Introduction to formal reports

UNIT-7 [ Lesson-2: Introduction to formal reports ]

After reading this lesson you will be able to:

  • explain the importance and nature of formal reports
  • describe and prepare a title page, letter of transmittal, informative abstract or summary, and table of contents of formal reports
  • apply the sample model of different elements of a formal report for writing any formal reports
  • define the term supplement and explain why are supplements used in the formal reports
  • write the introduction-body-conclusion-section of a formal report by following the guidelines provided.

Introduction to formal reports

Why do you need formal reports?

Whether in science, business, industry, government, or education, formal reports, are written for decision makers: managers, executives, directors, clients trustees, board members, community leaders, and the like. Inside or outside your organisations. These are the people who decide whether your suggestions are sound, whether your project will be worthwhile, whether your service or product is useful.

So formal reports cover any topic important to business operations. The most common types include, information based reports, problem solving reports, proposals, research reports, analytical reports, instructional reports, descriptive reports, etc. The formal report is used instead of the memo, when the topic requires lengthy discussion.


Introduction to formal reports


In writing formal reports your aim is to show how you arrived at your conclusions and recommendations. Your approach will depend on your subject, purpose and readers’ need. As most often high level decision will depend on your findings you must seek and interpret all data that will help you make the best recommendations.

This is where you apply your method of carrying out a research and writing activities such as having mental preparation for analysing readers’ needs and your purpose of writing; gathering information from various sources, next arranging and recording material, writing the introduction, development, conclusion, and recommendations and finally preparing it in typed form.

In style formal report is relatively impersonal and restrained. Here the writer does not refer to himself as I or we, instead third person references such as “the writer”, “the investigator”; “it was learned”; “investigation shows” etc. are used.

What are supplements? Why do formal reports need supplements?

Supplements are reference items generally added to a long report or to a proposal to make the document more accessible to varied readers. Supplements help readers follow technical sections. Different readers often use one report for different purposes. According to their needs readers can refer to one or more of the supplements, or skip them altogether.

Some look for an overview; others want the details, others are interested only in the conclusions and recommendation. Technical personnel might focus on the body of a highly specialised report and on the appendices for supporting data (maps, formula, calculations).

Executives and managers, supervisors might only read the transmittal letter and the abstract (summary) and are likely to focus on the conclusions and recommendations. So only by adding supplements to a long report the writer can make it accessible to various readers for various purposes. All supplements, of course, are written only after the document itself has been completed.

A formal report supplements can be classified into two groups:

(1) Supplements that precede your report (front matter): cover, title page, letter of transmittal, table of contents (and figures) and abstract or summary of the report.

(2) Supplements that follow your report (end matter): glossary, footnotes, endnote pages, appendix (ces) (information on these have been provided in the last Unit of this book).


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We have seen in the previous lessons that all reports (informal, formal) must conform to the basic principles of communications: accuracy, brevity and clarity and to the rules of construction: introduction, body, conclusions and recommendations. Depending on the complexity of the report each formal report might contain all of the following elements:

(A) Title Page
(B) Letter of Transmittal
(C) Table of Contents
(D) Summary or Informative abstract
(E) Introduction
(F) Body or Development (report text)
(G) Conclusions
(H) Costing
(1) Recommendation
(J) Glossary
(K) Appendix (ces)
(L) Bibliography

Title page

Your title promises what the report will deliver by stating the report’s purpose and subject. The title page lists the report’s title, writer’s name, name of person(s) or organisation to whom the report is addressed, and date of submission. Always write the final version after completely, writing the report and make sure your title of the report is clear, accurate comprehensive, and specific. Example of a clear title:


Do not number your title page, but count it as page i of your prefatory pages. Centre the title horizontally on the page, three to four inches below the upper edge, using all capital letters. A Sample title is given below.

Introduction to formal reports


Letter of transmittal

Include a letter of transmittal with any formal long report addressed to a specific reader. If you are writing a report for your work place then the letter usually precedes the title page but if you are writing a report as a college student your letter of transmittal most often comes immediately after the title page and becomes a part of your report.

This kind of letter adds a note of courtesy and provides you a space for personal remarks or opinions.Now depending on the situation your letter might also refer to sections of your study along with any problems in gathering data. It might also provide a list of people and organisations to whom you are indebted for help, advice, or information.

So the letter of transmittal can be tailored to a particular reader and has an introduction-body-conclusion structure. (example given below as a sample of a formal report’s letter of transmittal).

A letter of transmittal


Introduction to formal reports


Table of Contents

Your table of contents is a checklist and a map of the report for the readers. So simply phrase major headings in the table of contents as in the report (outline) assigning page numbers. Use horizontal dots
(………………………….) to connect heading to page number. (example given below)


Introduction to formal reports


Summary or informative abstract

Summary is always written in non-technical style, it gives you the chance to measure your control over the material. This abstract is sort of your mini report and is always written after your report. Summary is the most important part of your report as some busy experts or professionals will neither have the time nor the inclination to read your entire report.

They will be interested to read the summary only to know what it is about. So indicate briefly but clearly the scope of your report in not more than 350 words and write for general readers in clear simple language. A sample of an informative abstract or summary of a formal report is given below.



Introduction to formal reports



Your introduction section should give the reader necessary background information (the term of reference, the reason the report has been called for), indicate the area to be covered and explain how the subject is to be developed.

At the end of your introduction the reader should have a general, overall picture of where you work, what you do, how you collected data, and what the report is about, and what is to follow next.

Development or report text (Body)

This is where you spellout your plan in enough detail for readers to evaluate your report’s soundness. The main goal of this section is to prove that your plan will work. It answers all these questions that are applicable:

  • How will it be done?
  • When will it be done?
  • What materials, methods, and personnel will it take?
  • What facilities are available?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost, and why?
  • What results can we expect?
  • How do we know it will work?
  • Who will do it?

This section may be divided into two or more sections having subsections for convenience in preparation or ease of understanding.

Conclusion and Recommendation

In conclusion you summarise, interpret, and restate the need for the project or proposal report and persuade readers to act. So your conclusion must reflect accurately the body section of your report. Your recommendations for any further actions must be consistent with the purpose of the report, the evidence presented, the interpretations given.

Information regarding glossary, appendix(ces), footnotes and bibliography have been given in the last Unit of this book.In writing all reports, know who your readers are, and how will they use your information. Reports should not challenge the readers to understand them,

they should rather provide a challenge to the writer to write briefly using simple precise and clear language. Keep in mind that well designed visuals condense information displaying it in a meaningful way. Appropriate visuals in your report will display abstract concepts in concrete, geometric shape, so apply visuals wherever you need to do so.

Formal reports are usually long complex reports requiring sufficient research, planning, organising, drafting, and revising procedures. Formal reports are sometimes provided with supplements depending on the nature of the report.

Question for Review

These questions are designed to help you assess how far you have understood and can apply the learning you have accomplished by answering (in written form) the following questions:


  1. Why do people write formal complex reports instead of a memo?
  2. What do you mean by supplement?
  3. Do all the readers need all the supplements in a report?
  4. What is an informative abstract?
  5. What is the main purpose of writing a letter of transmittal?
  6. Do you think all reports follow the same principle of communications? Yes or No.


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