Essential Guide to Successful Business Report Writing - The Big Bang Partnership

Essential Guide to Successful Business Report Writing

People working at a laptop engaged in successful business report writing

Successful Business Report Writing

Successful business report writing is a pivotal skill for entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders. These reports provide crucial insights and articulate business propositions in diverse scenarios, such as:

  • Proposals for a board or leadership team meeting.
  • Summarizing research or presenting novel ideas to a client.
  • Offering progress updates on projects or initiatives.
  • Conducting competitor evaluations or market analyses.

While there’s undeniable power in verbal presentations, allowing ideas to resonate and engage an audience, there are instances where this isn’t feasible. The challenge, however, lies in ensuring that your written reports remain as impactful as your spoken words. A written report’s potential to lose its essence or the ‘spark’ of an idea is genuine.

To address this challenge, here is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to crafting compelling business reports, ensuring your ideas shine brightly on paper.

hands writing a business report on a laptop with papers to side

Why I Wrote This Article

Throughout my career, I’ve been at the forefront of fostering innovation, consistently spearheading positive disruptions within organizations. Consequently, I’ve penned numerous business reports, giving me a dual perspective—both as the author and the recipient, especially in my leadership and board director capacities. This dual insight has empowered me to craft reports that are not only time-efficient and succinct but also compelling enough to truly represent my ideas and those of my clients.

Recently, I had the privilege of collaborating with some exceptionally talented innovators, aiming to hone their business report writing skills. Inspired by our discussions and their challenges, I’ve decided to share some tailored solutions. My goal is to ensure that the benefits, originality, and commercial viability of your ideas are vividly showcased in your reports.

On the topic of drafting an innovation investment case or what’s sometimes termed a business case, it requires a unique approach and set of inputs. Therefore, I won’t delve into that here. However, if you’re seeking guidance on crafting an impeccable business case, feel free to explore my detailed article here.

Different Types of Business Reports

Business reports come in various forms, each tailored to convey specific types of information. Here are the characteristics and applications of some key types of report.

Research Report

This type of report offers a deep dive into a particular subject matter. For example, a company might commission a research report to gain insights into emerging market trends or gauge the efficacy of a novel product.

Here is a research report that I wrote on behalf of Constructing Excellence in the North East and Northumbrian Water as an example.

Front Image of the Research Report for Constructing Excellence and Northumbrian Water

Analytical Report

Focused on detailed examination, analytical reports are crafted to evaluate specific situations or datasets. They can shed light on the underlying reasons for a trend, assess the potency of a strategic move, or pinpoint the ramifications of a business choice.

Informational Report

This kind of report simply presents facts without any analysis. Examples of these reports are monthly sales numbers or notes from a meeting.

Progress Report

Progress reports show how a project is going, what issues have come up, and what might happen next. They help key stakeholders and people involved understand where things stand.

Successful Business Reports

Let’s start by thinking about the key features of a successful business report.

  • It feels easy and natural for your reader(s) to follow and agree with.
  • It tells a story which keeps the reader(s) interested and engaged throughout.
  • It is written in a style which suits the subject and the reader(s).
  • It makes your reader(s) feel glad they read it.
  • It gives your reader(s) insight, rather than just facts, figures and information.
business man writing down ideas for successful business report writing

Challenges and Success Strategies for Successful Business Report Writing

Here are the top 5 challenges that the delegates on my success business report writing programme said they found the most difficult, along with my strategy for overcoming each one.

Challenge 1 – There’s so much you could say, you don’t know where to start

Success Strategies

We’ve all been there: you sit down to write a business report, and your mind is bursting with points, facts, and ideas. The challenge? Figuring out where to start and how to structure everything. When there’s so much information at your disposal, it can be daunting.

Consider Your Readers

Before you start to even think about the detail of your report, take a big step back and think about who your reader(s) are, and what they will want to gain from the time they spend reading you report. Specifically, ask yourself this question, and write down your response:

“As a result of reading my report, what do I want my reader(s) to:

  • Think?
  • Know?
  • Feel?
  • Do?

