Organization of Report
Much of what we are going to say about the organization of reports also applies to technical letters. But the report is a good deal more formal, and the sequence of sections is more firmly established. In a report these sections are given sub-titles for the convenience of the reader and for ease of reference. Normally this is not done in a technical letter. In drafting long letters, however, it is helpful to set up section headings similar to those in reports. These may be deleted in the final revision of they do not add to clarity. Not all of the sections discussed need be included in a report or letter.
A report consists of several essentially independent parts, with each succeeding one supplying greater detail about the problem. You start in by merely stating the subject and title. Next you may give a summary of the report. Then you give much more information in the body of the report. Finally, detailed descriptions of apparatus, materials, or data are supplied in the appendix so that the experiments can be duplicated or the conclusions verified. To be sure, this involves some repetition, but permits the reader to stop whenever he has gotten enough detail to satisfy his needs.
Formal reports are bound with a heavy paper cover. Just inside the cover is the title page. This repeats much of the information on the cover, and in addition, tells who sent the report, who approved it, who did the actual work on the project, and who received copies of the report.
Opening Sections of a Report
Filing purposes require that the title consist of a subject name, plus descriptive words to cover the specific study reported. For example, “HK Alkylation – Effect of Reaction Temperature.” This principle applies equally to letters. A title should be appropriate, informative, and unique. It should be no longer than necessary.
The most important part of your report is the Summary. It is the section most often read; sometimes it is the only part read. There is a strong feeling that the Summary should be tailored to fit on a single page. In some instances this is not possible for it must be long enough to do the job adequately. If your Summary must run to two or more pages, consider whether you should not precede it by a much shorter Abstract.
The Summary should briefly answer the questions:
1. What was the problem?
2. What are the facts and what do they mean?
3. What are the important conclusions?
4. What are the important recommendations?
There is no need to validate your data in the Summary; this is left to the Discussion of Results. Use a short insert table or chart if you can tell your story more effectively, or where it will take the place of a long descriptive passage. You may, if necessary, refer to a table or chart elsewhere in the report, but make sure it can readily be found.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The writer’s opinions about what was learned, based on the data presented, what steps should be taken as a result, and what additional studies are needed, should be given in the Conclusions and Recommendations. Both of these go beyond simple and readily apparent observations. In other words, saying that “the F-1 and F-2 Octane ratings are 95 and 82 is an observation. The statement “Because of the widespread in F-1 and F-2 ratings, the fuel should have a good rich mixture performance” is a true conclusion in which the writer has applied his judgment to interpreting the data.
If there is no valid conclusion or recommendation, do not try to devise one. But since most work of value will support a sound conclusion, be sure one is not being overlooked All the important conclusions and recommendations in the report should be listed in this section.
It is customary to open this portion with an introductory sentence or two which will set the stage for what is to follow. Your conclusions and recommendations may then be itemized, as (1), (2), (3), etc. Where this portion of your report is short, the section may be eliminated and the conclusions given as part of the Summary.
Table of Contents
For short reports (up to 5-8 pages) a Table of Contents is usually not necessary. For longer reports it serves as a guide and tells the reader at a glance the scope of the report. Preparing it will give you an opportunity to check the logic of the organization of your report. It is, in essence, the outline from which you worked
If a Table of Contents is worth preparing, it is worth doing well. Use the same care in choice of words that you have used in the selection of a title. Place the Table of Contents after the Conclusions and Recommendations; the reader who goes no farther than this has no need of the table Separate lists of tables and charts giving page numbers may be included after the Table of Contents.
The first section in the body of the report is the Introduction. It includes a statement of the problem, the value of the work to the company, and the background and reasons for the work Here you can list references to previous letters or reports, tell why the particular field of investigation was chosen, the relation of the problem to other fields of endeavor, the scope and limits of the report, and some mention of future work contemplated, The Introduction is not a rehash of the Summary. It sets the stage for what is to follow.
If only a sentence of introductory material is needed, this section may be omitted and the introductory thought covered elsewhere in the body of the report.
In addition to the foregoing sections found is most reports, there are others that, with the Introduction, make up the body of the report. Your range of these section headings is practically unlimited, provided that the terms chosen are applicable to the problem. These may be either generic terms such as:
Preparation of Samples (or Charge Stocks)
Presentation of Data
Discussion of Results
Apparatus (or Equipment)
Or better still they may be specific titles dealing with the study, as:
Concentration by Vacuum Steam Distillation
Chemistry of Gum Formation
Effect of Sulfur Trioxide on Color
Possible Markets for Product
Analysis of a Two-Component Acid Mixture
Method of Aging
Some generic headings occur in reports often enough to make worth-while a few comments on them.
A section on Work Done can be used to cover the actual work performed and the equipment and materials when these are incidental. The title preferably is more specific, such as Experimental Runs Made in 20 Liter Cases. Omit details not pertinent as well as ones understood by the reader. On the other hand, one fault of technical writers is assuming that the reader is familiar with a test procedure because it has become commonplace to the writer.
Date may be presented in this same section along with the experimental work except when the volume of data is large, in which case it may best be put in a section itself. Screen the data to eliminate any not pertinent to the results obtained, but don’t delete date merely because they appear to be inconsistent. Short insert tables or graphs are effective. For example:
The values for competitive regular motor oils were:
Mean Piston Rating
Mean Viscosity Increase
Mean Normal Pentane Insolubles
Voluminous data should be relegated to an appendix, using references in the text as necessary.
Discussion of Results
This is the span between the factual data and the writer’s conclusions. In it, your are leading the reader through the reasoning necessary to understand the conclusions and see that they are sound. Logic sometimes requires that you advance the opposing arguments in order to show that these are outweighed by the advantages, or that they are disproved by the assembled facts. Don’t assume that the reader agrees with your conclusions, but establish their validity through the process of logical reasoning. Try to strike a balance between annoying the reader by too thorough a discussion, and making it necessary for him to verify our conclusions by analyzing the data himself.
This is probably the section in which it is most difficult to refrain from using long, involved sentences. Even though your reasoning may be complex, keep your style simple and straightforward.
Here is the place to include a statement of the limitations of the data and how far the information may be used in other connections.
Where the conclusions are fairly obvious and not much discussion is needed, this section may be left out and the points covered under another section such as Work Done.
Many reports contain a list of references to prior articles, reports, letters, and patents directly related to the field of investigation. Usually these are referred to in the text, and in this case should be itemized and numbered in the order of reference. The text reference need only show the item number in parenthesis.
The bibliography is placed after the last page of the report (the signature page), and ahead of the appendices, if any.
In order to shorten reports and make them more readable, detailed descriptions of materials or apparatus used, operating procedures, detailed experimental results, and the like, are often included as appendices to the body of the report. There may be several in a report. Each appendix should be written as a separate unit. If detailed data are set up as an appendix, condensed tables or charts should be included in the main body of the report to support the conclusions reached. In other words, your report should be complete and self-sufficient in itself. Appendices are added to provide detail of value to future workers. Be sure to make reference in the body to appended material.
The Research and Development of the Sun Oil Company