Writing reports is a typical aspect of numerous jobs. Knowing how to write an effective report is a helpful skill that can make you a valuable addition to any workplace.
If you wish to write professional reports, though, you will have to know what they typically entail and how to get started.
In this guide, we discuss how to write a report and how reports are used in the workplace, we go over the basic format and elements of a report, and tips for writing a good one.
What is a Report?
A report is a written document presenting the results of an investigation, project, or initiative. It is also an in-depth analysis of a particular issue or data set.
A report aims to inform, educate, and present options and recommendations for future action. Reports are a significant element of dozens of industries, including science, tech, health care, criminal justice, business, and academia.
They typically consist of several key elements, including:
- Detailed summaries of events or activities
- Analysis of the significance of the event
- Evaluations of the facts and data
- Predictions for what may occur as a result of an event
- Recommendation for subsequent course of action
Jobs that Use Written Reports
Many careers involve writing reports as a primary responsibility. For example, doctors must write medical reports presenting their analyses of certain patients and/or cases.
Police officers write reports outlining the details of interrogations and confrontations. Project managers, meanwhile, write regular reports to keep their supervisors updated on how a particular project is developing.
All these reports have to be well-written, accurate, and efficient.
How to Write a Report
Knowing how to write a good report can make you a valuable asset in your current workplace or an appealing candidate for new employers.
Here are some steps to follow when composing a report:
1 Decide on Terms of Reference
Many formal reports have a section that details the document’s “terms of reference” (or ToR).
These terms include:
- What the report is about
- Why the report is necessary
- When the report was written
- What the purpose is
Setting these terms assists both the writer and their readers in understanding why the report is important and what it hopes to accomplish.
The terms of reference are usually explained in the initial paragraph so that the reader can determine their relevance without having to read the entire document.
2. Conduct Your Research
Most reports will need you to collect a store of data that directly relates to your topic. You may already have access to this data if, e.g., a doctor has copies of a patient’s medical charts.
However, if you’re tasked with analyzing an issue and/or investigating an event, you’ll likely need to spend some time requesting, finding, and arranging data.
Interpreting data and formatting it in a way your readers will understand and follow is a significant part of writing a report.
For your report, you may need to create charts, graphs, or timelines that make your raw information easier to understand.
You’ll also need to carefully reference your sources and keep track of where and how you found your report’s data to present it professionally.
3. Create a Report Outline
The next step in writing a report is to prepare your report’s outline. This typically resembles a bulleted or numbered list of all the different sections in the document.
Your report’s outline might look similar to this:
- Title page
- Table of contents
- Terms of reference
- Summary of procedure
- References or bibliography
The order of these sections—and whether you decide to include them all—depends on the specific kind of report, how long it is, and how formal it needs to be.
The most significant thing to do when writing your outline is to include all the necessary sections and eliminate anything that does not directly contribute to the report’s purpose.
4. Write the First Draft
Writing the first draft of your report is one of the most important stages of preparing a successful one. The aim of the first draft is not to write a perfect document but rather to get all the main points of your information out of your head and onto the page.
You’ll have time to add to and edit this first attempt, so your major goal is just to organize your data and analysis into a rough draft that will eventually become a final product.
While writing your report’s initial draft, you’ll likely find gaps in your data or holes in your analysis.
Take note of these issues, but don’t try addressing them as you write. Instead, finish the draft and save problem-solving for when you start the editing process.
5. Analyze Fata and Record Findings
The focus of every report is the “findings” section, i.e., the part where you showcase your interpretation of the data. For an accountant, for instance, the findings could involve an explanation as to why a company’s stock dropped the previous quarter.
For an environmental scientist, the report’s findings could include a synopsis of an experiment on biodegradable plastics and how the results could affect waste management methods.
The findings section should always offer valuable information related to the topic or issue you’re addressing, even if the results are less than ideal.
If you conclude that the information was insufficient or the research method was flawed, you’ll need to explain this professionally and accurately.
6. Recommend a Course of Action
The last section of your report’s body is your recommendation(s). After evaluating the data and analyzing any outcomes, you’re qualified to present an idea as to what actions should be taken in response to your findings.
For instance, after reviewing the number of overtime hours their team’s been working, a project manager may recommend adding another member.