When I share this on courses or in coaching sessions, some people find it hard to differentiate between think, know and feel at first, so here is how I define them:

  • Think – is about having an opinion
  • Know – is about having facts, knowledge or insight
  • Feel – is about having an emotional response
  • Do – is about taking action

Here’s an example. I wrote a paper for a client earlier this month that presented my ideas on how they could expand profitably into new markets, based on my customer and competitor analysis. As a result of reading my report, I wanted my client to:

  • Think that the growth plan I was presenting was realistic and achievable
  • Know that the ideas had been well-researched, and were based on the best evidence available
  • Feel that they could trust my work, and also feel confident about the proposed way forward
  • Do – endorse the actions I proposed in my report to progress to the next stage of development

Starting with this activity literally takes just a few minutes. It’s time well-spent because it focuses the mind on the outcome you want to achieve

Here are some additional, effective strategies to navigate this challenge.

The “Post-It” Brain Dump

Before even thinking about structure, get everything out of your brain and onto paper. Grab a stack of post-it notes and jot down individual points or ideas on each one. The limited space forces you to be concise. Once done, stick them on a wall or board.

sticky notes on flip chart paper
Categorize and Group

Now, arrange these post-its into categories. Some might be related to finances, others to market analysis, and so on. This visual exercise often reveals patterns, priorities, and a natural flow for your report.

The Pyramid Principle

Developed by Barbara Minto at McKinsey, this principle suggests starting with your main idea or conclusion, followed by your supporting arguments. It’s the opposite of building up to a conclusion and can make your report punchy and direct.

Use the “Journalist Approach”

Journalists utilize the “Five Ws and One H” method (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How). By answering these for your topic, you can ensure you cover all angles.

Elevator Pitch Test

Can you summarize your main point or the purpose of your report in 30 seconds? This exercise helps to clarify and prioritize your thoughts.

Seek External Input

Sometimes, you’re too close to a topic. Ask a colleague or friend, who isn’t deeply involved, to listen to your main points and give feedback on what sounds most relevant or interesting.

Time-Box Your Writing

Set a timer for short intervals (like 25 minutes, known as the Pomodoro Technique). Write continuously without editing. When the timer goes off, take a short break and then review what you’ve written.

The One-Sentence Challenge

For every section or point, try to summarize it in one sentence. If you can’t, it might be too broad and need breaking down further.

The 24-Hour Rule

After drafting your report, put it away for a day. When you come back to it, you’ll see it with fresh eyes and will more easily identify areas of improvement or unnecessary content.

blank page in notebook with person thinking what to write

Challenge 2 – Blank screen or blank page syndrome

Success Strategies

Once you’ve got your outcomes sorted from implementing the strategy for challenge 1, it’s time to dive in. For many of us, facing a blank screen or page can feel quite disorientating and possibly even overwhelming, leading to the notorious writer’s block.

A great way to overcome this, which worked for every single delegate on my programme, is to begin with a mind map.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a creative technique attributed to Tony Buzan. It helps you to capture your thoughts as they occur in a way that is consistent with how your mind works because it is fluid, flexible and free flowing.

If you haven’t mind mapped before, there is no wrong way to do it. Just do what works for you. Some tips are:

  • Start with a blank page, landscape.
  • In the middle, write the title of report.
  • Then jot down everything that comes into your head as and when it pops in, around your central report title.
  • Jot similar things together and join them with wiggly or straight lines and branches.
  • Use color and symbols, images and shapes.

In a mind map, you capture your thoughts as they come to mind, and structure them on the page in a way that mirrors exactly how the brain operates – in a radiant rather than linear manner. A mind map really does ‘map’ out your thoughts and ideas, using associations, connections and triggers to stimulate and expand your thinking.

mindmap example

Challenge 3 – I never know what goes where

Success Strategies

Streamlining Business Report Writing with Templates

Creating a standard template for successful business report writing can be a game-changer. While every report you draft might discuss various topics and serve different purposes, a consistent structure simplifies the writing process and saves time. You might occasionally adjust a heading to better fit the specific theme of a report, but having a foundational structure is beneficial.

The generic structure I rely on has proven versatile for numerous business reports. Regardless of industry or the specific purpose of their reports, attendees of my report writing workshops and one-on-one sessions have found this format to be both adaptable and efficient.

Template Structure:

Make sure you include a title page and table of contents at the front.

