When writing a report, the key issue you need to understand is its purpose. Why will people be reading the report, what information will they expect to get from it? Once you understand that and apply the tools and techniques we cover in this article, you will be able to write a clear, concise report, which achieves its intention.
There are some standard structures for reports, and if you use Microsoft Word, you will find a variety of templates you can use. However, there are some key elements to the structure of a report that you need to consider:
Executive Summary: You may decide to include an executive summary in your report. This gives a high-level overview and understanding of the report, for those readers who do not have the time to read the whole document. It is not always necessary and will depend on the length and complexity of the report.
Introduction: This sets out the purpose of the report and what it hopes to achieve. This may include terms of reference, and an overview of the structure of the report.
The Main Body: This section covers the main content of the report. This may be what was done, and what findings were uncovered.
Recommendations: Many reports will have a section where recommendations are discussed. Several may be included here, with the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Conclusion: This section should give a summary of the report, with a final recommendation.
Obviously, the content of your report will depend upon its purpose. The temptation with a report is to write down everything you know, but for the report to be useful and easy to read, it is important to consider all content, and group it logically. When gathering and analysing data for your report, start to consider how to group it and what sequence it should be in. Mind mapping can be a useful tool here – please refer to the article covering this topic;- https://zing365.wpengine.com/mind-maps.
Report styles can be personal; however, there are some things to consider.
- Too much use of passive verbs can lead to a report feeling vague about who is doing what and lacking action.
- Try not to use jargon that may confuse your readers, explain any terms they may be unfamiliar with.
- Be clear what abbreviations stand for, if in doubt, explain them.
- Don’t feel like you need to impress with long words or convoluted sentences. Shorter sentences and everyday words tend to get messages across more effectively.
- Be succinct; you don’t need to waffle to reach a certain number of pages. For most readers, a good report is a short one!
Once the report is drafted, you may feel you never want to see it again, but it is important to read through it as if for the first time. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and consider what they are expecting from the report. Be ruthless with your editing, and ideally ask a colleague or friend to read it for some honest feedback.
While using a spell checker tool is vital, don’t rely on it to pick up all errors, you need to read the report through to both sense-check it, and error-check it.
Presentation of the report
Some businesses will have a standard style that must be used, so make sure you are aware of any restrictions. Consider whether graphics could help with the readability of your report and help your audience understand some key concepts. Make sure you have enough ‘white space’ on the page – if the text looks too dense, the report can feel off-putting to read. Set the spaces between lines of text, and paragraphs to give the best effect and make headings clear and consistent.
If possible, ask readers of the report for feedback on its structure and ‘readability’. You can use this feedback to ensure your report writing is continually improving.