4.8 Analytical Report Writing

Linda Macdonald

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Identify the main parts of a formal report
  • Explain how each section of the report satisfies a reader’s needs

In the workplace, you will be asked to create a variety of reports. These reports may be written to deliver information or recommendations either internally within the organization or externally to stakeholders such as clients or suppliers. They may be sent in the form of a manuscript, memo, or email attachment. You may be asked to deliver information in a template, such as a travel expense report or a quarterly sales report. The form of the report and delivery mode are determined by external factors, such as industry conventions or citation styles, as well as internal factors influenced by the culture of the organization and its branding.

Every organization has its own methods of formatting various types of reports, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the organization’s preferred style. When you write a report as a university course assignment, you will follow certain academic conventions, such as APA citation style, as well as satisfy expectations of your field, such as conciseness. Other aspects of the report will follow guidelines established internally for the course. These guidelines are established through your instructor’s assignment description and rubric. The extended example provided in Chapter 4.15 may be relevant for your organization or university, but you need to verify the internal standards for your situation. Every report you complete will have different requirements based on audience, purpose, channel, and company or organization.

Informational reports record and organize information. The general purpose of these reports is to convey information. The specific purposes are typically defined by the type of report. Progress reports, lab reports, credit reports, and expense reports all satisfy particular needs in the organization.

The general purpose of an analytical report is to persuade through analysis of information. The specific purpose may be to solve a problem, to establish a cause and effect, or to make recommendations. Analytical reports differ from informational reports in that they persuade the reader to think, act, or do something in response. The next section outlines the form for a common type of report–a recommendation report.

Parts of a Formal Recommendation Report

Organizations will have various requirements for the parts of a report. In addition to the parts listed below, an organization may require a letter or memo of transmittal written to the person who authorized the report. The memo or letter of transmittal summarizes the key points, offers additional assistance, and thanks the one who authorized the report for the opportunity to complete it. This document is written in a more informal style than the body of the report; it may use the pronoun “I” and contractions but maintains professionalism.

Some reports may also require appendices that include additional information, documents, or tables and figures. The appendices are not essential to the flow of the argument but add more depth and detail. For example, if you gathered information on user bus route preferences through a printed survey, you would include the results of your survey (the data) in the report body, and you would put a copy of the survey that participants completed in the appendix.

The following chart outlines the main parts of your report and explains how each part satisfies the needs of the readers.

REPORT PART

CONTENTS

AUDIENCE NEED

Title Page

Includes running head, full report title, for whom the report was prepared and affiliation, the author’s name and affiliation, and the date.

The audience needs a clear announcement of the report content, the intended audience, the person responsible for the document, and the report’s timeliness.

Contents

The Contents page establishes the order of the report and distinguishes main sections from subsections.

The Contents page allows the reader to see the scope, organization, and content of the report quickly and to identify sections of interest.

List of Illustrations

The List of Illustrations presents tables and figures with titles. As shown in the example report, tables and figures are listed separately.

Tables and figures are easy to locate if presented in a separate section of the Contents. If there are fewer than four tables or figures, place the list below the contents. If there are more than four tables and figures, the List of Illustrations is presented on a separate page to enhance readability.

Executive Summary

A one-page summary of the key points from each of the main sections of the report.

The key points are outlined in the executive summary. Every section of the report should be addressed. In a recommendation report, the recommendations should be highlighted.

Introduction

This section includes, first, the purpose of the report. The Background, Scope and Limitations, Methods, and Definitions follow. The Introduction concludes with an overview of the organizational structure of the report and a transition to the following section.

The introduction situates the reader. It clearly and directly announces the purpose of the report and provides background information to establish the context. The Scope and Limitations section manages reader expectations by announcing what will be and will not be addressed in the following pages. To establish the reader’s credibility and to identify the types of sources used in the report, the writer summarizes the methods used to understand the problem. So that the audience understands any jargon or technical terms, definitions are provided.

Findings and Discussion

The body of the report presents the findings (what the research shows) and discussion (what secondary sources say about the information you have gathered). This section answers the question, “What do the data and evidence show?” The writer does not tell what the data mean or make recommendations here. The findings and discussion are presented in an organizational pattern appropriate for the topic. This organizational pattern may be by category, importance, or process sequence.

The reader needs a clear understanding of the facts as well as an understanding of common perspectives on this information. So that the reader can access the information quickly and easily, the report includes headings, short paragraphs, and appropriate white space.

Conclusions

This section answers the question, “What does the data mean?”.  Each section of the Findings and Discussion should have a corresponding conclusion. If, for example, the data show that Cookie A scored highest in a taste test, the conclusion would be “Cookie A is the best choice for a meeting of 20 people.” The conclusion connects clearly to the purpose of the report. In the example, the purpose of the report was to identify the best cookie for a meeting of 20 people.

The findings and discussion present information, and the conclusion tells what this information means. The audience needs a clear understanding of this meaning and a clear understanding of how the information relates to the purpose of the report.

Recommendations

This section answers the question, “What should the reader or decision-maker should do given the conclusions?”.

The report is focused on what should be done. For the audience, this section is most significant. The previous sections build the case for what should be done.

References

All works cited are included in the list of references. These references should be in APA Style. Double space between reference items. Use hanging indents.

The references illustrate for the reader the depth of your research and the scope of your analysis. The references add credibility to your argument through the use of expert analysis.

Appendix

The appendix may include additional tables, figures, surveys, documents, or other material on which the conclusions and recommendations were drawn. These items provide extra information should the reader want to see it. Refer to the appendix in the body of the report where it is relevant to the discussion. Appendices should be labelled as Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.

The reader may wish to review some documents or material that was used to come to your conclusions but is not essential to the main argument. For example, a report on student satisfaction with first-year courses may discuss the findings of the survey in the body of the report but provide a copy of the original survey in the appendix.

Each section has a particular purpose and satisfies a particular audience need. It is especially important to distinguish between findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

The Findings and Discussion section tells the audience what the data and facts show. This section lays out the evidence from both primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources include raw materials and original content in documents, statistics, surveys, or other sources of information. Secondary information describes and assesses the primary information. For example, if you are writing a report on the stock portfolio of a client, the TSX stock values are a primary source. Secondary source information about the company or industry performance may come from financial analysts, scholarly articles, or newspapers, or business magazines. In your Findings and Discussion, avoid coming to a conclusion about what all this information means for the client.

The Conclusions section tells what the information means. In this section you evaluate the information. For example, in your findings, you might show how the stock values of Stock A and Stock B fluctuated over six months and use secondary sources to explain the market changes. In your conclusion, you might say, “Stock A outperformed Stock B according to both stock values and in the opinion of industry experts.” The word outperforms indicates your evaluation of performance and tells what the information means.

Your recommendation is based on the conclusion and tells what the reader should think or do. Stock A outperformed Stock B. So what should the client do? Your recommendation might be that the client should a) sell Stock B, and b) purchase additional shares of Stock A.

The following presentation illustrates these distinctions further. The premise is unrealistically simple: You are asked to select a cookie for a meeting of 20 people and to justify your selection. While the premise is simple, the scenario helps clarify the distinctions between findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

Image: “A Real Woman Succeeds (no text)” by Phathu Nembilwi is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA

License

Share This Book