Designing effective format and outlines formal reports

UNIT-7 [ Lesson-3: Designing effective format and outlines formal reports ]

After reading this lesson you will be able to:

  • define an outline of a report
  • explain the nature of a formal report
  • prepare an outline all by yourself
  • design an impressive format of a formal report

Designing effective format and outlines formal reports


We have seen in the previous lessons that all reports must conform to the basic rules of communication – Introduction-body-conclusion and all long formal reports might contain all the elements or some of the elements discussed earlier according to the needs of the various readers. Every writer spends more time in thinking and planning than writing.

Good writing calls for deliberate decisions: about what to say, how to say, how to organise it, and how to revise it to make the whole thing work. Writing begins in disorder. Messiness is a natural and often essential part of writing in its early stages.

Always compose the finished outline after you complete writing the final draft of a long document. At this final stage a finished outline serves as a quality control check on your reasoning, and as a way of revealing to your readers a logical line of thinking.


Designing effective format and outlines formal reports


What is an outline?

An outline is an information map with which you organise your information to make sense to your readers. A good beginning, middle, and ending are indispensable for all reports but alter your own outline as you see fit. The organisation of any report ultimately is determined by what your readers need.

An outline usually follows either of the two systems of notation: the roman-numeral-letter-Arabic-numeral system, or the decimal system. Notation is the system of division makers. Use notation to show how each part relates to other parts and to the whole.


Designing effective format and outlines formal reports




A. Definition, Description, and History
B. Statement of Purpose
C. Target Readers
D. Information Sources (including research methods and materials)
E. Limitation of the Report
F. Scope of Coverage (sequence of major topics in the body)


A. First Major Topic
1. First Sub topic of A
2. Second Sub topic of A
a. First Sub topic of 2
b. Second Sub topic of 2
(and so on sub-division carried as far as necessary)

III. CONCLUSION (Where everything is tied together)

A. Summary of Information in II (body)
B. Recommendations Based on Information in II.

But no one model should be followed slavishly by any writer. Alter your outline, revise it anytime you need to adjust it to your readers’ need.

Formats in Workplace Writing

A useful document looks inviting and accessible to its readers. Format is the look of a page, the layout of words and graphics. So beside having worthwhile content, sensible outline, and readable style, a report must also have good appealing format to attract readers attention.

Guidelines for Format Design

Whether you write with a type writer or a computer approach your formatting decisions from top to down: first, consider the overall look of your document; next, the shape of each paragraph; and finally, the size and style of individual letters and words. These guidelines follow a top down sequence, moving from large matters to small. Some general guidelines are as follows:

• Use the right paper and ink

Type or print your finished document in black ink, on 8.5″ by 11″ or A4 size plain white paper. Use ray-bond paper with a high fibre content (25 percent minimum)

• Use adequate white space

White space separates sections in a document, headings, and visuals from text, paragraphs on a page, sentences in a paragraph, words in a sentence, letters in a word. Well-designed white space imparts a shape to the whole document, provides breathing room between blocks of information.


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• Leave ample margins

On your 8.5″ by 11″ page leave margins no smaller than these:

top margin = 1.25 inches
bottom margin = 1.5 inches
right margin = 1.25 inches
left margin = 2 inches

• Keep line spacing consistent

For any document single space within paragraphs and double space in between; for longer documents, double space within paragraphs. Indent your double spaced paragraphs or separate them with an additional line of space so that your readers can scan a long document, and quickly locate what they need.

• Use short paragraphs

Short paragraph can make complex material more digestible such as giving step-by-step instructions, or emphasising vital information.

• Number pages consistently

For a long document (formal report) count your title page as page i, without numbering it, and number all front matter pages, including your table of contents and abstract with lower case roman numerals (iiiii,iv). Number the first page of your report and subsequent pages with Arabic numerals (1,2,3).

Apart from these (above) guidelines whatever form you select for a document, whichever highlights you choose, be consistent all over and never combine too many highlights.


The following example of a formal report is only one among countless possibilities.


Designing effective format and outlines formal reports Designing effective format and outlines formal reports


In organising information writers use outlining as a simple device or tool for orienting information to the readers.

Question for Review

1. What is an outline? What does an outlines follow?
2. Prepare a model outline for a formal report containing introduction – body – conclusion structure only and no supplements.
3. There are some guidelines in topic form below. Are these guidelines meant for preparing an outline or designing the format of a formal report?

1. Use the right paper and ink
2. Use adequate white space
3. Leave ample margins
4. Keep line spacing consistent
5. Use short paragraphs
6. Number pages consistently

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