Whatever you’re doing at work, chances are someone else needs to know about it. Few of us work in isolation. In most workplaces, we’re collaborating towards common goals. To do that, we need to share information in a clear, concise, and helpful way. That’s the purpose of a business report!
Writing a business report isn’t complicated. But if it’s your first time, you might have some questions, and that’s what we’re here to help you with.
Find out what a business report is and why you might need to write one. Then, you’ll learn how to write a business report that’s so polished and professional it absolutely delights your boss!
What is a business report?
Business reports are formal documents that convey information in an organized way. They contain data that’s important to your workplace’s operations, whether that’s a specific project, business function, or task.
Whether you’re a manager, intern, or CEO, your job depends on informed decision-making. That’s where business reports come in! Your report might be used to help someone choose the best course of action, make plans for the future, or evaluate the success of a project.
Business reports can be written for such a wide variety of needs that their structure and content can vary a lot. For example, you might be writing a business report in order to:
- Propose an idea for a future project.
- Help someone evaluate the success of your work.
- Share progress towards benchmarks or goals.
- Determine the best response to a challenge or opportunity.
- Prove compliance with industry regulations .
Why do business reports matter?
The larger a company gets, the more important efficient communication becomes. That’s the goal of a business report — to get people the information they need to do their best work. In Unito’s Report on Reporting, 82% of people surveyed said their reports led to actionable insights at least most of the time.
Business reports are especially important for larger teams, or if information needs to be shared through multiple levels of an organization to get everyone on the same page.
The information in your report might go through many hands, and be used to make very important decisions. Sharing that information verbally (or through long, complex email chains) could create confusion, ambiguity, and wasted time.
Reports are also a form of recordkeeping. In the future, if someone needs to understand why a decision was made, they’ll be able to see exactly what information you were working with. They can also analyze your report in aggregate with other reporting from that time period, to understand how the business was functioning at that time.
How to write a business report
Because the whole point of a business report is to share information as efficiently as possible, they’re usually formal and concise.
If you’re accustomed to academic writing, writing business reports might feel like a bit of an adjustment. Unlike an essay, you’re usually not constructing a thesis or argument when you write a business report.
Instead, these reports are all about clarity and simplicity. Format your report so that it’s as easy to read as possible. Stay away from long paragraphs and wordy sentences, and use subheadings to keep things as skimmable as possible.
All the information in your report should be backed up by credible sources, either your own findings or external research. If you do need to include interpretations or recommendations, make it clear that they’re your own (hopefully well-informed) opinion, rather than objective statements of fact.
Business report structure
Business reports are just as varied as the business world itself, so what shape your report takes will depend a lot on why you’re writing it and what kind of company you’re in. However, there are components that will be found in almost all business reports.
Here are the basic building blocks of a business report. Next, we’ll go over some supplementary sections that you may or may not need to use, depending on your exact report.
Table of contents
Always open with a table of contents. This helps the reader see what’s in the report at a glance and quickly find the information they need.
Unless your report is extremely short, you’ll want to open with one or two paragraphs summarizing its main points. Anyone reading this section should be able to grasp your report’s key messages, whether or not they read the entire thing.
This section is all about the why. Why did you write the report, and why should your audience read it? What information or insights will they come away with?
This is also your chance to provide contextual or background information that will help the reader understand what’s to come. For example, if you’re writing a quarterly progress report, you might provide a quick overview of the entire project.
Here, you’ll provide the actual information that your reader needs. You might include content like text, charts, images, or numerical data.
Break up your body section with plenty of subheadings for easy reading. If you include any visual content like graphs, make sure they are clearly labeled.
Here, you should restate and summarize the findings you shared in the report’s body. This might feel a bit repetitive, but remember, the goal of a business report is to share information. Circling back to your main points gives your reader a few chances to get the message.
Not every business report is exactly the same. Here are a few more sections you might need to include based on your goals and what kind of content you share.
This is where you’ll bring in your own opinions and interpretations. What concrete actions do you suggest the company take based on this data? Be sure to share the reasoning behind your suggestions. What positive outcomes do you believe they’ll create for the company?
References and Appendices
If your report contains any data that wasn’t original research, you’ll include it here. The references section, which often takes the form of a bibliography, is a list of the sources you referred to when writing. An appendix covers and catalogs supplementary information — such as documents, excerpts, charts, or graphs. A report can have multiple appendices.
Here, you’ll share how you collected the information in your business report. It’s most commonly found in reports that contain original research or findings. For example, you might let the reader know that your progress report was compiled from the results of weekly team meetings.
Tips for effective business report
It takes planning and careful attention to make your report as clear, concise, and useful as it can possibly be. Here are three of our top tips to follow when you’re ready to prepare your report.
Start with a plan
Don’t just sit down and start writing out of the blue. What’s your goal? What are the most important points you need to convey?
Try creating a detailed outline that includes the main points you will need to hit in each section. Then, you’ll know exactly what to say when it’s finally time to write.
Check company conventions
Your workplace might have a specific way they do things when it comes to business reports. Ask your manager if there are any specific formatting conventions you need to follow, and if possible, check out some of your organization’s past reports for inspiration.
Edit, edit, edit
Revising, editing, proofreading — whatever you want to call it, this is when you polish and fine-tune your report. It’s an essential step before sending your report off to its reader… especially if that’s your boss!
As you reread, look out for spelling or grammatical errors. But also watch for places where your phrasing is confusing, or you can reword your message to make it clearer.
If possible, finish writing the report a day or two before you need it. That way, you have plenty of time to edit it with fresh eyes.
Types of business reports
As we mentioned above, there are many reasons to write a business report. Here are a few of the most common types you might find yourself working on.
These reports are usually issued regularly, to keep people updated on how a team, project, or initiative is progressing towards its goals. You won’t include in-depth analysis or interpretations in this kind of report — just the basic facts, so the reader can draw their own conclusions.
Like a progress report, information reports contain only the facts. But they have a much wider range of applications than just reporting on progress. These reports might share sales performance or HR data, such as quarterly profits, or employee turnover.
These reports don’t just share data — they analyze it to draw conclusions. For example, as above, your analytical report might share sales performance at your company. But here, you might break it down by geographical location, including your insights as to why some retail locations outperformed others.
Time tracking report
A time-tracking report is a type of informational report that shares exactly how much time an individual or team spent on specific tasks. Time-tracking reports help managers make sure their employees are using their time effectively. They’re also important for freelancers, or workers who get paid by the hour.
A research report gives full, comprehensive insights into all sides of a situation. It’s often used when companies are considering big changes that affect the future of their organization, such as a merger, expansion, or introducing a new product.
Need a hand building reports like these? Check out our resources here.
Get on the same page
At their core, business reports are just a simple, direct way to share information.
Everyone needs to be well informed to make good decisions at work. That’s why you don’t need to be a born writer or a grammar whiz to write a great business report; you just need to know what you need to say and do it with confidence.
As you move forward in your career, you’ll likely find that writing them becomes second nature, especially if you follow the tips and guidance in this article.