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Strategies and Structure of Reports

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Good morning friends. And, welcome back to NPTEL online lectures on Effective Writing. And, presently we are discussing report writing. In the previous lecture, if you remember well, we actually talked about what a report is, how can a report be defined? What are the salient features of a report? What are the types of report and how these reports vary from everyday writings? In this lecture, we are going to talk about the various strategies that are involved in writing a report and then we also be talking about the structure of reports. Now, you might be thinking as I said in the previous lecture, that even poems, stories, short stories, novels, they can be called reports, but they are not because they do not have a fixed structure. So, in this lecture we will find out, how reports have a different structure other than, because reports vary not only in length, they vary in structure, they also vary in terms of language and they also vary in terms of the strategy. As, I said in the previous lecture, that other writings have a lot of autonomy, a lot of flexibility, you can write depending upon your choice, depending upon your energy, depending upon your imagination, but you cannot write a report only because you want to write it. So, a report is need based and the report is actually written in response to some instructions or in response to certain demands. Naturally, since it is written for a wider audience, because we have been saying, that your report may go to several people. And, when we talk about several people, the first thing is we have to find out who is the person, who gave you the task of writing the report. And to whom will this report go? That is why a report has to be planned; a report has to have certain strategies. Now, what are these strategies involved, how you start or why do you think there is a need to write the report? So, first is to know the scope and purpose. When you are going to write a report or you have been given the task of writing a report, first you have to understand, what is the purpose, why you are writing this report, isn’t it? Naturally, you would not be writing the report because you felt very happy and you are going to write the report no, you should be writing the report when you have been asked to do so, that is why, you have to understand if you have been asked to do so, you also might be knowing to whom will this report go meaning thereby who will be the readers of your report, who will be the audience of your report? So, you also have to determine your audience and then because report is a factual, formal, written piece of information, it has to be based on data. Data is very important in a report. So, from where will you get the data and from where will we have the material that is where we talk about the primary sources and the secondary sources. So, collect the material, how will you collect the material? Collect the material means, collecting the data for your report. So, collecting the data there are several ways of collecting the data that we shall discuss and then, when you have the data collected, when you have brought all the pieces of information and these pieces of information, now they actually have to be organized. So, organizing the material and then when you have organized the material, because writing the report is the last step of it, last step of the entire process. So, and you are not going to write it in a haphazard manner you are actually to give it a proper layout a proper structure, a proper format, that is why you will make an outline. And, this outline will tell you how to move ahead, how and where to put the information, that is why knowing these strategies of report writing is very essential. So, first know the scope, what will this report do, what is the extent of this report? I mean, because when you write the report, when you have provided the conclusion through a report, you also might be thinking how much will it advantage and how much will it less advantage? What is actually the scope will the findings of the report work in all situations or there are certain limitations. So, that is what you will come to know when you know the scope and the purpose of the report. And, then you are also when you are going to write a report, you also might be having one question as to what reaction will it bring, that is possible based on knowing about the audience. Who are the audience members? Your immediate boss and even if your immediate boss is your audience member on the person to whom you are going to send this report or submit this report, you also have to ensure. What is your relationship with him, because on many situations we have seen that even if you maintain a very good relationship, you must not ensure that this report will lead to take decision. Because, sometimes even a report written with the best intentions may not persuade people to take a decision, because of the relationship with the primary reader, with the primary reader being strained, and there comes the question of language. Because, if a report writer wants something to be done based on his report he will actually create or he will craft his report in such a manner, provide such a language that can be convincing we shall discuss it further. Now, as I said you are not going to write a report, because you got up one morning and decided you will write the report, is it possible not at all. So, hence a report writing is based on need so, somebody will tell you. So, somebody may be a person who will actually authorize you. So, you are authorized to write this report. So, authorization is very important. And, who will authorize you, your boss or maybe in your organization whosoever is your controlling officer, who will provide you or give you the chance of writing the report. And, when he gives you assigns to the task of