As your business grows, writing formal business reports is inevitable. These reports are about more than numbers and facts. They are the face of your company and must be professional and well-written to leave the best impression. Regardless of content or audience, there is a basic method you can follow to create your report.
7 Steps to Writing a Business Report
Successful reports require planning so that you can convey the information clearly. If your company has previous business reports on file that they considered successful, review these to get an idea of what they may be looking for. Whether or not examples of previous reports are available, follow these steps when creating a business report.
1. Determine the Purpose the Report
There are many types of business reports. The first step is to determine why you are writing the report. Is this report for the board of the company? Is it an annual finance report for shareholders? Are you writing a report to assess an employee? Is it an incident report related to a workplace accident? Understanding the reason for the report helps you select the necessary information for the intended audience.
2. Identify and Adapt to the Audience
Your writing style should respect your audience. The educational level of the writing should match those who will be reading the report. Employees may not need all of the data that executives of the company may need. An outside organization may not need access to any information considered classified by your company. The report may be going to several audiences at once; you may have to incorporate each group's concerns into one or perhaps write more than one version to focus on each audience.
3. Gather and Organize Research
Gather all of the data that will be covered in the report. This may include several things:
- Sales reports
- Attendance reports
- Financial statements
- Production statistics
You may need to gather additional data, such as interviews, customer analysis, or competitor information for a more complete view. Another point to remember is that you will need to explain the methods and procedures that you used for gathering your data. This adds credibility to the findings and allows the readers to put faith in your information.
4. Do the Analysis
At this point, you need to take the data you have and make sense of it all. You have already determined your reasons for writing this report - now you should take the data and try to address them. Interpret the data, understand what this data means, and how it might be useful for the readers. What questions does the data answer?
- The analysis is a key part of the business report; you should be able to offer conclusions and recommendations using this analysis. For example, in the case of expansion, you would want to evaluate the costs of the expansion and how much revenue would be expected. You would also look at the reasons for the expansion like increases in demand and long-term goals for the company, as well as relevant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats via a SWOT analysis.
- For easier reading, you also may have to make charts, tables, or graphs for your data and analysis. This gives the readers the numbers or bullet points in easy form; it can also help if you have to make a slide presentation with your report.
5. Format the Report
After you have done the research and analyzed the data, the next step is to format the report. Most business reports contain specific sections; you can develop an outline that includes the data from each of these parts.
- Executive Summary - This is a summary of key points of the report including recommendations.
- Introduction - This details why the report is being written.
- Findings/Data - This contains the research, analysis, and any graphs and charts.
- Conclusions - This section contains the summary of the findings section.
- Recommendations - What are the suggestions based on the findings and conclusions in the report?
When creating the outline, you should make a list of important topics and subtopics, and then organize your topics into a logical order. Most reports work best with a topic-subtopic organization, but use another format if it better suits your data.
6. Write It Down
Using your outline as a framework, you can then write a rough draft of the report using the pieces of information that you researched or analyzed. The goal is to get your thoughts and key points down on paper - this version does not need to be grammatically perfect or formatted correctly yet. You can edit the paper later.
7. Review the Main Points in the Executive Summary
The executive summary can be written last as a shortened version of the overall report; many people wait until the paper is finished before writing this overview. This summary should include:
- A Brief Statement about the Purpose of the Report: A sample start could be: "Our company looks to expand operations into new territories. This report reviews our current capabilities and what would be needed to move into additional areas."
- Important Background Information: An example of background information could be: "Company XYZ sells products and services in a tri-state area currently and employs 300 people. Each additional state added would require $500,000 in capital and 75 additional workers."
- Key Findings or Data: Using the information that you included in your report, you should point out the key analyses that you want the reader to know. For example: "To expand into an additional 2 states, company XYZ would need to hire 150 more workers and build 2 new factories. Each factory would be projected to bring in $750,000 in revenue the first year after completion."
- Key Conclusions: In this section, you should summarize what the findings say. For example, it would be important to say: "Getting the necessary items in place would require $1 million in capital expenditure and 3 months to complete construction. The projected revenues from this expansion are $1.5 million."
- The Most Important Recommendations: Include the recommendations. What should the company do with the information that you have presented in the report? An example is "Company XYZ should plan to expand into 2 states and allocate $1 million for the expected construction."
The executive summary should have enough information to where a busy executive could read that portion of the report and have a good idea about the paper itself. In some instances, the executive summary may be all that is read. Ideally, the executive summary should be a page or less in length. Review this example executive summary for guidance.
Common Business Report Problems to Avoid
There are some general issues to avoid when writing a business report.
- Mind your language: Keep the language formal to maintain propriety.
- Wordiness: Be concise. Don't use ten words if two will do.
- Too much jargon: Don't use it if you can avoid it. If you must use jargon, then define the term the first time you use it.
Make sure that your report is smooth and that the data, conclusions, and recommendations all build into each other. The reader should be able to follow the reasoning that shows how you got to your final points.
Completing an Effective Report
After finishing your first draft, it is time to revise. All business reports will benefit from proofreading. Proofreading the report helps you write an effective report that achieves your organization's goals. Take your time and keep an eye on the details, and you can write efficient and professional business reports.