Students may be asked to create and submit assessments in different formats, but the business report affords students a good opportunity to develop the skills that will be useful in the workplace after their studies. Therefore, today I will provide guidance on report writing which I hope will help anyone seeking to improve their report writing skills.
In general, with reports you are likely to either be asked to investigate a topic and provide information or research an issue or problem faced by an organisation and make recommendations as to how this problem or issue can be addressed.
When it comes to writing reports, they should be clear, concise, well structured and written so that they are easy to read, understand any arguments and implement any recommendations put forward. The language we use and how we structure reports are important, so that’s what we’ll look at now.
Your report is a formal business document so it should be written in formal language and draw on evidence to back up your ideas. You should also reference where your ideas have come from (your sources).
You should write in the third person, definitely avoiding the first person. You don’t need to write overly complex and lengthy sentences. You wish to get your ideas across clearly and be understood, so its better to write with language you are comfortable with and smaller sentences. You also want to ensure you write in proper, grammatically structured sentences and paragraphs.
Each paragraph should only contain one theme and throughout your report, you should make use of headings to guide the reader.
Be careful that you are not overusing bullet points. They can be a useful way to present lists, but if your report is simply pages of bullet points, you are unlikely to be able to present well developed arguments. Where you are using bullets, its better to provide explanations.
As you should be writing in formal language, you want to avoid using contractions (isn’t, can’t etc), don’t use colloquialisms or cliches. You should also avoid using abbreviations unless they are widely understood.
The structure is how your report is laid out. As discussed above, it should be clear and easy to read. The sections should be easy to identify through headings, and your arguments developed logically and be easily understood.
In general terms, reports should have the following structure:
- Title Page
- Executive Summary
- Contents Page
- Terms of Reference
- Main body (broken down into topical sections)
- Appendices (if necessary)
As the name suggests, this is the first page of your Report. It should include your name, the title of the report, who commissioned the report and the date.
If you’re doing a report as a student, you will need to include more information – the name of your course, the unit the report is written for, the assessment details. Your lecturer/tutor’s name and the word count. You should probably also include a declaration that the work is your own (that its not plagiarised).
This is not the same as the introduction to your Report. The executive summary should not really be any more than one page long and should pull out the key specifics of what your report achieved. It should be written in the past – what the report did, what conclusions and key recommendations have been made. You should be as detailed and specific about those key points.
Your introduction should highlight what the report will do – in the future tense – but doesn’t also cover the conclusions and recommendations because at the time of writing, starting out with the report, you don’t know where you’re going to go.
It may seem obvious, but the Contents Page is a list of the Report’s contents (the headings for the individual sections) and corresponding page numbers. Just remember to number the pages too. There is nothing worse than getting a document with a contents page but where the pages aren’t numbered.
Terms of Reference
This section can be in bullet point format but the key here is to highlight the main aim and objectives of your report. What are you setting out to do, and what you will do to achieve that. So for this post, I would have said something like:
The aim of this post is to provide guidance on how to structure and write a report. It will do this by:
- Providing an explanation of what a report is
- Discuss the importance of using formal language
- Outline the stages involved in report writing and explain what’s involved in each stage
For me, an introduction always serves two purposes:
- It introduces what you’re going to talk about in the report. Your reader should be able to read your introduction and have a good idea of the content. It can be useful to write this section last as you may change your opinion as you write your report findings.
- For the second part of your introduction you should be putting the organisation into context. Why the issue is of interest to the organisation, what the impact is, and what might be the benefit of the investigation.
Main body of your work
The main body of your report is the most important part of your work as it will be where you answer the questions posed and provide your analysis and evidence.
Although I have used the term “main body” this is not a term you should use in your Report. You should use the topics or themes as your section headings. You should explain what you are looking at/considering; what you found out and an assessment of whether you think something is important – for example, if you are asked to explain why its important for managers to prepare properly for interviews, you might include the following:
- An assessment of whether or not you agree with the statement. It is ok to disagree, but if you do, you will need to provide really strong arguments to support your opinion.
- You will have to provide your arguments as to why you agree/disagree.
- You should finish off each section with a sentence confirming your opinion.
The conclusions are not simply a summary of everything you have written in your report. You use the conclusions to emphasise the key, most important points from your work. I would recommend that you read through your work once you’re finished and ask what are your most important points – write down the key words or phrases as a note and then develop those points to form your conclusions.
As with the rest of your work, the conclusions should be written in prose rather than bullet points.
Conclusions should not contain any new information. If you have a “eureka” moment when writing the conclusions (it happens to us all), you ought to go back and add the ideas into the main body of the work.
Not every report will ask you for recommendations but many will, so this section will not always be required. However, if you are asked to make recommendations they should be provided as a separate section and they come after the conclusions.
As with the conclusions, recommendations should not provide any new information nor should you justify or explain your recommended actions as these ought to have been included earlier.
The recommendations can be provided as a bulleted list, but they should provide enough information so that the people putting them into practice know exactly what to do and do not need to come back to you to ask questions. You could consider providing an action plan as an appendix to detail what’s involved in implementation.
This is the list of sources that you work with in your writing. That can be quotations lifted from other people’s work or paraphrasing, which is you putting their ideas into your own words. You should always try to use other people’s work in your own to show your understanding and as evidence to support your analysis.
If you wish to share additional information to supplement your work, you can add this as an appendix. Appendices should not contain published material as you can either share this in your work, if its a table for example, or a diagram, or you can reference the work. Appendices should really be information you’ve created or company policies etc. Appendices should be kept to a minimum.
The majority of the time you should not need to provide appendices.
I hope this guide helps with report writing but I’d love to hear how people get on, or about experiences.
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