Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /home/a26f9f83/public_html/articles/includes/config.php on line 159
How To Write More Powerful Reports > NetSparsh - Viral Content you Love & Share

How To Write More Powerful Reports

There is one key difference between reports and most other forms of business writing, and we get a hint of that in the word, "report." Whereas with many other forms of written comms you can be a little creative and put your own slant on your words, in a report you must not. Not in theory, anyway.

In a report, you're supposed to report - not embellish, embroider, influence, etc. Just the facts and nothing but the facts.

This does not, however, mean that reports need to be dull and boring. It does, however, mean that you can't make the content more interesting than it really is. Impossible? No, it just takes some good organization and clear writing.

Before we go any further, there are numerous books and training courses on the market that teach you the formalities and practicalities of report writing. Some are more long-winded than others. Most of them are good.

Here in this article I can't do what other writers do in a book, so if you need to write reports a lot, I recommend that you buy one or two of the most popular books and study them. What I'm doing here then, is to highlight the points I think are most important to help you make your reports more readable, and the information in them come across more vividly.

If you work in a larger organization, there will probably be set formats for reports, at least for the internal variety. Whether you like them or not you're normally obliged to stick to them. However the way you roll out and write your content is still up to you.

So what are the key points to focus on?

1. Write for your reader

Don't allow yourself to fall into "businessese" jargon and phrasing no matter how much you or other people may feel it's more appropriate. It isn't. Use language and tone of voice that your key readers will feel comfortable with. If you don't know what they feel comfortable with, find out. It's well worth taking the trouble, because it will make the report much more enjoyable for them to read - a good reflection on you.

If your report is to be read by a wide variety of different audiences, focus your language on the most important groups. Ensure that less topic-literate readers are catered for by using discreet explanations of technical terms or perhaps a short glossary of terms as an appendix within the report.

2. Organize your information sensibly

Start by writing yourself out a list of headings which start at the beginning and finish with the conclusions of your information. If you must include a lot of background information before you get into the "meat" of the information, section it off clearly with headings that say that it's background ("Research Project Objectives," "Research Methods Used To Collate Information," "Personnel Involved In Questionnaire," etc.) so those who know it all already can skip straight to the important stuff.

Make sure your headings "tell the story" so someone glancing through those alone will get the basic messages. (You'll find that busy executives will thank you for doing this, especially when they have 16 other, similar reports to read in a crowded commuter train on the way into a meeting to discuss all of them.) Then fill in the details under each heading as concisely as you can.

3. Use an "executive summary" to tell it in a nutshell

Depending on the nature of your report you may be expected to include an executive summary, or at least an introduction that captures the key points of your information. The objective of this is to give the reader the key issues as quickly as possible. Write this after you've done the body of the report, not before. Use your list of headings as a guide.

Keep strictly to the facts - this is still part of the report, not your interpretation of it. Strip each sentence down to bare bones with minimal adjectives and adverbs. Use short words and sentences. Don't just get to the point - start with it and stick to it.

4. If your interpretation is called for, keep it separate

If part of your remit is to comment on the report and/or its conclusions, keep this separate from the main body of information. (Blocked off in a box or under a clearly separated heading will do.)

Naturally as you're professional you will be as objective as possible. But if you do feel strongly one way or another, ensure that your argument is put as reasonably as possible without going on for pages and pages. Remember, brief is beautiful, although it's harder to write briefly (and include all the important points) than it is to produce words in abundance.

5. Don't get carried away with illustrations

Graphs and charts are great to illustrate important issues and like the man said, "a picture is worth a thousand words." However ensure that those you use are of a level of complexity that will be understood by the least topic-literate of your readers. There's nothing more irritating than a graph that takes you 20 minutes to decipher. It's not so much a case that readers are too stupid to understand a complex graph, as it is that they don't want to spend too much time working it out. The easier/quicker you make it for readers to understand and assimilate your information, the more successful your report.

Try, also, to keep graphs and charts physically adjacent to the text that talks about the same thing. There's nothing more irritating for the reader if they have to keep flipping from front to back of a document. (When in doubt, think of someone reading your report on that crowded commuter train.)

