The main differences between formal and informal reports are in tone, structure and length. The planning of every report begins with a statement of purpose explaining the goal, significance and limitations of the project. Reports include primary information from your own observation and experience and secondary information gained through library research. Formal reports require careful citation of information taken from secondary sources in the form of footnotes, endnotes, and a list of references in a bibliography.
The overall presentation of the report may be deductive or inductive and its individual parts may be arranged chronologically, geographically, spatially or topically. In their discussion of strategies or plans for the organization of formal reports, Guffey and Nagle (2003) define the deductive plan as one that ‘presents big ideas first’. This means beginning with findings, proposals or recommendations. For example, if you were studying four possible pay and benefits programmes, you would begin by recommending to the organization’s HR strategy the programme you judge to be most appropriate and follow with discussion of the other programmes. It is suggested that the deductive strategy is used when the reader is knowledgeable and supportive.
In contrast, the inductive strategy or plan presents data and discussion first, followed by conclusion and recommendations. Guffey and Nagle (2003) believe that this sequence is often most effective because ‘formal reports generally seek to educate the reader’ (p. 279). Following the inductive plan, a study of alternative pay and benefits programmes would begin with information regarding all proposed programmes followed by analysis of the information, conclusions and recommendation drawn from that analysis.