Difference Between Formal & Informal Reports

by Rebekah Smith; Updated September 26, 2017
Both formal and informal reports require research.

Your manager has asked you to research a market trend and produce a report to your department so your company can create a strategy to increase market share and profits. At this point, you must decide what type of report to write. Knowing the differences between formal and informal reports will help you choose the correct style.

Informal Report

Informal reports are typically for internal use and can go to other members of the department and department heads. They also may circulate throughout the company. Although the report may be several sections long, it is typically much shorter than a formal report. These reports use personal pronouns and contractions, and no contents page is included. Informal reports can be formatted like a memo.

Informal Structure

Your introduction and conclusion are included in the body of the report, and there is no abstract. Include very short headings, if necessary. In the introduction, briefly state the issue, what research you have done and your final conclusion. You have a target audience, so speak directly to those readers in your discussion. State the facts and do not embellish the details, but make sure the report is understandable. Remind the readers what your conclusions were. Your report text will be justified with a 10- to 12-point font. Include your recommendations, and be positive about the expectations.

Formal Report

If you are writing a report for upper management or for another organization, you need a formal report. Formal reports are also used for research papers in higher education. They are impersonal, rarely using personal pronouns and contractions. Formal reports are longer and well-researched. Summaries are located on separate pages and usually have more than one heading. Formal reports also may be preceded by a proposal. Include a contents page if your report is more than five pages long. A cover letter or memo may be required.

Formal Structure

Include a cover page that is resembles a book cover. The abstract briefly summarizes the issue, the process of research and final conclusions in one page or less. Your title page will cover the title of the report, the person who compiled the report, the publisher and submittal date. Summarize your initial thesis or the purpose of the study, and include all the details that are necessary for your audience to completely understand the question. Include a table of contents and a list of tables and figures. The body of your report will include an introduction, overview of the research and final conclusions and recommendations. End your report with acknowledgements, a list of references where you located your research and any appendices.

About the Author

Rebekah Smith is a writer and editor from Montana and the owner of several businesses. Smith has consulted and worked with businesses in the fields of commercial greenhouses, ecommerce, technology and home improvement. She holds a Master of Business Administration and is working on a Ph.D. in business.

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