Business report introduction sample

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How to write a business report (This handbook has been written in collaboration with the School of Marketing and International Business, and Student Learning, Victoria University of Wellington) April 2017 Contents Introduction ........................................................................................... 1 1 Planning your business report .......................................................... 2 1.1 What is the purpose of this report? ................................................................... 2 1.2 Who are the readers of this report? .................................................................. 2 1.3 What are the report’s main messages?............................................................. 3 1.4 How will the messages be structured? .............................................................. 3 2 Structuring your business report ..................................................... 4 2.1 Covering letter/memorandum ............................................................................ 4 2.2 Title Page .......................................................................................................... 5 2.3 Executive Summary .......................................................................................... 5 2.4 Table of Contents .............................................................................................. 5 2.5 Introduction ....................................................................................................... 6 2.6 Conclusions/recommendations ......................................................................... 6 2.7 Findings and discussion .................................................................................... 8 2.8 References ........................................................................................................ 8 2.9 Appendices ....................................................................................................... 8 3 Writing your business report .......................................................... 10 3.1 Use effective headings and subheadings ........................................................ 10 3.2 Structure your paragraphs well ....................................................................... 11 3.3 Write clear sentences with plain language ...................................................... 12 3.4 Keep your writing professional ........................................................................ 13 3.5 Use white space and well-chosen fonts .......................................................... 14 3.6 Number your pages......................................................................................... 15 3.7 Use footnotes, tables, figures, and appendices appropriately ......................... 15 i Introduction Writing an effective business report is a necessary skill for communicating ideas in the business environment. Reports usually address a specific issue or problem, and are often commissioned when a decision needs to be made. They present the author’s findings in relation to the issue or problem and then recommend a course of action for the organisation to take. The key to a good report is in-depth analysis. Good writers will show their reader how they have interpreted their findings. The reader will understand the basis on which the conclusions are drawn as well as the rationale for the recommendations. Report writing uses some of the writing skills you have already acquired. You will structure your paragraphs and reference your ideas just as you have been doing in your essays and other assignments within your Commerce degree. You might want to refer to the Victoria Business School Writing Skills Workbook you received in the first year. Report writing sometimes differs in structure and style. This handbook will help you plan, structure, and write a basic report. Remember, though, that reports will vary according to their purpose and the needs of their reader/s. Throughout your university career, different courses and/or different lecturers may have slightly different requirements for reports. Please always check the requirements for each assignment. Acknowledgement We acknowledge Write Limited, New Zealand’s plain English specialists. Many of their principles for good business writing are reflected in this handbook. A reference to their style guide is found in the reference list on p 17. 1 1 Planning your business report As in all writing, planning is vitally important. The key questions to ask yourself when planning a business report are:  what is the purpose of this report  who are the readers of this report  what are the report’s main messages  how will the report be structured? 1.1 What is the purpose of this report? Keep in mind that the purpose of a business report is generally to assist in decision making. Be sure you are clear on what decision is to be made and the role the report plays in this decision. It might be useful to consider the purpose in this way: As a result of this report, my reader/s will … For example: As a result of this report, my reader/s will know: - how well our recycling programme is doing - how to increase participation in it. 1.2 Who are the readers of this report? Consider the main reader/s, but also secondary readers. The main reader for the recycling report alluded to above is the director of the recycling programme. Secondary readers might be the facilities management team on campus, the finance team, etc. Try to understand what the readers already know, what they need to know, and how they will use this report. You will need to give enough information to satisfy all these potential readers. You will need to use headings carefully so that different readers can use the report in different ways. 2 1.3 What are the report’s main messages?  Taking into account the information above, think carefully about the main message/s you need to convey, and therefore what information is required. Ask yourself: What are the required pieces of information I need to include?  What are the additional pieces of information I need to include? 