Business and Economics report writing

What is a report?

A report is a well-structured and researched document that informs a specific audience on a particular problem or topic. Frequently, a report aims to guide and influence decision making.

Professionals from many fields regularly write reports. So report writing features largely in university assignments, both as individual and team tasks.

Reports can take many forms and address many different purposes.

In this tutorial we will discuss:

  • the different styles of reports and their intended purpose
  • the features of different sections of a report
  • planning and structuring your reports
  • how to construct each section of a report
  • how to integrate your research into your reports.

This tutorial was adapted from elements of:

  • the Monash Business School's Student Q Manual developed by Associate Professor Nell Kimberley.
  • three reports by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). All excerpts and screenshots from these reports are © Commonwealth of Australia and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

For more citation and copyright information see the Reference list.

Audience and purpose

You need to continually consider who the report is being written for. Are you writing for a client? A manager? Do you have two audiences (e.g. an imaginary client and your lecturer)?

The answers to these questions will guide decisions about how the report is structured, the amount of background information you include, what type of information is required, and how best to present the report, including the level of technical language you use.

All reports share some common features, which differentiate them from other types of writing at University like essays as outlined in the following table.

ReportEssay
Topic
  • Often problem and action oriented
  • Based on reading, field work or practical work
Purpose
  • To investigate, analyse and present information that will influence decision making
  • To articulate a well-argued response to a question or proposition
Audience
  • Established in the topic and is often a client or manager
  • An academic audience
Format
  • Contains an executive summary or abstract
  • Comprises sections with headings
  • May use bullet points, tables, graphs to convey information
  • Does not typically include sections or headings
  • Does not typically include the use of bullet points, tables, graphs
Style
  • Third person or first person
  • Direct, formal language
  • Third or first person
  • Formal language

Reports are meant to be read selectively. This means, the reader may choose to read and refer to sections in a particular order, rather than from start to finish. This is why features like a title page, table of contents, bolded headings, numbering, lettering, and bullet points are important in a report.

Check your knowledge

In the fields below drag and drop each feature to the appropriate communication piece: Report, Essay, or Both.

Research reports

Some assessment tasks at university involve writing a research report to explain a research project or investigation that you have undertaken. Sometimes assignments combine elements of both research and business report formats. The structure of a typical research report includes the following sections:

SectionPurpose
Title of the Report To clearly indicate the problem or topic addressed in the report
Abstract/Synopsis To summarise the aim, methods, findings and conclusions (250 words or less)
Table of Contents Included in longer reports
Introduction To show what you researched and why
Literature Review To provide an overview of current, published knowledge on the topic
Methodology To show how you conducted your investigation
Results What you found
Discussion To provide an analysis of the relevance of your findings, e.g. how they contribute to current knowledge.
Conclusion(s) To summarise and outline your main conclusions
Recommendation(s) To propose actions that should be taken
Supplementaries:

Technical reports

If your task is to write a specific type of report other than a research or business report, you may want to click on one of the following links:

Business reports

The content and structure of a business report will vary according to the report’s purpose and aims. Unlike other types of reports, there are a number of ways to structure the content. 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, what style and presentation considerations are important in your organisation? Refer to your organisation’s examples to ensure compliance with company requirements.

Generally, a formal business report will contain some or all of the following sections, typically presented in this order:

The preliminary section and introduction

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.

Writing considerations

Now that you have an idea of the typical structure of a report you need to come back to considering the purpose and audience of your writing. This will help you decide which sections to add or remove, the writing style of each section and how to convey your argument or critical thinking.

Planning a Business Report

Here is a list of planning steps to consider:

  1. Analyse the problem and identify the purpose of the report
  2. Analyse the audience and the issue
  3. Prepare a work plan and a draft outline
  4. Collect and sort the information you require
  5. Evaluate and organise the information
  6. Revise the draft outline and restructure it if necessary.

Writing Style

You will use different types of writing for different sections within a report. For example:

  • you may use simple past tense to describe procedures and methods.
  • when reviewing what is known in the field you may use the present tense to emphasise the currency of information.
  • when analysing and interpreting information you may use comparative and evaluative language.
  • in your discussion, you may use modal forms such as ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘tend to’, ‘suggests’ because you are speculating rather than describing known facts.

Below is an excerpt from Discussion of  a report published in 2019 by the ACCC entitled the Gas Inquiry Report 2017–2020 Interim Report.



Note the use of tentative language in this excerpt: ‘overall’, ‘suggests that’, ‘may be’, ‘there may not be’, ‘are likely to’, ‘may not have’. Tentative language is used when interpreting or speculating. Adopting this more tentative stance protects the writer from challenge and provides the opportunity to build on or later correct these findings. To some extent a report is an argument and tentative language is one strategy that enables the writer to persuade the reader, especially in the discussion.

Demonstrating critical thinking in the report

Critical thinking is exercised throughout the whole process of writing a report, as you must continuously make decisions about how the purpose of the report and the requirements of the audience can best be met. Critical thinking is exercised in the process of understanding and interpreting the problem, in analysing and evaluating information, in the way you apply relevant theories to your research, and then in formulating your conclusions and devising recommendations.

Examples of critical thinking

The following extract is from the findings section of a management report written for an assignment. In this case, the objective is to state the results of an investigation into the impact of technology on how a manager leads a team.

Find where the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in this extract, then click on the hotspot to check your answer.

Findings Example

Now, let’s look at an extract from the recommendations section of the same report we viewed earlier when we looked at findings. The author’s objective in this section is to present recommendations to the company to help overcome the challenges that technology presents to a manager in leading a team.

How do you think the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in the recommendations? Click on the hotspot below to check your answer.

Recommendations Example

Below is another extract from the discussion section of a marketing report written for another assignment. Its objective is to discuss the implications of the report’s findings, which show the increasing importance of social media as a part of an organisation’s marketing mix.

How do you think the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in the extract from the report’s discussion section? Click on the hotspots below, to check your answer.

Discussion Example

Checklist

Here is a list of questions for you to consider as a checklist when you are finished with writing your report:

  • Have you addressed all parts of the assignment?
  • Have you included enough background information in your introduction?
  • Have you identified the problem clearly?
  • Have you addressed the stated aims and purpose of the report?
  • Have you included enough information about how you carried out the investigation?
  • Have you outlined your findings?
  • Are your findings supported by appropriate evidence?
  • Have you reached conclusions which are based on your main findings?
  • Are your recommendations practical and easy to implement?
  • Are your recommendations fully justified by your report?
  • Have you cited and referenced external sources accurately?

Reference list

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (2020). Communications market report 2019-2020.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (2019). Foreign currency conversion services inquiry.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (2020). Gas inquiry 2017–2025.

Kimberley, N. (2016). Student Q Manual (6th ed.). Caulfield East, Vic: Faculty of Business and
Economics, Monash University.