Have you been assigned the job of creating a report for your organization? Does that task seem completely daunting? It doesn’t have to be. First of all, you or various people or departments within your organization have all the information you need to include. Second, you have plenty of examples and formatting help available to help you produce the report.
There are many types and lengths of reports. Some might be one-page summaries, and others could be hundreds of pages long. The most common report you are likely to need to produce is a project report, where you summarize what the project was intended to accomplish and how well it met its goals. But there are also meeting reports, status reports, monthly and quarterly reports, all kinds of studies and research reports, and annual reports.
It’s important to consider the audience for each type of report. Who will your readers be? Are they your colleagues who already know all about your organization and your field, or do the readers include people like shareholders and interested members of the general public for whom you will need to include background information and more in-depth explanations?
Also consider the goals of the report itself. Are they to analyze and compare results in a scientific fashion, or does the report have a marketing element, too? For example, annual reports summarize an organization’s activities and financial status, but annual reports also generally include sections that list the organization’s products or services and emphasize their successes, because annual reports are used by shareholders and potential partners and investors to determine whether investing in the organization is worthwhile.
Although each report will include information specific to that organization and its activities, all good reports follow a basic structure and include many of the same types of information.
Each report should include these sections within the body of the report:
Background information (if needed).
Goal(s) of the project, meeting, or study you are reporting on. For example, were you meeting to determine a new marketing strategy for the next year? Did your organization recently migrate from one software system to another? Did your organization make an effort to improve safety or other conditions on the job? Is your objective to compare the latest results of a process or the most recent sales of products or services to past results?
Summary of the project, meeting, or study.
Analysis of the decisions made or the project results. This section may include statistical summaries and patterns found in the data.
Conclusions. Did the project, meeting, or study achieve its goals? What are the implications for the future?
Appendices (if needed).
The pages that go into each section will vary with each organization, project, and type of report. If you are writing a report on a short meeting, you may only have one or two pages that include the information listed above. For now, let’s assume you’re writing a longer report and explore the structure you’ll need.
As with any lengthy business document, you’ll start off with a Title Page and a Table of Contents. Next, you may want to include a summary of the important summary points for the high-level readers who will only skim your report–this is typically called an Executive Summary. In an annual report from an organization, this summary is usually included in a Letter to Shareholders written by the head of the organization.
If you need to include a Background section, this is where you’ll explain the history leading up to the project, meeting, or study. Often this includes the reasons a project or study was undertaken. Including background will help readers understand what happened and help them to judge the results. You may want to include Needs Assessment and Entities Affected pages here as well.
In the Goals section, you will summarize the Goals and Objectives of the project, meeting, or study. In other words, what results was the project, meeting, or study intended to achieve? Be as specific as possible. You might need pages with titles like Client Expectations or Expected Results, and don’t forget to include any original Budget and Schedule goals, as well as any Limitations that were placed on the project.
In the Summary or Project Description section, you will describe what happened during the course of the project, meeting, or study. If you are writing a progress report during the course of a project, you will describe what has happened from the beginning up to the report date. If you are writing a monthly, quarterly, or annual report, you will summarize events in that specific time period. If you are writing a summary report after a project or study has concluded, you’ll write a description of the entire project.
Depending on the type of report you are writing, you may need pages such as Accounting, Acquisitions, Advertising, Awards and Achievements, Fieldwork, Cross-Promotion, Data Collection, Diagnostics, Testing, Expenses, Experiments, Exploration, Investigation, Monitoring, Observations, Operating Costs, Schedule of Events, Training, Profit and Loss Statement–this list of potential topics is endless, because the information you include in this section all depend on the events you are reporting on. Use all the topics you need to thoroughly explain what happened.
If you are writing an annual report for an organization or a report of a very complex project, this Summary section may need to be divided into subsections with descriptions of what took place in different departments within the organization, or what happened during different phases of the project. In these cases, you’ll need to collect that information from a variety of leaders who were in charge of different activities.
In the Analysis section, you’ll report on how well expectations and goals were met. You may need to explain how you collected the data behind statistical measurements, and how you determined whether goals were met. In this section, you might include pages with titles like Measurements, Findings, Accuracy, Benchmark Results, Challenges, Calculations, Customer Satisfaction, Discoveries, Failures, Successes, Present Situation, and Performance.
Reports that include a lot of detailed financial information, such as an annual report, often include detailed explanations that accompany the financial figures, as well as an independent auditor’s report stating that the financial information is accurate.
The final section of a report should be a Conclusions section. In this section, you may include topics like Consequences, Significance, Income Projection, Lessons Learned, and Next Steps–whatever suits your purpose to wrap up your report. In the case of a report that has a marketing or public relations purpose, topics such as Growth Areas, Successes, and Future Potential are usually emphasized.
After the body of a complex financial or scientific report, you may need to include Appendices, too – lists of statistics, diagrams, charts, a bibliography or list of sources, and so forth.
You want your report to sound professional, so be sure to proofread every page. If possible, get someone who is unfamiliar with the information to read and comment on your work. It’s always a good idea to choose a reviewer with a similar background to your readers so that he or she can ask appropriate questions and provide useful comments to improve your report.
After you have all the information written and edited, work on making your report visually appealing. You can add color and graphics by incorporating your company logo, using colored borders, and selecting custom bullet points and fonts.
Do you feel less intimidated now that you understand what is involved in writing a report? You should also know that you don’t need to start your report writing project by staring at a blank page. You can find quite a few types of reports on the internet to see what others have done. For annual reports, you can request several from organizations similar to yours to see what they’ve published.
Starting with a pre-designed template package such as a proposal kit can give you a big boost with samples and with all the contents of your report. Content librarys such as those in a proposal kit contain sample reports, as well as hundreds of topic templates for all the sections you’ll want to include in your report, including financial data.
Each template page in a report writing kit is professionally designed for a neat appearance, and includes instructions and suggestions about the types of information to include on each page. Kits contain not only all the templates you’ll need for your report, but also all the templates you will use for business proposals and reports throughout the year.