Communication Midterm Assignment


Week 05 Posting - Reports.docx

COMM 310: Posting for Week 5—Reports

Don’t forget that the User Guide CMAPP Analysis assignment—a Group assignment—is due this week. That means that I should receive one assignment file from each group.

Reports—An Overview

I’m going to presume that you’ve read Chapter 11 of Engineering Communication. As it points out, no one ever gets up in the morning and says, “You know… I think I want to write a report, today!” You write a report for one reason only: someone (almost always a single individual) has asked for it. And, in CMAPP terms, the person who has asked you for the report is almost always going to be your primary audience.

You’ll recall that, generally speaking, we can discern two broad categories of reports:

 Short reports, also called informal reports

 Long reports, also called formal reports

You’ll likewise recall that the terms short and long no longer refer simply to length. In fact, a long short report may be longer than a short long report. And, as I’ll remind you shortly (excuse the pun!), the distinction relates more to the reports’ structural conventions.

I cannot imagine your being able to pursue a professional career without writing reports. The kinds of reports you will need to produce will depend, of course, on the kind of work you do. It’s likely that very few of you will need to create long/formal reports. Although many people in an organization often contribute information towards a long report—a company’s Annual Report to Shareholders, for example—relatively few actually take part in writing it. Almost certainly, though, you’ll have write a variety of short/informal reports. Consequently, this course focuses much more on those.

I would also recommend to you the (Word 2003) file (available on April 24, 2014, from, BEIT 336 Business Report Writing Study Notes by Sandra J. Nelson of the School of Business at Indiana State University. Admittedly, the document is lengthy—over 60 pages. Nonetheless, her advice and examples are informative and worthwhile.

In this week’s website section, you’ll see two folders that I’ve posted for you. Reports – General Information and Sample Reports. Let me allude to the latter, first, by citing its folder description:

 These sample reports appeared in my 2003 textbook (published by Southwestern), Survivor's Guide to Technical Writing. As a kind of "source credit", I include a JPEG scan of that book's front cover.

 With the exception of the file Formal Report, they illustrate the classification of short reports mentioned on page 154 of Engineering Communication. As I indicate there, however, I believe you will be better served by treating each report as a particular piece of technical communication, created by applying a CMAPP analysis.

 The Formal Report example offers "selected pages" with explanatory marginalia. You will find general information on formal/long reports on pages 157–159 of your textbook.


Although I think these samples might prove useful to you, I do caution you against using any of them as a “template” for your Feasibility Proposal Report or your Revised Project Plan… or, for that matter, for the short report you’re likely to have to create as part of the Midterm for your Week 7 assignment.

B) Observations re the PowerPoint files

Now, please open Overview of Reports.pptx from the Reports – General Information folder. I’d suggest you run it in Slide Show mode; items will appear consecutively on a mouse click or on pressing the space bar.

Overall, this file is a review of the material in your textbook. However, I’d like to offer additional observations with regard to some of the slides.

1) Slide #2 shows some of the reasons—often more than one, simultaneously—that people create reports. For example, I think I’ve already mentioned that my wife is a nurse in a local hospital. There, she must regularly complete “charting” for her patients; in effect, she creates reports—organized information in response to an expressed need. Such a report is necessary for the hospital’s administration requirements; it helps nurses and doctors make decisions regarding the patient; it provides precise information about the patient and his/her treatment; it facilitates later interpretation of the patient’s progress, for example; it assists in meeting the hospital’s responsibility for legalities; it helps nurses and doctors in their planning for that patient and for others; it ensures permanent records of patient treatments and outcomes; and, it can help in the trend analysis that nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators find valuable.

2) Slide #3 refers to points made in Chapter 11 of the textbook. With regard to the Data > Information line, remember that many managers actually complain about being overwhelmed with data. Part of your job as a report writer is to convert the data you obtain into information that will be useful to your audience. In just a moment, I’ll refer in more detail to the idea of objectivity. Meanwhile, recall that if the construction and presentation of your report (or any piece of technical communication) are not professional—showing a clear application of your time, care, and attention—you audience will rightly treat it with disdain. My advice—on the right of that slide—is to conduct a CMAPP analysis and to apply the complementary attributes.

