclusions, but an abstract may give equal time to problem definition, methods, results, and conclusions.


As an accompaniment to a report, an executive summary shares the report’s formal tone and emphasis on direct, clear, concise, specific language. The summary should be original: don’t copy and paste sentences from the full report. To keep the word count down, omit lengthy transitions and examples. Avoid highly technical language, and briefly define any technical terms you must use.

Introduce the problem

Omit an elaborate introduction; however, you may choose to open with an introductory sentence designed to capture the reader’s attention. An eye-catching introduction that establishes a problem can be especially effective when your purpose is to persuade—perhaps you want investors to buy into a business plan, or you want executives to make a change in policy. Begin with a clear idea of what your summary can accomplish, then craft your introductory sentence.

Once you have introduced the problem, hopefully with a bit of flair, detail it and explain how addressing it introduces an improvement or benefit. Use specifics whenever possible.

E.g. Waiting weeks for an appointment or standing in a long line to get help is discouraging, but if the University Writing Center can’t recruit more consultants soon, that’s where our Aggie writers will be—frustrated and looking elsewhere for advice.

Sell the solution

Once you have established a problem, present the solution. If the original report explains how the problem was addressed (methods) and if methods were a significant factor in coming up with a solution or of particular importance to executive readers, then briefly describe them. If, for example, you are suggesting a change in recruiting methods, you might want to explain the steps you took to discover the most effective methods.

You need to sell your solution, so include as many specifics as you can rather than generalizations. (E.g. “The improved distribution plan should result in a 25% increase in sales for the coming year” rather than “We’re optimistic about the future.”) Don’t gloss over any potential problems or limitations; instead, briefly explain how these issues are being addressed or can be minimized. Also, don’t include anything the report doesn’t specifically cover.

Close the deal

End with explicit recommendations based on the document’s results. This section will probably make up the bulk of the summary because ultimately what concerns the executive reader is results and effects on the organization. It’s important to continue including specific figures in the recommendations section.

E.g. On the basis of our analysis, we recommend that the University Writing Center take the following steps:

  • produce and distribute a promotional video that outlines the benefits of working as a writing consultant
  • increase the visibility of the employment opportunities on our website
  • advertise positions through targeted bulk email to qualified students

The modest outlay of $350 to cover consultant labor and promotional materials is estimated to bring in approximately 50-60 new applications per year.

Make sure your executive summary includes all the pertinent information. Think about what an executive would need to know in order to make a decision about changing a policy, undertaking an action, or spending money and then provide that information as specifically and concisely as you can.

The material in this section is taken from Executive Summaries from The Writing Center at Texas A&M University and is used under a CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 unported license.

Here is a checklist for ensuring that a report fulfills its goals:

  • Report considers the audience’s needs
  • Form follows function of report
  • Format reflects institutional norms and expectations
  • Information is accurate, complete, and documented
  • Information is easy to read
  • Terms are clearly defined
  • Figures, tables, and art support written content
  • Figures, tables, and art are clear and correctly labelled
  • Figures, tables, and art are easily understood without text support
  • Words are easy to read (font, arrangement, organization)
  • Results are clear and concise
  • Recommendations are reasonable and well-supported
  • Report represents your best effort
  • Report speaks for itself without your clarification or explanation

Formatting a report

Make it easier for your reader to understand the information in your report by formatting your document cleanly. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Use size 10-12 pt type in a standard business font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri
  • Use a minimum of 1-inch margins on all sides
  • Use headings and sub-headings to divide the content into clear sections
  • Separate paragraphs using white space
  • Use visuals (such as charts, graphs, or diagrams) where they will help in explaining numbers or other information that would be difficult to understand in text form


This chapter contains material taken from Part 2 “Writing” in Professional Communications OER by the Olds College OER Development Team and is used under a CC-BY 4.0 International license. You can download this book for free at

This chapter also contains material taken from Executive Summaries from The Writing Center at Texas A&M University and is used under a CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 unported license.


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Introduction to Professional Communications Copyright © 2018 by Melissa Ashman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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