Executive Summary
  • Objective: Offer a succinct and enlightening snapshot of the report’s content and main findings.
  • Importance: Readers should gather a general sense of the report’s entirety from this section, helping them decide if delving deeper is necessary. It also directs them through the subsequent detailed discussions.
  • Tips: I recommend drafting the Executive Summary last, as it’ll allow you to condense the main content more effectively. Make sure to touch on:
    • Report’s purpose
    • Brief context concerning the client’s scenario
    • Specific objectives
    • A snapshot of the method implemented
    • Central findings or insights
    • Quick rundown of suggestions and next steps
Client’s Brief / Purpose of the Report
  • Objective: Clarify or refresh the reader’s memory about the report’s focus and scope.
  • Essentials: At the very least, this section should articulate:
    • A brief description of the client’s business
    • The core challenge or opportunity under discussion
    • Its significance to the client’s operations
    • The report’s detailed objectives
  • Objective: Provide an overarching view of your intended or already executed strategy for the project.
  • Content: Incorporate the following:
    • A clear summary of actions taken or planned, potentially complemented by a straightforward visual.
    • An initial discussion of any challenges, limitations, or prospects influencing the chosen method, showcasing your innovation and problem-solving skills.
    • The reasoning behind the selected approach.
    • A brief timeline of the project’s execution or proposed timeframe.
Technical Section (Optional)
  • Objective: Furnish readers with in-depth technical details about the project’s procedure.
  • Guidance: Avoid including extensive data tables or information that can be pushed to an appendix. The narrative should flow uninterrupted. Organize the technical content logically, outlining each step’s action and its necessity. If using jargons unfamiliar to your client, provide definitions. If there are multiple technical terms, consider adding a Glossary section.
Findings / Insights
  • Objective: Present the pivotal outcomes or observations from the project.
  • Strategy: A compelling method is to headline each crucial finding, backed by a more detailed explanation underneath.
  • Objective: Summarize the report’s main themes succinctly, reiterating your central argument.
  • Objective: Emanating from your conclusions, provide actionable suggestions for the reader.

Adopting a template not only streamlines the report writing process but also ensures your readers know what to expect, making it easier for them to follow your insights and conclusions.

Appendices or Annexes
  • All detailed information to support the main body of your report as optional, additional reading needs to go into the appendices or annexes at the end. In business reports, appendices are frequently utilized to provide supplementary details, much like they’re included in academic papers. Conversely, annexes offer more extensive and detailed data, acting as an addition to the primary content of the report.

Challenge 4 – It takes me ages, and I never get it right the first time

Success Strategies

Using a standard template will definitely help you save time, as well as achieving a consistent quality standard.

An additional top tip is to make sure that you don’t try to create your report and edit it at the same time. Content creation uses a different cognitive function from critical review and correction, so attempting to do both at once makes for a confusing, messy and more time-consuming process for you. Instead, brain dump all your thoughts by using your mind map as a prompt to write against each template heading, not worrying about spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on. Then, leave as much time as you can before you revisit your writing, and then edit and polish as a separate stage.

This particular strategy is one that my delegates rave about the most, and it’s definitely worth a try as I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t help you reduce the number of drafts that you need to produce.

Manager giving a direct report feedback for successful business report writing

Challenge 5 – My manager always gives me lots of corrections when they review my work

Success Strategies

Business reports play a critical role in decision-making, strategy formulation, and overall communication within an organization. However, the effectiveness of these reports hinges largely on their clarity, conciseness, and coherence. Below is a guide to refine your writing style for crafting successful business reports that your manager will apprecate.

Maintain Clarity:
  • Use plain language: Avoid jargon, unless it’s industry-specific and relevant to the audience.
  • Keep sentences short: Aim for about 15-20 words per sentence.
  • Prioritize active voice: Instead of “The report was prepared by John”, write “John prepared the report”.
Be Concise
  • Eliminate redundancy: Avoid unnecessary repetition or using two words when one will do.
  • Stay on topic: Avoid digressing from the main point or including superfluous details.
Organize Logically
  • Use headings and subheadings: This breaks up the text and makes it easier to follow.
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists: Lists can highlight key points or steps in a process.
  • Follow a structure: Typically, a business report includes an introduction, methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusion.
Maintain Objectivity and Neutrality
  • Use a professional tone: Avoid slang, colloquialisms, or overly casual language.
  • Present facts: Base conclusions on evidence and data rather than opinions.
  • Avoid bias: Be mindful of any unconscious biases and ensure your report is fair and balanced.
Ensure Coherence and Flow
  • Use transitions: Words like ‘however’, ‘moreover’, ‘thus’, and ‘therefore’ can guide the reader.
  • Be consistent: Use a consistent tense and stick to a particular format or style.
Use Visual Aids
  • Incorporate charts, graphs, and tables: These can simplify complex data and make trends easier to understand.
  • Caption and reference: Ensure each visual aid has a caption and is referred to in the text.
Double-Check for Accuracy
  • Cite sources: Give credit where it’s due and allow readers to verify facts.
  • Review data: Ensure all statistics, numbers, and facts are correct.
  • Avoid overgeneralization: Be specific in your conclusions and avoid making sweeping statements without evidence.
Edit and Proofread
  • Take a break: Before editing, give yourself some time away from the report for a fresh perspective.
  • Read aloud: This can help catch awkward phrasings or errors.
  • Seek feedback: Have a colleague review the report for clarity, coherence, and potential oversights.
Use Technology
  • Use software tools: Tools like Grammarly or Hemingway can help identify grammatical errors or areas for improvement.
  • Consistent formatting: Use word processing tools to maintain consistent font, spacing, and formatting throughout.
Use this Successful Business Report Writing Checklist to Review Your Work