3) Slide #5 illustrates the alternative “classification” of reports mentioned in your textbook, several examples of which you’ll find in the Sample Reports folder mentioned above.

4) Slide #6 introduces the distinction between informative and evaluative reports, essentially, the difference between evaluative content versus informative content. This often overlooked distinction is a significant one, derived principally from the words you choose.

At this point, I’d like to “interrupt” the slide show to discuss a distinction that, despite its importance, is often ignored, perhaps because it can be a difficult one to make.


C) Evaluative versus Informative Content

1. Short/informal reports, recall, may be either informative or evaluative. The distinction is crucial: for example, a client who requests a purely informative report will be dissatisfied to receive a report with an evaluative component—an indication of your opinions, rather than simply a recounting of 5WH (who, what, when, where, why, and how).

2. Nonetheless, evaluative reports are certainly more common in the business world, if for no other reason than the audience who has requested the report is likely to want recommendations—which are evaluative by definition: a recommendation is, in fact, the expression of the writer’s opinion of what should be done.

3. Recall, though, that an evaluative report will nonetheless encompass informative as well as evaluative components—sometimes “separated”, sometimes “mingled”. Thus, within a single report, you might use level heads (sub-headings) to differentiate one from the other. Strictly “informative” content might follow headings such as Background, or Observations, while level heads such as Analysis or Evaluation or Recommendations might introduce evaluative content. Overall, however, it is your choice of words that determine whether you are providing evaluative or informative content. And, normally, the higher the “connotative value” of your words, the more your content will be evaluative rather than informative.

4. Consider, for example, the following references I might make to Clifford Olson, a well- known name in BC. (Look him up if you’re not familiar with his story.)

4.1. Olson is the despicable mass murderer who rightly spent the last many years of his miserable life rotting in jail, after having massacred close to a dozen innocent BC youngsters during his reign of terror in the early 1980s.

4.2. Olson, is a man who died in 2011 in prison where he had been serving a life sentence, having been confessed to multiple counts of homicide committed during the 1980s.

5. The first sentence is clearly evaluative: its words give a strong indication of how I feel about the man and his crimes. The second, however, is informative: with low connotation and high denotation, it merely informs the audience about Olson. Notice, also, that the two items cannot be identical: they may refer to similar issues or they may deal with analogous topics… but “evaluation” and “information” cannot be the same. Neither, however, is better or worse; neither is right or wrong: they are simply different. The important thing is to distinguish one from the other, so that you can provide your audience what has been requested.

6. Now consider this sentence: University students demand a higher standard of education for their hard-earned money. Various aspects make it “evaluative”:

6.1. Unless you can provide data to show that all university students everywhere have been consulted, what you appear to mean, in fact, is that you think that a large number of them demand… and, by the way, how many, exactly, is a large number? Further, demand is a “loaded” word, high in connotation: you’re giving your opinion of their


feelings. Next, what does higher standard mean—higher than what, and assessed against which/whose criteria? Then, do all students everywhere earn their own money? Or, are you really saying that you believe that many (again, undefined…) do? And, what about hard-earned? That, too is a personal judgment. Thus, the sentence is “evaluative” rather than “informative.”

6.2. Consider, though, this sentence: Of the 72 students polled on campus on January 22, 2014, 55 stated that they were not convinced that they were getting what they felt would be good value for their fees. In this case, I am merely reporting on others’ opinions. Thus, the sentence is “informative” rather than “evaluative”. (I of course made up the survey…)

I’d like to show you more examples of this; so, please open Reports – Evaluative versus Informative Content.pptx, also in the Reports – General Information folder, and run it in Slide Show mode. Lines will appear consecutively on mouse clicks or on pressing the space bar.

a) Slide 2 briefly explains the issues. The remaining slides contain numbered pairs of sentences.

b) Unless you’ve already mentioned a precise group of individuals, the first sentence of example #1 is evaluative because “everyone” could mean the entire global population—obviously not what is intended. Also, “for hours” would require that you had timed the wait of every person involved, and every wait had been of at least 120 minutes. In effect, this sentence likely means something like, “I really don’t like how long we have to wait…” There’s nothing wrong with that; but, it’s evaluative—a judgment, an opinion—not informative. Note that the second sentence of the pair simply alludes to a report—it doesn’t offer the speaker’s (or writer’s) opinion.

