HOW TO ORGANIZE AND WRITE TYPICAL BUSINESS REPORTS

Interpret and Analyze Data

 Analyzing and interpreting data is a vital part of any business.  It can sometimes be the difference between a successful firm and a firm that fails.  Unprocessed data can be meaningless to firms until it is sorted, analyzed, combined and recombined.  Fortunately for firms there are several tabulating and statistical techniques that can help them create order from unorganized data. These techniques help simplify, organize, summarize and classify large amounts of data into meaningful terms.  Once the data is sorted in a more condensed manner, the firm can then go on to understand it a lot clearer and therefore draw conclusions and thus move forward to make the necessary recommendations.  The most useful summarizing techniques include tables, statistical concepts (mean, median, and mode), correlations and grids.


Tables

Tables are an essential tool in simplifying data.  Numerical data from questionnaires and surveys is usually summarized in a table.  Tables use columns and rows to make quantitative information easier to comprehend.  Data is often easier to understand when cross-tabulated, and tables are often used in this vein to facilitate the process of data comprehension.  “When data is cross tabulated, it may become clearer to find the answer to your problem question.  Calculating percentages of certain types of data collected and then ranking them in a table from greatest to least or vice versa may help you draw conclusions faster and more efficiently.” (Guffey, Rhodes & Rogin, 2006) 

 

 

Statistical Concepts (Mean, Median, Mode)

        Tables allow you to organize data while statistical methods allow you to describe them.  The mean, median and mode are often used to mean “average”.  However, knowing the exact meaning of each term will allow you to better interpret organized data. 

 

Mean: The mean of a specific set of data is intended to indicate the average of that data.

 

Median:  The median represents the midpoint in a group of figures arranged from lowest to highest or vice versa.

 

Mode:  The mode is the value in the set of data that occurs most frequently.

 

        Knowing the values of these statistical concepts could be an integral part of interpreting data.  When the range of a specific set of data is given, knowing these concepts becomes even more vital as they can be put into perspective.


 
Correlations

        While tabulating and analyzing data, you may begin to see relationships among two or more variables that may help explain your findings.  Once a correlation is detected, you can begin to ask yourself how and why are these variables linked.  The answer to those questions may allow you to further your search for a potential solution to a problem.  Keep in mind that a cause and effect relationship should be avoided when none can be proven.  Only sophisticated research methods can allow you to prove correlations. 



Grids

     Lastly, another technique that can be used to interpret and analyze raw data, more specifically verbal data, is the grid.  Complex verbal information can be transformed into brief, convenient data.  Be using grids, readers can almost immediately recognize which points are supported and opposed.  “Data arranged in a grid also works very well for projects such as feasibility studies.” (Guffey et al,. 2006)  Consumer reports often use grids to display data.   



Summarize Data, Draw Conclusions and Explain Findings

More often than not, the most important part of a report is the part devoted to the conclusions and recommendations.  Most readers of reports often jump straight to the conclusions in order to see what the report writer thinks the data mean.  Conclusions summarize and explain the findings outlined in the report and therefore often represent the heart of a report.  By analyzing and drawing conclusions from a report, you can begin to think logically in order to find solutions to the problem you have set out to solve. 

 
Analyzing Data to Arrive at Conclusions

        A data set can produce a number of conclusions; however, one should bear in mind the audience which they are catering to with regards to their report when drawing up their conclusions.  The audience will want to use the conclusions from the report in order to help them solve their original report problem. 

 

Tips for Writing Conclusions:

 

·         Interpret and summarize the findings; tell what they mean.

·         Relate the conclusions to the report problem

·         Limit the conclusions to the data presented; do not introduce new material.

·         Number the conclusions and present them in a parallel form.

·         Be objective and avoid exaggerating or manipulating the data.

·         Use consistent criteria in evaluating options.

 

(Guffey et al., 2006)

 

It is very important to examine your motives before drawing conclusions.  Do not allow preconceived notions or wishful thinking to cloud your reasoning.



Preparing Report Recommendations

  Unlike conclusions, recommendations make specific suggestions for the actions that need to be taken in order to solve the report problem.  “Remember that readers expect certain information to be in certain places. They do not expect to hunt for what they want and the harder you make it for them the more likely they are to toss you report to one side and ignore it.” (http://ezinearticles.com/?Report-Writing---How-to-Format-a-Business-Report&id=96650)  Report readers more often than not prefer recommendations to conclusions because the recommendations give them specific actions that need to be taken.  The specificity of your recommendations depends on your authorization.  You need to ask yourself “what am I commissioned to do?” and “what does the reader expect?”.  The understanding of your audience will allow you to know how far you can go with your recommendations. 

