[Sample Intro in Direct Approach] [Sample Intro in Indirect Approach]
When you use the direct approach, the main idea (such as a recommendation, conclusion, or request) comes in the "top" of the document, followed by the evidence. This is a deductive argument. This approach is used when your audience will be neutral or positive about your message. In the formal report, the direct approach usually mandates that you lead off with a summary of your key findings, conclusions, and recommendations. This "up-front" arrangement is by far the most popular and convenient for business reports. It saves time and makes the rest of the report easier to follow. For those who have questions or want more information, later parts of the report provide complete findings and supporting details. The direct approach also produces a more forceful report. You sound sure of yourself when you state your conclusions confidently at the outset.
In the indirect approach, the evidence is presented first, leading therefore to the main idea. This is an inductive argument. This approach is best if your audience may be displeased about or may resist what you have to say.
At times, especially if you are a junior member of an organization or if you are an outsider, writing with an extremely confident stance may be regarded as arrogant. In such cases, or if your audience will be skeptical or hostile, you may want to use the indirect approach: Introduce your complete findings and discuss all supporting details before presenting your conclusions and recommendations. The indirect approach gives you a chance to prove your points and gradually overcome your audience’s reservations. By deferring the conclusions and recommendations, you imply that you’ve weighed the evidence objectively without prejudging the facts. You also imply that you’re subordinating your judgment to the audience, whose members are capable of drawing their own conclusions when they have access to all the facts.
Although the indirect approach has its advantages, some readers will always be in a hurry to get to "the answer" and will flip to the recommendations immediately, thus defeating your purpose. Therefore, consider length before choosing the direct or indirect approach. In general, the longer the message, the less effective an indirect approach is likely to be. Furthermore, an indirect argument is harder to follow than a direct one.
Because both direct and indirect approaches have merit, businesspeople often combine them. They reveal their conclusions and recommendations as they go along, rather than putting them first or last. As a result, the approach strategy of business reports can sometimes be hard to classify.
Two Sample Introductions for Formal Reports
Direct Approach (assumes audience will favor or be neutral to your recommendations)
Since the company’s founding 25 years ago, we have provided regular repair service for all our electric appliances. This service has been an important selling point as well as a source of pride for our employees. However, we are paying a high price for our image. Last year, we lost $500,000 on our repair business.
Because of your concern over these losses, you asked me to study the pros and cons of discontinuing our repair service. With the help of John Hudson and Susan Lefkowitz, I have studied the issue for the last two weeks and have come to the conclusion that we have been embracing an expensive, impractical tradition.
By withdrawing from the electric appliance repair business, we can substantially improve our financial performance without damaging our reputation with customers. This conclusion is based on three main points that are covered in the following pages:
·It is highly unlikely that we will ever be able to make a profit in the repair business.
·Service is no longer an important selling point with customers.
·Closing down the service operation will create few internal problems.
Indirect Approach (assumes audience will be hostile to or resistant to your recommendations, or that you are much lower in the organizational power structure than the primary reader)
Since the company’s founding 25 years ago, we have provided regular repair service for all our electric appliances. This service has been an important selling point as well as a source of pride for our employees. However, the repair business itself has consistently lost money.
Because of your concern over these losses, you asked me to study the pros and cons of discontinuing our repair service. With the help of John Hudson and Susan Lefkowitz, I have studied the issue for the last two weeks. The following pages present my findings for your review. Three basic questions are addressed:
·What is the extent of our losses, and what can we do to turn the business around?
·Would withdrawal of this service hurt our sales of electric appliances?
·What would be the internal repercussions of closing down the repair business?
Source: Bovée, Thill, and Schatzman, Business Communication Today 7th ed., pp. 115-16 and 408-09.