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Business Reports

Completion requirements

Reports play a significant role in business. A report is not complicated. It is merely a collection of information, arranged in a particular format, and prepared by an expert. And you, the writer, are the expert.

Reports come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can run anywhere from one page (short report) to an indefinite number of pages (scientific report). They can be laid out in a variety of formats: memorandum, letter, semiformal, or formal, statistical, research, short reports, etc.

Report Writing Process

People often cringe at the thought of writing a “business report”. Granted, these are somewhat more complicated than business letters, but if approached in the right way, writing a business report can be a straightforward and reasonably painless process.

Although the technical content and terminology will vary from report to report, depending on the subject and industry context, the actual “report writing process“ will be essentially the same.

Step 1 – Clarify the Purpose

Confirm exactly what the client wants.

This is a very important initial step. Whether the client is you, or someone else, be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing in terms of final outcome and expectations. When determining this, always think specifically in terms of the final deliverable (usually the final report). What issues must it address? What direction/guidelines is it expected to give? What exactly will it contain? What bottom line are they looking for?

Determine what type of report is required.

This is another very important initial matter to clarify. There are a number of different types of business reports. Although there is usually overlap between the different types, there are also important differences. For example, do they want: a business plan, a business proposal, a strategic plan, a corporate information management plan, a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a financial plan, or what? Know exactly what type of final report of expected from the outset.

The” why” usually falls into one of two areas. You are either providing information to the readers, so they can make a decision or take a specific action, or you are analyzing a situation and making a recommendation.

Don’t begin writing until you can reduce your purpose statement to two sentences. The statement does not have to be grammatically correct; no one but you will read it.

Step 2 – Conduct Research

Once you have focused on the reader and the purpose of the report, it is time to gather the details.

This stage may be as simple as collecting and reading a few background documents supplied by the client, or it could involve developing questionnaires and conducting detailed interviews with the appropriate people. It will vary with each situation. The Internet, of course, can really simplify and shorten the research process, but don’t forget to double and triple-check your sources.

Remember effective writers don’t collect just the information that interests them. They collect the details their readers need and want.

Step 3 – Structure your Document

Develop a report outline (i.e. the overall structure of your report) by identifying particular headings and subheadings.

List the ideas associated with each heading and subheading. Group related ideas where possible and then arrange them in a logical order.

Plan exhibits. Plan the introduction and the conclusion (but do not use phrases such as “The introduction”, “The Conclusion,” or “The Main Body” as the headings).

Write the table of contents:

Drafting the Table of Contents (TOC), before you start writing the actual report is the single most important key to developing a successful business report. This document can normally be done before, or in parallel with, the first phase of project information gathering. This should be more than just a rough draft TOC. It should be a carefully thought-out breakdown of exactly what you imagine the TOC will look like in the final report. Although this takes a certain amount of time and brain power up-front, it really streamlines the rest of the process. What I do is actually visualize the final report in my mind’s eye and write the contents down. This really works! This TOC then becomes a step-by-step template for the rest of the process.

If you’re writing the report for an external client, it’s a good idea to present the draft Table of Contents to them at this point in the process and get their approval. This will force them to think it through and confirm what they really want at this point. Once they have agreed to a TOC you will have the “buy-in” for the rest of the process, therefore significantly reducing the chances of any major changes or reversals at the final report phase.

After thinking through the TOC in detail, you will know if any additional research is required. If yes, do these extra information gatherings before you sit down and start to actually write the report. That way, once you begin the writing process you will have all of the information needed at hand and you will not have to interrupt the writing process to conduct any further research.

Create the Skeleton Document:

When working with MS Word, create a skeleton document first. That is, before you actually write any of the text, enter the entire Table of Contents that you have already developed in MS Word, heading by heading, including sup-headings. At this point, the document is essentially a sequential series of headings and sub-headings with blank spaces between them. Then, have MS Word generate an automatic Table of Contents that exactly matches your planned TOC. You’re then ready to start filling in the blank spaces after each heading and sub-heading in the body of the document, with text.

Step 4 – Write the Report

Write a report by filling in the blanks. Once the TOC skeleton framework is in place as per the previous step, writing the actual report becomes almost like filling in the blanks. Just start at the beginning and work your way sequentially through the headings and sub-headings, one at a time, until you get to the end. Really at that point, with all of the preparation done, it should be a relatively straightforward process.

Develop one paragraph for each idea or topic. Write a strong opening sentence for each paragraph, which will indicate the conclusions you made at the case analysis stage. When presenting more than three facts or numbers at one time, consider whether a table or chart might communicate the information better in fewer words.

  • Avoid redundant or overblown words.
  • Be concise! When 6 words will replace 14 words, let them do so!
  • Check grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  • Number the pages.
  • Write draft 2, correcting for errors, wordiness and unnecessarily pretentious works.
  • Proofread draft 2. It’s a good idea to have another person do this. Correct/improve as necessary.
  • Are exhibits labelled and numbered, and in the order they are mentioned in the report?

Things to remember when writing your report:

  • Language and Style.
  • Your writing must be clear and precise in meaning.
  • The style of writing should be factual and objective.
  • The language must be formal. Do not use slang.
  • Do not use “I”, “you”, or “me” in a formal report. Use third-person language such as – “The personnel committee requested a report on…”

Layout and Headings

  • The main parts of your report should have headings.
  • Important points inside these main areas should carry sub-headings.
  • If you want to draw attention to a specific word or section, underline that word or heading.
  • Numbers can be used to help list points of importance in order.
  • You can use letters to distinguish between different parts of the report (e.g. section 3ii or Section A part 3b, etc.)

Other Guidelines

  • Seven is the magic number for writing reports. Never have more than seven main points. This is the limit of a reader’s attention span. Likewise, never include more than seven sub-points for a main point. You may even go a level deeper into the report – to sub-sub points – but any level lower than that will only detract from the main points.
  • Formal reports should be written with complete sentences, paragraphs, and headings. In addition, make sure you use full-length sentences when you know you will have multiple readers with different information needs.
  • Visual appeal is important in reports. Make sure you have plenty of white space. And leave ample margins in case the report is bound or placed in a binder. Some writers leave a wider margin on the right-hand side so readers can add their comments or questions in the appropriate places.
  • The tone in formal reports is objective and formal. Avoid the first person (“I” or “Me”) and use more passive voice sentences than you would for letters, memos, and short reports.
  • In a long report, all major points should appear three times: in the body, in the executive summary, and in either the introduction of the conclusion or recommendation.
  • Always reread the introduction after you have finished the entire report and make any necessary changes
  • Make sure the introduction presents a concise picture of what is to follow. If it doesn’t accurately reflect the upcoming ideas, your readers will be annoyed.
  • Use descriptive subheads to deliver information to your readers.

Step 5 - Edit and Finalize

Research indicates that writers do a better editing job if they rest at least two hours before beginning to edit their own writing. (Twenty-four hours are even better.) That way, you will be looking at the material with a slightly fresher, more objective, eye.

Editing is the key to all good reports. Forty percent of the reporting process should be spent in this stage. And remember to do a spell-check both manually and electronically. Checklist 6 gives you some questions to ask yourself.

Click on the link/s below to open the resources.

Report Checklist that gives you some standards to verify your report against.