The Three Main Components of Formal Reports

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  • 0:00 Formal Report Defined
  • 1:22 Front Matter
  • 2:33 Text
  • 3:51 Back Matter
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Organizations use formal reports to present information, analysis, and options to organizational leaders facing complicated problems, issues, or decisions. In this lesson, you'll learn about the three major components of formal reports.

Formal Report Defined

Collin works for a major commercial real estate developer. His boss has asked Collin to prepare a formal report on the feasibility of an open air shopping center the company is contemplating developing. A report is simply a document that is produced to convey information. A formal report is written in a professional and formal manner to address complex issues. Formal reports may be used to convey information, analyze an issue or problem, and provide a recommended course of action.

Collin's report, for example, will provide information about the proposed project, like demographic and market data, information on the proposed site, market information, and an estimated cost of the project, among other things. His report will also analyze this information to determine the likely return on investment if the company pursues the development as well as the risk involved. Finally, his analysis will lead him to make a recommendation concerning whether the project should go forward or be scrapped.

Formal reports are written in a highly structured and prescribed manner so that readers can easily access and assess the information. Collin will prepare three major components of his formal report: the front matter, the text, and the back matter. Let's take a quick look at each component.

Front Matter

The front matter will be at the top of Collin's report. This term simply refers to all the material and information that comes before the actual body of the report. Collin's front matter includes:

  • a title page, which will include the title of the report, the name of the company, the name of the writers, and the date of the report;
  • a cover letter, which will provide an overview of why the report was prepared, a summary of what's in it, and what next steps should be taken
  • a table of contents
  • a list of illustrations such as charts, graphs, maps and other visuals
  • an abstract or executive summary, which provides an easy-to-read summary of the key points of the report in a nontechnical manner for those either too busy to study the whole report or who lack the technical knowledge to understand the details of the main report

As you can see, the front matter of a formal report acts as a sort of overview and road map for the rest of the report. It's important to note that nearly all the front matter will be prepared last, after the actual report is written, even though it is the first part of the formal report. This is because you can't create an effective overview of something that hasn't been written yet.


The text of the report follows the front matter and is the core of the report. The text of Collin's report is organized into sections. He'll prepare:

  • an introduction, which includes a discussion of the purpose of the report,
  • a background to familiarize the reader with the topic
  • a statement of the problem or issue to be addressed.

Collin's introduction, for example, will explain that the report was written to determine the feasibility of developing an open-air shopping center at the proposed location. He'll provide a brief background sketch of the proposed shopping center and the proposed location and will identify the issues that must be resolved to determine whether to proceed with the development or not.

The discussion section may contain many different subsections depending upon the nature of the report. Collin is drafting a discussion that includes subsections on:

  • market analysis
  • survey results
  • projected costs
  • profit and loss potential
  • risk assessment
  • the project's impact on organizational resources
  • analysis

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