Analytical Problem-Solving Research Reports:

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Using the skills learned in the previous modules/chapters you will prepare a long, formal analytical report regarding one of the problem-solving cases found in the CLICK HERE for Analytical Research Reports Topics List.
Analytical Problem-Solving Research Reports: The Process
The purpose of analytical problem-solving reports is to provide decision makers with data to solve a very specific business problem or need for action. Some problems are recurring and call for a steady flow of information; other problems might be unique and call for information on a one-time basis, focusing on helping decision-makers figure out a course of action to take (Rentz).
All reports should be true, factual and helpful. Usually a decision-maker will ask him or herself, “Do I have everything I need to make an informed and quality decision?” Any reports for decisions or actions should be designed around answering this question. Additionally analytical reports should make a recommended solution, based on the data provided in the report.
Business reports should be:
true, factual
concise, brief
built to help others make decisions
free from unnecessary or extra information
simple; they should address one question (i.e., well-scoped)
The writer of any report is encouraged to think like an executive:
What do I need to know right away?
How quickly do I need to make a decision?
At the heart of good research is the proper use and interpretation of data.
The general research process is as follows:
Determine a problem and define a question to answer.
Find general background about your problem/question.
Develop a research strategy to address any data, information or knowledge gaps. These gaps may be referred to as “sub-questions.”
Conduct research.
Collect, read, evaluate and write what you have learned.
Cite the information you have found so that others will be able to follow your research trail.
Although the direct order is usually best for an assigned problem-solving report it would be best if your readers arrive at the conclusion and recommendation after a logical review of your analysis; therefore, you will organize your report in the indirect order. Presenting the supporting data before the recommendation prepares any resistant readers to accept your solution to the report problem/opportunity.
Planning Phase:
Recognize and define the problem and purpose. In your completed report, the problem and purpose statements will be an essential component of the report’s introduction/background and executive summary; they will orient your readers and let them know where your report is headed.
The problem statement provides a clear description of the situation that is to be solved by the research. Problem statements are generally written as declarative statements.
The purpose statement is the goal of the study and includes the objectives you want to accomplish. Write this statement as an infinitive phrase.
Student Sample Example: The topic of your report requires you to compare the effectiveness of three different types of online advertising and recommend one for Cotijas Taco Shop. The question you might ask to determine the problem statement might read “Which of the top three types of online advertising methods would be the most effective for Cotijas Taco Shop?.” Your purpose statement may be written like this: “The purpose of this report is to explore different methods of online advertising to determine which one is most suitable (and most effective) for Cotijas Taco Shop.”
Find general background about your problem/question. The research methods you use to collect the necessary information can be secondary, primary, or both (Module 4.0-Research).
Develop a research strategy to address any data, information, or knowledge gaps.
These gaps may be referred to as sub-questions or sub-factors.
Conduct research.
Primary research is usually defined as research you collect yourself-new information you gather firsthand through the use of experiments, surveys, interviews, and other methods of direct observation (130). Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab describes the typical primary research in more detail.
Secondary research is gathering information from other people’s primary research. Common forms are books, journals, newspaper articles, media reports, and other polished accounts of data. Most will use secondary sources for their business reports; the value-added is to gather, curate, and present the material in a new, updated and helpful manner. It is far less costly, more efficient, and requires less time to gather data from already built sources.
Collect, read, evaluate, organize, analyze and write what you have learned.
Analyzing your readers is an excellent planning technique. Make a list of pertinent facts. Brainstorming (generating possible solutions) will allow you to determine the factors/sub-topics you need to investigate.
Create an outline of these factors/sub-topics to help you remain focused on the problem and purpose.
Cite the information you have found so that others will be able to follow your research trail. A crucial part of ethical, honest research writing is documenting and referencing the secondary research sources fairly and accurately to avoid plagiarism (Module 4.0 184-188).
