BusEco: Report writing
The content and structure of a business report will vary according to the report’s purpose and aims. You may be required to follow a predetermined report structure or in some cases you may need to decide on the report structure based on the report’s content and audience. It is important to seek clarification on the most appropriate structure to adopt.
If your report is an academic assignment, start by analysing the task carefully, noting all essential instructions and matching these with the Marking Guide. If necessary, check with your tutor or lecturer. If your report is a professional task (E.g. part of a work-integrated learning project), what style and presentation considerations are important in your organisation? Refer to the organisation’s style guide and any relevant examples to ensure compliance with company requirements.
What makes up a business report
Generally, a formal business report will contain some or all of the following sections, typically presented in this order:
The preliminary section refers to the parts at the beginning of the report before the introduction. It includes the title page, table of contents, glossary (if required) and executive summary.
Reports usually contain an executive summary after the title page. It is intended to inform the time-poor executive of the essential elements of the report. It contains no quotations and is usually no more than one page in length. The executive summary is placed at the beginning of the report, after the title page, but before the introduction.
The executive summary should include the following:
- aim of the report
- description of what has been done in the report
- summary of main findings
- conclusions and recommendations.
The following two excerpts from an Executive Summary in a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) contain good examples of the style of communication required in this section of a report. The first excerpt demonstrates the opening statements and the second excerpt highlights key findings.
Click on the hotspots below to learn more.
The table of contents is a list of different sections or chapters of a report with their corresponding page numbers, which make locating specific information in the report easy and functions as a roadmap to the report. Regardless of the length of your report, the table of contents makes it reader-friendly by enabling easy navigation. The organisational style you choose for the table of contents has implications for the whole document, so choose your system carefully and apply it consistently, indicating section titles, sub-headings and page numbers.
The table of contents can be inserted into most documents automatically using the software’s table of contents function. A brief Google search should help you use this function on your preferred software.
Remember to update the table of contents before you submit!
Similar to the table of contents, reports usually include a list of tables and figures which indicate the titles and page numbers of the visuals used across the report to make them easy to locate. When there are six or more figures, they are often listed on a separate page with their corresponding page numbers in the text. Examples of figures include charts, photographs, drawings, diagrams, illustrations or other non-text depictions (generally anything that is not a table). When there are fewer than six, they can be included in the table of contents. These can also be inserted into a Word document automatically, and should be updated before submission.
The introduction of a report engages the reader and focuses their attention. It should start broadly by providing relevant background (for example a brief history of the organisation, context of topic or problem) and then include a clear statement of the problem to be addressed and/or the purpose of the investigation. Longer reports may include definitions of key terms at this point as well as associated theory. A brief outline of the report should then follow. The outline familiarises the reader with the structure to come. This signposting helps the reader to form expectations about what is presented and navigate the document.
The following excerpt is the start of an introduction in a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). It is a good example of the style of communication required in this section of a report.
The body of the report provides an overview of the problem or topic, the investigation that has been conducted and your findings.
Below are sections you will typically find in a report. Click on the tile of each section to learn more about what goes in those sections and tips on how to construct them.
Check your understanding View
In the fields below drag and drop each feature to the appropriate section of the report: Introduction, Body, Discussion and Conclusion, or Recommendations.
Supplementary information includes appendices, reference list and all other additional information placed at the end of a business report after the recommendations. These sections generally contain useful information that can be of interest to the reader if they wish to search for what the author has cited, or look at the tools or data used to construct an argument in the body of the report.
The Reference list
As with other types of academic writing, a Business Report requires a Reference list which records the details of all sources of information referred to in the report, including all figures and tables that have been externally sourced. Use the appropriate citation style to compile the Reference list accurately e.g. APA 7th.
Always remember to acknowledge your sources of information by using the appropriate citation style.
Many reports include a section where each source is referred to as an appendix (e.g. Appendix 1, Appendix 2…. or Appendix A, Appendix B). Appendices include additional details or lengthy information that has been referred to or identified in the text. For example, tables or figures may be referred to in the text by title, but located in the Appendices. The results of a survey may be referred to in the body of the report, and the original survey document included for the reader’s interest in an Appendix. The Appendices are not included in a word count in an academic assignment.
Check your understanding View
Navigating this resource
You can navigate the pages in this resource by either clicking on the page links here or by clicking the navigation buttons below.