Online Technical Writing: Progress Reports

You write a progress report to inform a supervisor, associate, or customer about progress you've made on a project over a certain period of time. The project can be the design, construction, or repair of something, the study or research of a problem or question, or the gathering of information on a technical subject. You write progress reports when it takes well over three or four months to complete a project.

Functions and Contents of Progress Reports

In the progress report, you explain any or all of the following:

  • How much of the work is complete
  • What part of the work is currently in progress
  • What work remains to be done
  • What problems or unexpected things, if any, have arisen
  • How the project is going in general

Progress reports have several important functions:

  • Reassure recipients that you are making progress, that the project is going smoothly, and that it will be complete by the expected date.
  • Provide their recipients with a brief look at some of the findings or some of the work of the project.
  • Give their recipients a chance to evaluate your work on the project and to request changes.
  • Give you a chance to discuss problems in the project and thus to forewarn recipients.
  • Force you to establish a work schedule so that you'll complete the project on time.

Note: Be sure to check out the example progress report:

Example progress report 1: Construction Handbook for a Mycological Growroom Frames Nonframes Plain
Example progress report 2: Database Development Frames Nonframes Plain
Example progress report 3: Debugging Techniques with Scheme Frames Nonframes Plain
Example progress report 4: Quartz Etch Rate Project Frames Nonframes Plain
Example progress report 5: Therapeutic Electrical Stimulation Therapy (TES) for Children with Cerebral Palsy Frames Nonframes Plain

Timing and Format of Progress Reports

In a year-long project, there are customarily three progress reports, one after three, six, and nine months. Depending on the size of the progress report, the length and importance of the project, and the recipient, the progress report can take the following forms:

  • Memo—A short, informal report to someone within your organization
  • Letter—A short, informal report sent to someone outside your organization
  • Formal report—A long, formal report sent to someone outside your organization

Take a look at the discussion in Format of Proposals. You can use the same format on progress reports as you can on proposals: memo, letter, separated report; or cover memo or letter with separate report.

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. To report this information, you combine two of these organizational strategies: time periods, project tasks, or report topics.

Time periods. A progress report usually summarizes work within each of the following:

  • Work accomplished in the preceding period(s)
  • Work currently being performed
  • Work planned for the next period(s)

Project tasks. Practically every project breaks down into individual tasks:

Project              		Individual tasks

Building municipal       	Measuring community interest
ball parks on city-     	Locating suitable property
owned land               	Clearing the property
                            	Designing the bleachers, fences, etc.

Writing a report         	Studying the assignment
              			Selecting a topic
              			Identifying the audience of the report
              			Narrowing the topic
              			Developing a rough outline
              			Gathering information
              			Writing one or more rough drafts
              			Documenting the report
              			Revising and editing the report draft
              			Typing and proofreading the report
              			Putting the report in its final package

Report topics. You can also organize your progress report according to the work done on the sections of the final report. In a report project on cocombusting municipal solid waste, you would need information on these topics:

Topics to be covered in the final report

1.  The total amount of MSW produced
2.  The energy potential of MSW, factors affecting its
energy potential 3. Costs to modify city utilities in order to change to

For each of these topics, you'd explain the work you have done, the work you are currently doing, and the work you have planned.

A progress report is a combination of two of these organizational strategies. The following outline excerpts give you an idea of how they combine:

Progress report A        Progress report B       Progress report C

Task 1                   Work Completed          Topic 1
     Work completed           Task 1                  Work completed
     Current work             Task 2                  Current work
     Planned work             Task 3                  Planned work

Task 2                   Current Work            Topic 2
Work completed Task 1 Work completed Current work Task 2 Current work Planned work Task 3 Planned work Task 3 Current Work Topic 3 Work completed Task 1 Work completed Current work Task 2 Current work Planned work Task 3 Planned work

The following illustration shows an example of the project-tasks approach with subheadings for time periods; the one after that shows the time-period approach with subheadings for report topics.

Brine Drainage Tube Modifications

During this period, we have continued to work on problems associated with
the brine drainage tubes.

     Previous period. After minor adjustments during a month of operation,
the drainage tubes and the counterwasher have performed better but still
not completely satisfactorily.  The screen sections of these tubes, as you
know, are located at variable distances along the height of the washer.

     Current period. The screen portion of the brine drainage tubes
have been moved to within 5 feet of the top of the pack.  So far, no change
in counterwasher performance has been observed. Production statistics at
the end of this month (February) should give us a clearer idea of the effect
of this modification.

     Next period. Depending on the continued performance of the
screen in its current position in relation to the top of the pack, we may
move the screen to within 3 feet of the top of the pack in the next period of
testing.  Although the wash ratio was greater with greater screen height, the
washing efficiency seems to remain relatively constant as the production
vs. compressor KW data for all screen locations so far has seemed to
follow the same linear curve.