1.4 How will the messages be structured? The modern business approach is direct (or deductive, to use a more sophisticated term). This approach presents the conclusions or recommendations near the beginning of the report, and the report provides justification for these recommendations. This approach will be used for the remainder of this handbook and for report writing in general in the Victoria Business School (Commerce Faculty). It should be noted, however, that there is sometimes a place for the indirect (inductive) approach. This approach leads the reader through the discussion first and reveals the conclusions and recommendations at the end of the report. This approach might be used if the recommendations are likely to be controversial or unpopular (Emerson, 1995). The next step is to construct an outline, or structure, for your report. Check for a logical flow, and check your outline against your purpose, your reader/s, and the report’s relevant information requirements. 3 2 Structuring your business report A business report may contain:  a covering letter or memorandum  a title page  an executive summary  a table of contents  an introduction  conclusions  recommendations  findings and discussion  a list of references  appendices. 2.1 Covering letter/memorandum Often a letter is attached to a report to officially introduce the report to the recipient. If the recipient is outside the organisation, a letter format is appropriate; if the recipient is inside the organisation, a memorandum/memo is appropriate. The covering letter or memorandum should:  remind the reader of their request for the report  state the purpose of the report  acknowledge any assistance  indicate future actions to be taken. 4 2.2 Title Page The title page should be brief but descriptive of the project. It should also include the date of completion/submission of the report, the author/s, and their association/organisation. 2.3 Executive Summary The executive summary follows the title page, and should make sense on its own. The executive summary helps the reader quickly grasp the report’s purpose, conclusions, and key recommendations. You may think of this as something the busy executive might read to get a feel for your report and its final conclusions. The executive summary should be no longer than one page. The executive summary differs from an abstract in that it provides the key recommendations and conclusions, rather than a summary of the document. 2.4 Table of Contents The table of contents follows the executive summary on a new page. It states the pages for various sections. The reader receives a clear orientation to the report as the table of contents lists all the headings and sub-headings in the report. These headings and sub-headings should be descriptive of the content they relate to (see section 3 of this handbook). 5 2.5 Introduction The introduction sets the stage for the reader. It gives the context for the report and generates the reader’s interest. It orients the reader to the purpose of the report and gives them a clear indication of what they can expect. The introduction should:  briefly describe the context  identify the general subject matter  describe the issue or problem to be reported on  state the specific questions the report answers  outline the scope of the report (extent of investigation)  preview the report structure  comment on the limitations of the report and any assumptions made. (Adapted from Emerson, 1995, p. 35) 2.6 Conclusions/recommendations A business report usually needs both conclusions and recommendations. The difference between conclusions and recommendations in a report lies in the orientation to time. Conclusions typically relate to the present or past situation. When writing conclusions:  interpret and summarise the findings; say what they mean  relate the conclusions to the report issue/problem  limit the conclusions to the data presented; do not introduce new material  number the conclusions and present them in parallel form  be objective: avoid exaggerating or manipulating the data. (Guffey, Rhodes & Rogin, 2001, p. 391) 6 Recommendations are oriented to the future: what changes are recommended, or what actions are recommended for the future? They are specific, action-oriented suggestions to solve the report problem. When writing recommendations:  make specific suggestions for actions to solve the report problem  avoid conditional words such as maybe and perhaps  present each suggestion separately and begin with a verb  number the recommendations  describe how the recommendations may be implemented (if you were requested to do this)  arrange the recommendations in an announced order, such as most important to least important. (Guffey, et al. 2001, p. 392) Although the conclusions and recommendations are presented before the discussion, they need to logically flow from the discussion. Taking a deductive approach allows the reader insight into your conclusions/recommendations early on. When your reader reads the discussion afterwards, they will follow it more easily. Here are some examples of conclusions and recommendations: Conclusions Recommendations Home and family responsibilities directly Provide managers with training in working affect job attendance and performance. with personal and family matters. Time is the crucial issue to balancing Institute a flexitime policy that allows work and family income. employees to adapt their work schedule to home responsibilities. A manager supportive of family and Publish a quarterly employee newsletter personal concerns is central to a good devoted to family and child-care issues. work environment. (Adapted from Guffey, et al. 2001, p. 391-392) 7 2.7 Findings and discussion The discussion is the main part of your report and should present and discuss your findings. It should give enough information, analysis, and evidence to support your conclusions, and it should provide justification for your recommendations. Its organisation will depend on your purpose, scope, and requirements, but it should follow a logical and systematic organisation. The discussion should be subdivided into logical sections, each with informative, descriptive headings and a number. Where your report’s purpose is to recommend the best solution to a problem, you should show clear analysis of all options. You should explain any analytical framework you used, such as SWOT or cost benefit analysis. This analysis of options can often be presented effectively in tables. 