You may be working in the academic world or the business world, and writing reports is a quintessential part of the job. Knowing how to write and deliver the content effortlessly and effectively is a skill that you have to cultivate to perform efficiently in your job. You will be required to do a professional job of writing and you should know upfront what writing an effective entails. Reports are a visual display of your performance metrics and are a barometer of your on-the-job performance.
What is a report?
A report is a document that presents the results of a program, initiative or investigation in an easy-to-read form. It could also be an analysis of a data set or a particular issue. The purpose of a report is to present data, educate and set the parameters in front of the decision-making authority. This will initiate a decision or an action plan. Reports cover dozens of industries and also have dozens of formats depending on the type of the writing. The main sections can be subdivided into the following:-
- A detailed summary of the events or actions
- Analysis of the impact of the event or the action
- Evaluations of facts and/or data
- Prediction of potential outcomes of the preceding action
- Recommendations for the next course of action
Whatever the industry, the occupation or profession of the person writing it. One fact is sacrosanct, the reports must be well-written, accurate and efficient in the delivery of the desired outcomes.
How to write a report: Steps leading to the creation of a perfect report
1. Understand the assignment:
You must understand what the report is about. Comprehending the assignment in all its nuances is vital. Also when you start to write a report, your views must be rational and objective. Subjective, personal views have no place in a professional or an official report. It must make its point clearly without the addition of too much fluff. It should be succinct and to the point.
2. Decide on the terms of the reference:
Understand what the report is about, why it is to be written, how it is to be written and what its purpose is. The terms of reference enable the reader to get a gist of what the document is about without having to read the entire document.
3. Research the subject matter of the report:
You must have a thorough understanding of the subject matter on which you are writing a report. You must first collect all the data, analyze it, organize it and then compile it. Research sources are available online as well as offline. Also, gather data as exhaustively as possible and should do an in-depth analysis of all matters that you are writing about. Interpreting and formatting in a way that all readers understand is key to writing a good report.
4. Make sure that all your online sources are reputable:
It is better to stick to experts’ opinions, government websites and other scholarly journals. Always attribute the source of the documents through a hyperlink and make sure that you quote the source.
5. Track all references:
Track all the references you are using and make sure that the material of the report is factual and accurate. All these have to be quoted as the source of the report.
6. Prepare a thesis statement:
Now that you have all the data and material with which to create the report, you can prepare a thesis statement which will be a short summary containing the bare skeleton of the material which is to be incorporated into the report. This could even be a series of sub-headings which tie back to the main report where they are used to demarcate different sections of the report. The report’s outline may have the following contents:
- Title Page
- Table of contents
- Terms of reference
- Summary of procedure
- References and Bibliography
7. Create an outline of the report:
Create a short outline of the report. This will ensure that you do not get side-tracked from the subject matter while writing reports.
8. Write the first draft of the report:
The purpose of this document is not to create the perfect report from the get-go but to make sure that all data is compiled correctly. All your data and analysis together become the first draft. Reading through the , you may find gaps in your data or holes in your analysis.
9. Analyze the data and record the findings:
The finding is a very important section of the report. It culminates all your knowledge and interpretation of the data in the form of potential outcomes and an explanation for them. If the data was insufficient or the findings based on erroneous data were flawed, it should state the same. All the facts should be explained professionally and accurately.
10. Recommend a course of action:
After studying the data and the findings, you are qualified to present an idea as to possible actions which are triggered by the findings. Each course of action and possible outcomes should also be evaluated in order to present a complete picture.
Some helpful tips for writing the perfect report
1. Gauge your audience:
You must understand your audience and be able to anticipate their requirements in the report that you are writing. It should speak to your audience in the right tone and convey the right information
2. Proofread carefully:
Before giving reports, especially to top-level management and other stakeholders, proofread to remove spelling errors and data inaccuracies which may show in poor light.
3. Be receptive to feedback:
You may be called on to modify your report and change either outcomes or findings. Be open to criticism as this will help to improve. Getting input from someone who knows the subject matter better can only help to improve.
4. Ensure a goal-oriented report, especially while compiling a long-form report:
Make sure that you set targets either hourly or daily to ensure the delivery of the report on time. Adhere to the targets set while making sure that you are compiling the data accurately.
Types of reports
Reports can be classified as:
1 Marketing reports
2. Internal reports
3. External reports
1. Marketing reports:
Periodic reports: This is normally used to communicate marketing statistics and analysis to internal or external stakeholders. They are issued at regular intervals as they facilitate decision-making. The frequency of these reports could be monthly, quarterly or annual. Sales reports, email marketing, google analytics reports and social media reports all fall within this purview.
Analytical reports: Analytical reports share data and insight about the performance metrics and key performance indicators. They are business documents which share statistics, predictions and solutions. It is like a technical report on which the management bases its business decisions and action plans.
Marketing dashboards: They are a real-time type of report. It is like a function which is used to adjust performance. It shows the current status of most marketing strategies.
2. Internal Reports:
These are reports which are shared among members of the organizational team and employees of the organization to facilitate action plans. An example could be a Marketing budget sent to the Finance department for approval.
Short reports: These are reports used to announce a news event or internal changes within the organization. They are usually informal and less than ten pages in length.
Informational reports: These reports provide background about different company sectors. Annual reports, financial reports and accounting reports fall within its ambit. It could also be the minutes of a management meeting.
Proposal reports lay out a strategy and also explain potential outcomes. These reports are normally problem-solving reports with a project overview, solution and expected outcomes. An example of this type of report is a digital marketing from an advertising agency.
Vertical reports: As the name itself suggests, vertical reports communicate vertically up or down the hierarchy.
Lateral reports: These reports communicate sideways in an organization facilitating knowledge transfer.
3. External Reports:
These are normally used to announce an event or product launch or other happenings in a company.
Report writing has to become a part of everyone’s repertoire as our professional life and academic life demand the creation of regular reports. Become conversant in creating different forms of reports, not only short and long-form but also dashboards and graphical or pictorial representations.