Can you imagine life without the printed word? Regardless of your profession, you
frequently use documents and reports to base important business decisions. While the
utility of a well researched and presented report cannot be overstated, few experiences are
most frustrating than wading through a poorly drafted document. Writing a business report
is an elusive art, and the benefits of doing it well are neither as quantifiable nor as obvious
as those associated with other business functions. Nonetheless, it is an extremely important
activity, and can have far reaching consequences, when crucial decisions are based on the
contents of a report.
We don’t deny that writing a business report is a highly individualized process. The
author, audience, objectives and other circumstances exert a major influence on the way a
document turns out. Certainly, there is no “ideal” report, or one size that fits all; however,
it is equally certain that a high quality report will fulfill certain prerequisites.
If you or your team members are about to embark upon writing a business report of
some importance, the following guidelines will be of value.
The report writing process can be broken into the following sequence.
Define the statement of purpose.
Obviously, there must be a reason for writing a
business report. Articulate it. Doing so will not only help you re-examine your objectives
closely, but also remind you to ensure that a thread of continuity is maintained throughout
the report. Often, a report begins with a certain goal, but fails to deliver because the data
and analyses lead to no, or ambiguous conclusions. Sometimes, the data can hijack the
agenda, and divert focus away from the main purpose of the report. Defining the scope in
black and white, and visiting it often, will make sure that all the elements of the report are
Understand the audience.
Very often, there is no single user group; indeed, reports
are used by a cross section of employees, each with a different focus. Segment the
audience in terms of hierarchy, expertise, responsibility and similar variables. Also look at
the role that each type of user will play in deploying the contents of the report, and the
impact it will have on them. This may lead you to construct a “super report” meant for a
select audience and summary reports for others.
Writing a business report will usually involve some research
beforehand. This is where you need to go back to the objective of the report, and
determine the information that must be gathered in order to support it. In this age of
information overload, not all data needs to be gathered first hand; often, information
published by other sources can be used as well, as long as its accuracy is not in question. If
you’re dealing with high volume, make sure you organize the information into tables or
charts. Collecting and recording information is very process driven, and you must clearly
explain your chosen methodology to the audience.
Data doesn’t become meaningful information until it is processed
and analyzed. The aim of analysis is to make reasonable sense of the mountain of data
available. Again, the purpose of writing a business report will guide the nature of the
analysis that needs to be conducted. Devote particular attention to this process. If
assumptions are made, be sure to validate and highlight them. Analysis is a precursor to
drawing conclusions, so you can imagine the importance of getting it right!
Present findings and recommendations.
Well, this is what writing a business report is
about. Data analysis will propel you towards a conclusion, which will aid subsequent
strategic decision making. While making recommendations, be sure to back them up with
the supporting analyses, and include a high level cost benefit analysis if possible. It is
important to stay objective and focused, so take care to eliminate personal bias and
“emotion” at this stage.
Design report format.
Don’t expect to get a final output at one go. Begin with an
outline of the report. Start by defining the various sections – title & date, executive
summary, scope, key data, analyses and conclusion. Also remember, that you need to
include an appendix for bulk data and a table of references. Write a rough draft first; you
may be able to complete some sections only at a later stage. Don’t proof read too hard just
yet, that is best done in the subsequent iterations, of which there will be many! You can
resort to using a report template like those from klariti.com or QuickBooks
quickbooks.intuit.com, but be prepared to customize it to your specific requirement.
Writing a business report and doing it really well are entirely different things. Make
sure that every document you produce packs that extra power!
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Akhil Shahani, a serial entrepreneur who wants to help you succeed. If you
like to work smart, check out http://www.SmartEntrepreneur.net . It’s full of articles and
resources to help you start and grow your business successfully.