writing the report, he will provide you a terms of reference. Now, what is this terms of reference? What do you understand by these terms of reference, terms of reference is actually a sort of instruction. Through, which you will be provided some instructions, you will be given instructions, instructions about the problem what is the problem and why is the need to write the report and then these instructions become very important my dear friend is not it?. And, then based on these instructions, it will actually help you in identifying the problem. Once, you know the problem then only you can think of what are the data that are required? Maybe these terms of reference will also ignite and help in conforming to the scope of report, because you want some major action to be taken. So, you will always have in your mind, what will be the scope of this report I mean based on your findings?. And, then these terms of reference also allows you to clarify instructions, because suppose in the terms of references there are certain terms, which you do not understand. So, what can be done then you can always seek clarification from the person who has authorized you to write this report. So, once you know the terms of reference my dear friends, let us now start going for some preliminary steps, which are required for writing the report, as I said earlier that report writing is a factual piece of writing and it is based on data. So, data collection is the first step once you know the problem you go to collect the data my dear friend, you will collect the data. And, there is several ways of collecting the data. So, what are the different ways you will collect the data? You know the problem and when you know the problem, then perhaps you start thinking, there are several methods of data collection and for which method you find yourself comfortable enough. So, there are several methods of data collection the first is personal observation. Suppose, you are actually going to write a report based on personal observation. So, what is this personal observation? Personal observation, the word observation itself means to see something with a purpose, some event is taking place and you are making observations, but then this making observation is a very challenging and a difficult task, when you are making observation, you may make observation about the person, you may make observation about an event you may make an observation about an incident. So, when you are observing a person maybe sometimes the person may come to know and he may change his behaviour is not it? So, through personal observation you can judge the behaviour of a person. So, personal observation has got certain limitations my dear friend you know, when you are going to observe. Are you going to tell you cannot tell people that you are going to observe him? You are observing him you know, without any notice only then, but then this observation method even though it had certain limitation, it actually provides you certain clues, certain hints know about the persons behaviour know, you will find that there are many people who actually behave in one situation a different manner, in other situation in a different manner. So, when you want to collect data through personal observation, some people also see to it that they write, you know if you are going to write, what you observed personally you cannot write on the spot, you can write it later and it is related to memory how much do you remember fine?. So, personal observation as a method of data collection has got certain limitations, but then this is actually the first way and it provides you the first hand information that is why it is important. And, then the second that is telephonic interviews know. To telephonic interviews also you can collect data, but remember and suppose you are going to respond to a person over telephone and he wants to seek some crucial information, are you going to provide you cannot fine. So, there are again limitations in telephonic interviews and when you are going to have collect data through telephonic interviews, it will become a costly affair even though, in today’s world you know telephones have become very cheap, they have become you know the prices have come down. But, then conducting telephonic interview for data collection is still is a very costly affair, because even though there is no pain of geographical hassles or hassles, which come out of travel and other things, but there is no surety, that you will get natures of confidential information through telephonic interviews. So, telephonic interviews are very difficult and not only from your point of view, but also from the point of view of the respondents also. The respondent every now and then he is not prepared to answer questions, maybe sometimes he or she may take one time for telephonic interview and he has prepared himself a lot. So, there are chances that he may orient or he may also change, he may also change the responses. So, it is very difficult on telephone. Moreover you cannot you can talk to people on telephone, but are you in a position to understand what goes in the in his mind you cannot. So, people may manipulate their voices, sometimes there are other people also who can speak on behalf of others is not it. So, that is why there is a difficulty of collecting data through telephonic interviews. Then comes personal interview of course, in order to collect data through personal interview, you have to travel a lot and it is very difficult. Though, nowadays because of the wings of technology things have become easier and you can contact people over Skype or other devices as well. Nowadays, on WhatsApp also people are trying, but then do you think that is it possible to conduct personal interviews over all these devices. And, because there are in many corners people who do not react very favourably to personal interviews being conducted, even with the help of the digital media, but then personal interview