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Organizing Information in Written Reports


Contributed by Deane Gradous, Twin Cities consultant

By using appropriate headings in their reports, writers are more likely to address their readers' needs for information. Organizing information under headings (Table 1) makes writing tasks easier and reports more complete.

Table 1. Headings for four types of reports

Work plan

Final report*

Title--Be descriptive (consistent with a previous proposal, if any).

Purpose--State the purpose of the work in one or two clear sentences.

Background--Take the rational from the original proposal and add background as the reader needs.

Objectives--List the questions to be answered, the avenues to be explored, the work to be completed, or the results to be achieved.

Methods--Describe how the objectives will be achieved.

Materials--Estimate material to be used or consumed for the work.

Timeline--Include milestones and, where appropriate, future plans.

Appendix--Attach copies of correspondence and other documents important to the reader of the work plan.

Title--Be descriptive (consistent with the proposal and plan).

Purpose--State the purpose of the work in one or two clear sentences (consistent with the plan, or note changes).

Background--Tell the story behind the work. (The writer may choose to place this section after conclusions and recommendations.)

Objectives--List the questions answered, the avenues explored, the work completed, or the results achieved. Objectives must be consistent with the plan (any differences are explained). Objectives may be included in a Purpose and objectives section.

Conclusions and recommendations--Include new learning and advice to decision makers.

Summary--Write this section last. It functions as an executive summary of all the information in the report.

Methods--Describe how the work was achieved. If different from plan, include rationale for changes.

Results and discussion--Include important results data and graphic illustrations. Point out the information you want the reader to note. Discuss the implications. In this section, demonstrate your thinking.

References--Identify relevant documents, including background information.

Appendix--Include long tables of data and other documentation to support the achievement.

* Contains all the information needed to back up the results or to make decisions

Meeting report

Trip report

Group name, date, and time of meeting

Distribution list--Include team members' names typed in bold. Add asterisks by the names of attendees. Add the names of FYI recipients in plain type.

Follow up and action plans--Create a 3-column table listing action items. The first item is a reminder to all to attend the next meeting. Later items in column one describe action items completed since the last meeting, then the action items that were assigned during the meeting. Column two lists the persons responsible for the action items. Column three lists dates of completion or expected completion.

Agenda--List topics discussed during the meeting.

Discussions, decisions and assignments--List projects or topics in the same order as on the agenda and include the following:

1. Project status to date (background)
2. Decisions and rationale
3. Recommendations
4. Significant barriers

Next meeting--List tentative agenda items for the next meeting.

Who went where, project #, and date of trip

People contacted--Include names, titles, and phone numbers. This documentation is important for later reference and easily done when all the information is at hand.

Purpose--State the purpose in one or two sentences. If two projects and two purposes, the writer may want to file two separate trip reports.

Outcomes/benefits--Describe the expected and unexpected outcomes.

Objectives--List questions answered or avenues explored. Objectives may be included in the Purpose section.

Conclusions and recommendations --Include major findings and advice to decision makers.

Background--Tell the story behind the trip. This section functions as the rationale for the trip.

Results and discussion--Report the important events and activities of the trip and your thinking about what transpired.

Summary--This section must be written last but may be inserted early in the report. It functions as an executive summary of all the information in the report.

Attachments--Include any materials or documents the hosts and visitors presented to one another.

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