7. COMMON DOCUMENT TYPES

7.3 Progress Reports

You write a progress report to inform a supervisor, associate, or client about progress you have made on a project over a specific period of time. Periodic progress reports are common on projects that go on for several months (or more). Whoever is paying for this project wants to know whether tasks are being completed on schedule and on budget.  If the project is not on schedule or on budget, they want to know why and what additional costs and time will be needed.

Progress reports answer the following questions for the reader:

  •  How much of the work is complete?
  • What part of the work is currently in progress?
  • What work remains to be done?
  • When and how will the remaining work be completed?
  • What changes, problems or unexpected issues, if any, have arisen?
  • How is the project going in general?

Purpose of a Progress Report

The main function of a progress report is persuasive:  to reassure clients and supervisors that you are making progress, that the project is going smoothly, and that it will be completed by the expected date — or to give reasons why any of those might not be the case. They also offer the opportunity to do the following:

  • Provide a brief look at preliminary findings or in-progress work on the project
  • Give your clients or supervisors a chance to evaluate your work on the project and to suggest or request changes
  • Give you a chance to discuss problems in the project and thus to forewarn the recipients
  • Force you to establish a work schedule, so that you will complete the project on time.

Format of a Progress Report

Depending on the size of the progress report, the length and importance of the project, and the recipient, a progress report can take forms ranging from a short informal conversation to a detailed, multi-paged report. Most commonly, progress reports are delivered in following forms:

  • Memo:  a short, semi-formal report to someone within your organization (can range in length from 1-4 pages)
  • Letter:  a short, semi-formal report sent to someone outside your organization
  • Formal report:  a long, formal report sent to someone within or outside of your organization
  • Presentation:  an oral presentation given directly to the target audience.

Organizational Patterns for Progress Reports

The recipient of a progress report wants to see what you’ve accomplished on the project, what you are working on now, what you plan to work on next, and how the project is going in general. The information is usually arranged with a focus either on time or on task, or a combination of the two:

  • Focus on time:  shows time period (previous, current, and future) and tasks completed or scheduled to be completed in each period
  • Focus on specific tasks:  shows order of tasks (defined milestones) and progress made in each time period
  • Focus on larger goals:  focus on the overall effect of what has been accomplished.

Information can also be arranged by report topic. You should refer to established milestones or deliverables outlined in your original proposal or job specifications. Whichever organizational strategy you choose, your report will likely contain the elements described below.

Progress Reports – Structural Overview

1. Introduction

Review the details of your project’s purpose, scope, and activities. The introduction may also contain the following:

  • date the project began; date the project is scheduled to be completed
  • people or organization working on the project
  • people or organization for whom the project is being done
  • overview of the contents of the progress report.

2. Project status

This section (which could have sub-sections) should give the reader a clear idea of the current status of your project.  It should review the work completed, work in progress, and work remaining to be done on the project, organized into sub-sections by time, task, or topic. These sections might include

  • Direct reference to milestones or deliverables established in previous documents related to the project
  • Timeline for when remaining work will be completed
  • Any problems encountered or issues that have arisen that might affect completion, direction, requirements, or scope.

3.  Conclusion

The final section provides an overall assessment of the current state of the project and its expected completion, usually reassuring the reader that all is going well and on schedule. It can also alert recipients to unexpected changes in direction or scope, or problems in the project that may require intervention.

4.  References section if required.

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Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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