If you’re looking for the best way to document information or share your findings in a professional and well thought out manner, a report might be the best way to go. But if you don’t know how to write a report, where should you start?
Report writing is different from many other types of writing, which is why it’s a good idea to do your due diligence before you get started.
What do you need to include in your report? How should you flesh out each section?
There are different report formats based on your specific needs, but the structure tends to remain similar for each.
Let’s go over our steps for how to write a report properly so you can effectively communicate your findings.
1 Determine Your Objective
First and foremost, why are you writing this report? What is the point or goal? Is this an academic report or is it business-related? Perhaps you need to put together an annual report, sales report or financial report.
Also consider who your audience is. Your report might be internal for company use only, or it might be external to present to investors, customers and more.
Is this a periodic report that you’re going to have to revisit every month, quarter or year? Is it for people above you in the company or is it for your department?
Understanding your objective is important to know what your content will contain and where you’ll need to go to pull your information.
2 Put Together an Outline
Never start writing anything without putting together an outline first. This will help you to structure your report, understand what resources you need in order to find all of your results and materials and more.
This outline doesn’t need to be too in depth, but it does give you a starting point for your full report. You can then refer back to this outline throughout your report writing process.
Start with the purpose or objective of your report, then list out your main points and a few bullets underneath that you want to make sure you cover in the contents of your report.
Your outline might look something like this:
3 Gather Your Research
Start searching around your topic and gather the research you need to put together your report. This might be online sources, journals, experiments or just analytics and numbers from your company CRM or sales software.
Add all of the research to your outline so that you know which numbers and information pertains to each of your main points.
Once you’ve finished gathering everything you need to complete your report, you can get started writing.
You might need to go back and find more information and do more research throughout, and that’s okay. But once you feel like you have a grasp of the material you need to cover, you can move onto the next step.
4 How to Write a Report Cover Page
Now we’re ready to get started on your report cover page! When you’re first working on your cover page, it’s a good idea to start with a template.
This helps you to spice up your report design and make it more than a black and white word document. It can also help you design your title page in an aesthetically pleasing way so it stands out to your audience.
Check out this Visme report template cover page below.
When determining how to write a report cover page, there are up to five things you will want to include, the most important of which is naturally your report’s title.
Others include who the report is for, who the report was prepared by (you!), the date or your department within your company.
Having this information right on the report cover page is the best way to let your reader know at a glance exactly what is inside of the report and who it’s for.
5 How to Write a Report Table of Contents
The next part of your report will be your table of contents. While you might not know exactly how your report will be laid out yet, your outline will help you get started here.
As you write your report – or even when you finish writing it – you can come back and update the table of contents to match your headings and subheadings.
Because you want to make it easy to navigate, ensure that all of your page titles and subheadings correlate exactly with what you place in your table of contents.
Take a look at the table of contents in the below report template.
See how they have obvious dividers so it’s easy to determine which section begins on which page? You want to make sure you emulate something similar.
You an have a dotted line or other visual flow element that guides the reader’s eye across the table straight to the page number.
Just make sure there’s no confusion in locating the correct page number for each section.
6 How to Write a Report Introduction
The first section you start writing in your report is always a summary or introduction. This should stretch across just one or two pages to give your reader a brief glimpse into what your results or findings are.
Talk about the methodology used to gather the material you cover within your report, whether it was research, an experiment, gathering analytics, looking through CRM data, calculating revenue and more.
You also want to include visuals to help tell your story. This could be anything from photography to icons or graphics. You might even include shapes to help with your design.
Here’s an example of a proposal report introduction with a nice page design and black and white photo to offset the text.
7 How to Write a Report Body
Now we’re getting into the meat of your report. You’ve already put together your outline, gathered your research and created your cover page, table of contents and introduction.
This means you should know exactly what the main part of your report is going to contain, making it easier for you to dive into the body.
While reports can vary greatly in length, with shorter reports containing 7-15 pages and longer reports ranging anywhere from 30-50 pages or more, the length tends to depend on your topic. Shorter reports focus on one single topic with longer reports covering multiple.
Take these steps to properly write an effective report body.
Split the body into sections.
Although you’ll have each of your main headers in your table of contents – i.e., your introduction, body and conclusion – you’ll also want to include your subheadings.
And you’ll want to divide your report body into various sections based on what it covers.
If you’re creating an annual report, you might divide this up by different months. If you’re creating a financial report, perhaps you’ll divide it up based on various stats and numbers.
There are many different ways to divide your report body into sections, but just like we’ve broken this article up into different subheadings, it’s important to do so. This helps make it easier for your reader to digest each of the different sections.
Take a look at how this report template has broken up the body into bite-sized chunks.
Dive into your results and findings.
This is where you’ll really get into all of the research you gathered and talk about your topic. Over the course of the subheadings you’ve previously laid out, flesh each one out with the results you’ve discovered.
Reports tend to be more formal in nature, so keep that in mind as you write. Veer away from a more conversational tone, avoid the use of contractions and properly cite all of your sources and results.
Make sure you cover every aspect of your report’s topics, including the most relevant statistics, up-to-date research and more.
Use data visualizations and graphic organizers.
Don’t fill your report to the brim with just text. Including images, icons, graphics, charts and graphic organizers is a great way to further visualize your content and make your point.
If you’re creating a financial report or sales report, data visualizations are key to showcasing your numbers and statistics in an easily digestible way.
Here’s an example of one of our templates that includes charts and graphs within the report pages to make it even easier to understand.
Learning how to tell a story with data is essential to creating a good report. But you don’t want to stop at just data visualization tools within your report.
Incorporating photos and graphics into your report design is another great way to represent your text and engage your reader. Reports get a bad rap for being boring walls of text, but we encourage you to think outside the box.
Use stock photography and vector icons to help convey your point.
Take a look at the template page below and how it creatively brings in various types of visuals to add more to the page.
Test out each of Visme’s data visualization tools, stock photo library, vector icon selection and more to help your report stand out from the crowd.
Cover the materials used.
Make sure you include which materials were used to find your results and each of your sources. Sometimes this section will be short and sweet, by simply mentioning your CRM or other software that you used to pull numbers. Others will be longer.
Whether you used your company’s data or determined your results using an experiment or a third-party source, be sure to include each and every resource used within your report.
Summarize each section.
Not every section in your report body will be long enough to need a summary, but if you have a section that includes a lot of information or stretches across a couple of pages, it’s a good idea to summarize it at the end.
This will help your reader make sure they retained all of the information and allow them to skim through your report at a later date by reading your section summaries.
8 How to Write a Report Conclusion
You’re almost done! Now it’s time to write your conclusion and finalize your report.
First, start by summarizing your points. Yes, you wrote small summaries for each section in the body, but now you’re going to give an overall summary of your report’s contents.
Refer to your findings and discuss what they mean. While your body was more for demonstrating your results, you can use the conclusion to talk about their context in the real world, or what they mean for your business.
Then you’ll want to talk about next steps. If your results weren’t as positive as you were hoping, write about what the plan is to make sure they improve for the next time around. Lay out your goals and strategies for using these findings.
And make sure you’re not introducing any new information. While you may be talking about the information in a different way, you should still be exclusively referring to data and content that is already found in your report.
9 Include Your Sources
You covered your materials and resources used in a section of your report body, but the end of each report should include an entire bibliography that lists each one of your sources in alphabetical order so the reader can easily access more information.
You can also include acknowledgements, giving thanks to particular organizations or people that helped you put together your report contents.
And depending on the purpose of your report, you might also want to include a glossary at the end to help define industry terms for external readers who might not fully understand.