Reports are the most common method of dispersing information in the business world. Factual reports analyze and describe a situation and include a large amount of accurate data. Successful report writers know that writing the report is only the end of the process. They plan their report, they consider its purpose and who is going to read it and they decide what to put in it and how to effectively organize it. An effectively written and well-presented factual report is the result of a carefully planned process.
Other People Are Reading
Identify the Reader and Set Objectives
Consider what the reader already knows. Common problems in factual reports are overestimating and underestimating a reader's knowledge. It is easy to overwhelm people with jargon or bore them with simplistic information. Try to find out how much your reader already knows and communicate at the appropriate level of knowledge.
Think about the reader's stance. The reader may have special interests, likes or dislikes. Understand what your reader really wants. Deliver a report that will appeal to their attitudes or it may not get read. Reflect on whether the person reading the report will be doing so based on preconceived ideas about the contents.
Decide what factual knowledge the reader needs. Consider the extent to which you need to give background information or define technical terms.
Look at what facts the reader wants to learn. Think about how the factual data you are presenting will deliver this. Sometimes the process may show that a report is not necessary at all or that the objective can best be met in another way.
Materials, Structure and Style
Select your material carefully. Keep it simple and justify your conclusions. Simplify as much as possible. Discard extraneous material and focus on the essential. Justify your conclusions with facts and state where you found them. Build the facts into a logical and consistent case, so that your reader can arrive at the same conclusions.
Plan the structure of the report.
The facts should be a set of directions that take the reader to your conclusion. Start by dividing your report into major sections. Every subject can be subdivided in this way. These subdivisions might become the headings in your report. Make a list under each heading of all the points you want to bring up and note the information you'll need to support them. Arrange the points in a logical sequence that meets your objectives.
Apply an appropriate style. Although reports follow strict conventions, there is room for personal style. Effective reports utilize a drafting and redrafting process. Choose terminology familiar to your reader. Technical terms are useful for fellow specialists but will be confusing for others.
Utilize appropriate presentation techniques. Reports contain tables, graphs, bar charts or other diagrams to present data.
Follow the Conventions of Report Writing
Prepare a title page. This normally contains the title, subtitles, date, author's name and position in the company. It will also indicate who is receiving the factual report. It may also carry a reference number or other form of classification.
Write a summary. This is especially necessary if the report is long. It gives busy people the gist of the report without their having to read it all. An attractive summary can motivate people to read the whole report.
Include a contents page. This is a separate page that lists the major sections or chapters, subsections and appendices. It also gives page numbers and should indicate the relationship between sections.
Use an introduction to explain the purpose of the factual report. This gives background information and explains why it is necessary. The introduction states the objective of the report, the people it has been written for and its scope.
Organize the body of the report. This contains your detailed facts and findings, shows how they were arrived at and indicates the inferences you have made. Deliver your conclusions. Summarize the major factual points of your report and offer a considered verdict on them.