Report Writing - How to Format a Business Report

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

IntroductionReport writing is a time consuming business so it is a great shame if, having devoted all that time to writing your report, the quality is such that hardly anyone can be bothered to read it. Quite frankly, most report readers do not actually read all the report; they are too short of time. You might as well know it and accept it -- that is normal. They only read the parts that interest them. Frequently these are the summary, the conclusions and recommendations.
Of course, some readers do need all the details you so carefully included, they are specialists, but most do not. Most readers just need two things: that the information they want is where they expect it to be so they can find it, and that it is written clearly so that they can understand it.
It is similar to reading a newspaper. You expect the news headlines to be on the front page; the sports coverage to be at the back; the TV listings on page whatever and the editorial comment in the middle. If what you want is not in its usual place then you have to hunt for it and you may get irritated. So it is with a report.
There is a convention as to what goes where. Stick with the convention and please your readers. Break the convention and people may get slightly irritated – and bin your report.
So what is that convention, the standard format?
Standard Sections
Title Section. In a short report this may simply be the front cover. In a long one it could also include Terms of Reference, Table of Contents and so on.
Summary. Give a clear and very concise account of the main points, main conclusions and main recommendations. Keep it very short, a few percent of the total length. Some people, especially senior managers, may not read anything else so write as if it were a stand-alone document. It isn’t but for some people it might as well be. Keep it brief and free from jargon so that anyone can understand it and get the main points. Write it last, but do not copy and paste from the report itself; that rarely works well.
Introduction. This is the first part of the report proper. Use it to paint the background to ‘the problem’ and to show the reader why the report is important to them. Give your terms of reference (if not in the Title Section) and explain how the details that follow are arranged. Write it in plain English.
Main Body. This is the heart of your report, the facts. It will probably have several sections or sub-sections each with its own subtitle. It is unique to your report and will describe what you discovered about ‘the problem’.
These sections are most likely to be read by experts so you can use some appropriate jargon but explain it as you introduce it. Arrange the information logically, normally putting things in order of priority -- most important first. In fact, follow that advice in every section of your report.
You may choose to include a Discussion in which you explain the significance of your findings.
Conclusions. Present the logical conclusions of your investigation of ‘the problem’. Bring it all together and maybe offer options for the way forward. Many people will read this section. Write it in plain English. If you have included a discussion then this section may be quite short.
Recommendations. What do you suggest should be done? Don’t be shy; you did the work so state your recommendations in order of priority, and in plain English.
Appendices. Put the heavy details here, the information that only specialists are likely to want to see. As a guide, if some detail is essential to your argument then include it in the main body, if it merely supports the argument then it could go in an appendix.
Conclusions and RecommendationsIn conclusion, remember that readers expect certain information to be in certain places. They do not expect to hunt for what they want and the harder you make it for them the more likely they are to toss you report to one side and ignore it. So what should you do?
1. Follow the generally accepted format for a report: Summary, Introduction, Main Body, Conclusions, Recommendations and Appendices. 2. Organise your information in each section in a logical fashion with the reader in mind, usually putting things in order of priority – most important first.


Good luck with your report writing!
Author: Tony Atherton © Tony Atherton 2005)
About the author: Tony Atherton is a freelance trainer and writer based in England. He has had four books published and about 90 of his articles have appeared in various magazines and journals. After an earlier career in industry he now runs in-company training courses in business writing, report writing (including technical reports) and taking minutes, as well as negotiation skills and time management. Over 6000 delegates have attended his courses. See
http://www.tony-atherton.co.uk/reportwriting.htm for details of report writing courses, or see http://www.tony-atherton.co.uk for general information.

