Typically, you are required to write a report about your work at the completion of an internship or co-op. Although an internship or co-op might not be linked directly to a class, per se, the act of writing the report—which is often achieved in the final weeks of the experience or in the semester following the work—is certainly a writing-intensive experience. The document provides a simple means for you to report to your faculty supervisor on both the content and value of your work assignment, and, more importantly, it gives you a chance to reflect on the work you have done in both a personal and professional manner. You should think of your report, therefore, as both a formal academic assignment and as a personal opportunity to use and enhance your skills as a communicator. Just as successful people thrive by blending their formal education and experience with critical self-assessment, you can use your report to review what you have learned, detail what you have accomplished, and gauge your personal growth. Also, especially if you produce a professional product, you might offer your report as a writing sample to a potential employer.
Frequently, you will be given guidelines for writing your report from a faculty supervisor, and it is critical that you follow these guidelines to the letter. It is also important, though, that you treat these guidelines as starting points rather than ending ones. For instance, if you are posed with three questions to consider in a particular section of your report, your responses to these questions should be thoughtful and expansive rather than just simple one-sentence answers. Further, you should see these questions as starting points that will lead you to other related questions of your own design. The bottom line is this: Any report guidelines you are given should be viewed as a substantive framework that awaits your interpretation and elaboration, not as a simple Q-and-A or fill-in-the-blank exercise.
One important note about your report: Before being turned in to your faculty supervisor, it should first be reviewed by your employer. Your employer’s role here is proprietary; i.e., the employer should be considered the "owner" of the report content. You must be certain that your employer will allow the content of your report to become public, and you should also view the employer’s review of your report as standard practice—just as a project manager reviews and endorses the written work of his or her team members.
As a complement to whatever guidelines you are given, the following sections will aid you in generating detail, making your report stylish, and treating it as a personal and professional product. Keep in mind that internship and co-op reports are typically built around specific majors or programs. Therefore, advice you find on the web for one program might not be correct for another, even within the same school. Always check within your program or department office to ensure you are following the appropriate, most up-to-date guidelines.
Report Content and Style
The specifics of your report content will vary based on the guidelines provided by your faculty supervisor. However, all faculty supervisors will be interested in reading about three main subjects:
- Your employer;
- Your duties;
- Your evaluation of the work experience.
You should describe the employer you worked for in thorough detail. As you do so, consider doing the following jobs, typically devoting at least one paragraph to each:
- Introduce the employer’s connection to you by providing an overview of your position, including such details as where you worked, for how long, and how the position fit into your education.
- Describe the nature of the position you held in relation to the employer—what is the position’s value to the company? Why does the company hire interns? Is the internship program new or long-standing?
- When appropriate, quote key company literature—e.g., a brochure, a mission statement, a web page—to summarize the company’s values and culture.
- Give an overview of the employing organization’s size, structure, and commitment to internship/co-op positions. Use the company literature or web page directly to help you generate detail, but avoid simple cut-and-paste composing—assimilate the material.
- Detail how the position you held fit into the overall company organization.
Outline some of the employer’s key goals and challenges, highlighting those problems or projects with which you were specifically charged.
In describing your work duties, outline your specific responsibilities and tie them into any larger projects with which you were involved. Detailed accounts should be given of such issues as the following:
- Your specific day-to-day responsibilities and activities. Turn here to your daily routine activities, record keeping methods, and any job description provided by the employer.
- Duties you took on or were assigned beyond the standard job description.
- Activities in coordination with project teams or co-workers.
- Specific technical functions of your position.
- The academic background necessary for any project you worked on.
- The goals of any project you were involved in.
- Key data, equations, or software that you generated or used.
- Names and functions of machinery or instruments that you operated.
- Analysis and application of data to your particular project.
- Documents, reports, or presentations that you were required to complete.
Your Evaluation of the Work Experience
An evaluation of your internship or co-op is important not just for your faculty supervisor, but for your academic department, your peers, and for you personally. As a way to evaluate your experience, elaborate on areas such as the following:
- The assessment others made of your work, especially if you were given a written evaluation.
- Contributions that the work experience made to your career development, goals, and growth.
- Contributions of the work experience to your selection of future coursework, either because you foresaw new needs due to the work or because a co-worker made recommendations.
- Assessment of which courses you completed that were the most or the least applicable to your internship/co-op. Note specific courses and principles studied in these courses.
- Noteworthy distinctions between your education and on-the-job experience.
- Whether the internship/co-op made good use of your technical background.
- Your level of personal satisfaction with the internship/co-op and whether or not you would recommend it to others.
- Your assessment of how the internship/co-op could be improved for others.
No one expects you to emulate Shakespeare as you write your report (in fact, you had better not do so—"Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune . . ."); instead, your readers will expect your information to be clear and your ideas to be fluid. Therefore, as you compose your report, employ the following stylistic benchmarks:
- Pay special attention to subject/verb agreement and verb tense, the two most common sentence-level problems in technical writing.
- Favor short paragraphs over long ones. Short paragraphs tend to be focused; long ones tend to be cumbersome. Aim at four-six paragraphs per page.
- Consciously build your paragraphs around topic sentences, even very simple sentences such as "My daily activities fell into three categories." Your readers will be thankful that you spelled your paragraph topics out clearly, and it will help keep you focused as well.
- Selectively use transition words at the beginnings of pivotal sentences and paragraphs, remembering that transition words provide simple ways for you to guide the reader’s thinking. Opening a sentence with a word such as "Specifically" tells the reader that you are about to elaborate, while a transition such as "Clearly" implies writer contemplation.
- Rely on active voice more than passive. Write "WBRE-TV employs three interns" rather than "Three interns are employed by WBRE-TV."
