Writing Business Reports
- Understanding Business Reports
- Demonstrating Analysis
- Organizing Ideas and Analysis
- Clear Communication
- Collaborative Research and Writing
In the business world, reports are useful tools with which organizations to evaluate strategies, understand problems, and plan for change. Students of business are required to practice professional skills, like report writing, so they are familiar with the form and function of this essential business communication tool.
A report is very different from an essay. An essay is organized around an argumentative thesis and supported by an analysis of relevant evidence. In contrast, a report is a detailed examination of current issues, such as organizational opportunities, departmental challenges, or industry trends, which often include recommendations for their readers, who are colleagues or clients. The analysis presented in a report is organized by categories and informed by observation, data, practice, and scholarly research. Successful reports demonstrate your understanding of significant concepts and themes in your courses as well as your ability to interpret data in a clearly organized and articulated way. The Academic Skills Centre recommends four key strategies for successful report writing:
- Focused analysis
- Organized reporting
- Clear communication
- Collaborative planning and revision
Maintain a clear focus in your report. In a course on marketing, identify and assess the marketing strategy and how it could be applied in a particular organization. For accounting, explain the financial situation of the business, how their finances affect their short-term planning, and what actions they should make to improve their situation. Only discuss ideas that are relevant or important to your report. If you aren’t sure, consider the purpose of the report, the audience, and the objectives of the course (which are laid out in the assignment instructions and course syllabus).
Ground your analysis in research. Gather information from organizational records (public reports, corporate websites). Find market or industry information (demographics and economic indicators). Look to academic sources (like peer-reviewed articles) and professional sources (like publications from professional associations) to develop your interpretation of issues you identify from organizational and industry data.
Establish context for your report by describing the business, explaining current organizational measures, or outlining market trends. Define important terminology or concepts that are useful to understanding the topic of the report. This information helps your reader to understand the importance (and value) of your message. Clearly discuss the relevance of your research by connecting it to current information about the organization or the issue. Be specific when you explain how theories and strategies can be applied or adapted.
Organization is important in report writing. Your reader should easily identify the sections of your paper and understand how these sections inform each other. Headings offer important markers for the organization of your report, so label them to accurately reflect the content of your report’s sections.
The introduction is also important for establishing organization; it should explain the topic, establish the scope of the topic, describe the purpose of the report, identify the key points of the report, and map out the order of these points.
The structure of reports may vary based on the assignment instructions and the course context, but many require you to include sections on the main issues, relevant theories, and recommendations for action (or applications). In these sections you should report your findings, with a focus on the key issue (which may be the challenges or opportunities faced by an organization or industry). Be accurate and direct, and include specific evidence (such as sales data or turnover rates) to demonstrate your points. Figures or tables may be useful to illustrate categories or data you report. Note that all figures and tables must be clearly labelled and cited; refer to all tables or figures within your text. The following passage provides an example of how you might make reference to a figure within the text of your report.
Increased competition in the local dessert market has had a significant impact on Mary-Ellen’s Cupcakes Inc. In the last two quarters, sales have decreased by 25% (see Figure 1). During this time three competitors have been established in the downtown core.
Your analysis of the issue should be supported by further research, including relevant business theories (from marketing, organizational theory, ethics, etc.), industry data, and applicable examples and case studies. Integrate examples and concepts effectively by introducing the source of information and/or explaining its relevance to the current issue. Carefully consider your evidence within the specific contexts of your paper and the issue you are examining; demonstrate your critical thinking by explaining how this theory can be applied within your particular context – and how it may need to change.
According to Singh and Smith (2011), customer loyalty programs have a significant impact on retaining existing customers and gaining new customers. Further, Thompson and Chow (2012) suggest that social media is an important tool to manage, promote, and build successful loyalty programs for small business in the hospitality and food industry.
Reports often require students to make recommendations for action – to solve a problem, take an opportunity, or tackle a challenge. Recommendations should be explained clearly and should be appropriate for the specific organization or industry or issue that is the focus of the paper. Offer rationale for the recommendations you make; explain why they are appropriate within this context. Offer specific actions as part of general recommendations.
We recommend that Mary-Ellen’s Cupcakes Inc. should use social media to improve local exposure and advertise special promotions. A weekly plan should be established for posting to Facebook and Twitter, including campaigns to attract followers, to introduce new products, to promote special sales, and to advertise a new loyalty campaign. Social media use is quickly growing amongst 25-45 year old women, a key demographic for this particular business. Regular exposure via social media – through direct and indirect followers – will attract new customers.
For longer and more complex reports with multiple sections and recommendations, a clear executive summary can engage your reader from the beginning of the report. Like an abstract, an executive summary briefly discusses the purpose, scope, methods, findings, and recommendations of the report. It is best to write this summary after you have written your report.
The best way to showcase your good ideas is to clearly communicate them. Write clear and direct sentences, and maintain a formal tone in writing. Be consistent in your use of terminology about managers, staff, clients, accounts, or processes. Finally, avoid jargon or clichés; instead, use concrete and accurate language. For example:
- Write “increase” not “positively impact”
- Write “connect to” not “synergize”
- Write “creative solutions” not “outside the box”
Before you choose words or phrases such as “critical mass,” “coopetition,” or “right-sizing,” consider the meaning of these words, and then choose more appropriate language to improve the clarity of your message.
Revision is an important multi-step process in report writing. Revise your work several times, reading first for your overall message, use of evidence, and organization. Next, read for the clarity of your writing, focusing on sentence structure, style, and grammar. Finally, closely proofread your work for typos, formatting, and referencing errors. Read more about approaches to revision.
Much of the work in business is completed in teams; therefore, professors require students to work in teams for assignments, including writing reports. To be successful as a research and writing team, you must find common goals and be willing to share the final product. Each member has equal responsibility and must make a contribution. Poorly written team reports read as if they are separate pieces; this product is indicative of a lack of collaboration. Have several meetings with your group to plan, discuss, analyse, organize, and develop a cohesive message. You may all compose parts of the report, but you should all know how those parts inform the others and how to clearly discuss your team’s ideas.
Your team should plan to complete the final report a few days before the deadline, so all members can read it for content, style, and grammar. Every member of the team should be accountable for the information presented in the report, and its academic integrity. It is important to know that if there is evidence of plagiarism in the report, all team members are assessed the same penalty, even if they did not write the problematic section. One final edit should be completed by one student who will look for consistency in format, terminology, citations, and style.