 

        The best recommendations offer practical suggestions that are feasible and agreeable to the audience.  It is very important to keep feasibility in mind when writing out recommendations.  You do not want to recommend a solution that requires actions that are not possible for the company to undertake. 

 

        Where possible, began each recommendation with a verb in order for the recommendation to sound like a command.  This structure sounds forceful and confident and allows the reader to easily comprehend what actions need to be taken.  Avoid words such as perhaps and maybe, as these words can reduce the strength of the recommendation.

 

Tips for Writing Recommendations:

 

Make specific suggestions for actions to solve the report problem.
Prepare practical recommendations that will be agreeable to the audience.
Avoid conditional words such as maybe and perhaps.
Present each suggestion separately as a command beginning with a verb.
Number the recommendations for improved readability.
If requested, describe how the recommendations may be implemented.
When possible, arrange the recommendations in an announced order, such as most important to least important.
 

(Guffey et al., 2006)

 

Keep in mind that the important thing about recommendations is that they include practical suggestions for solving the report problem.



Organize Data Into Logical Framework

At this point you’ve collected your data and interpreted it, as well as drawn your conclusions and decided on what recommendations you are going to make. Now you are ready to logically structure and organize the data. A properly organized report will assist you in keeping your reader’s attention and therefore increasing your chances of persuading them.

Informational Reports are simply organized in 3 parts. Analytical Reports are organized in 4 parts and come in 2 methods. These methods are the "direct pattern" and the "indirect pattern". The direct pattern is geared towards readers who already know about the project and just need the information up front. The indirect pattern is appropriate when you are trying to educate or persuade your reader.


Informational Reports

1.Introduction
2.Facts/Findings
3.Summary/Conclusion

Analytical Reports

Direct Pattern

1.Introduction/problem
2.Conclusions/recommendations
3.Facts/findings
4.Discussion/analysis

Indirect Pattern

1.Introduction/problem
2.Facts/findings
3.Discussion/analysis
4.Conclusions/recommendations

Ordering Information Logically

Your report obviously needs to be structured coherently. In order for readers to better comprehend your data, there are five main organizational methods you may use:

Time:  Arrange data chronologically (for example 2007, 2008, 2009). Chronologies can become boring though so be careful not to overuse the time method.

Component: Organizedata by components like location, geography, division, product, or part.

Importance: Organized inorder of importance, starting with the most to the least or vice versa.You must decide what you think is most important from the reader’s perspective.

Criteria: Organizing the data in evaluative groups. (Ex.: when comparing two computers you’ll use price, warranty, processing speed, etc.)

Convention: Arranging the data according to a prescribed plan, using mostly conventional categories. This makes it easier to follow.

 

Providing Reader Cues

Introduction: A good introduction states the report’s purpose, the significance of the topic and introduces the main points as well as the order in which they will be further discussed.

Transitions: Transitions such as however, furthermore, on the other hand, etc. are important because they will keep the reader’s attention. These tools provide a coherent and logical flow between ideas and let the reader understand where the ideas are going.

Headings: Headings emphasize the main ideas in a report. Furthermore, they provide “a break” for the reader’s eyes and attention so the report is more convenient to read through. As stated in Report Writing (2000) “Headings should be clearly, logically and accurately labelled since they reveal the organization of the report and permit quick reference to specific information. They also make the report easy to read.” (http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/report/1gi.html) You may use functional heads or talking heads. Functional heads describe the outline of a report but the reader doesn’t get much insight. They can be useful when discussing controversial topics due to their general nature. They are less likely to trigger emotions in the readers. Talking heads are more informative and attention-grabbing. With a little effort a heading can be both functional and talking. 
These tips will assist you in creating successful headings:


- Headings should be informative and not just catchy. Keep it short and clear.

- Capitalize and Underline at appropriate places (all caps for main titles and only first letter caps for secondary titles)

- Same level headings (ex.: all sub-headings) should be grammatically alike

- Every report page should have a minimum of one heading

(Guffey, Rhodes & Rogin, 2006)


Writing Informational Reports - Deliver Information and Facts

The importance of skillful communication is becoming increasingly important in today’s business world.

