How to Write Effective Reports in the Workplace

Updated 22 May 2023

A typical week or month in the lives of many employees involves writing some type of reports. It could be a progress report that keeps stakeholders up to date on the status of a project or an annual report that summarises the company's performance and achievements.

Knowing how to write a clear, well-structured and accurate report is a skill that can make you a valuable employee in your organisation. However, you will only be able to create useful reports if you know what a good report entails and how to write one. In this article, we'll explain what a report is, what purpose it serves and take you through the steps of writing a successful report.

What is a report?

A report is a formal document that presents the findings of a study or the results of a project to a particular audience. In the workplace, reports are typically used to educate, inform and provide recommendations for further action. Reports feature in almost every industry from healthcare to business, academia to science.

Job reports have seven key sections.

  • In-depth summaries of activities or events

  • Analysis of the impact of the event

  • Evaluations of facts, findings and data

  • Projections or prediction of what may happen

  • Recommendations for the next course of action

  • Conclusion

Report writing is an integral aspect of many jobs nowadays. Teachers must write end-of-term reports about their students. Doctors must write reports detailing their patient's conditions and the best course of treatment. Supervisors have to create progress reports on how a particular project is taking shape. Whether it's a technical report or informative, reports have to be well-written and accurate.

Related: How to Write a Formal Business Report: Example and Definitions

How to write a report

Report writing is a seven-step process:

  1. Decide the terms of reference

  2. Do your research

  3. Write an initial draft

  4. Analyse data and record findings

  5. Make a recommendation

  6. Proofread and share

1. Decide on terms of reference

Begin by setting your terms of reference. Be clear on what the report is about, why you need it, date of writing and the purpose it'll serve. Terms of reference often appear in the first paragraph and enable readers to determine the report's relevance without really going into the body. Deciding on the terms at the start may also help you create a good outline and keep you on track as you write your report.

2. Do some research

Collect a set of data that directly relates to the topic or issue you're writing about. You can get this information from your company's database or records. If your report entails investigating an issue or trend, you may have to obtain more data and organise it in a meaningful way.

Interpret and format data in a way that readers will understand it. Make use of charts, graphs, or timelines that present information in a comprehensive manner. Cite relevant sources and indicate where and how you obtained the data.

3. Create an outline

Next, write an outline for your report. You can create a bullet list or a numbered list of all the sections in your document. Typical reports usually have a title and table of content as a preface. In the body, there's the introduction, terms of reference, summary of the procedure, findings, analysis, conclusion and references.

The order of these parts will depend on the type of report you're creating, the report's length and whether it needs to be formal. Be sure to indicate all the key sections and remove anything that doesn't add value to your report.

Related: What Is an Abstract and How To Write One

4. Write the first draft

Now that you know how the report will look like, you can go ahead and write the initial draft. Transfer all relevant information, ideas and any data you find into a document that will eventually become the final report. Don't worry about how it reads or appears. You will still have time to go through the content and improve it.

As you create the draft, you may find gaps in information or data. Note these down but don't try to fix them right away. Finish writing the draft then revisit the issue when doing the final check.

5. Analyse data and present findings

The gist of every report is its findings. This section presents your interpretation of the data. For a teacher, the findings could explain why students' performance dropped in the last term of school. For a marine biologist, it could summarise how global warming affects ocean acidification and how this affects marine life.

Make sure the findings section of your report provides useful information about the topic or the issue you are addressing. If your conclusion is that the data you obtained was inadequate or the research methodology flawed, be honest enough to admit it and explain why that's the case.

6. Make a recommendation

The last part of your report is the most important as it provides recommendations for the next course of action. Once you evaluate the data and the outcomes, you will be in a good position to prescribe the action that the management or the company needs to take going forward.

A headteacher of a private school may recommend that the school gets a new 50-seater bus after noticing that students have a long waiting time, both in the morning and after school hours. A resident doctor may recommend a counseling psychologist be hired after noting an increase in the number of walk-in patients with mental disorders. By presenting your data properly and showing your findings, the management is likely to take the necessary course of action as they trust your judgement.

7. Proofread and distribute

Finally, you need to check your document for spelling errors and grammar mistakes before you distribute it. Use proofreading or a spell-checking tool to catch any grammar mistakes and typos. Also, double-check the data you are using and ensure citations are correct. Read the document at least two times to make sure it presents information in a cohesive manner. If you're going to present the report to a public audience, ask someone to review it.

There are many ways to distribute your written report. You can present it orally during a meeting, publish it in a research journal or email it to your immediate boss. The method of distribution depends on who's going to read the report. No matter what format your report appears in, your goal is to create a cohesive and informative document that will guide decision makers.

Tips for writing an excellent report

Keep these points in mind when creating your next report:

  • Know your audience: Determine who's going to read the report and why they would need it. Once you know the audience, you will have some idea about the subject, style, and information that resonate with them.

  • Edit your document: check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors before you present it as these might create a bad impression about you.

  • Accept feedback from your audience: be willing to accommodate the criticisms and take suggestions of your supervisors. This might lead to better outcomes.

  • Plan your time wisely: report writing is an arduous task that can take several hours or even days to complete. Be sure to set enough time to cover the research and writing bit.

  • Use a simple and clear layout: your report should be readable and include sub-headings that present information logically. This way, readers will find your report inviting and easy to report.

  • Focus on the objective: stick to what the report is about. Refer to the objective statement if it's a business report and thesis statement if it's a research report.

  • Keep your sentences short and simple: avoid writing long sentences with multiple clauses. Aim for 15-20 words and ensure each sentence only has one idea. Shorter sentences make it easy for your audience to read your report.

  • Plan before you start writing: gather all the relevant information, interview key people, obtain the necessary data and conduct a survey beforehand. Also, decide on the structure of your report.

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