is one of the best authentic ways to collect data, because through personal interview you not only meet people, but you go with a sort of questionnaire also. And, then while the person is responding to the questionnaire you are also trying to measure the readings on his phase. So, it in a way facilitates, but then it again also has got certain limitations. Maybe, we are not in a position to travel or there are people from whom we seek some very important pieces of information, and it is very difficult to get an appointment at times and if he or she leaves in a very remote corner, then again it becomes difficult and again such people do not want to come over, I mean the digital media today to give personal interviews. So, there are certain limitations. So, the last method of data collection is through questionnaires. Now, in questionnaire, there is one facility that the person can prepare a questionnaire keeping into consideration several apes and bots and the here the preparation of the questionnaire is is an art. So, how you frame the questionnaire, that is very difficult. And, again when you flawed the questionnaire is there a certainty that all the questionnaires will be returned, but for that you can spend a little by paying for the return postage and then questionnaires may come back. In questionnaires people are at the laser to answer your questions and then they can help. Now, with all these things in mind you go for data collection, but imagine, whatever data you have collected, these data are to be evaluated and after evaluation you go for note making, because your ultimate aim is to write the report. So, you have a lot of data before you and now you have to provide several heads, sub heads, and all these you can do when you are going to organize the data. But, remember when you have a lot of information, you actually feel at times very confused as to where to put what, that is why you need to understand the principles of organizing the data. What will do? You will actually these data are of different natures. So, make certain heads, certain sub heads, and put the relevant issues of the relevant pieces of information to a particular head. And, when you are going to do that also say to it, that you are ordering it in a very logical manner and when you are ordering you are also coordinating, suppose you gave it some head and in that head there is certain pieces that will come. So, you have to put that in the in that head and you have to subordinate also. Remember one thing which is very important, when you are going to divide please divide with the help of the numbers. And, these numbers provide you a sort of sequence and this will later make your task very easier when you are going to write the report. And, then make use of certain phrases and with the help of those phrases, you can also make certain you know small divisions of sentences or some clauses, whatsoever and then divide it. Now, in a way a blueprint of your report is ready my dear friend that is why, organizing the data is one of the most challenging tasks of report writing. Hence do care is to be taken when you are organizing the data. But, once you have organized the data what is the next step? The next step is because you have the data ready. Now, the next step is to put it into proper format. And, in order to understand proper format, what you need to do is you need to understand the structure of a report. As, I said in the previous lecture, that a report is different, a formal report is different, because it has to follow a proper structure a proper layout. You know it is not like a poem, where it will begin from anywhere and it will end anywhere, it will begin from the middle and it will end anywhere no it has to follow a proper structure. Every report, whatever report it is if it is formal it has actually to cater to the requirements of a proper structure and of which the very first thing is you have to understand that you can divide your report into 3 parts, into 3 parts, the very first part will be prefatorial material, then the main elements and then the back matter, but even before that let us try to understand, what actually are the different structures to be followed when you are going to write the report? So, first let us try to find out, what are the important items to be taken care of when we are going for the prefatorial material? Every report will begin with a cover my dear friend cover, every report will have a cover in certain organizations they provide you with a proper format they have the proper format, but in case if it is not there. You actually have to go for the cover; the cover has to be a well-organized I mean the cover actually requires the title of the report. It also requires who the report writers are and it also requires from where the report has been written I mean the name of the organization, and then it if because you will be authorized by somebody to write the report. Hence authorized by because it has to be submitted through a channel, it has to go through some official. So, naturally you will provide that. So, next to the cover because cover will be a hard paper sort of thing is not it, hard paper sort of thing, because long reports are often bound reports, they are bound reports. Hence, the cover also should ensure that the entire material is preserved properly. So, it is bound. So, after the cover there is a frontispiece. This frontispiece is actually a thin transparent seat, which can actually provide a sort of display of the entire report, if you are suppose you have provided a sort of picture. So, it not only safeguards the picture, but it also excites the interest of the readers and next to that is the title page. On the title page you will find, if on the cover page you have simply mentioned the title, on the title page you are going to provide not only the title, but you are also go going to provide the subtitle. In many organizations they provide you the number, in many