Does the idea of writing a business report send a cold shiver of panic down your spine? Or do you feel a general sense of dread?
You’re not alone. Between the outline, the formatting, and trying to make things interesting, it’s likely you don’t get out of bed in the morning excited to put together the monthly sales report.
But things don’t need to be so hard, here are a few tips that’ll help you get your writing (and formatting) juices flowing:
Business Report 101 — The Basics
Business reports mean business, in that, they’re all about the facts. Before you begin constructing the report, you’ll want to carefully consider what you want to communicate.
Write for your audience and determine the type of report you need to create.
Is Your Report Informational or Analytical?
Informational reports are made to present information, not necessarily persuade your CEO to hire more programmers or to take on a small team of freelance writers. These reports serve as a means of sharing information in a cohesive way—documenting cash flow or balance sheets, or presenting research.
Analytical reports present data used to prove a point. These reports may include recommendations, a plan of attack and of course, an analysis of what the dataset reveals.
When you’re ready, start organizing your report into a few sections.
Here is what your report should include:
- Executive Summary—A standalone statement that covers all points: purpose, main points, your conclusion, and any recommendations.
- Table of Contents—You can skip this step if the report is relatively short, but longer reports can benefit from a visual outline of the content.
- Intro—State your purpose, key points, and the basic structure of the report. Tell readers why the report is being written—to solve a problem, increase sales, etc.
- Body—This is where you’ll present your research, findings, and any graphics or charts that support your point.
- Conclusion—Summarize main points a final time—following the order said points were made. Should be short, and transition into your recommendations.
- Recommendations—The recommendations should include risks and benefits, costs, and a path toward practical implementation.
Putting it Together: Fonts & Graphics
Many people opt to use the default font for any type of document—memos, policies, business reports, and others but you want to pay attention to the details because fonts can affect the look and feel of the report.
Serif v. Sans Serif
Serif font has small lines attached to the end of every character. Sans serif does not. In print, a serif font is easier to read, while sans serif fonts are better suited to the digital space. This isn’t a hard and fast rule.
For example, if you’ll be using the brand’s logo and visuals, pick a font that matches that used in the marketing materials—serif status aside. Formal documents, on the other hand, require a serious font such as Times New Roman.
Naturally, you’ll want to avoid writing in all caps, underlining, bolding or italicizing. These effects are meant to be used sparingly and can make text hard to read when done in excess.
No matter the font size or the amount of graphics you include, white space is important. It gives the reader some physical room to breathe, punctuating each point with a moment of reflection. A report that reads like a wall of text won’t be read at all.
Instead, limit paragraphs to about 2-3 sentences, not five as your high school English teacher would have you believe.
It’s a well-known fact at this point. People in all industries from finance to graphic design believe that graphics, including infographics, can enhance the reading experience, whether they’re engaging with a document online or off.
Keep these points in mind when crafting business report graphics:
- Colors Matter—In the end, business reports need to be appealing to the target audience. They need to be attractive, but also engaging. Stick to two or three colors, and if possible, stick to the color wheel design principles.
- Stick to Two or Three Data Points—There’s nothing worse than a graph or chart with too much going on. Don’t drown your audience with a deluge of information. Instead, focus on a few key things that drive your main point home.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Putting pen to paper in order to make a point is just one phase of the writing process.
Edit and proofread your work at least a couple of times, and if possible, get a colleague to review it.
Cut the unnecessary or irrelevant information and avoid using jargon or complicated words. Again, clarity is the name of the game when it comes to writing a successful business report.
Need help with your business writing skills?
From the persuasive report to the informative plan of action, KnowledgeCity’s Writing Business Reports course is the ideal training session for anyone who needs to brush up their written communication tools. We’ll help you establish the purpose of your report, as well as how to find the voice that best resonates with your target audience.