For this report, you will use MLA Style documentation of sources. Refer to the Research Report links to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and the video tutorial for generating in-text citations and a Works Cited page using Microsoft Word.
Writing Phase:
Perform an Audience Analysis. Determine how to organize your report based on your audience analysis. The order of the sections in analytical reports varies by likely reaction of the reader. Remember, if your audience is expected to react neutrally or positively to your message, then your conclusion or recommendation should be offered near the beginning of the report. If the audience is expected to react negatively to your message, then the conclusion or recommendation is offered towards the end of the report (273).
Prepare an Outline. Writing the formal report is a much easier task once you have created a detailed outline in the planning process. This outline is what helps the writing move along, as you already know exactly what is to be provided where and when. With a formal report, it is extremely rare to see the casual phrasing that might be found in a short message or informal report. Formal reports rarely use personal pronouns, contractions, or passive verb structures. However, this does not mean the language should be stilted or use excessively long words. You’ll continue to use the same clarity of wording as in all business communications (274).
Avoid perfectionism when drafting. Don’t try to make your first draft perfect as it makes drafting frustrating and slow and may make you forget important pieces.
Just keep going. Don’t let minor problems with wording and grammar distract you from your main goal when turning your planning into a draft. Just get the ideas down on paper or into your computer. Save detailed examination and evaluation of your report for the revision stage. Set aside time for drafting, preferably at your most productive time of day…write in chunks, start with a favorite part, talk aloud to clarify your thoughts, TAKE BREAKS!
Revising Phase:
Go back over your draft carefully-again and again. Do you say what you mean? Could someone misunderstand or take offense? Challenge yourself to look for better alternatives of structuring your sentences.
Make sure the organization is logical and as effective as possible.
Focus in this stage is on your style.
Use the writing strategies learned in Chapter 4 to ensure you are communicating clearly, completely, efficiently, and engagingly.
Format headings appropriately.
Ensure sources are documented appropriately.
Writing mechanics and grammar elements are the focus of this stage.
Use your word processing program to check for spelling errors, typography, punctuation, and grammar.
Get feedback from others-preferably someone proficient with writing mechanics and grammar elements, and who does not know anything about your topic to ensure objective feedback.
The most effective way to ensure a professional document is to have a team of individuals independently read the document, marking changes, corrections, and questions as they go. This team then meets as a group with one individual charged with collecting all corrections. This person ensures continuity across the entire document. If such a formal process cannot be completed, then you should work to ensure there are at least two reviewers who review work they themselves did not write.
The final revision must consider both grammar and style issues as well as revisiting the primary purpose of the document.
Report Topics and Components
Following are suggestions for realistic business problems. For these problems, you can obtain the needed information through both primary and secondary research.
CLICK HERE for Analytical Research Reports Topics List.
Research Report Components
To be able to decide which parts of a long, formal report to include in your reports, you need a basic understanding of each part. This section describes the different report components represented in Module 6.0.
In a formal report there are three major sections.
The prefatory or front parts includes sections that come prior to the report itself to establish various items such as authority of the report and intended audience.
The body or report proper has many sections of key information and possible It is the meat of the report.
The back matter or appendices contains sections of material that support the body.
Prefatory Parts (Front Sections)
Title Pages
The first two pages of a long, formal report—the title fly and title page—contain identification information.
The title fly is simply a page with the title of the report on it, and it is included simply to give a report the more formal appearance.
The title page has more information. It typically contains the title, identification of the reader and writer, and the date. You can point out that the title needs special care, as it will form the reader’s expectations for the rest of the report.
Table of Contents
The table of contents, of course, is a guide to the structure and specific contents of the report. If your short report goes much over five pages (or 1,500 words), you might consider including a brief table of contents. This part, of course, is a listing of the report’s contents. As Module 6.0 page 266 points out, it is the report outline in finished form, with page numbers to indicate where the parts begin. The formatting should reflect the report’s structure, with main headings clearly differentiated from subheadings. The section titles should state each part’s contents clearly and match the report’s headings exactly. The table of contents may also include a list of illustrations (or, if long, this list can stand alone). If a separate table of contents would be too formal, you can use the introduction of your report to list the topics the report will cover.