6. Cut the clutter

Still on that topic, try to avoid including too many diverse elements in your report, no matter how long and involved it is. If you do need to include appendices and various bits of background material, research statistics, etc., make sure they're neatly labeled and contained at the back of your document.

As I suggested earlier, don't ask readers to skip back and forth, directing them with asterisks and other reference directing symbols. If you're writing a medical report or paper then you're obliged to include these when quoting references from other papers, but please keep even these to a minimum. They're very distracting and can break your reader's concentration.

7. Take some trouble to make it look nice

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but people do. Like it or not. According to UK Image consultant Tessa S, when you walk into a meeting, 55% of your first impression of someone is reflected exclusively in the way you're dressed. Documents fall into the same hole. So how your document looks goes a long way to creating the right impression of your work, and of you.

Obviously if a report is due to go outside your organization and particularly to clients or customers, you will be careful to ensure it's polished and clearly branded with your corporate identity and all that. However, how an internal report looks is important, too, although your Head of Finance might have apoplexy if you bind it in expensive glossy card. Be sensible with the internal variety - neat, understated, groomed looks don't have to cost much but they "say" a lot about the value of your report (and you.)

8. A minute on minutes

I think minute-taking is a horrible job, having done so for 6 years while on a charity fundraising committee. And being useless at handwriting (thanks to decades of computers and typewriters) never mind shorthand (was thrown out of secretarial school after 3 weeks) I struggled for months to scribble everything down to précis later, until I realized that my brain was a far more efficient filter of information.

At the end of each agenda item, I asked myself the classic reporter questions of "who, what, where, when, why, how and how much." All I had to do was jot down a few words and when I got home to my trusty PC, I could expand those into realistic summaries of what went on. As much of the dialogue in meetings is either unnecessary, repetitive, or both, simply use your brain as a filter. That's what it's trained to do for you in your day-to-day life, so it works for meetings too.

One word of warning though; don't wait too long before your work up your minutes. Another trick the brain does is to forget after a few hours or a day or so at most...

Canadian-born Suzan St Maur is an international business writer and author based in the United Kingdom. In addition to her consultancy work for clients in Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia, she contributes articles to more than 150 business websites and publications worldwide, and has written eleven published books. Her latest eBooks, "The MAMBA Way To Make Your Words Sell" and "Get Yourself Published" and available as PDF downloads from

T o subscribe to her free biweekly business writing tips eZine, TIPZ from SUZE, click here.

(c) Suzan St Maur 2003 - 2005

In The News:

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at


NBC's Diverse Late Night Writers Program Names 2018 Class
Each day also consists of writing instruction, insightful feedback, and collaborative assignments that mirror the late-night comedy writing experience. Following the program, NBC continues advocating for the writers including putting them up for open ...


Organizations Help Veterans Heal Through Writing Their Stories
The St. Louis Public Library in collaboration with the Missouri Humanities Council (MHC), the VA St. Louis Health Care System, Drury University and the Kansas City Public Library offer veteran writing workshops to veterans and their families – teaching ...

and more »

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Scholars Talk Writing: Carlo Rotella
The Chronicle of Higher Education
For the Scholars Talk Writing series, we discussed a course he teaches at Boston College for graduate students and undergraduates called "Experimental Writing for Scholars." As director of American studies at the college, he has written for mainstream ...

Daily Californian

Get lit(erary): Why writing drunk could save your grade
Daily Californian
One thing I appreciate about being a copy editor is never having to face the dreaded writer's block — all of the content I'm working with is already finished and ready for me to edit when I show up at the Daily Cal office. I may face a momentary pause ...

New York Times

The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing Negative Reviews
New York Times
But with the Broadway opening on March 15 of “Escape to Margaritaville,” a jukebox musical of tunes Mr. Buffett composed or made famous, it became my responsibility to deliver bad news. “Dopey fun is one thing,” I wrote in my review that night, “but ...

