19 – Informational Reports

Progress Reports

Suzan Last; David McMurrey; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Matt McKinney

You write a or status update to inform a supervisor, associate, or client about progress you have made on a project over a specific period of time. Periodic progress reports are common on projects that last several months or more. Whoever is paying for this project wants to know whether tasks are being completed on schedule and on budget. If the project is not on schedule or on budget, they will want to know why and what additional costs and time will be needed. Also, if a technical writer is working on a contract basis, they will be expected to provide a weekly report.

Progress reports answer the following questions for the reader:

  • How much of the work is complete?
  • What part of the work is currently in progress?
  • What work remains to be done?
  • When and how will the remaining work be completed?
  • What changes, problems, or unexpected issues, if any, have arisen?
  • How is the project going in general?

Purpose of a Progress Report

The main function of a progress report is persuasive, aiming to reassure clients and supervisors that you are making progress, that the project is going smoothly, and that the project will be completed by the expected date, or to give reasons why any of those might not be the case. Progress reports also offer the opportunity to do the following things:

  • Provide preliminary findings or in-progress work on the project.
  • Give your clients or supervisors a chance to evaluate your work on the project and to suggest or request changes.
  • Discuss problems or delays in the project and thus forewarn the recipients.
  • Force you to establish a work schedule, so that you will complete the project on time.

Format of a Progress Report

Depending on the size of the progress report, the length and importance of the project, and the recipient, a progress report or status update can take forms ranging from a short, informal conversation to a detailed, multi-paged report. Most commonly, formal progress reports are delivered in the following forms:

  • Memo. A short, semi-formal report to someone within your organization (can range in length from 1–4 pages).
  • Letter. A short, semi-formal report sent to someone outside your organization.
  • Formal report. A long, formal report sent to someone within or outside of your organization.
  • Presentation. An oral presentation given directly to the target audience.

Organizational Patterns for Progress Reports

The recipient of a progress report wants to see what you have accomplished on the project, what you are working on now, what you plan to work on next, and how the project is going in general. The information is usually arranged with a focus either on time, on tasks, or on larger goals:

  • Time. The progress report divides itself into distinct time periods or phases (such as previous, current, and future) and shows tasks completed or scheduled to be completed in each period.
  • Specific tasks. The progress report shows order of tasks or defined milestones and progress made toward completing each task or milestone.
  • Larger goals. The progress report emphasizes the overall effect of what has been accomplished.

Information can also be arranged by report topic. You should refer to established milestones or deliverables outlined in your original proposal or project specifications. Whichever organizational strategy you choose, your report will likely contain the elements described in Table 19.1 below.

Table 19.1. Progress reports.

Progress Reports—Structural Overview
Summary Preface your progress report with a Summary section that provides a comprehensive overview of the most important information (i.e., the number and a descriptor of each task and its completion status).
As with your project proposal, you are most likely going to use a pure summary to discuss the status of each task, rather than an executive summary. This is because progress reports tend to emphasize what needs to be done and if any changes need to be made, rather than analyzing data and making final recommendations. For a discussion of different types of summaries, see Chapter 20.
Introduction Review the details of your project’s purpose, scope, and activities. The introduction may also contain the following:
  • date the project began
  • date the project is scheduled to be completed
  • people or organization working on the project
  • people or organization for whom the project is being done
  • overview of the contents of the progress report
Project status This section (which could have sub-sections) should give the reader a clear idea of the current status of your project. It should review the work completed, work in progress, and work remaining to be done on the project, organized into sub-sections by time, task, or topic. These sections might include
  • Direct reference to milestones or deliverables established in previous documents related to the project.
  • A timeline for when remaining work will be completed.
  • Any problems encountered or issues that have arisen that might affect completion, direction, requirements, or scope.
Conclusion The final section provides an overall assessment of the current state of the project and its expected completion, usually reassuring the reader that all is going well and on schedule. It can also alert recipients to unexpected changes in direction or scope, or problems in the project that may require intervention.
References This additional section provides full citations for any outside material included in the progress report. If no outside references are included (or if you are not required by your professor to include a bibliography), you may omit this section.

This text was derived from

Last, Suzan, with contributors Candice Neveu and Monika Smith. Technical Writing Essentials: Introduction to Professional Communications in Technical Fields. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria, 2019. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by Suzan Last; David McMurrey; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Matt McKinney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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