How to Write a Business Report
Do you feel stressed by reports?
Anxious about sounding professional, or worried about making technical concepts accessible to your reader?
Read on for some tips about report writing.
You’ve got the content sorted, the overall structure in place – you might even have a template. It’s the sentence-by-sentence construction that gets you down.
You can carry on using a hit or miss approach – maybe you get it right, maybe you don’t. Or you could use some of my tips below and feel confident about your writing.
The language of your report will, of course, depend on who’s going to read it. But there are a few general principles that you can apply – or amend as you need to .
Keep your Readers’ Attention
The language in a report should be clear. In real terms, that means as simple, but precise.
One rule of thumb is that your core concepts should be expressed in short sentences. State your business simply first, then expand into longer sentences with explanation and evidence.
As well, clarity means sentences that are straightforward to follow, even when they contain difficult concepts. Your syntax should aid understanding, not impede it.
All of these sentences – of evidence, explanation and statements – should speak to the larger purpose of the report – both the chapter or section you’re in, and the overall aim. Imagine a family tree, with one person with four generations of descendants. Your individual sentences are like those fourth-generation people – there are lots of them, buy you can trace their lineage back to the single person, or generating topic.
Deal with Difficult Terms
Precision can be confused with technical language. For me, the essence of good writing is being able to ‘translate’ difficult ideas for a more general readership: say, an engineer’s report for the public.
You need to take those difficult terms and make them simple enough for a layperson where needed, either by defining or replacing technical terms.
For example, instead of saying:
Poetic Meter is the rhythmic structure of a poem. It is essentially the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse.
You might say:
Poetic meter is the ‘beat’ of a poem. It refers to patterns of heavy and light beats in a line of poetry.
Signal Critical Thinking
Once you reach the discussion or analysis section of your report, you move into the language of speculation or possibility. Although your concepts are less certain here, they must be no less precise. That is, you must still support assertions with explanation and evidence – and these assertions and their supporting evidence must clearly be derived from what has come before.
As for the content and quality of the discussion, this is the time for you to ask ‘questions:
- Why did you find what you did?
- What does it mean?
- How is this the same, or different, to what you thought might happen?
- What are (or should be) the results of your findings?
- What recommendations can you make as a result of what you found?
Make sure your conclusion does its job
The conclusion is both simpler and more difficult than it seems. Simpler because there are really only two things it needs to do:
- Say what you’ve said
- Offer some kind of insight or solution about your topic.
And more difficult because you need to use language that is both matter of fact and utterly convincing. Your findings and discussion should be convincing, and lead inevitably to your final thoughts.
Begin by restating the topic, then quickly summarise your main points. Move on to the implications or consequences of what you’ve said – including, if appropriate, a call to action. Think about it like this – you’re answering the question, “How will the world be different if this report is acted on?”
Some final thoughts
As you write, imagine you’re talking to your reader. This will help you write with the appropriate level of formality.
Proof and edit carefully – errors will both get in the way of your message, and make you look unprofessional.
Don’t ‘own’ drafts – in other words, treat feedback as useful, not insulting. Considered advice will only improve your report.
If you’d like help with your business writing, contact me here for a chat.
The best way to find out what I can offer you is to ask. I’d love to hear from you.
027 361 8376