9.2 Specifying a Report

Most reports result from the need for information. Writing a new report or modifying an old report requires that you know all of the needs that must be satisfied. For instance, someone needs to know all of the subscribers who now receive magazines, or have received magazines in the past. While this may seem to be sufficient information at first, there are questions that may still arise such as:

Will this person be searching through the list, and hence need it to be sorted?

Will complete addresses be needed?

Are the names of the magazines subscribed to needed?

The more questions like these you can answer, the fewer surprises you will get later on. Thus the first step in specifying a report is:

1) Identify information needs.

The next step is to figure out where the needed information is kept. You need to know the names of the files, and names of the fields in each file. Hopefully, you have documentation that tells you which files and fields to use. As an alternative, the C/Base pdict command lists the field names in an RMSfile. However you do it, you need file names, field names, data types, and sizes of the fields. In our example, the file is sub, and the fields are subscriber, name, address, city, state and zip. The second step can be summarized as:

2) Determine files and fields.

After you know what needs to be printed, you can determine how the report is to be laid out on paper. This layout should include where the headings go, and what titles appear in the headings. You should also decide in which columns fields are to be printed. If you have summary information, you should also design how those line(s) are to be printed. And finally, figure out if you need page footings and what is to be included in them. It is recommended that you take the draft of the report layout to the person who needs the information. This tells you whether or not the report fills the person's needs, as well as whether or not the user can easily find the information. The third step in specifying a report can be summarized as:

3) Determine report layout

With these three steps completed, most of the work is done. To emphasize again, the more time you spend on designing the report the less time you will spend in coding and debugging the report.