Whether you are an employee writing a report for your boss, or a business owner reporting to your general manager, the best tool is the "why-what-how" framework. Why are you writing this report? What information does the reader need to know? How are you going to present your recommendations or conclusions? Following this structure will give a logical flow to your document. It will give your boss or executive the precise information needed to make a well-informed business decision.
Focus On the Why
Understand why you are writing the report. It is essential that you are clear on the report's purpose, otherwise you might tailor your writing to the wrong audience or leave out vital information. Ask questions if necessary. If the report will be distributed to multiple departments, consider whether you should include individual sections addressing each department's concerns.
Decide What Information to Include
Gather the information you need, such as financial data, charts and graphs. Interview the people whose opinions are relevant to your report. Then, decide on the most important point or points that you think the audience needs to know. Start by writing a few paragraphs that highlight the salient points, or structure your information into a bullet-point list of items.
Decide How to Present Your Recommendation
Give the report a title. Briefly describe the details of the assignment or the reason for writing the report. Describe your method of gathering information. Organize the body of the report logically, for example, according to core themes. Be sure to include enough information to show that you have investigated the subject thoroughly. End the report with your conclusion or recommendation, based on your findings.
Add an Executive Summary
Return to the beginning of your report and add a paragraph or two that sums up the main points of the report. Alternatively, use bullet points to structure your ideas. The executive summary might be all that your boss has time to read so be sure to include all the pertinent information. Briefly, what is the report is about? What are the major findings? What do you propose or recommend? What happens next? Edit your summary until it delivers the essence of your report within a reading time of one or two minutes.
Format the Report
If there's a company style guide, make sure you follow it. Otherwise, format the report in an easy-to-read style, making the copy as easy to scan as possible. Use clear headings to separate topics; this makes it easy for your boss to find the relevant page in the report. Consider highlighting the important facts in large font or bold print. Organize any financial statements, printed materials or other supporting documents in an appendix at the end of the report.
Check and Proofread
Check the report for the proper spelling and grammar. Online spell checks and grammar checks are helpful but they don't always allow for context. If possible, have someone proofread the report with a beady eye for errors. Ask the proofreader to critique the report in general. Have you left a thought unfinished? Have you used industry terminology consistently? Is it easy to understand? Do not try to impress with your stellar vocabulary – strive for clarity instead.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a business writer. Her articles have appeared on numerous business sites including Typefinder, Women in Business, Startwire and Indeed.com.