Writing Effective Business Reports continued
The sections included in the report should usually have a structure similar to this;-
Table of Contents
A list of the sections, numbered, and their page number
Executive summary or overview
Although this will be the first section, it is easiest to write last. As well as a Summary or Overview of the report, it should provide a summary of the findings of each section of the report, and include overall conclusions, summary, findings or recommendations.
The executive summary is designed to be read alone without the full report, so it needs to be coherent if read in isolation. Readers may use this section to decide whether they need to read the whole report.
It should provide an overview of the report’s essential information, briefly outlining the subject matter, terms of reference, recap any background issues, the scope of the report, the method used if relevant, record any analysis, and summarise arguments or issues raised in the discussion. It should sum up the key findings, conclusion and the recommendations.
The objective of the introduction is to outline what the report will cover so there will inevitably be some duplication of the contents of the executive summary. The introduction should include the terms of reference, and the reason for the report’s production. It should introduce the topic, and give some background to the report and its objectives and rationale. It should define the problem or topic addressed in the report the report, its terms of reference, boundaries, outline of the reports structure, an overview of the reports sections. It should also outline sources used, and acknowledge any major assistance received
Body of the Report
This section will be the longest part of the report, and it is important to present the material in a rational manner. The headings will depend on the information in the report, and its objectives.
The body of the report will be divided into sections with relevant headings and sub-headings reflecting their contents. The outline structure will depend entirely on the individual report, but should include such things as the methods used if applicable, the report’s findings, and a discussion of the findings.
When you plan the structure, remember that people will select relevant sections rather than read the whole report. Try to develop the material in a logical way, describing and discussing the findings.
Include supporting evidence that is essential to the findings such as graphs or tables. Non-essential evidence can be included in the annexe and referenced to it in the main body where relevant.
Again bear in mind the conclusion may be read in isolation without reference to the full report
State conclusions, findings, inferences that can be drawn, recommendations that can be made. The conclusion must follow from the evidence discussed in the report and should answer the question raised by the report title, or objective.
If there are several conclusions, give some thought to how to organise them. You could either discuss them;-
- in logical order following the report development
- in order of importance
- as pluses and minuses, advantages and disadvantages
Also include any limitations of the conclusions, and implications for the business.
Sometimes there will be a separate recommendations headings, or this can be dealt with as a subsection of the conclusions. This will depend on the weight of the conclusions and recommendations.
Recommendations will be objective, but should follow from the report’s conclusions. They tell the reader what should be done, what action should be taken, what the next steps are.They should explain the reason for the recommendation, supported by the report’s conclusions.
List of research sources and reference materials
Proofreading and checking
Before you issue your report, read it carefully yourself. Use spellchecker tools available online to help with proofreading
Ask a colleague or assistant to read it for you and confirm that it “reads well “. It is almost impossible to check your own work in this respect as you are too close to it to be objective, and have many assumptions and a lot of knowledge your readers won’t have, so get an objective outside opinion.