How to write a business report

How to write a business report

(This handbook has been written in collaboration with

the School of Marketing and International Business, and

Student Learning,

Victoria University of Wellington)

April 2017

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Contents

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………. 1

1 Planning your business report …………………………………………………. 2

1.1 What is the purpose of this report? …………………………………………………………. 2

1.2 Who are the readers of this report? ………………………………………………………… 2

1.3 What are the report’s main messages?……………………………………………………. 3

1.4 How will the messages be structured? …………………………………………………….. 3

2 Structuring your business report …………………………………………….. 4

2.1 Covering letter/memorandum …………………………………………………………………. 4

2.2 Title Page ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

2.3 Executive Summary ……………………………………………………………………………… 5

2.4 Table of Contents …………………………………………………………………………………. 5

2.5 Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

2.6 Conclusions/recommendations ………………………………………………………………. 6

2.7 Findings and discussion ………………………………………………………………………… 8

2.8 References ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

2.9 Appendices …………………………………………………………………………………………. 8

3 Writing your business report …………………………………………………. 10

3.1 Use effective headings and subheadings ……………………………………………….. 10

3.2 Structure your paragraphs well …………………………………………………………….. 11

3.3 Write clear sentences with plain language ……………………………………………… 12

3.4 Keep your writing professional ……………………………………………………………… 13

3.5 Use white space and well-chosen fonts …………………………………………………. 14

3.6 Number your pages…………………………………………………………………………….. 15

3.7 Use footnotes, tables, figures, and appendices appropriately ……………………. 15

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4 Concluding remarks ……………………………………………………………… 17

References ………………………………………………………………………………. 18

Appendix A: Checklist of a business report ………………………………. 19

Appendix B: Linking ideas within sentences and paragraphs …….. 20

Appendix C: Specific report requirements ………………………………… 21

Appendix D: An example of a finished report ……………………………. 23

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Introduction

Writing an effective business report is a necessary skill for communicating in the business environment. Reports usually address a specific issue or

problem, and are often commissioned when a decision needs to be made.

They present the author’s findings in relation to the issue or problem and then

recommend a course of action for the organisation to take. The key to a good

report is in-depth analysis. Good writers will show their reader how they have

interpreted their findings. The reader will understand the basis on which the

conclusions are drawn as well as the rationale for the recommendations.

Report writing uses some of the writing skills you have already acquired. You

will structure your paragraphs and reference your ideas just as you have been

doing in your essays and other assignments within your Commerce degree.

You might want to refer to the Victoria Business School Writing Skills

Workbook you received in the first year. Report writing sometimes differs in

structure and style. This handbook will help you plan, structure, and write a

basic report. Remember, though, that reports will vary according to their

purpose and the needs of their reader/s. Throughout your university career,

different courses and/or different lecturers may have slightly different

requirements for reports. Please always check the for each

assignment.

Acknowledgement

We acknowledge Write Limited, New Zealand’s plain English specialists.

Many of their principles for good business writing are reflected in this

handbook. A reference to their style guide is found in the reference list on p

17.

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1 Planning your business report

As in all writing, planning is vitally important. The key questions to ask yourself

when planning a business report are:

 what is the purpose of this report

 who are the readers of this report

 what are the report’s main messages

 how will the report be structured?

1.1 What is the purpose of this report?

Keep in mind that the purpose of a business report is generally to assist in

decision making. Be sure you are clear on what decision is to be made and

the role the report plays in this decision. It might be useful to consider the

purpose in this way: As a result of this report, my reader/s will …

For example:

As a result of this report, my reader/s will know:

– how well our recycling programme is doing

– how to increase participation in it.

1.2 Who are the readers of this report?

Consider the main reader/s, but also secondary readers. The main reader for

the recycling report alluded to above is the director of the recycling

programme. Secondary readers might be the facilities team on

campus, the finance team, etc.

Try to understand what the readers already know, what they need to know,

and how they will use this report. You will need to give enough information to

satisfy all these potential readers. You will need to use headings carefully so

that different readers can use the report in different ways.

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1.3 What are the report’s main messages?

 Taking into account the information above, think carefully about the

main message/s you need to convey, and therefore what information is

required. Ask yourself: What are the required pieces of information I

need to include?

