Writing business reports is an important part of the job for any financial (or other) professional. But writing a first-rate report is a skill that eludes many. After all, you need to be able to convey key industry challenges, address complex reporting requirements, and situate your analysis in an ever-evolving marketplace. That’s no easy task when many situations won’t fit a one-size-fits-all approach.
Important: You must use language effectively to support the purpose of your report, asserts communication training expert Philip Vassallo. In his audio conference for Eli Financial, “Write Effective Business Reports,” Vassallo explains how to apply a disciplined approach to various report-writing situations.
Writing effective, clear, and concise business reports is a challenge, says Vassallo, especially since business reporting requirements vary based on several factors:
- Industry culture: Technical industries generally require in-depth attention to methodology, while finance-oriented businesses may focus more on high-level analysis.
- Business purpose: Are you describing, analyzing, or persuading? Each purpose requires a different communication method—and level of factual detail.
- Audience concerns: Depending on who you’re talking to, you may want to emphasize regulatory compliance, legal issues, sales and marketing analysis, production topics, or strict revenue numbers.
- Archival considerations: You’ll also want to understand any historical or legacy issues related to the current business concern. As emerging projects develop, old models become frameworks for newer ones.
What’s In A Report?
Even though reports and their purposes vary, many contain the same critical elements. Some of the typical components of a business report, according to bizfluent, include:
- Title page
- Abstract or executive summary
- Table of contents
- List of figures, tables, abbreviations or symbols
- Conclusions and recommendations
- Endnotes or explanatory notes
- Bibliography, references or works cited
- Appendix and glossary
Bestentrepreneur’s Guide to Business Report Writing states that your business communication should follow five steps:
- Provide identifying information
- Define the project or problem (the purpose of the report)
- Give the background
- Give the supporting data
- State your conclusion and recommendation
To set the framework for your report, outline these five steps, then fill in the information from the material you gather.
Follow These Best Practices
A business report is more than statistics and data presented in a spreadsheet—or, worse, a lengthy, text-heavy document. To communicate effectively, you must keep in mind aesthetics and readability. Give your readers the space to digest ideas as well as dive into your analysis.
As you prepare your business reports, keep these editing and design best practices in mind:
- Speak to your audience. Once you understand your target audience—whether you’re communicating with accounting, legal, marketing, or upper management—be sure to use language and a report format that’s appropriate and relevant. Perdue Online Writing Lab offers tips for matching the tone of your business writing to your target audience.
- Organize your information. Do your research first. Business reports often require you to cite sources for your statistics, so keep accurate accounts of where you get your information. Then, organize your data in such a way that readers will be able to draw connections rather than feel bombarded by numbers.
- Proofread. When you proof, read through the document a number of times, each time focusing on something different, such as content, headings, and spelling. Be on alert for proper word usage, and take an extra look at any template-based elements to make sure you’ve filled in any placement-only text (such as “Your Business Name Here”). Cambridge Proofreading & Editing and The Writers Digest both offer great proofreading checklists.
- Revise. Cut content that doesn’t support the report’s purpose, and edit skillfully for clarity, conciseness, and correctness. Check out wright right’s suggestions for 10 “filler words” to cut from your writing.
- Incorporate visuals. Include any relevant corporate logos and insert charts and graphs to display statistical data. You can also incorporate relevant photos to break up heavy blocks of text. Don’t overlook infographics as an informative way to present some of your report information concisely and clearly. Some websites that offer customizable infographic templates are VENNGAGE, freepick, and hubspot.
- Use templates. If you’re uncertain how to organize your information, you can find a large number of free templates online. Microsoft offers templates in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel formats, and you can find other free templates in a variety of formats at Lucidpress, TemplateLAB, and slidebean.
Good writing skills are an investment to your future, and writing business reports will broaden those skills even further. Vassalo shows you how to write a broad range of comprehensive business reports through a fluid process that ensures clarity and conciseness.