CHAPTER 13--PLANNING LONG REPORTS
FIVE STEPS IN PLANNING REPORTS
- The foundation of any report is formed by five steps:
1. Define the problem and the purpose
2. Outline the issues for investigation
3. Prepare a work plan
4. Conduct research
5. Analyze and interpret data, draw conclusions, and develop recommendations
DEFINING THE PROBLEM
- The definition of the problem establishes the scope of the investigation; the person authorizing the study typically defines the problem.
- The problem statement should specify:
- What needs to be determined?
- Why issue is important?
- Who is involved in situation?
- where trouble is located?
- When it started?
- How situation originated?
- The statement of purpose clarifies the goal of the investigation.
- The statement of purpose can take three forms:
- Infinitive: the purpose is to determine which candidate is best qualified for the job.
- Question: Which candidate is best qualified?
- Declarative statement: The best qualified candidate will be identified.
- After a written statement of purpose is prepared, it should be confirmed with the person who authorized the report.
OUTLINE ISSUES FOR INVESTIGATION
- Problem factoring: breaking a general problem into a series of specific questions.
- The outline of issues for analysis is often different from the outline of the resulting report.
- Outlining the issues to be addressed during an investigation leads to development of alogical structure for the resulting report.
- The overall purpose of the study determines whether an informational or analytical approach is more logical; however, many assignments require both information and analysis.
- Informational assignments (with very little analysis or interpretation) are factored on the basis of subtopics:
- In order of importance
- Analytical assignments (with analyses, conclusions, or recommendations) are factored on the basis of problem-solving methodology:
- Hypotheses: to discover causes, predict results, identify solutions to a problem.
- Relative merits or bases of comparison: to compare alternatives against criteria.
- The rules of division:
- Divide a topic into at least two parts.
- Choose a significant, useful basis or guiding principle for division.
- Limit yourself to one basis at a time when subdividing whole into parts.
- Make certain each group is separate and distinct.
- Be complete when listing components of whole.
- A preliminary outline provides a frame of reference for the study; it is especially important when the assignment involves collaboration or is extremely complicated.
- The two most common outline formats: alphanumeric and decimal.
- Parallel construction in an outline--using the same grammatical form for all captions at a single level of the outline--provides clues to the relationships among ideas and is considered the proper approach by most of those who might review the outline.
- Outlines may be phrased in two ways:
- Descriptive (topical) outlines identify topics (for example, "Market growth").
- Informative (talking) outlines, which suggest something about topics, may take form of question or brief phrase (for example, "How rapidly is market growing?" or "Market growth has slowed").
- Informative outlines, especially in question form, are generally more useful than descriptive outlines for guiding research.
PREPARING THE WORK PLAN
- The work plan explains how you will solve the problem: steps required, their sequence and timing, sources of information.
- A formal, written work plan for a major investigation should include:
- Problem statement
- Statement of purpose and scope of investigation
- Discussion of tasks, methods, and constraints
- Description of end products
- Review of assignments, schedules, resource requirements
CONDUCTING THE RESEARCH
- Business research uses a mix of primary and secondary sources:
- Secondary sources: information that has already been collected
- Primary sources: firsthand information not previously compiled
- Secondary sources commonly used in business research: general reference works, popular publications, government documents, on-line databases, internal reports, company databases, brochures, newsletters, annual reports.
- How to make the best use of secondary sources:
- Be selective; choose recent, respected material.
- Stop when you reach the point of diminishing returns.
- Take notes.
- Four main types of primary sources: documents, observations, surveys, experiments.
- Documents: company files, such as sales reports, balance sheets, income statements, policy statements, correspondence, contracts, log books; government documents; legal documents.
- The same document can be both a primary and a secondary source. For example, if you use financial information from an annual report, the annual report is a secondary source; if you compare the features of the annual report to those of other annual reports, it is a primary source.
- observations: information obtained formally or informally by using the five sense.
- Observations are useful for studying physical activities, objects, processes, the environment, and human behavior.
- The value of an observation depends on the objectivity and reliability of the observer.
- Surveys: information obtained by asking qualified people for their opinions.
- A survey may take the form of (1) an interview with an expert or (2) a large-scale survey based on a questionnaire.
- Three decisions must be made before conducting a survey:
- Should you use face-to-face interviews, phone calls, or printed questionnaires?
- How many people should you contact to get reliable (reproducible results, and who should they be?
- What specific questions should you ask to get a valid (true) picture?
- When designing a questionnaire, use a mix of question types:
- Multiple choice
- Fill in the blank
- Follow these tips when constructing a questionnaire:
- Make instructions clear.
- Keep questionnaire short and easy to answer.
- Formulate questions that provide easily tabulated or analyzed answers.
- Avoid leading questions.
- Limit each question to one point.
- Ask only one thing at a time.
- Avoid vague or abstract questions.
- Include questions that rephrase earlier questions as cross-check on validity of earlier responses.
- Pretest questionnaire.
- Experiments: information obtained through controlled testing; most useful in scientific fields.
- the difficulty of controlling all variables limits the value of experiments in most business situations.
ANALYZING AND INTERPRETING DATA
- The analytical process is a search for relationships among various pieces of evidence and the formulation of conclusions and recommendations based on that evidence.
- Numerical data can be manipulated to produce statistics, which can be interpreted to reveal the significance of the data.
- Three important types of statistics: averages, trends, and correlations.
- Average: number representative of a group of numbers.
- Three types of averages: mean, median, and mode.
- Mean: sum of all the items in the group divided by the number of items in the group; useful when you want to compare one item or individual with the group, but can be misleading if one of the numbers is extreme.
- Mode: most frequently occurring number, the case that occurs most often; useful when you want to know what case you are most likely to encounter, easier to calculate than the median, and not affected by extreme numbers.
- Trend: pattern exhibited by data over a period of time.
- Correlation: consistent relationship between variables, but not necessarily indicative of cause and effect.
- Statistics provide a foundation for conclusions.
- Conclusions: interpretations of what the facts mean, which are influenced by assumptions and value judgments.
- the validity of conclusions depends on the skill and objectivity of the analyst.
- Teamwork often leads to the best conclusions because each member of the team acts as a balance on other members' reasoning process.
- Recommendations differ from conclusions:
- Conclusions: what all facts add up to; interpretation of what information means.
- Recommendations: what should be done in light of facts and their meaning.
- Useful recommendations
- are practical,
- are acceptable to the audience, and
- indicate what should happen next and who should do what.
PREPARING THE FINAL OUTLINE
- The preliminary outline that guided research is seldom used as the blueprint for the final report; it must be reworked to take into account purpose, audience reaction, and the things learned during the study.
- The placement of conclusions and recommendations depends on the audience's probable response:
- in front if a positive reaction is expected, or
- at the end if resistance is anticipated.
- Once the final outline is in mind, begin identifying which points can and should be illustrated with visual aids (tables, graphs, schematic drawings, or photographs)
- When planning the illustrations for your report or presentation, aim to achieve a reasonable balance between the verbal and the visual.