Executive Summary
The executive summary (sometimes given other labels) is the report in miniature. It summarizes all the materials that follow in the report. This section is different from an introduction as it summarizes the entire report, rather than simply introducing it or laying out the structure for the reader. A good way to approach the executive summary is to write it as if the executive or decision maker will only read this section, even though that’s unlikely to be the case.This section is found in longer reports and is less likely to be found in a shorter report. It can also be used in both informational and analytical reports.
Executive summaries should be written after the entire report is completed. This allows the summary to be both comprehensive and well structured. Remember, the investigation and details of the report must be complete and validated before the summary can be written.
This section is offered in paragraph format, with a paragraph summarizing each section in the report; thus, the executive summary is presented in the same order as the report. The executive summary rarely includes images or graphics; however, a table might be offered at the end of this section if the recommendation or options can be easily summarized into a table. In sales or recommendation situations, the executive summary takes on greater importance. It must clearly demonstrate that the analyses in the report are comprehensive and thorough, and it must clearly lead the reader to the author’s desired conclusion.
Most importantly, all this must be done with brevity. Most executive summaries are at most two to three pages, but length varies in proportion to the complexity and length of the report.
The Body or Report Proper
The introduction is the first section of the report itself.
An introduction sets up the structure of a report. Essentially, the introduction tells the reader what is to come and in what order, and it reminds the reader of the key criteria that instigated the report’s creation. This section is key to the reader following and retaining key points of the report.
Introductions are used in both informational and analytical reports. In an informational report, this helps segment the data that follows. In an analytical report, the introduction helps the reader come to the conclusion the author expects. An introduction is used in all informal reports as well. In an informal report, there may or may not be a separate header with this label, but an introduction must always be present.
Depending upon readers’ expected reception of the content, the introduction may foreshadow the conclusion. With receptive audiences, the outcome is clear in the introduction. With less receptive audiences, it is important to present all the facts and research prior to declaring a conclusion; thus, for less respective audiences, it may be better to foreshadow the conclusion than to fully declare it. This allows the reader to end up at the same conclusion as the author as details develop.
The introduction may also include the problem statement or purpose of the report. However, in longer reports, these may end up either in the background or as their own sections.
The background section of a report explains the circumstances that led to the report’s creation. In some situations, this section may be labeled as criteria or constraints, or the topic may be briefly addressed in the transmittal letter or introduction. This section can appear in both informational and analytical reports.
The background provides a baseline of the current situation and any potential constrictions such as budget, time, human resources, etc. This section explains why the investigation or work was completed. It may introduce how the information is thorough, even if 100 percent certainty is not possible.
Purpose or Problem Statement
As mentioned, the purpose or problem statement section may be part of the background, or it can stand separately, depending upon the complexity of the report. The purpose or problem statement should be worded like this example:
The purpose of this report is to address [the problem or question that the requester needs addressed]. This report will accomplish this by investigating [whatever you researched or developed for the report.
While the example shows the proper phrasing for an analytical report, it could be reworded to fit an informational report: for example, “details from three solutions are listed.”
Research or Methods
The research section (also sometimes called methods) is where authors establish their credibility as they show how their perspective is supported by outside experts.This section provides background on where data used in the report was found: it is not a section where data is listed.
By telling your audience how you came to know what you have found out, you are demonstrating to them that your results are trustworthy and that they truly hold significance. With strong methods for finding out your facts, your readers will feel comfortable and confident in making the changes your report recommends. Your data will appear later in the evaluation, so that the data is in the same place as the reader is learning about its meaning. Additionally, the data can be presented in full in the appendix.
