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Common Errors in Report Writing Assignments

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On this page:  Content and organisation, Grammar, vocabulary, style and tone, Conventions, Example report

The following common errors are a summary of common errors made by ELC students in report writing assignments.

Content and organisation

  • Problem - No section headings
  • Solution - Use the following section headings: Introduction, Findings, Conclusion and Recommendations. Other possible sections include Background, Method and Discussion. You can also use sub-headings, such as 'Terms of Reference', 'Aims', and 'Overview'. Put each one on its own line, above the following paragraph.
     
  • Problem - missing items related to the format
  • Solution - in memo-format reports, include To, From, Date and Subject. In stand-alone reports, include a title; e.g. 'Report on...', the date, and the author's name, job title and organisation.
     
  • Problem - lack of numbering
  • Solution - add numbers at the start of the section headings; for example:
     
  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Method
  4. Findings
    4.1 Introduction
    4.2 Strengths
    4.3 Weaknesses
    4.4 Opportunities
    4.5 Threats
  5. Conclusion
  6. Recommendations
1. Introduction
    1.1 Terms of Reference
    1.2 Aims
    1.3 Overview
2. Method
3. Findings
  3.1 Introduction
  3.2  Advantages
  3.3 Disadvantages
4. Conclusion
5. Recommendations
1. Introduction
2. Method
3. Findings
  3.1 Introduction
  3.2  Quality
  3.3 Quantity
  3.4 Cost
  3.5 Risk
4. Discussion
5. Conclusion
6. Recommendations
1. Introduction
2. Method
3. Findings
  3.1 Introduction
  3.2  Observations
  3.3 Questionnaire results
  3.4 Interview Results
4. Discussion
5. Conclusion
6. Recommendations

 

Introduction section

  • Problem - no terms of reference
  • Solution - state who requested the report (their name, job title and organisation) and when they requested it.
     
  • Problem: no aim or objective
  • Solution - The aim should have an infinitive verb; e.g. 'This report aims to investigate the recent incident involving...' The objective should be the desired result; e.g. 'in order to prevent this from happening again', or 'for the purpose of increasing sales'.
     

Procedure / Method section

  • Problem: in the Procedure / Method section, no date for when information was collected
  • Solution: include a date or a range of dates; e.g. 'Questionnaire were distributed on . Interviews were conducted between and .

Findings

  • Problem: no introduction to the findings
  • Explanation: It is important to have an introduction to your Findings to summarise them for busy people who do not have time to read all of them, and to give readers an overview of what to expect in the Findings. This helps them to understand the Findings more easily, because the information is not totally new.
  • Example: 'In general, staff were not satisfied with the power and size of the microwave.'
     
  • Problem: the findings section is too long
  • Solution 1: select only some of the information available - chose the most important information
  • Example 1: The purpose of reports is to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities, so if the information is not related to solving the problem or taking advantage of the opportunity, miss it out.
  • Solution 2: select only some of the information available - chose information that represents the other information.
  • Example 2: When describing data from a table, look for data that shows that there is a problem, and describe that in more detail. Describe other data briefly, for example in one sentence (see the Findings in the Example Report below).
     
  • Problem: On the other hand is used wrongly
  • Incorrect example: 'Over 90% of staff were not satisfied with the location of the microwave. On the other hand about three-quarters of them were not satisfied with its capacity.'
  • Cause: On the other hand means However, not In addition. It shows contrast with the previous statement, not a change of subject.
  • Solution: use it properly or avoid it.
  • Correct example:  'Over 90% of staff were not satisfied with the location of the microwave. On the other hand about three-quarters of them were satisfied or very satisfied with its reliability.' (Explanation: there is a contrast between the lack of satisfaction in the first sentence and the positive satisfaction in the second.)
     
  • Problem: no ordering principle, so it is hard to follow the priority of the Findings, or Findings in the same order as the statistics
  • Solution: use an organisational structure, such as:
    • Importance - Great to less
    • Strengths and Weaknesses
    • Advantages and Disadvantages
    • Cost - Cheap to expensive
    • Quality - Best to worst
    • Quantity - Most to least
    • Time - Past to present, fastest to slowest, or punctual to late
       
  • Problem: not putting the topic of the sentence at the beginning, so readers have to remember all of the words in the sentence before they find out what the sentence is about.
  • Example of the problem: 'Over three-quarters of human resources department staff and over two-thirds of accounting department staff were satisfied in terms of the microwave's location.' (23 words to remember)
  • Example of a better sentence organisation: 'The location of the microwave satisfied over three-quarters of human resources department staff and over two-thirds of accounting department staff '. (1 word to remember)
  • Example of a better paragraph organisation:

