The main part of the report
Introduction. The introduction leads the reader into report and sets the scene. It may include:
- your terms of reference - the mandate you were given when you were commissioned to write the report;
- the name of the person who commissioned the report;
- the reason for writing the report or conducting the investigation;
- the scope (and limitations) of the report;
- the method of enquiry used.
Although the introduction appears at the beginning of the report, you will usually write it after the body of the report, when you will know better what is needed. So, write your introduction last.
The body of the report. This section contains all the facts and your findings. The number of parts that will appear in the body will vary according to:
- subject matter;
- the type of investigation.
There are no rules on this! But you must give a logical and balanced presentation and you must give each section a heading. Popular report openings are statements of problem, of necessary background, of interest-catching information, or questions and answers.
Pattern reports - those with the material always arranged under the same headings, which are always in the same order - may be easy writing, but, as Sheridan noted, “Easy writing’s curst hard reading”. Some readers become impatient, some sleepy if they know just where every report is going section by section. When they are not always familiar with the plan of reports, they are more alert and attentive, anticipating the unexpected.
Conclusions. The purpose of the conclusion of a report is to draw together the main points of the report and present a considered judgement. But, you should not introduce any new material at this stage. Some major reports may have “mini” conclusions at the end of each section in the body of the report. These “mini” conclusions should all be brought together in the general conclusions here.
Recommendations. The recommendations should follow naturally from your conclusions.
Sometimes, the recommendations will be obvious and clear-cut, and you won’t be able to offer any alternatives. However, there will be occasions when there will be several possibilities open and in these circumstances your recommendations must be based on clearly stated facts and sound arguments.
Your recommendations for action should be:
- within your terms of reference;
- fully considered (including the financial implications of the consequences);
- sound-practical and possible.
Recommendations are your advice as to the best choice or course of action, which follows logically from your conclusions,
e.g. “Therefore, I recommend that six new posts be created to deal with the increased workload”.
Sometimes report writers give their writing what’s called “pseudo-objectivity” by using phrases like:
It is recommended that...
It is considered that...
It has been established that...
This form of expression is called “pseudo-objectivity” because the writer has avoided saying “I” or “We” which sounds like a subjective judgement. If the writer “recommends”, or is “proposing”, or “believes” then this should be made clear. If more than one person has prepared the report, then “I” becomes “We”.
If someone else “recommends” or “proposes” then, likewise this should be stated:
“The accounts department recommends that...”
Take care to ensure that the tone of your recommendations doesn’t sound threatening to the reader. Don’t use words which indicate an obligation to your reader, like “should”, “ought”, or “need”.
Note: The main purpose of our model report is to INFLUENCE (from the Five I’s). Because no decision is required from the reader, no recommendations are necessary in this report.