Reports. Speeches. Books. Articles. Stories. What is the one thing these five have in common aside from their written medium? It would be the use of outlines. A wise person once said that going to war without a gun will just get you killed (unless, you are very lucky. Hacksaw Ridge, right?). In the same manner, writing a report (not the one for class, but for company purposes) requires you to start with an outline to avoid getting sidetracked when you will be asked to present your report to the boss. There may be no right or wrong way to write a report outline, but it is always to your own preference on how you want to begin and how you would want to end your written report. Like every good outline, it always starts with a summary. Listed below is a sample report outline developed by Brian Yandell in 2008:
Always keep the summary short and simple. It is also here that you state the problem concisely, present your findings, and interpret the results briefly. In short, it should be a synopsis of your report. It should contain no figures, but could have a small table.
If it pleases the court, you can present evidence to back up your report. In this case, placing key graphs in your report would help the ones-in-charge or your boss understand the present situation using figures and tables. Even though adding them is important, keep in mind that you cannot add too many tables otherwise, you would risk letting the superiors read absorb too much information that is not really relevant to the problem. In creating tables and figures, it has to be simple enough that even the average person can understand it. It helps to put indicators (legend) to the table and figure to let the higher ups have an idea on what your table is about.
The report should flow nicely from the statement of the problem through design considerations and analysis to results and conclusions. Set up sections with headings which inform the client. The diesel reports had some shortcomings in organization. Learn from those mistakes.
This is where you begin to state the problem, but with more substantial basis so that they can have a better understanding of what the problem is and where it lies. Indicate on what steps you are undertaking to tackle the problem, and what you plan to share with the client. The introduction should also a phrase about each section of the report briefly.
Depending on the problem, this may need one or more sections. In this segment, you need to identify the aspects of the experiment which are key in order to understand the design. Although some elaboration may be necessary (but
keep it short) at some point about subtle issues such as subsampling and repeated measures (correlation, etc.).
It is also this part where questions about the nature of experimental units, blocking, random assignment and the way
measurements were taken should be addressed.
This section should clearly speak to the client. Avoid patronizing phrases like ”obviously”, “it is clear that”. But write with enough depth to let the client understand the spirit of what you did, but refer any essential details to an Appendix. Figures (primary) and tables (secondary) should be self contained and tell a major portion of the story, where possible. This section should state what you found and how you found it (sometimes it is useful to do this in two sections). It should be organized to tell the story you uncovered, not the circuitous path you may have taken to get there. Think hard about what should be include and what can be left out. Keep it simple. Ask yourself if you really need an Appendix. Keep it neat; make it self contained. The Appendix, if needed, you can be more technical.
This section is where you analyze the data you have collated through the data exploration stage. Your report will and should end in the interpretation of data. Aside from data analysis, you should also add conclusions in how the data will affect the topic you have chosen or the respondents of your study (if applicable).
After presenting majority of the said report to your higher ups, it is high time that you ask yourself: Now that I know what has been causing the trouble, what can I or my team do to help fix this to avoid this problem to go on any further? This is where you begin to formulate solutions as a countermeasure to solve the present issue at hand. It may take weeks, days or even years, But just remember that all good things take time, no matter how long it eventually takes. In your journey formulating different responsibilities, it is a process of trial and error. There can be no assurance whether that short-term or long-term plan would even work without trying. It is expected that there will be some setbacks along the way, which is why it is important to have some backup plan set up so that you can go to it when the initial plan fails.
Writing a report and actually delivering that said report are two very different things. But they both need ample time and preparation in order for the message to reach the client. Be formal and act smart. Nobody likes an unprepared report.