Chapter 30: Formatting the Report
Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
- Distinguish between the three parts of your written report: the front matter, the report body, and the back matter
- List out the 12 elements that are present within a written report
- Identify the different requirements found in a summary and introduction
- front matter
- report body
- back matter
We’ve spent a lot of time on how to generate the content of your formal written report. However, it’s time to take a step back and look at how you will format the report.
Like any kind of project, technical reports have specifications. These specifications can be for a number of different things such as the report’s layout, organization, and content; how to format the headings and lists; and how to label graphics and tables. The advantage of a required format for written reports is that you or anyone else can expect them to be designed in a familiar way. If someone hands you a report, and you want to read the summary section first, you will know exactly where to look. This is why different academic programs and career fields use style guides like APA. Reports are usually read in a hurry because readers want to quickly get the information they need, and a standard report format helps them achieve that.
For our purpose in RCM 200, you need to think of your formal written report as having three distinct parts: a front matter, the report body and the back matter. Within those three parts are a combined twelve different elements you will potentially need to include in your report. In order, these elements are:
- The Front Matter
- Cover Page
- Transmittal Document
- Title Page
- Table of Contents
- List of Tables and Figures
- The Report Body
- The Back Matter
Ensuring you have all of the correct elements present in your report—and that you write and format them correctly—is key if you wish to create a professional report and receive a good grade. We will now go into each element in detail. At the very bottom of this page, you will be able to see an example formal research report that includes most of these elements.
The first part is the front matter. This combination of elements, such as the title page and table of contents, will be the first thing your reader sees of your report. They are relatively easy to make, but if they are done sloppily, these elements can negatively impact the reader’s view of the credibility of your work before they even read it.
It’s not uncommon for formal reports to be bound. In these cases, there is a usually a cover, like with any book, and on that cover is the title of the report. If the report is produced by a company, the cover will have the company’s name and logo.
You are not required to bind your formal research report though. However, you will need a cover page. At minimum, you will need to include the title of your report centered on the page. If you want, you can also include the author name. However, that is not required.
A transmittal document can either be a letter or memo. The one you choose will depend on who is receiving the report, but ultimately the goal of this element is to maintain goodwill with the client by adding a personal component to the report.
If you need a refresher on writing a memo or letter, revisit this chapter from our text. For our specific purposes though, your letter/memo should:
- describe the topic and remind the reader of who authorized the report
- make a brief statement of major findings while also acknowledging who helped form the report
- express appreciation to the client and offer to follow-up with the report
The title page is similar to the cover page. The main difference is that the title page has more detail. Your title page must have three things:
- the name of the report
- the name and title of the author
- the date of submission
In certain circumstances, a title page can also include the name and title of the person who commissioned the report.
Despite this being the third page your reader will see in in the report, the title page is considered to be page Roman numeral i for numbering purposes. Though, this page is often unnumbered in the report.
The summary gives the reader an overview of the report. It allows them to quickly see what the content of your paper is without having to read the entire document.
In a professional context, you might have to search through dozens, if not hundreds of reports to find information for your own research. You obviously wouldn’t have time to read all of them, so looking at just the summary section would help you quickly sort through your potential research materials.
In a long report, like the one you are writing for this course, the summary should be about 10% of the length of the entire report. It should condense the information that is already in the main document. This includes information like the report’s recommendations, justifications, and conclusions.
The page number of this report (if numbered) would be Roman numeral ii.
Table of Contents
A table of contents (TOC) lists out the sections of a report. This means that the primary headings for each section are included along with the page numbers where they appear. If your report has secondary or lower headings, those should be included too.
Make sure your organization is consistent. A TOC must properly reflect the organization of your report. For example, you wouldn’t put the summary (which comes at the top of your report) as the last entry of your TOC. Additionally, you must proofread to ensure that the headings are worded the same in the body of the report and the TOC.
List of Tables and Figures
The List of Tables and Figures operates similarly to the TOC. It presents an organized list of all the graphics that you created for your report with the page numbers where they are found. This list will be a separate page that comes after your TOC, which means that it needs to be in the TOC. Don’t forget to include it!
The second part of your formal research report is the report body. This is the main portion of the report that you have already been working on with your research.
You are probably familiar with the traditional five-paragraph essay—which has an introduction, body, and conclusion. For those kinds of essays, the introduction and conclusion are only one paragraph long. That is not the case for written reports where both of those elements can have multiple paragraphs. Similarly, the discussion can be broken up into multiple sub-sections, each with their own specific focus and multiple paragraphs. The number of paragraphs for all three parts will ultimately depend on the information you are trying to convey.
Students often are unclear about the distinctions between the Summary and Introduction, so we will spend a little more time on both of those.
Your introduction sets the tone and expectations for your report.