Progress report organized by project tasks and time periods

                        WORK COMPLETED

As of this time, I have completed almost all of the research work and am
putting the sections of the final report together. Here is a breakdown of
the work that I have done so far.

Development of the Bottle

In the development section of my report, I have written a technical descrip-
tion of a typical PET soft-drink bottle. It is very complete and gives the
reader a good idea of what the product should look like and able to 

Favorable Properties

The section of the report describing the properties of PET is finished.
I have chosen four physical properties that many raw materials containers
are tested for, and I have shown how PET withstands these tests.

Manufacturing Processes

For the section on manufacturing processes, I have done research to help
me recommend one particular production method for PET bottles.  Here, I
have described this chosen method and have explained exactly how a plastic
bottle is produced on an assembly line.


I have finished work on half the economics section of this report. So far,
I have written an econimic comparison of the use of plastic and glass

                        PRESENT WORK

Right now I am mainly involved in determining just which areas of my
report are lacking information. Also, I am continuing my work in locating
financial information on PET bottles.

Manufacturing Processes

In the manufucaturing section, I am currently . . .
Progress report organized by time periods and report topics

Other Parts of Progress Reports

In your progress report, you also need (a) an introduction that reviews the history of the project's beginnings as well as the purpose and scope of the work, (b) a detailed description of your project, and (c) an overall appraisal of the project to date, which usually acts as the conclusion.

Introduction. Review the details of your project's purpose, scope, and activities. This will aid recipients who are unfamiliar with the project, who do not remember certain details, or who want to doublecheck your approach to the project. The introduction can contain the following:

  • Purpose of the project
  • Specific objectives of the project
  • Scope, or limits, of the project
  • 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

     I am now submitting to you a report on the progress that I have
     made on my research for your company, Ginseng Cola.  Immediately
     following the January 15 acceptance of my firm's bid to study 
     the advantages of bottling your soft-drink product in plastic
     bottles, I began investigating all areas of the project.

     In the following sections of this progress report, you will be
     informed on the work that I have already accomplished, the work 
     I am now involved in, the work left to do, and finally an overall
     appraisal of the how the project is going.
Example introduction to a progress report

Project description. In most progress reports, include a project description to review the details of your project for the recipients:


Here is a review of the purpose and scope of this project.

Purpose. The original investment plan of this corporation included
only long-term, low-risk investment in corporate bonds and U.S. securities.
This project was designed to answer questions about the potential of short-
term, high-dollar investments, particularly those suited to the future
expansion of this company's investment plan.

Scope. The report will cover basic definitions of stocks and options
as well as reasons for and against these two investment strategies. The
report will be broken down into four areas:
  • Mechanics of stocks and options
  • Comparisons of stocks and options
  • Example investment scenarios
  • Recommendations for an investment plan
Example project description from a report

Conclusion. The final paragraph or section usually reassures audiences that all is going well and on schedule. It can also alert recipients to unexpected changes or problems in the project.


The project to recommend PET production is coming along well.  I have
not run into any major problems and have found plenty of material on
this subject.  However, I have not heard from Mr. Simon Juarez of 
PET Mfg., who is sending information on PET production methods used
in several plants in the Southwest.

I can foresee no major problems that will keep me from submitting my
report to you on the contract date. In fact, I may be able to get it
to you a few days earlier than planned. In general, I am finding that
the PET bottle is an even more attractive packaging idea than had
seemed in our earlier discussions.  Full details on this, however,
will appear in the final report.


Steven C. Crosswell
Process Engineer
C & S Engineering
Overall appraisal used as conclusion to a progress report

Revision Checklist for Progress Reports

As you reread and revise your progress report, watch out for problems such as the following:

  • Make sure you use the right format. Remember, the memo format is for internal progress reports; the business-letter format is for progress reports written from one external organization to another. (Whether you use a cover memo or cover letter is your choice.)
  • Write a good introduction-in it, state that this is a progress report, and provide an overview of the contents of the progress report.
  • Make sure to include a description of the final report project.
  • Use one or a combination of the organizational patterns in the discussion of your work on the final report.
  • Use headings to mark off the different parts of your progress report, particularly the different parts of your summary of work done on the project.
  • Use lists as appropriate.
  • Provide specifics-avoid relying on vague, overly general statements about the work you've done on the final report project.
  • Be sure and address the progress report to the real or realistic audience-not your instructor.
  • Assume there will nonspecialist reading your progress report. But don't avoid discussion of technical aspects of the project—just bring them down to a level that nonspecialists can understand.
  • Interested in courses related to this page or a printed version? See the resources page. Return to the main menu of this online textbook for technical writing.

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