Once you’re written and edited your report, give it a final review yourself before you submit it to your manager. Use this checklist to help you spot opportunities for improvement before you send it:

  • Is it to the point?
  • Is your most important point obvious?
  • Have you used simple language?
  • Will your reader understand?
  • Is it brief?
  • Have you used the right tone?
  • Have you eliminated unnecessary jargon?
  • Do your sentences average 15 words?
  • Are your paragraphs short?
  • Are the spelling and punctuation correct?
  • Will your reader know what to do next?
Adopt a Growth Mindset

Approach your manager’s feedback with a growth mindset. Try and learn from it to continuously improve for even more successful business report writing. Perhaps also book a one-to-one meeting with your line manager to explore their expectations from your reports. Once you have clarity on these, you’ll be able to achieve those expectations more effectively.

Successful Business Report Writing – Round Up

Writing effective business reports in the ever-evolving business world is an art that every innovator needs to master. These formal documents serve as essential tools in making informed decisions, guiding business goals, and streamlining the business plan. Whether you’re diving into the sales trends of the last quarter or unveiling research findings on a new product, whatever type of business report you create, it needs to communicate clearly.

Types of Report

From informational reports that provide just the facts, to a detailed feasibility report that gives an in-depth look into a specific issue, the wide range of different types of reports cater to varying needs. A business report sample might include annual reports with financial analysis, sales data, and market report insights, while an explanatory report might dive into specific information about a product or an event. And for those situations demanding a quick update, informal reports come to the rescue, giving a lighter tone without compromising on the relevant data.

Keep the Target Audience in Mind

The best way to approach business reporting is to keep the target audience in mind. Busy executives might prefer an executive summary with the bottom line up front, while stakeholders might require more detailed information. One thing remains consistent: the necessity to provide relevant information, whether it’s statistical data or background information, in a concise manner.

Create Your Successful Business Report Writing Template

The general format of a business report begins with a cover page, followed by the front matter, which might include a list of figures or other essential details. The body of the report then delves into the main elements, presenting factual data and employing critical thinking to analyze and present findings. Whether it’s a standard business report or a periodic report, one should avoid using personal pronouns, keeping the document professional.

Ensuring that your business writing reflects the best practices, from a SWOT analysis to a marketing plan, makes the report an important tool in the toolkit of any professional. It’s a good idea to include page numbers, especially for lengthier reports, and to always keep the specific needs of your audience in mind.

Successful Business Report Writing Gets Easier and Better with Practice

While creating an effective business report might seem like a daunting task, with the right approach, it becomes second nature.

By following steps like gathering information methodically, presenting key findings in an impactful manner, and considering the needs of your audience, you’ll be on the path to crafting a professional business report that not only communicates important information but also aids in making important decisions.

In the end, a good business report, be it formal or informal, serves as the bridge between raw data and actionable insights, making it an invaluable asset in the vast sea of business operations.

Ready to Master the Art of Successful Business Report Writing?

If you’ve found value in this article, imagine the depth of understanding and skills you could gain from our intensive half-day or full-day training sessions! Whether you prefer online convenience or in-person interaction, our “Successful Business Report Writing” sessions are tailored to elevate your writing prowess to the next level. Don’t let this opportunity pass – reach out today and unlock your full potential in crafting compelling business reports. Contact me here to find out more to gain a competitive edge in your business communication!

About the Author

Founder and CEO of The Big Bang Partnership Ltd & Idea Time. Innovator. Author. Business Coach. International Keynote Speaker & Facilitator. Director Technology & Transformation at Port of Tyne. Leader of the UK’s Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub. Non-Executive Director.  Associate in Business Innovation and Creativity at University of York and Lancaster University.

Dr Jo North creative facilitation