How To Write Thank You Letters With Class

When I first started tracking the information preferences of people visiting my Writing Help Central Web site I was surprised to find how many folks were seeking information on how to write thank you letters. In fact, "thank you letter" information and sample templates are the third ranked destinations at that Web site.
However, I caution you to be careful if you conduct a "thank you letter" keyword search using an engine such as google or yahoo. Those top 10 or 20 search results will definitely give you the wrong idea about thank you letters in the broad sense. Looking at those results alone you'll find that the vast majority of so-called experts seem to think that there is essentially only one kind of thank you letter - one written after a job interview.
In reality, this is a very narrow view that fails to recognize the literally dozens of situations for which thank you letters are often warranted. I believe that this proliferation of references to employment-related thank you letters is simply a reflection of the massive number of Web-based businesses involved in the online career and job hunting services industry.
WHEN TO SAY THANK YOU IN WRITING
The purpose of a thank you letter is self-explanatory. Write one when you want to formally thank a person, company or institution for something they have done for you or your organization, which you consider to be out of the ordinary.
Simply receiving a contracted service as requested does not normally warrant a formal thank you. However, service provided to you above and beyond your normal expectations can often call for a special thank you letter. Normally, it should be a clear case of "above and beyond the call of duty", as the saying goes.
And yes, thank you letters can also be important follow-up mechanisms in certain employment-related situations.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of thank you letters -- business thank you letters and personal thank you letters.
Business Thank You Letters
There are many situations in business that can warrant a thank you letter. Here are a few generic examples of thank you letter situations for businesses and institutions:
- Appreciation for any type of special consideration
extended by another organization.
- Thanking a speaker for a presentation at an annual board
meeting.
- Customer appreciation letters - thanking them for their
patronage.
- Thank you letters to employees for exceptional service
or performance.
- Thanks to an individual or organization for a customer
referral.
- Commendations to volunteer service workers for their
personal contributions.
These are just a few examples. I'm sure you can think of many more situations that might demand a thank you letter from a business or institution.
Personal Thank You Letters
As with business situations, there are many instances in day-to-day life that can warrant a formal thank you letter. Following are a few typical situations that often require a personal thank you letter:
- As a follow-up after a job interview and/or job offer.
- To a company or institution in appreciation for
exceptional customer service.
- Letter of appreciation to a teacher for a positive
influence on your child.
- To friends and/or neighbors for their exceptional support
during a difficult period.
- Thanks to a service club or agency for their support to
your family.
- Social occasion thank you's.
Again these are just examples. New situations similar to these arise on a regular basis in our daily lives that call for a formal thank you letter.
7 TIPS FOR WRITING THANK YOU LETTERS
Following are a few tips that will help you whenever you encounter thank you letter situations in your business or personal life.
1. Make Sure It's Appropriate
One of the main issues with respect to thank you letters is to know when to send one. As a general rule, I would say "better to be safe than sorry". However, make sure there is something noteworthy about the situation. A thank you letter for a routine situation doesn't make sense and dilutes their meaning.
2. Write It Promptly
It is always best to send a thank you letter as soon as possible after the event for which you are doing the thanking. It will help with the level of sincerity in your letter if the event is still fresh in your mind. In any case, a delayed thank you letter will seem like an obligatory afterthought to the recipient.
3. Remind The Recipient
In your introductory sentence, make it very clear that it is indeed a thank you letter and that it pertains to a specific event, situation and/or person. This will eliminate any confusion on the part of the recipient as to the purpose of the letter.
4. Make It Short and Direct
Get straight to the point and never exceed one page. Thank you letters should be short, direct, sincere, and to the point. In business situations they will always type-written but personal thank you letters can be hand-written or typed, as appropriate to the situation.
5. Make It Personal
By definition, a thank you letter is a sincere personal gesture from one individual to another. It should be expressed as a heartfelt personal sentiment, even when written in a business situation. At the same time, strive to be balanced in approach and don't be overly effusive.
6. Always Write it To One Person
Always write your thank you letter to an individual, not an organization or group. Even if it's a situation where a group was involved, write your letter to the senior person in the group and/or the group spokesperson. Ask that person to please pass on your sincere appreciation to the other people in the group, and name them in your letter if possible. (Contrary to some advice given by certain so-called experts, in my experience, writing a group letter is never appropriate and achieves little or nothing).
7. Check Spelling and Grammar
As when writing all letters make sure you carefully check your spelling and grammar. This is even more important for thank you letters, since they are almost always a sincere statement of appreciation from one person to another. Be sure to double check the spelling of all names used in the letter. There's no quicker way to blow your credibility and sincerity than to misspell someone's name.
Sending thank you letters when appropriate is important in both business and personal life. Individuals and companies that do not send thank you letters are seen as ungracious and perhaps not worthy of future good deeds or special treatment.
So, whenever it's warranted, make sure you send an appropriate thank you letter. Invariably, thank you letters are very well received and appreciated by recipients, and the sender's reputation is generally enhanced in their eyes.


To see a sample thank you letter, check out the following:
http://writinghelp-central.com/thank-you-letter.html
© 2005 by Shaun Fawcett
Shaun Fawcett, is webmaster of the popular writing help site WritingHelp-Central.com. He is also the author of several best selling "writing toolkit" eBooks. All of his eBooks and his internationally acclaimed f-r-e-e course, "Tips and Tricks For Writing Success" are available at his writing tools site:
http://www.writinghelptools.com