First and foremost, your introduction is where you are trying to demonstrate your good judgement and good character to your reader through the use of rhetorical theory.
To accomplish this, you must provide your reader with an understanding of the purpose and scope of your report. Additionally, you must illustrate why your topic is important by describing the size and impact of the problem (the rhetorical exigence) that you are analyzing. The inclusion of these details will help establish your pathos appeal.
Lastly, an introduction will provide essential context that is required to understand the organization, language, and approach you are using to produce the report. This context contributes to your logos appeal and extends good will.
Summary vs Introduction
It’s important to mention that many students will confuse the purpose of a report’s summary and introduction. The main difference is that a summary provides an overview of the report as a whole. This means that it include the results and conclusions of the report. The introduction does not do this. Instead, it’s purpose is to provide background information to help ease the reader into the topic. Below is a representation of the differences in a table format.
Below is an example of former student’s summary and introduction for their report. Read through both documents without clicking on the hotspots. After you are finished, see if you can answer the following questions. Once you have answered them, you may click on the hotspots to help break down both sections.
Please keep in mind as you read that these are just examples, and your summary and introduction may look different from these.
- What differences do you see between the two sections?
- Based off the summary, what do you think the report is about? What topics will it cover?
- Based off the summary, what recommendations will this report make?
- Based off the introduction, what specific topics will the report cover?
- What sources are used to back up claims in the introduction? How do they help establish credibility?
- What is the background information in the introduction? How does it justify the report being written?
The original version of this chapter contained H5P content. You may want to remove or replace this element.
The discussion is the main part of your report. This is where you are defining the problem that you want to resolve. You do this by laying out your argument and presenting the information needed to support your conclusion. As a result, the discussion section will have the most detailed information. It it typically divided into multiple sections, each labeled with a heading that establishes the structure of the argument.
By the end of the discussion section, your reader should have a clear understanding of the problem you are addressing. The conclusion explains why it’s important. It answer’s the “so what?” question that a reader will ultimately have by this stage of your report. Put another way, after reading your report, the reader will have all this new information you provided them, “so what” are they supposed to do with it?
To answer this question you must start by summarizing, section by section, the main claims of your report. You shouldn’t be adding any new information at this point, or going into great detail. Rather, you are briefly explaining each point in the order they come up in your report and explaining how they connect to your main argument.
Do not tell the reader what you think they should do at this stage. That’s for the recommendations section, which comes next.
Congratulations! You are now done with the report body! Just one more part to go.
The third, and final, part of the report is made up of the back matter. This is where the reader can find information that helps them learn more about your topic. Specifically, this is where you will put your recommendations, references page, and appendix.
Keep in mind that, for your formal written report for RCM 200, the recommendations and appendix are optional. However, you must include a references page.
This is where you will tell the reader how they should act based on the conclusions you have come to in your report.
Pay close attention to your tone here. Don’t make it sound like you are commanding or ordering the reader to do something. Instead, try to recognize that the choice is up to the reader to decide whether to take the recommended action.
We’ve already talked a bit about the references page in the chapter on APA Style, so we will just review here. A references page includes a full reference entry for each work you cite in your report. These entries allow your reader to find the original sources for the information you are using if they want them.
Keep in mind that every source in your reference page must appear in the body of your report as an in-text citation.
The appendix section is for anything that needs to be attached to a report.
In general, a piece of content goes into the appendix if it is too long or complex to include in the discussion. However, don’t just put anything in the appendix. The information should help the reader more fully understand your topic by supplementing the material in the body of the report.
Each appendix item should contain only one type of material. For example, all images should be under one heading, all tables should be under a different heading, etc. Don’t forget to include appendix items in the table of contents!
A Sample Report
We just went through twelve different elements that you will need to include in your formal report. That’s a lot! To help you visual what your final product might look like, check out the example below.
The original version of this chapter contained H5P content. You may want to remove or replace this element.
- Using a consistent format for your written reports is essential for establishing your credibility as a writer. If your paper’s format is inconsistent or missing key elements, a reader may assume you are not taking the report seriously and question the reliability of your work.
- A written report is made up of three parts: the front matter, the report body, and the back matter. Between these three parts, there are a total of 12 different elements that can be present in a report.
- The front matter is the first thing your reader will see. This part sets the stage for what’s to come because it presents an outline of your report.
- The report body is the main portion of your report. It’s where all the research on your topic goes. This is where you will be using the rhetorical strategies you have learned to try and persuade your audience.
- The back matter is where your reader can learn more about the topic. If they want to look up a citation you used or review extra material you couldn’t get in the report body, they will go here.
- In terms of the 12 elements, most students struggle with differentiating between the summary and introduction sections. In brief, the summary provides an overview of the entire report. This means it includes the reports conclusions and, if needed, recommendations. The introduction, on the other hand, provides background information for the reader in order to help ease them into the topic.