    3.2 Location of the Microwave
    The location of the microwave in the pantry satisfied over three-quarters of human resources department staff and over two-thirds of accounting department staff

Conclusion

  • Problem: No summary of the findings at the start of the Conclusion
  • Cause: Writers do not see the need to repeat information.
  • Reason: Busy report readers may not read all of the report, especially the Findings. They may jump to the conclusion, and therefore miss important information.
  • Solution: At the start of the Conclusion write a one-paragraph summary of the Findings; e.g. In conclusion, the findings show that staff are not satisfied with the ...'.

Recommendations

  • Problem: Unrealistic recommendations.
  • Causes:
    • Unprofessional thinking; e.g. business students recommending expensive solutions that will not pay for themselves.
    • Over-general recommendations
  • Example:
    'In future, our company should adopt more effective measures to market more useful products to more potential customers.' (Too general).
  • More information on how to write good recommendations.

 

Grammar, vocabulary, style and tone

Introduction section

  • Problem: confusion between past and present tenses.
  • Solution: Information about the content of the report should use the present tense, but information about what happened should be in the past tense.
  • Example: 'At the monthly staff meeting on , you requested information about staff satisfaction with the new microwave oven. The aim of this report is to present this information, and make suggestions about how to improve the situation.'

Procedure / Method section

  • Problem: in the Procedure / Method section, the description of the range of dates is wrong
  • Solution: include a date or a range of dates, and use the correct words to describe the times; e.g. 'A survey was carried out from Monday to Friday of last week' or 'A survey was carried out between Monday and Friday of last week'.
     
  • Problem: confusion between in total and totally
  • Bad example: There were totally 50 customers who were interviewed.
  • Solution: totally means completely. However, In total means Added together.
  • Correct examples: 'In total 50 customers were interviewed.' or 'A total of 50 customers were interviewed.'

Findings

  • Problem: use of the informal 'For' to introduce a subject; e.g. 'For senior staff, ...'
  • Solution 1: Use 'Regarding'; e.g. 'Regarding senior staff, ...'
  • Solution 2: start with the subject of the sentence, then a verb; e.g. 'Senior staff were...'
     
  • Problem: using sentence structures such as, "For pollution, it is a serious problem." is an error called topicalisation.
  • Solution: write, "Pollution is a serious problem." If you use 'Regarding X', 'Concerning X' 'With regard to X' or 'As for X', you should follow it by a comma and then a different subject (not X). For example, 'Regarding pollution, we see it as a serious problem.' For more information, see http://vlc.polyu.edu.hk/common/topicalize.htm .
     
  • Problem: choosing between 'satisfy', 'satisfied', 'satisfying' and 'satisfactory', etc, and missing out the following preposition.
  • Solution: see https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/CILL/eiw/satisfaction.aspx
     
  • Problem: using staffs
  • Solution: see https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/CILL/exercises/staff.aspx
     
  • Problem: grammatical mistakes in approximation; e.g. 'two-third of staff were satisfied'
  • Solution: see https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/eiw/approximationcorrection.aspx 
     
  • Problem: describing trends incorrectly
  • Solution see https://elc.polyu.edu.hk/cill/exercises/trends.aspx
     
  • Problem: missing auxiliary verb in cause and effect descriptions
  • In correct example: This may because of a lack of quality control.
  • Correct examples: 'This may be because of a lack of quality control.' or 'This may have been because of a lack of quality control.'
     
  • Problem: Extreme statements
  • Example: 'The materials were useless.'
  • Solution: Present the data; e.g. 'Staff did not find the materials useful: over 90% of them found the materials 'very dissatisfying.' '
     

Conclusion

Recommendations

  • Problem: using suggest to and recommend to, not followed by a person
  • Solution 1: use an _ing form; e.g. 'I suggest taking the following action.'
  • Solution 2: use a that-clause; e.g. 'I recommend that the company take the following action.'
     
  • Problem: not showing confidence or tentativity in recommendations.
  • Solution 1: use should to show confidence and could to show tentativity; e.g. 'We should return the microwave to the shop and ask them if we can buy a bigger one. We could also let the staff arrange a system for different staff to use the microwave at different times.
  • Solution 2: use clearly to show confidence and may, or might to show tentativity; e.g. 'This may be because of ...'
  • Solution 3: use adverbs such as definitely to show confidence and probably or possibly to show tentativity; e.g. 'This is probably due to the...".
  • Solution 4: use is to show confidence and seems to or appears to to show tentativity; e.g. 'This is because of...' or 'This seems to be because of...'
     
