Bad business reports don’t attract the reader’s eye. They neither inform nor entertain, and worst of all, they don’t result in action. Learn five simple rules to increase the impact of your business reports on the job, become better at business writing, and transition to writing for business success.
What to Consider
Have you ever been forced to read through a business report that was so boring that you struggled to stay awake? Guilt immediately sets in because you know that the author worked hard on it and it contains important information.
There is hope for you yet, and you don’t have to be the Ernest Hemingway of business report writing. All you need is a little structure, a tinge of self-confidence, and some guts!
Understand the Purpose
What is a business report? Although there are various types of business reports, all of them are specific documents designed for a certain professional audience. The first, and the most important step one should do before writing, is determining what exactly to write. Many people fail to follow this recommendation and, as a result, they come up with wordy and complicated texts.
Develop a Solid Structure
The arrangement of the report’s sections largely depend on its format. Formal report formatting requires accuracy with all the numbers and data, the language should be official and explicit, and the structure should be predetermined and strict.
Informal report formatting tolerates some minor variations in language, style, and section layout. The main difference in report formats is the size of the writing. Informal reports can be represented in forms of memos, letters, and can even be shared by email.
Mind Your Language
Time is money, so the narrative of a business report should be as concise as possible. Unlike academic writing, where the key points are stated and explained in the middle of the text, the principles of business writing suggest getting down to the point as soon as possible.
The report should be written with a formal language and precise terminology. Although the intended audience of the report is likely to know the professional slang, it should be avoided. The document should be formatted according to the writing style manual that suits the area of the research and field of the company’s work.
Headlines Rule the Day
Many business reports seem boring because they suffer from a lack of aesthetic appeal. This is where headlines come in. They attract readers and help identify certain points of information in the report. Here are some tips:
- Use headlines that clearly define the sections of the report like “Recommendations,” “Budget,” and “Financial Analysis.” It sounds so simple, but many people miss this one.
- Appropriate headlines act like visual hyperlinks in the report, allowing the reader to quickly recognize sections and scan only what’s interesting.
- Your headlines should be clear, without misleading the reader. They should be bold with a larger font size so they really stand out.
- Don’t be afraid to take a chance and use a headline that’s a bit unconventional because they add to the appeal. “Recommendations” is better than “Conclusion,” but “Actions for Future Growth” is better.
Show some confidence and tell people what your interpretation of the results is. You can be wrong and the world won’t come to an end. If you’re reasonably intelligent and have performed well for the company, this is what they want out of you anyway.
Just be big enough to recognize that you could be wrong and if the organization goes another direction, that’s okay, too. The report is for the world, but there is no law that says you can’t benefit from this golden opportunity to extend your thoughts and suggestions, so take a stand and watch the value of your report.
Back Up Your Findings
You know, if there is one thing that won’t fly in a business report: the unsupported assertion. Even though most executives won’t read the whole thing and crawl through the analysis and data, you’d better back up what you write with facts and evidence. Somebody will have the time on their hands to look into your report and assertions.
The data should support your points and it should do so in multiple ways. If science doesn’t do it (some issues won’t have “data” per say) then back yourself up with opinions from experts within the company or in the field that is being examined in the report.
Avoid the Third Person
Another element of bad report writing that literary talking heads call the official style is saying everything in the third person. Avoid the third person and speak in the first person. Take the credit, take the blame, or assign it to the appropriate party.
Edit and Proofread Before Submitting
No matter how carefully-written the text is, it will benefit from being thoroughly edited and proofread, especially if there is an opportunity to set it aside for a while and then give it a fresh look. Such approaches will save the text of the report from embarrassing typos and will allow the author to detect any flaws before the text reaches its audience.