Clayton (2006) reports “Business decisions involve the cooperation and interaction of several individuals. Sometimes dozens of colleagues and co-workers strive in unison to realize mutual goals. Lines of communication must therefore be maintained to facilitate these joint efforts.” (http://business.clayton.edu/arjomand/business/writing.html)

In order to determine a company’s objectives, information must be properly communicated throughout the chain of command. Informational reports deliver neutral, informal information to receptive readers who do not need to be persuaded of anything. The data is often describing periodic activities. Guffrey, Rhodes & Rogin (2006) make it cleas that as in any business report, “paying attention to the proper use of headings, lists, bulleted items, and other graphic highlighting, as well as clear organization, enable the readers to grasp major ideas immediately” (p.313). There are  different types of Informational Reports.

Periodic/Activity Reports

“Summary submitted by each salesperson to provide certain details to the management about his or her activities and performance over a given period. It includes information such as (1) number of customervisits made, (2) demonstrations performed, and (3) new accounts opened.” (businessdictionary.com APA) These reports allow managers to stay informed of operations and activities and they can therefore intervene if anything is not on track. Sometimes these reports only contain sales figures. When writing a periodic report to your manager, make sure to do the following:

-      Summarize regular activities and events performed during the reporting period

-      Describe irregular events deserving the attention of management

-      Highlight special needs and problems

(Guffey, Rhodes & Rogin, 2006)

Having an update section on competition is often very valuable. A manager is usually very interested in what the competition is doing and business operations can greatly benefit from this information.



Click Here to Download an example of a Periodic Report Template:

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Trip, Convention, and Conference Reports

If you are an employee invited to participate in a conference (seminar, workshop, symposium, etc.), you will probably be expected to publish a Report of the events. It is important for the company to know that they are not wasting their funds on the travel and conference expenses. As Guffey et Al. (2006) explain "These reports inform management about new procedures, equipment, and laws and supply information affecting products, operations, and service” (p.314).


In writing your report, you will have an Intro, Body and Conclusion. The body should focus on about 5 topics that you know will interest your manager/reader. Here is a general outline of how to write a conference report:

-Begin by identifying the event (exact date, name, and location) and previewing the topics to be discussed.

-Summarize in the body three to five main points that might benefit the reader

-Itemize your expenses, if requested, on a separate sheet.

-Close by expressing appreciation, suggesting action to be taken, or synthesizing the value of the trip or event.

(Guffey et al., 2006)

Progress and Interim Reports

A progress report explains itself: It reports the status and progress of an ongoing project. The report can be internal, to inform management, or external, to inform customers. In the introduction, make the purpose of the project clear. Provide a background if it is necessary to your audience, and then describe the work completed. Explain the work that is currently in progress (personnel, activities, methods and locations) and anticipate problems and possible remedies (Guffey et al., 2006). Talk about future activities. Provide the end of project date. 

Investigative Reports

Investigative reports are unbiased and don’t have recommendations. These reports are organized in 3 parts: The introduction, body, and summary. Guffey et al. (2006) explain how “The body-which includes the facts, findings, or discussion-may be organized by time, component, importance, criteria, or convention” (p.317). Divide the topic into 3-5 logical segments, depending on the subject.

Checklist for writing Informational Reports

Introduction:

- Begin directly
- Provide a Preview
- Supply background data selectively
- Divide the topic


Body:

- Arrange the subtopics logically
- Use clear headings
- Determine Degree of formality
- Enhance readability with graphic highlighting


Summary/Conclusion:

- When necessary, summarize the report
- Offer a concluding thought


(Guffey et al., 2006)


Writing Analytical Reports - Analyze Information and Persuade Reader


The Analytical Report is very different from the Informational Report. Informational Reports are about presenting the facts to readers that don’t necessarily need to be convinced of anything. On the other hand Analytical Reports, in addition to presenting and analyzing the data interpret it and attempt to persuade the readers to take action on their recommendations. Their emphasis is on reasoning and recommendations (Guffey et al., 2006).

As explained by Principles and Concepts of Technical Communication (200), teams of experts produce Analytical Reports. The experts use their professional skills to:

- Determine issues; identify the factors that are causing the problems by using a study, and then attempting to solve them using a “standard professional methodology”.