organizations they also provide you a category confidential report number this and this fine. And, then since you are writing from the organization you are to take care of a forwarding letter, because if it is going to be submitted through a former channel, somebody will forward your report. So, forwarding letter is written just as a letter is written, but in that your report is being forwarded. So, it is being written by your boss or your forwarding officer controlling officer. Then comes the preface, this preface is the first page by the writer himself the writer here actually submits this report to the reader and he will in a very brief manner, he will talk about what this report is about and what it does. So, one has to understand if you have a look at the preface of several reports you will come to know how preface is written, but while writing the preface you have to be very objective. Then comes acknowledgement, your report cannot be written solely on your own there are many people who might have help you in one way or the another. So, here is a page where the report writer can pay his gratitude to several people. And, on the on the acknowledgement page he actually tanks all the people, who have some way or the other helped him in writing this report after acknowledgement we come to the table of contents. But, when you are writing acknowledgement please see to it that not all the sentences are alike there actually has to be a sort of change in writing the sentences for example, if you began the first sentence. I thank mister x for doing this. Then, the second sentence again should be different I also deem it my pleasure to thank. I shall be failing in my duty if I do not thank, thanks are also due to Mister Mohan, who has been recording these sessions very carefully, very dexterously, very meticulously. It would also be an injustice if I do not thank, the entirety cell had they not been recording my sessions very dexterously perhaps this could not have been a reality my dear friend. So, there are different ways, but then all the sentences have to be different, all the sentences have to be distinct my dear friend, but when you are writing acknowledgement see to it that it does not become too long and then come to the table of contents. The table of contents actually provides you with all the information, which are in the report, but they are presented here in the form of table of contents, the table of contents page bears the world table of contents in the top center middle and then the sub further divisions and subdivisions mention, along with the page numbers my dear friend. And, then there is one more page that is called list of illustration, it actually contains all the illustrations that you have mentioned in your report. Because, readers they many times they are not you know a pleasure to read the entire report, they may only have a look at what are the illustrations, they may also be interested to go to a particular page, they can go with the help of the table of contents and then we have an abstract or summary. It is very important to understand the difference between the 2, because an abstract all of you will agree is a very short piece. Now, very short piece whereas, a summary will be longer summaries are also called executive summaries, because these summaries will tell you the entire report in a very nutshell. So, these are the important items of prefatorial material of a report, after that we move to the main elements, where we shall be talking about interaction discussion conclusion and recommendations and then the back matter of the report. Now, here is the difference shown between abstract and summary as I said, abstract will only mention concisely the purpose whereas, the summary will tell you the entire report in a nut shell. To tell you the truth my dear friend in abstract you do not have the opportunity of providing figures or graphs whereas, in an executive summary you can do that, in executive summary there are conclusions at times also which an abstract cannot have. One should always remember that the abstract of a report should only be the 2 percent of the entire report whereas, an executive summary can be between 2 5 to 10 percent of the entire report. Then, we come to the main body. The main body is actually the heart of the report it is here, you have the data interpreted analysed, because now through this discussion through the discussion you are going to prepare your readers to tell them what you have done in a in this report and what can take place, how you can lead them to action? So, when you come to the main body the main body will have 4 parts of the report. The main body can also be called the heart of the report, the main elements of the report. Whereas, the prefatorial may matter prefatorial material is also called the front matter of the report. Now, the first page of the main body is introduction. Now, the question is how long should an introduction be, there are certain important things to be mentioned in the introduction, because through the introduction you are actually opening your report. So, your readers would like to know, what you have done in this report and in the introduction you are actually to mention the statement of authorization as I said, you are not going to write the report yourself somebody authorized you to write the report. So, what is the statement of authorization then, what is the background because when you are going to write the introduction first you are going to write about the background as to what was the present condition, and why this report is being written, what was the need to write this report? Here you will also be talking about the problem I mean the hypothesis, and then the scope of the problem, and then limitations you will also be talking about what are the ways of the data collection, because most of the readers will either see your introduction or will also see your conclusion. And, he will also try to match between