  • Problem: wrong tense to show the results of a suggestion.
  • Solution 1: to show confidence, use would plus an infinitive verb; e.g. "The proposed changes would improve the situation.'
  • Solution 2: to show tentativity, use could, may or might plus an infinitive verb; e.g. "The proposed changes might improve the situation.'

All sections

  • Problem: lack of use of 'and' before the last item in a list.
  • Solution: add 'and'; e.g. This report examines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by the organisation.
     
  • Problem: determiners not specific enough.
  • Solution: use specific determiners such as this, these and it, rather than general ones such as the; e.g. 'This report aims to' rather than 'The report aims to...'
     
  • Problem: using and and but at the start of sentences, which is inappropriate for formal writing.
  • Solutions: use more formal alternatives; e.g. In addition and However

 

Conventions

  • Problem: too much detail in the description of statistics
  • Example: '33.33% of respondents thought that this was acceptable'.
  • Solution: use approximation; e.g. 'A third of respondents thought that this was acceptable'.

 

 

Next: try the Report Correction Exercise

Example report

CONTACT COMPUTER GRAPHICS

MEMORANDUM
 

To: S.M. Chan, General Manager
From: Samantha Ng, Office Manager
Date:
Subject:  Report on Staff Satisfaction with the Microwave Oven

1. Introduction
At the monthly staff meeting on , you requested information about staff satisfaction with the new microwave oven. The aim of this report is to present this information, and make suggestions about how to improve the situation.

2. Background
Since the move to the new office in Kowloon Bay, staff have had difficulty in finding a nearby place to buy lunch. This is because the new office is in a factory area, and there is a lack of restaurants. A Sharpe R-3R29 microwave oven was purchased so that staff could eat hot lunches at work. However, some staff have expressed dissatisfaction with the microwave.

3. Method 
Sixty staff were surveyed by questionnaire from to .

4. Findings

    4.1 Introduction
    In general, staff were not satisfied with the power and size of the microwave. Some were satisfied with  the location of the microwave, and most were satisfied with its reliability (see Table 1). On analysing the data, two distinct groups of staff emerged. The first group were 40 staff who had usually eaten in the office when the office was in Central. The second group of 20 staff had usually eaten outside in Central.

    Table 1: Staff Satisfaction with the Microwave Oven

    Feature Staff Satisfaction
    Group A
    Usually ate in the office (n=40)
    Group B
    Usually ate outside the office (n=20)
    Both Groups
    Size 55% 35% 48%
    Power 30% 25% 28%
    Location 70% 75% 71%
    Reliability 95% 95% 95%
    Cleanliness 90% 95% 91%
    Average 68% 65.5% 66.6%

    4.2 Power
    Only a quarter of Group B staff said that the oven was powerful enough for their needs.  Also, less than a third of Group A staff were satisfied, giving a total for both groups of less than 30%. Staff responded that it took too long for the oven to cook their food and therefore they had to queue at lunchtime.

    4.3 Size
    In addition, about two-thirds of Group B staff said that the microwave was too small. For example, one member of staff complained that his 10" pizza would not fit in the oven. However, more than half of Group A staff were satisfied, giving a total satisfaction for both groups of just under 50%.

    4.4 Location
    About three-quarters of both groups of staff thought that the location of the oven was acceptable. The rest of the staff did not agree on a better position for the oven.

    4.5 Reliability and Cleanliness
    Regarding both reliability and cleanliness, almost all of the staff were satisfied.

5. Conclusions
The Findings show that staff, especially staff in Group B, were not satisfied with the power and size of the microwave. We should therefore consider buying a bigger and more powerful microwave.

6. Recommendations
There are a number of options we could consider, as follows:

    6.1 Exchange
    We should return the microwave to the shop and ask them if we can buy a bigger one, and only pay the difference. I suggest trying this first.

    6.2 Purchase of a New Microwave
    If the shop will not take back the old microwave I recommend buying a new one, and keeping the old one in another part of the office for the staff who do not like the present location. Alternatively, we could sell the old microwave second hand.

    6.3 Queuing System
    We could let the staff arrange a system for different staff to use the microwave at different times.

 

 

 

 

Last updated on: Monday, March 26, 2012