Completing and sharing research comes with a set of legal issues. Pay special attention Module 4: Research and follow the guidelines and rules you learn there. You’ll always need to provide credit, or citation, for the information you gather from others. Lack of appropriate citation or attribution can cause legal and credibility problems.
If the scope of your report is not clearly indicated in any of the other introductory parts, you may need to include it in a separate part. By scope we mean the boundaries of your investigation. In this part of the introduction—in plain, clear language—you should describe what parts of the problem you studied and what parts you didn’t.
Historical Background
Knowledge of the history of the problem is sometimes essential to understanding the report, so you may need to cover that history in your introduction.
Your general aim in this part is to acquaint the readers with how the problem developed and what has been done about it thus far. You should bring out the main issues and then focus on the part of the problem that your report will address.
Evaluation or Results of the Report
This should be the bulk of your report; you must evaluate the options using the criteria you created. Add graphs, charts, etc. to show that you have studied your options, and have come up with statistics that back up your reasons why your alternative beats the competition. If your audience is likely to be resistant to your recommendation, the evaluation should appear before you make the recommendation. This section is found only in analytical reports.
This section should state the end results of your research and detail how you got there: how you evaluated the alternatives and, from there, you would decided which alternative best fit your organization.
The Ending of the Report
You will end your report with a conclusions section and a recommendations section,.
Some reports must do more than just present information; they must analyze it in light of the problem, and from this analysis, they must reach a conclusion or conclusions.
The makeup of the conclusions section varies from case to case. In investigations for which a single answer is sought (e.g., “Has our new schedule reduced our utility costs?”), this section normally reviews the preceding information and analyses and, from this review, arrives at the answer. For more complex investigations (e.g., “How do employees feel about the new schedule?”), the report may treat each topic in a separate section and draw conclusions in each section. The conclusions section of such a report would then summarize these previous conclusions.
On the other hand, you should avoid mechanically repeating the findings you’ve already stated in earlier sections. Some interpretation is appropriate here. Put the findings back into the context of the overall problem and help the reader see what they mean in terms of the problem (e.g., why employees may have responded as they did).
When the goal of the report is not only to draw conclusions but also to present a course of action, a recommendation or recommendations are in order. You may provide them in a separate section following the conclusions section, or you may include them in the conclusions section.
Regardless, if you have several recommendations, you may want to bullet them for easy reading.
Appended Parts
Sometimes you will need to include an appendix, a bibliography, or both at the end of the report. Whether you include these parts should be determined by need.
Works Cited
When your investigation makes heavy use of published sources, you normally include either footnotes, a bibliography, or both. The construction of these is described in Bonus Chapter E of the textbook.
The appendix, as its name implies, is something appended (attached) to the main report. You use it for supplementary information that supports the body of the report.
Possible appendix contents are questionnaires, interview transcriptions, supporting documents, summary tables, additional references, and other reports. Include the charts, graphs, and tables that directly support the report.
These should be placed in the body of the report where they can support the findings. Because it is not convenient for readers to have to flip to the appendix to find the data they need, put in the appendix only those visuals that are too large or complex to insert into the body of the report.
Report Template and Other Resources
Use the Report Template
Download the prepared report template available as a rich text format (.rtf) document located under the Analytical Reports link on the Blackboard Course Menu. Take note that the template includes and requires the following report components:
Title Fly and Title Page (Prefatory Parts) (1 page each)
Executive Summary (Prefatory Part) (1-2 pages maximum)
Report Proper-Introduction, Results of the Study (Findings), Conclusions, Recommendations (Minimum 10 double-spaced pages)
Works Cited (Appendix)
Other Applicable Appendix Items (i.e. Primary Source Transcripts)
Save the Template
Save the file using the following format: Lastname_Firstname_Topic# (Example: Carcioppolo_Joann_Topic1)
Contents of this folder:
Analytical Report Template
Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) PowerPoint
Sample Student Report
CLICK HERE for Analytical Research Reports Topics List.
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