2.8 References Whenever you use information from other sources, references must be provided in-text and in a list of references. The style of referencing may be dictated by your faculty or organisation. The Faculty of Commerce at Victoria uses APA. See the Victoria Business School Writing Skills Workbook (that you were given in first year in the FCOM 111 course) for information on APA referencing or see the APA manual (APA, 2010). You can download a copy of the Writing Skills Workbook from the VBS website. 2.9 Appendices If material is important to your discussion and is directly referred to, then it should be included in your discussion proper. However, you might want to use appendices to include supplementary material that enhances understanding for the reader. You might use appendices to provide details on the process or analysis you underwent (or which was required by your supervisor or lecturer). 8 When you choose to include information in appendices, you should refer to it clearly in your text (refer Appendix A). A single appendix should be titled APPENDIX. Multiple appendices are titled APPENDIX A, APPENDIX B, etc. Appendices appear in the order that they are mentioned in the text of the report. Appendices should:  provide detailed explanation serving the needs of specific readers  be clearly and neatly set out  be numbered/lettered  be given a descriptive title  be arranged in the order they are mentioned in the text  be related to the report’s purpose—not just ‘tacked on’. (Adapted from Emerson, 1995, p. 41) A checklist of elements of a good business report is provided in Appendix A. 9 3 Writing your business report Now that you have organised your thoughts, you need to put them into writing. Ensure your writing demonstrates clarity and logic. You should think constantly about your readers and make your report easy for them to read. To achieve good readability, you should:  use effective headings and subheadings  structure your paragraphs well  write clear sentences with plain language  keep your writing professional  use white space and well-chosen fonts  number your pages  use footnotes, tables, figures, and appendices appropriately. 3.1 Use effective headings and subheadings Headings and subheadings are useful tools in business writing. Ensure they are descriptive of the content to follow. In other words, rather than labelling a section Section 2.5, it would be better to describe it as 2.5 Justification for the high risk scenario. It is also essential that the hierarchy of headings and subheadings is clear. Use formatting (font size, bold, etc.) to show headings versus subheadings. Headings/subheadings at the same level should use parallel form (the same grammatical construction). The following examples illustrate this principle. Ineffective headings with non- Effective headings with parallel parallel construction construction Establishing formal sales Establish formal sales organisation organisation Production department Define responsibilities within the responsibilities production department Improve cost-accounting Improve cost accounting (Adapted from Munter, 1997, p. 53) 10 Use sentence case for headings. This means that your first word should have a capital letter, but subsequent words have small letters, unless, of course, they are proper nouns (Write Limited, 2013). Remember to ensure that all material placed underneath a heading serves that heading. It is easy to go off on a tangent that does not relate to a heading. Remember also that all content must relate to your purpose. Every time you write a new section of your report, check that it fulfils the purpose of the report. 3.2 Structure your paragraphs well Your headings will help create logical flow for your reader, but under each heading, you should create a series of paragraphs that are also logically ordered and structured. Paragraphs should be ordered in a logical sequence beginning with the most important material first. Within your paragraphs you should also use a structure that helps your reader. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that states the main idea or topic of the paragraph. Typically a paragraph will have between 100 and 200 words and will have the following structure.  Topic sentence (states main idea of paragraph)  Explanation sentence (explains or expands on the topic sentence)  Support sentences (give evidence for the idea in the topic sentence and include statistics, examples, and citations)  Concluding sentence (optional final sentence that answers the question ‘so what?’; this is your opportunity to show your critical thinking ability) Remember to link your paragraphs well. The first sentence (usually the topic sentence) is a good place to make a link between paragraphs. One of the most common ways to link paragraphs is to use the principle, ‘something old, something new’. This means you will include a word or phrase that contrasts 11 the topic of the previous paragraph with the topic of your new paragraph. Take a look at the topic sentence at the beginning of this section 3.2. You will see that this topic sentence links to the material before it. For an example showing how to link ideas in a paragraph using the ‘something old, something new’ principle, see Appendix B. 3.3 Write clear sentences with plain language Academic and business writing should be clear. You want to clearly communicate your understanding of the topic and the strength of your argument. In order to do this, keep your sentences short and use plain language where you can (Write Limited, 2013). Sentences that are too long and complicated are difficult to understand. A good average length is 15–20 words (roughly 1.5 lines). Try not to go over 2 lines. Sometimes students try to use big words in order to sound academic. This is not always a good idea. If you need a big (sometimes technical) word, fine. However, if a shorter one does the job, use it. For example, use is better than utilise, and change is better than modification. Look at the following example. Phase one of the project included the collection of a range of data and research material completed during 2011, which was utilised in the creation of a range of soon to be finalised analyst ‘personas’, and input into the planning of a new enhanced information architecture for the business’s online channel, particularly resources for current analysts. Now look at a plainer version. In 2011, the team undertook phase one of the project. They collected a range of data and research material. Using this collected material, they created analyst ‘personas’. They also began to plan an enhanced information architecture for the business’s online channel. Current analysts can use some of the resources the team have created. 