the conclusion and the introduction, whether there is a sort of sequence or not whether your may introduction conforms to the conclusion or not. And, then in your report there may be several technical terms and since your report can be read by so, many people as I said primary readers and secondary readers also. So, there may be several technical terms which a layman like me will not understand. So, in that case you can also do a favour by mentioning some of the technical terms and providing them, their clarifications or their explanations. If, the need be and if the number of technical terms is so, many you can provide separate page to list of technical terms and that will actually ease the reading of the report. And, then finally, the report preview and after introduction we move on to the discussion part of the report. My dear friends, in the discussion as I have been saying the data which you have, you have already collected the data. This data is actually to be interpreted because the report writer must convince the readers, that this is the situation and this situation you are not actually you are not concluding yourself. You are actually going to orient your readers towards the conclusion by making a proper argumentation and an interpretation of the entire data. So, it will have findings and it will also have research problems. So, the description of topics data and this will actually help you draw inferences. Discussion is a longer one and that is why, all reports are to be numbered. And, when you are numbering the report the very first part of your report will be one I mean introduction, but the discussion since it will go in several pages you can have several divisions in the discussion. Now, sometimes you begin with a problem, that will be one part the second part will be something and again in that will be certain further subdivisions my dear friend that is why. So, through this you are going to ensure that you have worked on this report. And, since you are the one person who has worked on this report, you know better about this and based on this you are going to conclude. So, the findings will be based not only on fact, but also on logic my dear friend. Now, we come to the conclusion and recommendation. Now, is there a difference between conclusion and recommendation yes, while defining the report we shared that a report will have conclusion and recommendation if required. Maybe, it is not possible, that every now and then you have to give the recommendation. You are actually you have been hired to write a report to examine the situation and provide your conclusion. The recommendation will be the part of those people who will take decision based on it, but if they have asked to recommend, then only recommend. And, recommendation conclusion page is the last page of this report. So, when you are going to conclude here you are going to provide, the findings this is very important you started with a problem, know you started with a problem and you have discussed this problem, based on certain you know interpretation of the data and these data have been provided and you have also shown several figures know, several charts know, charts and figures maybe of different types. So, depending upon your need so, and that actually makes the task easier, because we have been saying that the use of illustrations is very important my dear friend use of illustrations. So, through illustrations what you are going to do is busy officials do not have much time to look at the entire discussion. So, what they will do they will simply go to the charts, they will go to simply the figures and find. And, every chart and every figure has to be named you know, you can say and while you are writing. So, while writing you must actually make a sort of sequence, you must actually confirm this is shown in figure number such and such. But, see that when you are discussing a certain thing alongside figures should also come. So, conclusion actually tells us the findings of the report and then it also provides answers to the problem statements, you started with a problem and based on that problem you continued with the report with the help of your analysis and investigation and all that and finally, you are going to conclude. So, with conclusion you are going to end your discussion part is not it. So, it should have a logical inference, I mean you cannot write something new in conclusion. You whatever you write in the conclusion, that actually should be based on what you have done in the discussion my dear friend. That is why there should be a logical inference and judgments which is based on the analysis of the report, that is how your report will finally, come to be concluded. So, conclusion is a shorter page maybe 1 page or 2 page depending upon the length of the report and then if recommendation is required then only give the recommendation, there is a difference between the language that is used between recommendation and conclusion. In conclusion you are very neutral, but when you are recommending naturally you actually the I think comes into question. So, when you recommend? And, do not ever recommend something that is not possible. Recommendation has to see the feasibility part of it also. So, when you recommend see that this action can be taken. You are recommending though, but you are not imposing by different that is actually the moot point. After this we come to the last part of the report, which we call the back matter of the report. Now, why back better and what is actually the significance of this back matter, when you are writing the report, you actually have your audience in your mind is not it. Now, you want your report to be read that is why there are certain and you are discussing also. When we shall be talking about the style or the elements of report writing till then, I think keep waiting keep listening, keep thinking, keep analysing, what we havediscussed. Thank you very much have a nice day.