Though a formal report is for the most part an informational presentation, the ultimate goal of the report may vary. It can outline the details of a project proposal or design, document and analyze experimental results, advocate a course of action based on available data, and verify and assess the results of other formal studies. A formal report offers a number of advantages for the reader and the researcher, all of which hinge on its basic characteristics.
Organization and Clarity
The structure and language of a formal report allows the author to present his data systematically, focusing on his key points while leaving provision for tangential and secondary information. The paper is broken up into clearly-defined sections arranged in a logical flow. This methodical presentation of data means that the reader can quickly comprehend what the researcher wishes to express. Writers are encouraged to analyze their audience - that is, know if they're writing for technicians, experts, executives, or a mixed/general audience - before writing out the report. A well-written report, therefore, contains as little jargon as possible and is understandable at the first reading.
Objectivity and Reliability
A formal report also presents a neutral, unbiased presentation and, possibly, an analysis of information. Where analysis or assumption is necessary, it should provide a clear, fact-based rationale for either. This means hard facts - statistics, experimental results, well-documented research and other supporting information. Because subjectivity is omitted, a formal report can be used as a reliable secondary reference or literature for related studies. While an informal report can only be read as a supplement, a formal report can be cited in related studies without its validity being questioned.
Accuracy and Verifiability
Accuracy means that a writer states all his facts clearly and completely - giving exact dimensions and units wherever necessary, defining technical terms, and using concrete language that leaves no room for ambiguity. Verifiability, on the other hand, means that information is attributed properly to the right sources, and that the bibliography leaves out no publication, book, or article. While time-consuming, this ensures that a formal report is reliable, and that another researcher can check if the information presented is correct by either replicating the experiment or by reviewing the cited sources.
Another advantage to a formal report is that the reader receives all the pertinent information without having to read several books on the subject. The report already contains a summary of the background information needed to understand what it is about, plus all the analysis, conclusions and recommendations. Unlike textbooks, which may include irrelevant details for the sake of illustration and clarity, formal reports keep everything short, simple and straight to the point. They operate on the principle of economy, using the fewest words necessary to deliver the desired meaning.
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