In general, the practice of producing long, formal business reports is diminishing in favor of shorter, more informal presentations. However, some instances are better-suited to the more traditional business report layout, and it is still important for managers to understand how to organize a business report for maximum effect.
Title, introduction, methodology and table of contents
It must be immediately clear what your business report is about and how it has been compiled. The title of the business report informs the reader what the report is about and should be specific and unambiguous. A methodology section will advise how the report's conclusions have been reached. For example, is the report based on the findings of focus groups, statistical analysis,or analysis of other published reports? A table of contents should also be provided, with links embedded to the relevant sections of the report. This enables the reader to easily jump to whatever section of the report she wishes to peruse.
The importance of an executive summary
Business managers do not typically have an abundance of available time to read through lengthy documentation, and this becomes more pronounced the higher up the management chain you go. Senior managers, therefore, often want to be able to skip straight to a quick summary of all the key findings and recommendations. This is provided through an executive summary. The executive summary flows from the findings of all your research but, unlike in academic reports, it is placed before the report's details rather than as a conclusion at the end.
Your report's findings underpin and help substantiate all conclusions and recommendations contained within the finished paper. The findings may include statistical analysis and quotes, and will reference any assumptions and/or caveats that need to be taken into account. Although your findings represent the detail of your report, they still need to be presented concisely and in a way that makes it easy for the reader to grasp the key points. To assist with this, business reports often make extensive use of graphs, diagrams and numbered or bullet-pointed lists.
Details of action plan and conclusions
The purpose of a business report will normally be to formulate a recommended course of action that, if pursued, will enable the organization to achieve an improvement, whether in relation to profits, efficiency, reputation or other factors. While the executive summary will have provided a high-level overview of the key points, it is also necessary to wrap up the report with an overview of your conclusions and recommended action plan. Bullet-point format is often used, with the conclusions and planned actions also split into applicable sub-headings where appropriate.
Individual companies (and managers) often have their own quirks as to how they like business reports to be structured. If you're new to an organization, therefore, it is often prudent to obtain examples of previous reports. Viewing reports that have been well-received should help you ensure that your report will also obtain a favorable reaction. Remember: It's vital to get clear guidance on what the purpose of the report is, what budget and resources you have available to produce it, what the deadline is and who the audience is. Experienced business report writers will learn to tweak the tone and length of their reports depending on these factors to ensure that the final report is the best it can be.