- Learn how similar problems have been solved in the past

- Deal with limitations such as “time, cost, company policy, union contracts, local and federal law”

Depending on who the readers will be, sometimes the writers are direct in putting the recommendations at the beginning of the reports. This is safe to do when the reader already has confidence in the writers. Directness can backfire if the reader objects to some of these ideas at the very beginning. It could take time to warm up to someone so as not to offend their belief systems and avoid triggering negative reactions. In this case, using the indirect method would suit best in order to lead the reader through the logical process that concludes with the appropriate recommendations. The 3 following analytical reports answer business questions:

1.    Justification/Recommendation Reports

2.    Feasibility Reports

3.    Yardstick Reports

Each one has a different goal and serves a different type of organization (Guffey et al., 2006).
 

Justification/Recommendation Reports

“Justification/recommendation reports follow the direct or indirect pattern depending on the audience and the topic.” (Guffey et al., 2006). Managers and employees at some time or another have something to recommend to their company, such as new equipment, hiring more labor, an increase in investing funds, etc.


There are two types of patterns for writing this sort of report: Direct and Indirect.


 

Direct Pattern

Guffey et al. (2006) define the Direct Pattern as "appropriate for justification/recommendation reports on nonsensitive topics and for receptive audiences” (p.320)

How to organize the report:

-      Briefly address the problem

-      Concisely present your recommendation (use action verbs)

-      Explain in more detail the benefits of your solution

-      Include a discussion of “pros, cons, and costs”

-      Wrap up with a summary


(Guffey et al., 2006)

Indirect Pattern

Guffey et al. (2006) define the Indirect Pattern as "appropriate for justification/recommendation reports on sensitive topics and for potentially unreceptive audiences” (p.320).

How to organize the report:

- Make reference to the problem rather than your recommendation in the subject line

- Describe the problem. Be specific, use statistics and reliable quotes to support your claim

- Present alternative solutions. State first the one that is least likely to succeed and the best one last.

- Describe how there are more advantages to disadvantage to your solution

- Summarize your recommended solution.

- Ask for approval to carry on

(Guffey et al., 2006)

Feasibility Reports

Vijay Luthra (2009) defines Feasibility Reports as “Analysis and evaluation of a proposed project to determine if it (1) is technically feasible, (2) is feasible within the estimated cost, and (3) will be profitable. Feasibility studies are almost always conducted where large sums are at stake.” (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/feasibility-study.html)


They answer the question of whether or not your business proposal will work. Guffey et al. (2006) explain that “Feasibility Reports typically are internal reports written to advise on matters such as consolidating departments, offering a wellness program to employees, or hiring an outside firm to handle a company’s accounting or computing operations” (p.320).

The bottom line of these reports is to decide whether or not to move forward with a given proposal. There is no need to persuade the reader. Waste no time and present the decision right away.

When writing feasibility reports you should:

-      Declare your decision straight away
-      Give background information (of the problem)
-      Talk about the proposal’s benefits
-      Consider any consequences that may arise
-      Calculate the costs (if suitable to the reader)
-      Show the necessary time frame 

(Guffey et al., 2006)


Yardstick Reports

Guffey et al. (2006) demonstrate that “Yardstick Reports consider alternative solutions to a problem by establishing criteria against which to weigh options” (p.322). It is that criteria that becomes the yardstick. This method is effective when companies need to, for example, purchase equipment and compare specs from different manufacturers.

Yardstick reports are advantageous in the sense that “alternatives can be measured consistently using the same criteria”.


How to organize a Yardstick Report

-Describe the problem or need

-Describe suggested solutions and alternatives

-Establish criteria and explain how it was developed

-Discuss and evaluate every option in terms of the yardstick

-Come to conclusions and make suggestions (recommendations) 


(Guffey et al., 2006)


Checklist for Writing Analytical Reports

Introduction:


-      Explain the purpose of the report
-      Give a brief outline of the report is organization
-      Summarize the recommendations
-      Use the direct pattern if you already have the reader’s confidence, or the indirect pattern for an unreceptive audience

Findings:

-      Discuss advantages and disadvantages of each alternative solution. Make sure to save the best one for last (for unreceptive readers)
-      Establish criteria
-      Use evidence such as facts, stats and other data to support your findings
-      Organize finding. Make sure the structure is logical and legible. Remember to make proper use of headings, lists, graphs. Etc.

Conclusions/Recommendations:

-      Develop and justify recommendations and conclusions that address the research question. Use your findings.
-      Use action verbs when making your recommendations and explain the action that needs to be taken. 
(Guffey et al.2006)

For More great information on Analytical and other types of Reports, visit http://icarus.lcc.gatech.edu/info/analytic.shtml


Click here to download a .pdf with more detailed information on what a Report is and how to write one:

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