Report writing is a much-needed skill in the workplace but the idea of writing a report fills some people with dread. If your job doesn’t usually involve writing, it can be hard to know where to begin. In this article, I will quickly go through the key stages involved in putting together a report.
A report is a concise document written for a specific purpose and audience. It presents factual information in a structured manner.
The most crucial element of writing a report is to understand your brief. You need to know what the purpose of the report is and for whom the report is being written.
You will then need to go away and do your research. This might be a bit of background reading or fieldwork study. How you will go about this depends on your brief and the level of detail or complexity that the audience will require.
Your research notes will then need to be organised and analysed. Typically, key themes or arguments will emerge from the data and these will inform the contents of the report. Only material that helps you address the brief needs to be included - you can exclude the rest.
Once you have reached your conclusions, it’s time to start writing up. Generally, this should be structured as follows:
Introduction – This should make clear what the report is about, for whom it has been written and why. It should outline any aims and objectives and provide relevant background information.
Methodology – Where relevant, you may include a section on the methodology and methods used to inform the report’s findings.
Main Body – This provides a discussion of the key issues and your findings. This should be structured around the major themes which emerged during the analysis stage. This section is usually broken down into subsections, with subheadings. All the information included here should relate directly to the brief.
Conclusion and Recommendations – The conclusion should provide a summary of the main findings and how the report has met the brief. This is often followed by a ‘call to action’ in the form of recommendations. The recommendations should be specific and realistic and be based on the evidence put forward in the report.
Depending on the length of the report, other features may also be included:
Title Page – The title should describe adequately what the report is about. You may also include your name and the date here. Sometimes you might give the name of the organisation or person for whom the report has been written.
Executive Summary – Longer reports contain a summary of the report’s main findings. If the report is long, the chances are that key decision makers may only read the executive summary so it’s important that it is concise and ‘to the point’. Whilst the executive summary is included at the start of the report, it is usually the last thing to be written.
Contents Page – If the report is lengthy, it is important to help the reader navigate the document with a list of contents. As a minimum, this would page reference the main chapters or sections but may also list subsections.
Reports tend to be written in a formal style and should be presented clearly. Sections and subsections should be organised logically and numbered appropriately. Jargon should be used sparingly and only used where you know the audience will understand it.
Once you’ve finished your report, read through it and keep amending it until you are happy with it. Finally, remember to proofread the document. If possible, ask someone else to help you with this. They might pick out spelling or grammatical mistakes that you have missed.
Being a good report writer will help you develop your persuasiveness and influence. It can be useful in many contexts. The more reports you write while following the correct structure, the better you will become.