 What are the additional pieces of information I need to include?

1.4 How will the messages be structured?

The modern business approach is direct (or deductive, to use a more

sophisticated term). This approach presents the conclusions or

recommendations near the beginning of the report, and the report provides

justification for these recommendations. This approach will be used for the

remainder of this handbook and for report writing in general in the Victoria

Business School (Commerce Faculty).

It should be noted, however, that there is sometimes a place for the indirect

(inductive) approach. This approach leads the reader through the discussion

first and reveals the conclusions and recommendations at the end of the

report. This approach might be used if the recommendations are likely to be

controversial or unpopular (Emerson, 1995).

The next step is to construct an outline, or structure, for your report. Check

for a logical flow, and check your outline against your purpose, your reader/s,

and the report’s relevant information requirements.

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2 Structuring your business report

A business report may contain:

 a covering letter or memorandum

 a title page

 an executive summary

 a table of contents

 an introduction

 conclusions

 recommendations

 findings and discussion

 a list of references

 appendices.

2.1 Covering letter/memorandum

Often a letter is attached to a report to officially introduce the report to the

recipient. If the recipient is outside the organisation, a letter format is

appropriate; if the recipient is inside the organisation, a memorandum/memo

is appropriate.

The covering letter or memorandum should:

 remind the reader of their request for the report

 state the purpose of the report

 acknowledge any assistance

 indicate future actions to be taken.

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2.2 Title Page

The title page should be brief but descriptive of the project. It should also

include the date of completion/submission of the report, the author/s, and their

association/organisation.

2.3 Executive Summary

The executive summary follows the title page, and should make sense on its

own. The executive summary helps the reader quickly grasp the report’s

purpose, conclusions, and key recommendations. You may think of this as

something the busy executive might read to get a feel for your report and its

final conclusions. The executive summary should be no longer than one page.

The executive summary differs from an abstract in that it provides the key

recommendations and conclusions, rather than a summary of the document.

2.4 Table of Contents

The table of contents follows the executive summary on a new page. It states

the pages for various sections. The reader receives a clear orientation to the

report as the table of contents lists all the headings and sub-headings in the

report. These headings and sub-headings should be descriptive of the content

they relate to (see section 3 of this handbook).

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2.5 Introduction

The introduction sets the stage for the reader. It gives the context for the

report and generates the reader’s interest. It orients the reader to the purpose

of the report and gives them a clear indication of what they can expect.

The introduction should:

 briefly describe the context

 identify the general subject matter

 describe the issue or problem to be reported on

 state the specific questions the report answers

 outline the scope of the report (extent of investigation)

 preview the report structure

 comment on the limitations of the report and any

assumptions made.

(Adapted from Emerson, 1995, p. 35)

2.6 Conclusions/recommendations

A business report usually needs both conclusions and recommendations. The

difference between conclusions and recommendations in a report lies in the

orientation to time. Conclusions typically relate to the present or past

situation.

When writing conclusions:

 interpret and summarise the findings; say what they mean

 relate the conclusions to the report issue/problem

 limit the conclusions to the data presented; do not introduce

new material

 number the conclusions and present them in parallel form

 be objective: avoid exaggerating or manipulating the data.

(Guffey, Rhodes & Rogin, 2001, p. 391)

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Recommendations are oriented to the future: what changes are

recommended, or what actions are recommended for the future? They are

specific, action-oriented suggestions to solve the report problem.

When writing recommendations:

 make specific suggestions for actions to solve the report problem

 avoid conditional words such as maybe and perhaps

 present each suggestion separately and begin with a verb

 number the recommendations

 describe how the recommendations may be implemented (if you were

requested to do this)

 arrange the recommendations in an announced order, such as most

important to least important.

(Guffey, et al. 2001, p. 392)

Although the conclusions and recommendations are presented before the

discussion, they need to logically flow from the discussion. Taking a deductive

approach allows the reader insight into your conclusions/recommendations

early on. When your reader reads the discussion afterwards, they will follow it

more easily. Here are some examples of conclusions and recommendations:

Conclusions Recommendations

Home and family responsibilities directly

affect job attendance and performance.

Provide managers with training in working

with personal and family matters.

Time is the crucial issue to balancing