Reports are very useful, if they are written properly. It has to be well structured and informational. Learn the 10 key elements of a good report.
Writing a report can be very easy indeed that is if you know what exactly you are doing. So, how do you write a report? To answer this question first we need to understand what a report is. A report is information organized in a certain way.
Mostly reports contain data on summing up the events, work results over periods of time, problems, achievements, numbers, summaries, etc. This information has to be organized in tables, graphics, or texts so that the readers would not have a hard time understanding and “digesting” it. As a rule reports are put together for a certain purpose and for a defined audience of people. Now, there are several kinds of reports you may write.
Main types of reports
There are many types of reports, but we will take a look at some of the major report categories and subsections.
- Periodic reports
Regularity is the main trace of these reports. As a rule, they are scheduled and contain data on performance results, productivity, personal or corporate performance, finances, etc. They can be written once a year, quarterly, or monthly. They may include reports on trips, conferences, activities, business plan efficacy, etc. In most cases, such reports are written after a certain pattern and this pattern has to be maintained unchanged in all the periodic reports.
- Groundwork reports
As a rule these reports are put together before the project is started. They may contain investigation or research data to base your decision on. Such reports are called preliminary or white paper reports. A person may examine some ways to improve company’s work or efficacy and provide the information gathered during the research in a form of a groundwork report.
Another type of groundwork report is the analysis report. A client may have a certain difficulty and such report should contain exact definition and description of client’s problem or need. It defines the need and leads up to finding the best possible solutions. Such reports may be written in a form of proposals; they may contain recommendations, results, etc.
- Advancement reports
This type of reports describe the progress made along the way in a project. Such reports can be scheduled the same way as the periodic reports are. They may contain tables, graphics and text. As a rule such reports contain test data, financial reports, strategic plans, design report data, etc.
- Scientific reports
These reports may include top edge scientific data or some foundational information. People read such things to get knowledge on new discoveries and to understand how legitimate the information you are presenting to them is.
Report HOW-TOs: data, structure and layout
All reports have something in common: they have to be well structured. Now, reports can be of two major types: short and extended. A short report should have the following structure:
A title has to be relevant and a can’t-miss-it type. Nowadays folks are very cautious on how they spend their time, so they are willing to read only something that is relevant to them. Make sure your report Title captivates their attention and motivates them to dig into the report. It’s a good idea to state your main benefit in the title. Let’s get an example: Youth Employment in Nigeria: 5 best employment areas for young people.
See, this title not only describes what report is about. It hints that reading your report may help someone to find the best job. Such titles motivate people to hear what you have to say and spend time reading your report.
- Cover page
You may use either cover page or introduction section in your report. These things are inter exchangeable. Cover page works the same way as cover letter does. It’s your first contact with the reader. It does not have to repeat or even summaries the whole report, but rather provide valid reasons to go on reading it.
Clearly state the problem covered in your report. Get people some ideas on how your report flows and of its scope. Plus, hint at the solution it offers to the stated problem.
- Table of contents
This part is applicable, if you write a long report with many sections in it. Plus, it works well, if your report remains relevant for good. Some reports get outdated very quickly and they should be shorter and written in a more dynamic way.
However, scientific reports or those with long shelf life should have contents to help the reader easily find the info they need.
- Main data layout
Do not just use plain text in your report. Since you have some digits and comparison data to present, use tables and graphics. They are much more eye catching than plain text.
The best thing is that you do not have to become a graphic designer guru to create excellent and highly visual reports. You may find many tools online to help you do the job well. Here is one of them: http://www.datapine.com/online-reporting. You can have a free trial membership on this site and use their tools to help you create colorful and great reports.
If you need tables created for your reports, you can use MS Excel software.
This program allows you to make tables and graphic visuals for your data. If you are not an Excel pro, you may visit this site http://excel.tips.net/ to get more information and some practical Excel skills.
Keep in mind that one picture is worth thousand words. You may use captivating photos to highlight your key report thoughts or conclusions.
Highlight your main arguments and support them with the valid information, references and data. Analyze your data and link it with the core problem. Lay down the foundation for your report conclusions or the wrap-up.
This part of the report has to be well structured and engaging. If you plan on placing your report online on your web resource and want people not just to get your data, but to do something with it, you may place your Call to action here.
Back your conclusions and data up with some references. This would make your report more trustworthy. You may use links to back up your info and direct people to various research results done by experts.
If you are using any citations in your report, you should make sure to use formal format for them. You may indicate them in the reference part of the report. You should also provide the sources of the citations to make your report look credible. You surely do not want to steal any data without giving proper credit to its source.
Here is where you repeat the main ideas and thoughts stated in the report and once again you can place your Call to action here. It is very important to be concise and persuasive here.
Some people may skip the entire report and just read your conclusions. They have to be interesting enough to make them want to go back and read the whole thing.
This list could be used as a guideline to structure out your report. A more extended report may have more text and more sections in it. It may contain test results and analysis data, materials and methods, plans, proposals, objectives, appendices, etc.
Reports are great for drawing people’s attention, providing them with your dynamic and structured data and leading them up to certain actions you want them to take. That is why you should learn how to write a good report. Putting together professional and highly visual report can help you captivate the attention of people and achieve the desired results.