c) In example #2, how is “hard” measured, and what does “enough” actually mean? Then, “making us”: does that mean that someone is threatening you with a gun? How many items must be in a “collection”—15, 220, 5939? Pretty obviously, this sentence expresses anger or disappointment, or dismay; but, it doesn’t convey empirical, quantitative information. The second item of the pair, though, does: it states what is inscribed on each parking meter.

d) In example #3, what does “nuisance” really mean? It means that I don’t like it; again, it’s simply an opinion. The second item of the pair refers to facts that can be verified.

e) Example #4’s “outrageous” is patently evaluative; it expresses a very strong personal bias. However, the second item of that pair is informative, because it simply reports someone else’s opinion. Notice the distinction.

f) Example #5 contains at least six evaluative indicators: great (how do you measure that?), suggestion (what is a suggestion but the expression of an opinion?), sure (because it states a belief rather than a fact), really (this emphatic term is a judgment), help (in the writer’s opinion, of course), and right (once more, the writer’s opinion). The information in the second sentence of the pair, however, can be objectively verified—through meeting minutes, for example.


g) I think you’ll be able to deal with examples #6

h) Let’s look at example #9 on slide 5 of 6. Here are the elements that, I believe, make it evaluative:

i) Students: which students, where?

ii) can't afford: none of them can, how do you know, where’s the proof ?

iii) these prices: which, exactly? Any? All?

iv) they rely on student loans: do all students have student loans? Do all those who do have student loans have no other means of support?

v) money they earn from their low-paying jobs: do all students have jobs, do they all have no other source of income, are all those jobs part time, and how do you define “low paying”?

The second sentence of the pair, of course, simply reports on verifiable figures—

even if, in fact, I made them up… 

i) I’ll leave you to identify the evaluative content in the other examples in this file.

In the same folder, you’ll see Reports – Evaluative Content versus Informative Content Examples.pdf, which presents some additional examples of “pairs”. If you’re uncertain, post your queries.

D) Overview of Reports.pptx, continued…

5) The organizational patterns shown on Slide #7 are common, particularly for informative reports. They are, in effect, the same “traditional” organization patterns you might have learned in high-school for writing essays. The “Segments” shown there are not headings; rather, they represent a typical—but not requisite—report structure. You might have noticed that the foundation of this tripartite structure is essentially the same one we use for most (organized) communication, regardless of the terminology, e.g., beginning > middle > end, introduction > body > conclusion. I’m not sure why this happens (perhaps someone in the psychology department has a theory?), but it clearly does.

6) Slide #8 recapitulates the information on pages 156–157 of your textbook.

7) Slide #9 offers you another example of organizing the “analysis segment” of an evaluative report, according to what your audience is likely to find most useful. Page 156 of Engineering Communication deals with the matter of fees; this slide considers the renewal of a fleet of vehicles for a company whose sales staff need to travel a great deal. Notice: the Purchasing Department will have to deal with the complexities of administering the program, from obtaining bids to arranging for insurance, to verifying travel allowance refunds, and so on; thus, they may well prefer to see the material organized by alternative (also referred to as option, as in your textbook). However, if the Finance Department is your audience, their needs will be different: they’ll have to consider the impact on this year’s budget (up-front costs), the effect on budgetary planning (overhead costs), as well as pay adjustments, taxes, and benefits (employee reactions). Thus, they might find it more useful for you to organize the material by criterion (also referred to as issue).


8) Slides #10, #11, and #12 give a very brief summary of relevant points concerning long/formal reports. As I mentioned on page 1, though, not many of us are required to create one. (I’d nonetheless remind you of Sandra Nelson’s course document at

9) Slide #13 is simply a reminder for your Feasibility Proposal Report, which will be due in Week 9. Remember that a “proposal” is, by most authorities, considered a kind of report, even though it definitely constitutes persuasive communication, a topic dealt with in Week 6’s posting.

Well, to paraphrase Woody Woodpecker (a cultural referent that you can investigate at and at, that’s all for now folks… 

Don’t forget that you can post questions and comments to this week’s Forum and/or email me directly.