- Exploit active verbs, especially as you describe your accomplishments. As with a resume, think in relation to things you demonstrated, performed, defined, improved, mapped, programmed, organized, presented, etc.
- Take advantage of the most powerful punctuation marks—the semicolon, colon, and dash—to present material efficiently.
- Use an honest, upbeat, sincere tone, especially in the conclusion of your report when you assess the internship or co-op’s value to you personally.
Of course, reports should always be typed, using double-spaced type, one side of the page only, on 8-1/2 x 11 paper. Use a point size of 10-12 and a highly readable font such as Times. Include page numbers on all pages after page 1. Use a laser printer to print off the final version of your report.
Just as in a professional paper, any tables and figures should be numbered consecutively throughout the text, and if many figures and tables appear then separate lists of them at the beginning of the report would be wise. Tables and figures should always have descriptive captions, and if they come directly from sources, the sources must be specifically credited in the captions with the same citation style that you use throughout the report. Use an appendix to attach any important related materials, but only if these materials are highly illuminating or were used directly to write the report.
Typically, you are expected to supply a cover page giving such details as the title of your report, the type of report, your name, your major, and the complete name, address, website, and phone number of the employing organization. It is important that your cover page be thoroughly detailed, but that you do not let the presentation of detail be overwhelming to look at. Organize and balance your information on the cover page with aesthetics in mind, favoring centered text and skipped lines between each separate detail. Also, consider using a table of contents page, especially if your report includes many section headings or is more than, say, eight pages in length.
It is important that your report include an appropriate title. Again, look to any report guidelines you have been given for particulars, but remember that your title should be logical, informational, and professional, and should reflect the type of document that your report represents. Even a generic title such as "Internship Report" is more appropriate than an idiosyncratic, cutesy one such as "My Headache with Bayer Corporation."
Since most professional reports require an abstract—a condensed summary of the report’s contents—it is logical for you to include one with your report as well. In published reports, more people will read the abstract than any other part of the paper, so its utility is critical. The abstract is always self-contained, and is normally presented as a separate page and in a single paragraph. By necessity, abstracts are often written last.
The best report abstracts do these things, typically in this order:
- briefly summarize the purpose of the report;
- summarize the specific nature of your work assignment;
- provide basic information about the employer;
- point the reader towards the conclusions of the report, which might in this case be your evaluation of the experience.
The style of abstracts is grounded in economy and information. Sentences should be kept short but detailed. You could use the pronoun "I" to refer to yourself in the abstract, but in general a straightforward and objective tone should be maintained.
A short excerpt from the opening of an internship report abstract follows:
This report outlines the duties of a summer intern at BMC Corporation in New Brunswick, NJ, and highly recommends the internship to other students. BMC Corporation includes over 50 manufacturing facilities in three states. I worked in the Peroxygen Chemicals Division . . .
The content and length of the introduction vary based on your report guidelines, but as a rule introductions are meant to spark the reader’s interest by providing basic background relevant to the report. As you write your introduction, remember that you should create immediate context, ideally with individual style. You have a story to tell, and the introduction is your chance to get the reader interested in that story. Note in the following excerpt from a report introduction how the writer even begins with a creative, personal tone to invite the reader’s attention:
From the White House to the home of Steven Spielberg to elementary school classrooms, Lutron Electronics’ lighting controls manage the visual environment of millions of buildings all over the globe. Lutron’s products form one of the largest markets in the lighting industry throughout the world, ranging from a simple wall box dimmer to a complex computerized system controlling all the lights of a coliseum.
From May to August 2008, I worked at Lutron as a summer intern. My responsibilities included . .
In any report more than a few pages long, section headings are always a good idea. Just by considering the section headings in a report, the reader can determine the report’s organization and content. For the writer, thoroughly worded section headings help you to control, limit, and organize your thinking within each section.
To generate your section headings in the body of your report, you can begin by turning to any report guidelines with which you have been provided. For instance, if you are asked in your report guidelines to consider whether the position truly utilizes your technical background, you might create a section heading such as "Technical Background Necessary for Position." Compose section headings that have a clear relationship to one another and tell the story of the entire report.
The following section headings from a co-op report demonstrate both the specificity and the narrative nature of good section headings:
- Introduction to My Co-op
- Overview of Bayer Corporation
- Overview of My New Martinsville Co-op Experience
- Computer-Simulated Process Control: the Camile Tg Software Package
- The Use of Mid-IR to Monitor Reaction Extent
- Conclusion and Personal Evaluation of Bayer
The content of your conclusion might be made up entirely of your personal evaluation of the internship/co-op. However, it is also appropriate to give an overview of the report or to highlight something that you learned in writing the report. For instance, some students use the conclusion to review the key terminology that was used throughout the report and note how this key terminology now has practical applications for them. In short, you can use the conclusion to show how the work experience changed you.
Remember too that a conclusion can be a substantial portion of a report—perhaps several pages long. This makes it even more important for you to rely on specifics, not generalities. Avoid generic unsupported conclusions such as "The internship was a positive experience for me and it was very beneficial too." Instead, present evidence to prove your claims—provide examples, scenarios, lists, names, dates, emotions, labels, terminology. Do not skimp on detail.
As you write your conclusion, concentrate on presenting the bottom line, and think of the word’s definition: a conclusion is an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence presented.
An acknowledgments section, normally on a separate page with the heading "Acknowledgments," could be included at the beginning or end of your report. The style for this section is often highly personal, and your job is to recognize briefly any individuals or organizations that contributed directly to the completion of your internship or co-op through financial support, technical assistance, critique, or personal commitment.
Any sources cited in your report must be correctly listed on a references page using a citation style that is standard in your field, such as the number system or author-year system (see Chapter 5 of this handbook). If your professor does not recommend a specific citation style, model yours on a journal from your discipline or, better yet, on the citation style recommended by your employer.