Writing a really good report can be important to our career, and because of this, it is something we should take very seriously. After all, a written report is a permanent record. It is a record not only of our writing skills, but also of our clarity of thought, our ability to analyse evidence, our problem solving skills and our ability to successfully achieve the purpose for which the report was commissioned.

What is a Report?
“A report is a statement of the results of an investigation or of any matter on which definite information is required.” (Oxford English Dictionary.) A report is not a narrative or an essay. We are not telling a story, or giving a subjective description. Equally, it is not a series of blunt bullet points. A report is a well written statement of evidence, with conclusions and, perhaps, recommendations. It is an analysis of the data of the investigation, written in an objective, logical and factual way.
A report has a purpose and, to be effective, that purpose must be achieved. The people reading this report, the audience, must be able to find the required information, understand it and follow the logical flow of the argument from beginning to end. Writing a really effective report that will succeed it this way requires 1) a plan and 2) a structure.

Plan before you Write
As with most things in life, it is better to spend more time planning the report than writing it. Time spent planning will make even the most complex report much easier to write, and will lead to a much better quality and more effective end product.
Step one is to clarify your purpose, to have a very clear focus on your objectives. The ‘Purpose Triangle’ will help you tease out what exactly you are producing. Think of an equal sided triangle with the word ‘purpose’ in the middle. The 3 sides of the triangle are the aspects we work on to tease out our purpose. They are overlapping elements, and working on all 3 separately will help you clarify your thinking. The 3 sides are -

1. Topic & Objective
2. Audience
3. Use

Side 1 - Topic & Objective
Write down the answers to the following questions. If you don’t know the answers, ask someone! What exactly is the Topic? Who has asked for this report? What is the scope of your report? What aspects of the topic are you to cover? What are the limits of the report? What are you not to address? What is deadline? What report size is required?

The next important issue to teas out is what exactly is the objective? Why am I writing this report? Is it to give information, to evaluate, to persuade or what?

Side 2 – Audience
Who are you writing for? You are writing for an audience – not for yourself.

Spend time thinking about your audience. You want them to understand and accept your report. You want them to be positively impressed with your efforts. Remember that only 20% of the population are like you – 20% think like you, think the same things are logical and obvious like you. The other 80% are different. You may like lots of facts and figures, they may see this as waffle and want to see the bottom line. You may like just the higher level points – they may want the detail. Do some research on your audience and pitch your points, flow and language style to suit them.

Side 3 – the Use
This question will also help us determine the level of detail and approach in our report. Do not assume that the person commissioning the report simply wants to read the information. Is this report to be used to take action, to be presented to someone outside the organisation, to be used in a court case etc.? Knowing what exactly your report will be used for will influence how you write it.

Tease out all the sides of the Purpose Triangle using the questions above. When you have finished, you should be able to write down a very sharp purpose statement in one short paragraph.

Report Structure
A report has a definite structure. It is arranged in a way that the reader can easily find the information he or she requires. A structure also makes it easier for the writer, to arrange our thoughts in a logical flow and to write a readable report.
In its simplest form, a report will consist of a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning, the Introduction, sets the scene by informing the reader what the report is all about and what it intends to achieve.

The middle section, the Findings, is the most important part of the document where the details of the findings are delivered, and the arguments developed. The findings section has a logical structure, is written in clear language, and is organised into appropriate headings and sub-headings. This clarifies the report’s aim and ensures the reader’s interest is maintained.
The end must follow on naturally from the main body of the report. We arrive at a conclusion, and we guide the reader to a series of recommendations.

A good report is like a well told joke, it funnels the reader down to the punch line:

- Introduction - Sets the scene
- Findings - Gives the detail
- Conclusions - Lands the punch line

We draw the reader down the narrowing funnel to our logical conclusions. The headings we use should demonstrate this clear, logical structure. Concentrating on your Plan and your Structure should help ensure you write a highly effective report.

Author's Bio: 

Kate Tammemagi is a well respected Consultant and Trainer with Focus Training. She has extensive experience designing and delivering customized Report Writing Courses and Leadership Development Training.