How to write an effective report

Writing a report is arguably a fundamental skill that everyone possesses.

Writing a report well, on the other hand, is a skill that alludes many people.

In this article, I’ll give you 7 tips on how you can write a great report and convey your message effectively. 

Report: a spoken or written account of something that one has observed, heard, done, or investigated.

1. Start with WHY

As Simon Sinek says in his famous TED talk, “start with why”. Focus and clearly define to yourself, why you are writing this report. Once you’ve found your why, your objective will be clear and it will serve as a guiding light for your thoughts and words.

To start with why, a good place to begin is with the following question:

“Am I writing this report to persuade or to inform?”

2. Who’s reading/listening?

Your audience will determine whether you write at a 6th grade level or at a doctorate level. Generally speaking, writing at an 8th grade level will appeal to the broadest audience without sounding too condescending.

To write simply:

  • avoid using long winded, complex sentences (like this one) that really don’t add much value to what you’re saying, despite looking impressive
  • avoid using jargon
  • explain the use of acronyms
  • provide extra information as an appendix
  • use apps like this one to help you write simpler and more concise reports

3. It’s all about the flow

Great reports have a clear beginning, middle and end. Readers should be able to easily follow your train of thought. Focus on the reader’s experience and your report will be highly regarded.

To focus on flow for the reader, ensure:

  • Each paragraph should contain no more than 3 ideas
  • Similar ideas should be grouped together in paragraphs and sections
  • someone (friend, family, coworker) edits your report by highlighting points:
    • that are difficult to comprehend
    • that don’t add value

4. Focus on facts

A well written report focuses on facts. This doesn’t mean plastering facts and figures in every other sentence, rather, strategically placed facts and figures that support your report.

Facts and figures are supplementary to a report

To focus on facts:

  • research your topic well
  • validate the accuracy of facts

5. Not too short, not too long, just right

There is no correct length for a report. Your report should be long enough to fulfill its purpose, without being repetitive. Fight the urge to add sentences that don’t provide any value.

To write just right:

  • consider questions and objections your readers might have
  • remove sentences that don’t add value
  • avoid repetition

6. Titles, subtitle and everything in between

Titles and subtitles are effective tools to segment your report. This allows your readers to skim through and focus on parts that interest/concern them. Most (business) people have a short supply of time, and will appreciate your effort in making your report scan-able.

To effectively use formatting:

  • if you are using Microsoft Word use the different Headings to create sections and sub-sections
  • using bold and italics  can help emphasize words or phrases

7. Edit all day, edit all night 

Lasly but most importantly, quality should be chosen over quantity. Reading one quality report a month is infinitely more desirable than reading 4 sub-par reports a month. Word will spread that your report is one that must be read, and people will anticipate the next release. Don’t let your readers down by producing verbose reports.

To ensure top quality:

  • re-read your report 24 hours after you write it
  • ask someone to edit the article for you

*Bonus: 8. Leverage technology

Producing soft copies (electronic versions) of reports allow you to leverage technology in interesting ways. I’ve listed a few options below:

  • use of hyperlinks to jump to sections within a document
  • use of hyperlinks to link to a website

For hard copy documents (print outs):

  • use of QR codes to link to link to a URL

qr code

Let me know if these tips helped and if there’s anything you find makes your report writing more effective.

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