You write a progress report to inform a supervisor, associate, or client about the progress you have made on a project over a specific period of time. Periodic progress reports are common on projects that go on for 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 want to know why and what additional costs and time will be needed.
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: to reassure clients and supervisors that you are making progress, that the project is going smoothly, and that it will be completed by the expected date — or to give reasons why any of those might not be the case. They also do the following:
- provide a brief look at 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,
- give you a chance to discuss problems in the project and thus to forewarn the recipients, and
- 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 can take forms ranging from a short informal conversation to a detailed, multi-paged report. Most commonly, progress reports are delivered in the following forms:
- Memo report: a short, semi-formal report to someone within your organization (can range in length from 1-4 pages)
- Letter report: 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’ve 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 or on task, or a combination of the two:
- Focus on time: shows time period (previous, current, and future) and tasks completed or scheduled to be completed in each period
- Focus on specific tasks: shows the order of tasks (defined milestones) and progress made in each time period
- Focus on larger goals: focus on 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 job specifications. Whichever organizational strategy you choose, your report will likely contain the elements described below. To view examples of progress reports, visit David McMurrey’s Online Technical Writing.
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
2. 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 the following:
- description of work completed to date, referencing work reported in previous progress reports
- timeline for when remaining work will be completed
- problems encountered or issues that have arisen that might affect completion, direction, requirements, or scope
The final section provides an overall assessment of the current state of the project and its expected completion, usually reassuring the reader that work will progress (even if you have encountered some challenges). It can also alert recipients to unexpected changes in direction or scope, or problems in the project that may require intervention.
4. References section if required.
Progress reports can be create for any type of project. Please see Figure 8.4.2 below for an example of a short progress report (formatted as a memo report) relating to the adaptation of an open resource textbook for a business communication subject.
To: Tom Bartsiokas, Coordinator
From: Robin Potter, Professor
Date: March 29, 20XX
Subject: Status of the Adaption of the EAC594 OER Text
Progress on the adaption of the EAC594 OER textbook is going well and is expected to be completed as planned by September 20XX.
Using the TEC400 OER textbook as the foundation for the EAC594 OER text, I have been tasked with adapting the text so that it suitable for our degree-level business communication subjects at Seneca. Adaption involved revising the text so it addresses the needs of business communication students. Such revisions include
- changing content to make the text context-specific for business students
- adding chapters on types of correspondence
- adding examples and sample documents specific to business communication
- removing content most related to technical communication contexts
- adapting chapter-specific PowerPoint slide decks so they align to the new EAC594 OER text
As of March 20XX, I have adapted content up to Chapter 8 and removed chapters that pertained to technical communication in particular. Four chapters pertaining to the unit on correspondence have been created for this EAC594 OER:
- Chapter 7.2 Message Structure
- Chapter 7.3 Positive and Neutral Messages
- Chapter 7.4 Persuasive Messages
- Chapter 7.5 Negative Messages
At present no problems that prevent the continuation of the work on the project have arisen. Generally, the Pressbooks software is easy to use, so the project remains on track.
Work to be Completed
Sections 9 and 10 along with the appendices will be adapted before the end of the Winter term, as planned. If time permits, I will add a chapter on intercultural communication; otherwise, it will be added when I resume work on the project in the Spring term. After the completion of the chapters, the text will be ready for your review and for our technical expert, Tricia Hylton, to begin adding the 5HP interactive and visual content.
I expect to complete the adaption of the PowerPoint slide decks that will accompany the EAC594 OER text by the end of June 20XX.
By September 20XX, we will have a text ready for a fall pilot by our business communication faculty. I look forward to their feedback as well as the feedback of our students.
Please let me know if you require additional information.
Figure 8.4.2 Example of a progress report
Note: Some contents of this chapter have been adapted from McMurrey, David. (1997-2017). Online Technical Writing: Progress Reports. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/models.html#proposals Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Ewald, T. (2017). Writing in the technical fields: A practical guide (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.
McMurrey, David. (1997-2017). Online technical writing: Examples, cases, and models. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/models.html#proposals Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Piktochat. (2021). Progress reports: How to write, structure, and make it visually attractive [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQTje_GYhb4