Lewiston Sun Journal

Restaurateurs Accused Of Writing Bad Checks, Leaving State
Maine Public
Portland, Maine, officials say a pair of high-profile restaurateurs who owe thousands for civil judgments and now face criminal charges regarding bad checks have left the state. Thomas and Shannon Bard are accused of writing more than $19,000 in bad ...
Maine restaurateurs accused of writing bad checks, leaving
Restaurant owners, charged with writing bad checks for $19000, have left MaineLewiston Sun Journal

all 37 news articles »

South China Morning Post

SCMP bags top prizes for writing and design in Hong Kong News Awards
South China Morning Post
The South China Morning Post has been recognised for excellence in news and business writing and page design by the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong, winning top prizes in those categories in the 2017 Hong Kong News Awards. Senior reporter Phila Siu ...

and more »


New creative writing course challenges inmates at State Penitentiary
It's a new program as part of student research teaching creative writing to inmates nearing the end of their sentence. So far, it's making a profound difference. Emelia O'Toole is the instructor who is also a student assistant researcher at the ...

Study Breaks

How to Boost Your Writing Skills When You're in College
Study Breaks
If there is ever a time that you will learn about writing and crafting essays and papers, it is when you are in college. This is, mainly, thanks to the high volume of essays and papers that you will be writing for your classes. However, this doesn't ...
Cheap Essay Writing Service: Simple As ABC!Morocco World News

all 3 news articles »

IEEE Spectrum

Writing a Musical About Silicon Valley? Start with Robert Noyce, Add a Dash of Marissa Mayer
IEEE Spectrum
Robert Noyce (played by Jesse Wilen), advises fictional entrepreneur Saira Sidona (Sofia Photo: Rob Wilen Robert Noyce (played by Jesse Wilen), advises fictional entrepreneur Saira Sidona (Sofia Peterson) in Venture, a new musical about Silicon Valley ...

and more »
Google News

Review In 29 Steps Plus One

I just finished to read a book. A story for... Read More

How to Write a Short Story

Everybody knows writing a story is not easy. Like the... Read More

10 Secrets For Writing Killer Complaint Letters

Complaint letters aren't always fun, but sometimes they need to... Read More

Whose Story Is It?

Whenever you sit down to plot a story (or even... Read More

How to Avoid the 11 Biggest Mistakes of First Time Authors

"If you want to change your life," Harry Beckwith wrote... Read More

3 Quick and Easy Ways to Generate Story Ideas

There are many ways you can generate ideas you can... Read More

Keeping a Love Journal

Do you love someone very deeply? A spouse, son, daughter,... Read More

Pairs/Groups Of Words Often Confused - Part 3 of 6

ELICIT, ILLICITElicit means to extract or draw out; illicit means... Read More

Baby Boomers and Booklets ? Share and Share Alike

As one of those fabulous Baby Boomers, you now own... Read More

8 Quick Tips on Creating Vivid, Memorable Characters

These 8 tips on using characters in your stories will... Read More

Inspiring the Poet in You!

Poems. Just the mention of them makes me smile. Why?... Read More

Creating a Writing Space

It's important to have a space set aside in your... Read More

A Mode of Transportation

Great writing transports one vicariously to realms that the reader... Read More

Should You Write a Book?

One morning, you open your inbox and find several e-mails... Read More

Increase Your Chances Of Winning Writing Contests

Winning writing contests can provide several advantages to writers. For... Read More

Gut Check: Quitting Your Full-time Job for Your Freelance Career

It's 6:00 p.m. You're dead tired, but instead of an... Read More

Writing Business Letters That Get The Job Done

Despite the widespread use of e-mail in commerce today, traditional... Read More

How To Build A Successful Freelance Editorial Career

In the current job market, many editorial freelancers have turned... Read More

Untrue Father (A short Story)

Kallu was a tenant of Santosh Kumar Nayak. Santosh Kumar... Read More

How to Use Textpad to Write Articles Faster

It's a good idea to use TextPad because all opt-in... Read More

The Demon Fear

You have a great idea for a poem, a story,... Read More

Using Technology to Improve Your Final Draft

One Saturday afternoon, I sat in a packed conference room... Read More

Vary Your Writing Style and Win Readers

First drafts are for getting down the ideas. Anna Jacobs... Read More

Plagiarism Through The Eyes Of College Students

Plagiarism has been condemned lately by all types of experts,... Read More

8 Tips to Get Publishers to Notice You

If your articles aren't getting published very often, or you... Read More