Progress Reports
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Writing the Report: Key Components

Editing Checklist:

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Once you have clearly analyzed your audience's needs to determine the specific content of your report, you can begin drafting.

The length, of the report depends on the audience, the nature of the project, and the time period covered, but in general, these reports are brief (1-3 pages).

A typical report includes the following sections, as appropriate:

Introduction

In one or two sentences, introduce the project and the report, and briefly summarize the project status. Sometimes this information appears under the heading "Introduction" or "Summary" (especially in more formal reports); other times, particularly in memos, it is simply the opening paragraph.

Background

Briefly review the project itself, including the major tasks and what you should have accomplished by this point.

The degree to which you restate the project depends on the audience. If you're writing to your immediate supervisor about your work on the only major project underway in your design group, you may not need to say anything beyond the Introduction. If, on the other hand, you're writing a progress report for a grant you received from the National Science Foundation, which oversees thousands of projects, you probably need to provide a clear overview of the project goals and your proposed schedule.

Accomplishments

Summarize what you've done in the time covered by the report. This section should include both major tasks you've completed and, if appropriate, significant findings or results. Be careful, though, not to include too much detail - address findings you think the reader needs to know now, but don't waste time providing information that's not relevant to the reader's goals.

Bulleted lists offer a useful format for summarizing your work. If you do choose to include major findings or results, consider subdividing this section of the report to make it easier to skim the information - e.g. you might have a section on Completed Tasks and another on Major Findings.

Problems

Summarize any problems you've encountered, and explain either how you have solved them or how you plan to solve them. If these problems have resulted in changes to the project - a new schedule, a new focus, more research required, etc. - state those changes clearly. Again, bulleted lists and/or subdivisions work well here to help organize the information.

Future Work

Outline the work remaining on the project, including completion dates and time estimates as appropriate. If you have made changes to the project plan, you should note them here (as well as in the Problems section); for example, use color coding, bold, italics, or another visual element to indicate changes in dates, new tasks, or other modifications.

Conclusion

For longer reports, the Conclusion may need to again summarize the overall project status; for brief reports, that summary may be a single sentence.

If the report requires any immediate action from the reader (e.g. you are requesting a meeting to review key issues, you need more money, you need approval to make a major change), be sure to make your request clearly. And as with most documents, the closing should "extend the dialogue" - i.e. offer to answer any questions and request feedback.

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Copyright 2001 - James Dubinsky, Marie C. Paretti, Mark Armstrong