12 You will notice some of the sophisticated words have changed to plainer ones. You will also notice that the sentences are shorter and easier to understand. Another change relates to ‘active voice’. You will notice that the first example uses some ‘passive voice’: which was utilised. Passive voice enables writers to omit the people (or doers) from their sentences. However, readers often appreciate knowing ‘who’ does something. You will notice in the second example, the writer adds a doer: team. This means the writer can now use the active voice: In 2011, the team completed…All of these techniques—short sentences, plainer language, and active voice—will help your reader understand your message in one reading. This is especially important in business writing where readers have busy working days. 3.4 Keep your writing professional Ensure you use an appropriate tone for your readers. Where possible, use personal pronouns we and you: We recommend you check the building’s foundations. Personal pronouns create a friendly tone that is appropriate for New Zealand business and government. They also help the writer avoid the passive voice. And, as stated above, readers like to know ‘who’ will do something. However, sometimes you might want a more formal tone where personal pronouns are not appropriate. In these cases, you can use words like research or report as your sentence subject: This report discusses…, This research has found that… . Another way of ensuring appropriate tone is to avoid terms that may be interpreted as offensive to ethnic or other groups. Be careful to use gender-neutral terms. For example, use plural pronouns (they when referring to clients) rather than gender-specific pronouns (he or he/she). Another aspect of tone relates to the use of contractions. Contractions are words like we’ve or it’s. They are informal. For many business reports and for all academic reports, you will need to avoid them and write we have or it is. Other important characteristics of professional writing are editing and proofreading. You should leave 24 hours between writing your draft and editing it. You should also leave another 24 hours between editing and proofreading. Leaving time between these stages of the writing process allows 13 you to detach yourself from your writing and put yourself in your reader’s shoes. When editing, check for:  illogical structure  missing headings  irrelevant or missing content  unnecessary content  redundant phrases or words. When proofreading, check for:  grammar  punctuation  spelling  formatting  consistency. Remember to leave enough time for these last two stages. Thorough editing and proofreading will make a big difference to the readability of your report (as well as to your marks), and it is a courtesy to the reader. 3.5 Use white space and well-chosen fonts White space refers to the empty space on the page. Business reports which have a more balanced use of white space and text are easier to read and more effectively communicate main points and subordinate ideas. Create white space by:  using lots of headings and subheadings  creating large margins along all edges (usually 2.5–3cm)  breaking up your page with tables, charts, and graphs where possible  using bulleted lists. 14 3.6 Number your pages Your title page has no number. Use Roman numerals for the executive summary and table of contents (i, ii, iii), and Arabic numbers for the remainder of the report (1, 2, 3 …). 3.7 Use footnotes, tables, figures, and appendices appropriately Footnotes should be used sparingly. Points that are important can usually be integrated into the text. Footnotes or endnotes should not be used for referencing (see References above). In business reports, tables and figures are often used to represent data, processes, etc. Tables and figures should be inserted in the text of the document, close to the discussion of the table/figure. If the information is something which the reader could refer to rather than should refer to, then it may go in the appendices. Tables and figures have different purposes. A table contains an array of numbers or text (such as a SWOT table). A figure is something that contains graphical content, such as graphs created in Excel, organisational charts, or flow charts. Insert each table/figure one-and-a-half or two lines below the text. The table/figure should be identified with a label and title which describes the content, for example, Table 1. GDP of New Zealand, 1988–2002. If a table, figure, or appendix is included in a document, then there must be text that refers to it The text should refer to it by name (As Table 1 shows ….). The text should explain the highlights of the table or figure, not every detail. Do not leave it to the reader to try to figure out why you included the table or figure in your document. At the same time, ensure that your tables/figures supplement and clarify the text but do not completely duplicate it. Also ensure that there is sufficient information in the table or figure so that the reader can understand it without having to consult the text. 15 Footnotes immediately underneath the table or figure should be used to explain all abbreviations and symbols used. Do not forget to add the source of your material. 16 4 Concluding remarks Now that you have the tools to develop your report, your communication should be more efficient and effective. Individual schools may have specific requirements for your report, so check with your course coordinators in case they have specific requirements. For example, the School of Marketing and International Business provides the guide attached in Appendix C. A sample report for general business writing is provided in Appendix D. Don’t forget to make use of the resources at Student Learning should you require more guidance. Happy writing 17 References APA. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Emerson, L. (Ed.) (1995). Writing guidelines for business students. Palmerston North: The Dunmore Press. Guffey, M. E., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2001). Business communication: rd Process and product (3 Canadian ed.). Scarborough, Ontario: Nelson Thomson Learning. Munter, M. (1997). Guide to managerial communication: Effective business th writing and speaking (4 ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Write Limited, (2013). The Write Style Guide for New Zealanders: A manual for business editing. Wellington, New Zealand: Write Limited. 18