Chapter 5: Longer Informal and Semiformal Reports
Although we have classed the writing projects in Chapter 5 as demanding semiformal reports, many of these projects are equally suitable for presenting as a full formal report.
For each project, we provide all the information—and often more!—that students need to carry out the project. Their task is to
- differentiate between relevant and irrelevant details,
- manipulate the relevant details into a coherent sequence, and
- draw a conclusion (and possibly make a recommendation).
Because they may reach different conclusions at the end of their reports, their answers may not be identical, which means we cannot provide model answers for the assignments in this chapter or for the assignments in Chapter 6.
Project 5.1: Resolving a Landfill Problem
This assignment is unusual in two ways: it evolves from a situation described in a six-page investigation report presented earlier in Chapter 5 (see pages 112 to 117, and its cover letter/executive summary on page 110); and it presents students with an ethics problem redolent of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The report they will have to read. The ethics problem they will have to discuss and then decide whether they will ignore the problem that it introduces or meet the problem head on. If they introduce it, they will have to mention they have discovered that
- drilling has been done north of Quillicom (previously, it was thought that no drilling had been done there),
- the drilling records have been given to Frank Caldicott, the mine’s general manager and very influential member of the Town Council, and
- the land in which Lot 18 is situated (which is the Town Council’s preferred site) is owned by Julie Delorme, who is Frank Caldicott’s sister and the wife of the Town Engineer, who also is the student’s
From a purely technical viewpoint, students need to construct a table showing the possibilities each site has as a potential landfill; something like this:
|t Cost ($)
|18||22 000||47 000||22.75||3.4||36 to 40||Unknown|
|47||20 000||64 000||35.91||10.8||60||Nil|
|23||9 000||47 000||7.81||3.7||12 to 14||Nil|
|Open pit||3 000||49 500||24.86||6.6||40*||Nil|
* The usable time for the Open Pit site has been extrapolated
The most economical cost proposal for drilling north of Quillicom comes from Northwest Drillers Ltd. Students need to be careful here, because two of the quotations are “GST included” while one is not. The comparisons for all three including 7% GST are
- Northwest Drillers Ltd $72 760
- M J Peabody and Company $74 793
- Quattro Drilling and Exploration $77 600
The high cost of drilling adds a lot to the purchase and development cost for Lot 18 (north of Quillicom). Now the purchase and development costs become
|Lot No.||P & D Cost ($)||Annual Op Cost ($)|
|18||94 760||47 000|
|23||9 000||47 000|
|47||20 000||64 000|
|Open pit||3 000||49 500|
How much information students plan to present will affect the length and topic coverage of their reports:
- If they only examine drilling quotations, the report will be short; indeed, a memo will suffice. But this simple approach seems inappropriate because they have a new (fourth) landfill site at Melody Lake to introduce.
- If they introduce the open pit mine at Melody Lake, they will also have to discuss the previous findings and their implications, which means the report will be much
- If they choose to identify ownership of Lot 18, it should be only a passing reference included as part of the fully developed report. Ideally, if they do this, they should also identify the owners of the three other sites so they will not seem to be “pointing an accusing finger” at Frank Caldicott and Julie Delorme. Students will have to make up imaginary ownership details for sites 23 and
Project 5.2: Identifying a Power Plant Problem
Students have conflicting views about the Baldur Agri-Chemicals situation, so the reports they write make interesting reading. The personality of the individual writer strongly influences the stand he or she takes.
The topic easily generates active class discussion about Harry Markham, the Senior Shift Engineer, and whether he should be promoted to Chief Engineer when the incumbent retires. The problem is, if Markham is promoted, will there be any improvement in power house operation? On the other hand, if Markham is passed over, will the company lose a loyal employee?
Sometimes it is difficult for students to weigh these alternatives objectively. The younger students can be brutal in their opinions: “If he can’t do the job, then chuck him out!” some say, unaware of the effects such an action will have both on the individual and on other employees. This gives you an opportunity to introduce the psychology of dealing with people in a business environment. The views of older students who have been in the workforce and have returned to college can be invaluable here.
The report can be divided into five main topic areas:
- A summary of the main findings and suggested corrective
- An introduction that defines the purpose, authority, date, and scope of the assignment.
- An assessment of the technical
- An assessment of the plant
- A conclusion that sums up the key points and, perhaps, offers a recommendation.
Topic 1 should identify the problem and demonstrate that there is a solution; something like this:
My evaluation of the Baldur Agri-Chemicals (BAC) plant at Rossburn shows that its high operating costs are caused primarily by inadequate maintenance methods. Tighter management control is essential if these costs are to be reduced.
Topic 2 should describe the situation:
I visited the Rossburn plant on …(date)… and …(date)… to evaluate the power house production problem. The assignment was undertaken at the personal request of Ms Paullette Machon, Vice President, Operations, at BAC.
Topic 3—evaluation of the technical situation—should be based on notes 1 through 7 of the assignment instructions. Students should comment on
- housekeeping excellence (items 1 and 6), but they should not refer to previous visits by the company president,
- inadequacy of log-keeping and filing (item 2),
- inadequacy of boiler cleaning (item 3),
- doubtful accuracy of the flow meters, and their effect on apparent steam flow figures (items 4 and 5) as the probable key to increasing costs, and
- inadequacy of maintenance methods (item 7).
Topic 3 should also include conclusions and recommendations, because Ms Machon wants to know not only what is wrong but also how to correct the problems. The actions that should be taken to remedy each problem can be shown individually at the end of the individual problem description, or as a group at the end of the whole section. Students should recommend
- improving log-keeping and paperwork control,
- issuing instructions for proper boiler cleaning,
- checking and recalibrating the flow meters, and
- introducing a preventive maintenance
Topic 4—evaluation of the power house management—should be based on notes 8 through 10 in the assignment instructions. This will be a much more subjective analysis and hence will vary from student to student. Students have to assess Markham’s ability to handle the job, particularly if the technical problems are overcome and he is made to feel instrumental in implementing them, and whether Hänness’s influence has been so great that Markham will be unable to change. Factors they may comment on are
- Markham’s geniality and popularity,
- His pride in his power house (even if the emphasis is wrongly directed), his knowledge and experience in running it, and his obvious desire to continue doing so,
- the depth and accuracy of his technical knowledge (this can be no more than a superficial observation) and whether they feel Markham has the potential and willingness to upgrade himself, and
- the implications inherent in promoting Markham or in not promoting
Some students feel they should not recommend what has to be done—that it goes beyond their mandate—while others are firm in their convictions and want to express them. We encourage them to provide a recommend-ation, if only to force them to reach a decision.
As conclusions and recommendations are drawn at the end of each section, there need not necessarily be a concluding section to this report. Much will depend on how students organize their reports.
Note: You may prefer to recommend to your students that it is better to have two reports, one dealing objectively with the technical problems and the other dealing a little more subjectively with the personnel problems.