Information on Technical Communication

 Reader Analysis
 Formal Report
 Analytical Report
 Typography Hints
 Instruction Basics
 Memo Format
 Oral Report
 Progress Reports
 Letter of Application
 Simple HTML

The Formal Empirical Report

Formal reports usually contain a common series of all or some of these elements:

  • cover page
  • title page
  • executive summary
  • foreword
  • introduction
  • methodology
  • data analysis
  • results and discussion
  • fact summary
  • conclusions
  • recommendations
  • tables and graphs
  • glossary
  • appendixes
  • references
  • The Cover Page

    Typically, the formal report includes a cover page on card stock or other heavy material with the name of the organization producing the document, the title of the document, the submission date of the document, and a description of the document. A reference number may be placed on a title page to be used for filing and retrieving purposes within the organization that produced the report.

    The Title Page

    The title page usually includes the same information that is represented on the cover, but in addition, also includes the names of the research team members and a place for an approval signature from the director or supervisor of the project.

    The Executive Summary

    The executive summary is a brief synopsis of all the findings detailed in the report. Its purpose is to allow a busy executive the opportunity to review the material in the document quickly. Executives may read only the summary on the way to a meeting so the summary should be complete and accurate. It should tell the reader the topic of the report, the method used for researching the topic, the results of the analysis and provide some very brief discussion of the analysis. It should also include conclusions and recommendations.

    Also note that visual aids such as listing and bullets provide a means for easy access to information and can be used to aid accessibility of the material in the summary.

    The Foreword

    The foreword notes the document developers' use of other (interoffice) reports referenced in the document and acknowledges help from individuals, other organizations, special book or journal sources, etc.

    The Table of Contents

    The table of contents functions as a referencing aid, just as those in other documents. It is important to reference page numbers accurately.

    The Introduction

    The introduction provides a contextual basis for the material that will follow in the rest of the report. It explains why the communicator has developed the analysis, and in some cases, what questions the analysis tends to answer. The introduction may indicate instead, that the analysis is intended to probe an issue to first find out what questions should be asked and then attempt to answer them. The introduction should also make it clear to the reader why and in what ways the document will be useful.

    An introduction of this sort can be fairly long, since the technical communicator needs to familiarize readers with the report topic, the significance of the report to them, the objectives in conducting the research and the significance of those objectives, and finally, the research findings. Of course, the details and support of this information provides the body of the report itself.

    The Methodology Section

    "Methodology" denotes the means used for collecting information or data. This section informs readers of the type of research design the technical communicator used to gather information. Essentially, it describes the means of collection used to arrive at conclusions. Some analytical report developers used empirical research methods to collect information, requiring quantitative or qualitative designs, and others base conclusions on nonempirical data collection. Regardless of the choice of research method, communicators need to explain and justify their choices to readers to develop credibility. The report described here is empirical in nature.

    In addition, when communicators use special equipment or software programs they must describe them as well as the range of materials used for collecting information, and any significance of the choices made. A reader should be able to understand the methodology used and judge its quality by reading the methodology section of the formal report.

    Tables and Other Graphics

    Often, technical communicators use tables, charts, and other graphics to help convey information clearly and quickly. Document developers should label their graphics clearly and include references in the text so that readers can use them at appropriate times during their reading of the report. In addition, document developers should make sure to integrate graphics within the text to allow easy accessibility of information in graphic form.

    The graphics themselves should be clear and communicative, providing accurate information and data.

    Data Analysis

    Technical communicators should provide a detailed description of how the information researched was derived; this explanation goes in the data analysis section of the report. The information here also explains the basis upon which the researcher describes the results and discussion in the next section of the report.

    Results and Discussion

    The results and discussion section provides a detailed explanation of the conclusions that the technical communicator has derived from the study. The researcher synthesizes all the information developed from the study then considers its implications. Technical communicators use this section to discuss in detail why they've come the conclusions they have, including what led them to conclude the way they did. Essentially, in this section communicators tell readers what they learned from the study and why readers can be sure about the conclusions.

    The Conclusion Section

    The conclusion provides a short synopsis of the findings derived from the research and their significance for readers.

    The Recommendation Section

    The recommendation does exactly what it implies; it recommends action (or lack of action) by readers who use the information in the report.