Reports vary by function, style, and tradition. Within your organization, you may need to address specific expectations. This section discusses reports in general terms, focusing on common elements and points of distinction. Reference to similar documents at your workplace may serve you well as you prepare your own report. As shown in Table 11.1, there are many types of reports.
Table 11.1 Types of reports
Monitor and control production, sales, shipping, service, or related business process.
Make recommendations to management and provide tools to solve problems or make decisions.
Present summaries of the information available on a given subject.
A progress report is used to give management an update on the status of a project. It is generated at timed intervals (for example, once a month) or on completion of key stages. It records accomplishments to date and identifies any challenges or concerns. It is usually written by the project lead and is one to two pages long.
When you write a progress report, begin by stating why you are writing the report:
- Identify what you’ve accomplished
- List any problems you have encountered
- Outline what work still remains
- Conclude by providing an overview of the project’s status and what should be done next.
It’s helpful to think about a report not just in terms of what should be included, but why certain elements are included. Most reports have a persuasive element, so when reporting your progress you are trying to:
- Demonstrate that you have taken appropriate, competent action so far.
- Assure the reader that they can trust you to finish the remainder of the work effectively and that your plan remains a good one.
- Convince the reader that the project has been successful so far.
- If the project hasn’t been successful, then you will want to explain why and suggest ways to improve. Never downplay or lie about challenges you are experiencing. Not only will this damage your reputation when the truth comes out, but you’ll also be defeating the purpose of the progress report: which is to evaluate the project and address issues as they happen.
Understanding your persuasive strategy will help you organize and write your progress report.
A recommendation report is used to help management make decisions. The goal of this report is to identify a solution to a problem or suggest a course of action. In it, the writer might suggest that a procedure be adopted or rejected, assess an unsatisfactory situation, or persuade decision makers to make a change that will benefit the organization. For example, the report might suggest ways to enhance the quality of a product, increase profit, reduce cost, or improve workplace conditions. The intention of a recommendation report is not to assign blame or be overly critical, but to suggest improvements in a positive manner.
The persuasive goals of most recommendation reports are:
- That a problem or opportunity exists and the organization should take it seriously. Why should your organization devote its resources to this issue? Why now?
- That you have done the necessary research and have the expertise to solve the problem.
- That your research and expertise has led you to a solution, which is the best of all possible solutions.
- That your solution offers benefits to the company and has minimal risks. If there are risks, you are aware of them and have a plan to mitigate them.
The importance and expense of what you’re recommending will dictate the form, amount of detail, length and use of visual aids like charts and graphs. It will also dictate how you lay out your argument.
In Chapter 10, we explored how to craft an argument. This section will be useful to you as you craft the persuasive strategy for your recommendation report. Let’s take another look at the example of an argument we studied in Chapter 10.
To: Ralph Niblet, CEO
From: Hannah Vuong, Communications Manager
Subject: Migrating to MailChimp
Date: Sept. 1st, 2018
Last week, you asked me to research whether we should switch our email marketing software from Constant Contact to MailChimp. I think that we should go with MailChimp for the following reasons:
- MailChimp is free for a business of our size, while Constant Contact costs us $57 a month.
- MailChimp integrates with Salesforce and would allow us to use our database more effectively. I spoke to Sam Cho, who currently administers our Salesforce account, and he shared many exciting ways that we could integrate the two platforms without much effort. He also offered to host a webinar to train our staff.
- MailChimp allows us segment audiences more effectively. I’ve included some links to a few blog posts that illustrate what we could do. A lot of our current unsubscribes happen because we can’t target emails to specific groups of customers effectively. Our email marketing report from last quarter showed that 70% unsubscribed because of emails that were “not relevant.”
Some colleagues have voiced the objection that they already know how to use Constant Contact and they find MailChimp less intuitive. We will also have to migrate our existing data and clean it. I believe, however, that these barriers can easily be overcome with employee training and good data migration practices.
I am happy to show you a demo of MailChimp this week if you are free.
If Hannah wanted to turn this email into a report, she would likely find that the major elements are there. She’s done some research, she has used that research to come up with a solution, and she’s anticipated some potential risks or downsides to her plan. As you read about the parts of the report, think about how Hannah might turn her email into a recommendation report.
A summary report is used to give management information. For example, if you work in the marketing department, your boss might ask you to find out about your competitors’ online activities so that your company can effectively compete with them. To do this, you would research your competitors’ websites, social media profiles, digital advertising campaigns, and so on. You would then distill what you find down to the key points so that your boss can get the essential information in a short time, and then decide how to act on it. Unlike the recommendation report, the summary report focuses on the facts, leaving it to management to decide on a course of action.
In general, the main persuasive point that you are making in summary reports is that you have done enough research and have used appropriate sources, and that you have organized this information in a logical and useful manner. Because summary reports give a general overview, it’s important to think about how your reader can skim through the document. Remember: your goal is to save your audience time, so part of the challenge of the report is determining what information your audience needs, and what is irrelevant. You will also have to condense material.