Short Form MEMO Style Reports
Short reports are generally
in response to a specific request from a supervisor or a client. There are
several different types, such as incident, investigative, progress, and trip
reports as well as proposals. Each has its own objectives and styles,
appropriate for the particular situation it is reporting about. The
investigative type, which analyzes data and seeks to answer why or how
something happens under certain conditions, will be used in this laboratory
To limit length, all short reports must be clear and concise. A typical short report is divided into sections, e.g. Purpose, Summary, Procedures, Results, Commentary sections and the Attachments. Section headings are aligned with the left-hand margin in a memo and may be simply capitalized and/or given bold or italicized font. Each of the sections, except for the attachments, should be around one paragraph in length yielding a one- to two-page narrative. The document should be single spaced with margins no more than 1 inch. This two-page restriction is mainly presented to emphasize the demand for conciseness; but completeness is still essential! Recognize that the format itself is also flexible; however, all the critical elements or information need to be included. The essential supporting documentation is included as Attachments. Note, to qualify as an objective report, the text should avoid all usage of first person (we, us, our) second person (you, your) or third person (they). While those are quite acceptable in a letter, the report should contain no pronouns at all. Every I, We, Me, You, They, or similar pronoun will result in -1/3 pt in the report. The text should be professional in nature, not conversational. This is a report of findings, so everything should in the past tense.
Memos are generally divided into two parts: the heading and the body.
- Heading: The heading segment follows this general format:
TO: (readers' names and job titles)
FROM: (your name and job title - "sign" by putting your handwritten initials after your name)
LAB PARTNER: who was it
DATE: (complete and current date)
SUBJECT: (what the memo is about, highlighted in some way)
Make sure you address the reader by his or her correct name and job title. Be specific and concise in your subject line.
Your memo should be concise and informative. To achieve this it needs to be organized. Writing a memo is NOT easy!
The following are elements generally found in the body of the memo, with each section labeled..
Purpose - reminds the client of his/her work or information request. This is 'question' you are answering.
Summary - a synopsis of the essential information. The client should only have to read the Purpose and Summary sections to obtain the requested information. One or two sentences should do the trick. The summary section is the ultra condensed version of the results. The 'last numbers' if you will. This is the 'answer' to the question.
Procedures (experimental AND calculations!)- You are presenting a report, not writing a lab manual. You DID the experiment, so don't tell me how to do it, tell me what you did. This section should be an overview of the experimental (i.e. tests performed) and the analytical procedures. If the procedure is solely exploratory or experimental, than the suitable heading is Experimental Procedures. Common names and appropriate descriptive terms of the samples should be used in this description. This should be short and sweet. This section should be a concise outline of major points, sufficient to convey a clear understanding of the procedure to the reader. Someone should be able to perform the experiment correctly from your words, but it should NOT be a stepwise procedure. This section will also be the outline you will follow to perform the experiment. If the point is not crucial to doing the experiment, leave that detail out. For example, is it very important that you did the experiment in a 250 mL beaker? If not, then don't tell me about it. Is it important that the temperature was recorded? Yes? Then include that you measured the temperature. The procedure does not just include the laboratory actions. Were the calculations important? If so, briefly describe them (in words)
Results - a summary of the primary (i.e., bottom-line) numerical results. Use quintessential tables and/or graphs as appropriate. Graphs and tables are very effective and efficient methods for presenting lots of information or data but details are relegated to the attachments. Raw data does not go here, only final calculated numbers of each run and averages. Think of this is 'processed' or 'crunched' numbers. Raw data goes in an attachment. The results section should not just be a table of values or listing of numerically crunched numbers. The section should stand on its own and be understandable. Use WORDS to string together numbers that you calculated. In the procedure, you told me loosy goosy about what calcualtions you were going to do. Here, you are being more specific as to what was calcualted and why. Everything in the summary should be somewhere in the results. The results section will be the 'longest' section of most of the memos your write. Yuor answers should be clear to the reader.
Commentary - Present an interpretation of the data – Are they reasonable? Compare them to other groups results. Are they comparable? Give actual 'answers' from collective data. Discuss the sources and relative magnitude of any significant errors. Stick to errors that are beyond your control. misreading the instrument or doing the calculations wrong are NOT sources of error, they are sources of your mistakes. A mistake is not an error. In this section, also include a suggestions as to how to make this a more effective learning experience. This does NOT mean things that would make the lab go faster to get better results. What could be done such that you got more learning out of the experience. Be creative
Attachments - presents the details and documentation required to replicate the work. Arrange the attachments in some logical order, e.g., in order of reference or in descending order of importance. The different labeled items will include, but are not necessarily limited to:
--Data and Analysis Sheets – complete with headings, displayed equations, notes to lead the reader through the analysis.
--Original Raw Data – Absolutely necessary for most classes; may not be necessary in industry. This is NOT your hand written data sheet from lab.
After you have completed the memo, look at the heading and closing sections and ask: Have the audiences, source, subject, and relevant reference information been identified so that the recipient(s) immediately know the significance of the letter? Is there a proper salutation and closing? Is the memo signed? Are the attachment listings clearly identified?
Now look at the first one or two paragraphs and ask: Is a concise statement of the client’s request and/or the problem and the objective of the test provided? Are the important conclusions and recommendations briefly stated so that the reader will not have to read further into the report? The reader should be able to get the bottom-line results and recommendations within the first two
paragraphs without digging further into the memo itself or the attachments. The reader’s attention must be captured within these first two paragraphs.
Re-read the procedures section and ask: Does the reader have a clear sense of the tests performed (including types, number of trials, etc.) as well as the analysis performed on the data? Does the reader have a clear visual sense of the items (including the items’ sizes, materials, number tested) after reading this passage?
Look at the concluding paragraphs and ask: Are the bottom-line results given in a clear, concise format? Is the data interpreted for the reader so they know the physical implications of the results? Is error quantified and error sources identified qualitatively? Are the final recommendations clearly stated?
To make it perfectly clear, here are the points you will LOSE if you do the following. This is list is not exhaustive:
Memo not written in past tense -2
Calculations not at least mentioned in the procedure -1
Missing 'how to make this a more effective learning experience' -1
Missing possible sources of error (and how to minimize) -2
Only #'s in results section -2
Raw data in correct location -2
No sample calculations -2
A number is in the summary and not in the results section -1