Business Report blog

Business decisions and long-term strategies are most effective when they are informed by relevant data and research. To keep improving the key is to measure and analyse performance. That’s where business reports come into play.

Well-prepared, business reports provide a comprehensive collation of data and research. They can evidence that outcomes were achieved or give insight into the appropriate allocation of resources.

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett

However, all too often reports are dry, drawn out and unengaging. By considering the following 10 questions before you start, it’s possible to create documents that people want to read.

10 questions to ask before writing business reports

1. What type of report are you producing?

There is no set format for reporting. You may simply need a summary to compare monthly activity, such as the Google Analytics dashboard. Alternatively, you may be tasked with preparing an annual stakeholder report or a full white paper. Whatever the type, it is more likely to be read if it is well-structured and easy to read.

2. Who needs to read the business report?

Understanding the audience and their priorities is the next point for consideration. So, be clear on what they are expecting from you. Use appropriate vocabulary and also, think about whether the reader will understand the context of the report or if it needs explaining. Be aware that concise information will increase the readership.

3. What is the purpose of the business report?

Is the intention that the reader is informed and engaged? It could be that you need to persuade them to take action or evidence that desired outcomes have been achieved. What are the actions that you want to see in response to reading the report?

With these three questions answered you can start collecting relevant data and sources of information. Adding a human element to the report can drive greater impact. As such, it can be powerful to request feedback from those involved.

Now, we move on to the report presentation.

4. How will the content be presented?

Will you present the report in a PowerPoint slide deck at a conference or email out a PDF? Will the report be shared and discussed in a meeting or used in an audit? Additional appendices or explanations may be required if it is delivered as a stand-alone document. On this point, also think about the style. Is formality a must or can you add a bit of brand personality?

5. Can text be replaced by visuals?

The eye is drawn to visual images and, a picture can paint a thousand words. So, make your business report more accessible by replacing lengthy text with imagery. Infographics are a fantastic example of presenting data in an appealing format and graphs aid easy comparisons. Photos showing examples of work can illustrate how results were achieved.

6. How will the business report be structured?

The structure of a business report is dependent on the style and length. However, it typically starts with a title, page of contents and overview of the main points. These are followed by an introduction, the body of the report and a conclusion with recommendations. The final section is for references and appendices.

7. How will you divide the body of the report?

Many recipients will likely skim the document to find points of interest to them. You can assist by dividing the body of the report into sections. Use footnotes for clarification and source details so the reader can find out more if they need to. Include a table of contents, clear sub-headings and links to references/appendices to allow for easy navigation.

8. Is there a report template that you can use?

It is valuable to have a branded report template. That’s because it helps to achieve a consistent structure. A familiar layout makes it easier for the report writer and enables readers to find the information of particular interest. It’s also easier to compare information from several reports.

The final two questions are answered by reviewing previous report documents.

9. What is missing from the report?

On delivery of your report was it clear that some key information was missing or did it generate frequently asked questions? If so, include an additional section in future reports. Equally, the content may have been comprehensive, yet the report didn’t drive the desired action. As such, what’s missing is a way to make the content more accessible, engaging, personable or emotive.

10. What was unnecessary?

Finally, a concise report is more likely to be read, so what was excess to requirements? One option is to include detailed information as an appendix, rather than part of the main report. Or simply produce a 1-page summary to encourage readers to read the full report for the bigger picture.

Help with Report Presentation

Report writing a report can seem like an arduous task, but it needn’t be. The answers to these ten questions aid preparation and once you have a structure that works, it will be even easier next time.

I produce professional, branded business report templates, including Google Ad performance, Excel dashboard and stakeholder reports. These can help you to achieve a standard format for your business documents. My services also include transforming dry data into infographics and/or graphs, tables and charts. Can I make it easier for you to produce your next business report?

As a business document specialist, I can help with the professional presentation of reports. Please contact me to talk through your requirements and I will provide a quote.

10 questions to ask before writing business reports