Lecture: The MIT Guide, Ch. 13: Reports

Note: Unless I hear otherwise I will assume you understand the readings from The MIT Guide to Science and Engineering Communication. Therefore, lectures on readings from the book will tend to be short, focusing on specifics I want to highlight. If you have any questions whatsoever about the readings, including material not covered in the lectures, please ask.

Chapter 13: Reports

Reports, as with proposals, can vary in formality, purpose, contents, and size. Common reports you might encounter in your career include: 1) 1. The MIT Guide offers sample formats for technical reports (197), lab reports (207), recommendation reports (209-11), and environmental impact reports (213-14).

What all reports have in common is that they present the results of or findings about something after it has happened.

Two famous reports often cited as case studies for extensive comprehensive reports are the The 9/11 Commission Report and the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

Audiences for Reports

As the The MIT Guide explains, reports tend to have multiple audiences, each interested in only a part of the report. Whether true or not, conventional wisdom is that 80% of readers will only read 20% of a report. What this means for writers of reports is that each section of the report needs to be able to stand on its own.

When writing reports you should also keep in mind that while they are usually not formally published, they may be made public, which means that you should be writing not just for your primary audience but secondary and even tertiary audiences as well.

Report Contents

The MIT Guide‘s list of contents for a proposal found on pages 196-205 might seem intimidating, especially if you’re thinking in terms of the lab reports you’re used to writing. Keep in mind, however, that the list The MIT Guide presents is seeking to be comprehensive, to address all the elements one might be expected to include in a formal comprehensive report. The actual contents of any specific report will differ depending upon what it is for, to whom it is being sent, whether it is formal or informal, etc.

Likewise, while all reports seek to present results or findings, different kinds of reports will have different purposes and aims, which we can see reflected in different kinds of reports. See, for example, the discussions of methods in laboratory reports (pp. 205-208), the decision making process in recommendation reports (pp. 208-211), and the emphasis on alternatives in environmental impact reports (208-213).

References   [ + ]

1. 1. The MIT Guide offers sample formats for technical reports (197), lab reports (207), recommendation reports (209-11), and environmental impact reports (213-14).