Business projects come in many different shapes and sizes. From complex, year-long initiatives involving dozens of employees to simple tasks that take just a few days to complete, projects require careful planning, review and evaluation. A project report can help your business assess the progress of the project as well as measure whether it was a success. Use a proper project report-writing format to ensure you cover all the important elements your readers need to know.
Establish the Goals of Your Project Report
There are many different kinds of project reports. The first step to writing an effective report is to determine the main goal of the communication. What do you want your report to achieve? The purpose of a project report can be to:
- Update stakeholders about its progress
- Alert management about obstacles and challenges
- Inform investors about success metrics
- Issue recommendations based on results
- Persuade stakeholders about the benefits of the project
- Offer customers insights on internal initiatives
- Share market research with industry partners to demonstrate expertise
Establishing a clear purpose for your report ensures that you stay on topic. The kind of information you include in your report will depend on the purpose. The language and style of writing will also differ depending on the objective. For example, informative reports will have more factual and logical language, whereas persuasive reports may use emotional terms. Reports that are used to establish expertise will have a different tone than those that are used to discuss obstacles.
Cater to Your Readers
It’s critical to consider to whom you’re writing, as the audience of your report will affect the kind of information you present and the way you present it. First, figure out whether your readers are internal to your organization or external. This will determine the kind of information you can share.
With internal readers, you may be able to share confidential information about your company. However, what you share will depend on the readers’ role in the organization. With external readers, you’ll need to be careful about the kinds of details you include. For example, you don’t want to share new industry analysis with a competitor.
Understand Your Audience's Objectives
Determine the objectives of your readers. What do they want to know? You’ll need to cater your report to meet their goals. For example, if you’re writing a report for investors, they will likely be interested in what kind of return they will see in the next period. Your project report needs to contain those details.
On the other hand, if you’re writing to frontline employees about the change in direction of a major project, you may need to share some context and background details about the reason for the pivot. However, you probably don’t need to go into the financial budget details in that kind of report.
Use the Major Components of a Project Report
The kind of project report you are writing will dictate the main sections of the report. For example, a status report will include a section on updates, while a proposal will not. The major components of a project report include:
- Title: Use a clear and explanatory title for your report so the readers can immediately know what it is about. For example, “Q4 Marketing Campaign Status Update” is more informative than “February Project Report.”
- Executive Summary: Give the readers a preview of what they will find in the report. Don’t go into detail. Instead, offer the main points. It’s best to write this section last, after the rest of the report is written.
- Introduction: Provide the readers with background and context. State the goal of the project report here.
- Progress: This section is particularly important if you’re providing a status update on your project. Discuss what has been achieved to date and what remains to be completed. Use metrics where possible.
- Targets vs. Results: Similar to the progress section, this is where you can provide updates on how your project is going. Outline the key performance indicators for your project, state the benchmarks and show the current results. For some projects, this section is best completed when the project is over. For others, you may be able to show in-progress results.
- Risks and Obstacles: In a proposal, you’ll need to outline the potential risks for undertaking the project. It’s important to discuss them so that the company can prepare solutions to manage the risks. For a project in progress, outline the obstacles you face that are standing in the way of successful completion. If there are recommendations for clearing those obstacles, you can write about them here.
- Resources: Provide details about what internal and external human resources are involved in the project.
- Budget: Show whether or not you are coming in on budget and why or why not. If you will be over budget, provide explanations for additional funding you require.
- Schedule: Discuss the timeline and expected completion. If the project is already complete, discuss how realistic the timeline was and any recommendations you have for next time.
- Conclusion: This section is where you can share what you learned from this project. How has the organization benefited?
- Recommendations: Share any ideas you have for future projects, company processes or other aspects based on the insights you learned from this project.
- Appendices: Attach any data, graphics or research that relates to information you have presented in your project report.
You may not need to use all of these components in your project report. Pick and choose what you need to cover based on the goals of your report and what your audience needs to know.
Provide Data to Back Up Any Claims
In the contents of a project report, it’s always best practice to provide data, examples and research to support any claims that you make. Anecdotes aren’t enough to prove your point, so it’s imperative to offer your readers evidence. This ensures that your report is credible and sound.
For example, if you say in your project report that one of the obstacles you face is a small budget, you need to explain why the budget isn’t enough for what you want to achieve. Provide a price list for items you need to purchase or resources you need to mobilize. Show how much was allocated and how that compares to real-world costs. This helps the readers to quickly understand the discrepancy in budget.
Be Clear About Your Recommendations
In many project reports, it’s common to provide suggestions or recommendations for how the business should operate. These insights are gained from working on the project. When providing recommendations, it’s important to not just state what to change but how to change it.
For example, if one of your main recommendations is that future projects should have an additional four weeks allocated in the schedule, then you need to show how the company can accommodate this change. Can they start the project earlier? Can they convince customers to wait an additional four weeks?
Edit for Clarity
Always ensure that the content of your report is succinct and clear. Keep your report short since most people only have a few minutes to spend reading it. Split up dense paragraphs into shorter ones and use bullet points where necessary.
Utilize headings and subheadings to break up the text and bold or highlight important points. This way, people who are skimming your report can understand the main points you want to communicate. Always ensure your report is free of any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.