The purpose of writing reports in business is to prepare you for the workplace where most forms of information are communicated in some form of a report. Depending on the aim of the report (and specific business area), a report can require presentation of information only (financial statements for Commerce and Accounting), information with interpretation (product analysis for Marketing) or information with analysis and recommendations (Management and other areas).
What is the difference between an essay and a business report?
|Purpose||Expresses a point of view in relation to a particular claim||Often recommends an action to solve a specific problem|
|Format and structure||Has introduction, body and conclusion sections that normally do not use headings||Uses cohesive paragraphs to link ideas rather than using dot points to list them|
|Uses cohesive paragraphs to link ideas||Uses shorter, more concise paragraphs and dot points where applicable|
|Abstract||Abstracts are not normally needed as readers read the text carefully from start to finish||Always has an abstract (or executive summary) as readers are typically ‘time poor’ and skim and scan through the text quickly|
|Graphics||Rarely uses graphics (such as tables and graphs) as written evidence||Features graphics for supporting main points|
|Writer||Generally the result of individual work||Often the result of group work|
(Adapted from the University of Sydney, n.d.)
General structure of a business report
|Front Contents||Body of the Report||Back Contents|
|– Cover- Title Page- Abstract or Executive Summary- Table of Contents- List of Figures||– Introduction- Findings and Discussion- Conclusions- Recommendations||– Appendices- References- Glossary (if required)|
An executive summary is mainly expected as part of a business report. Although it is similar to an abstract in that they both summarise a paper and have a similar framework (see above), there are key differences. An executive summary:
- is written as a stand-alone document and can be quite long – up to 15% of the word-length of the report;
- starts with the key findings of the research, which are then expanded upon;
- often uses dot points for emphasis and to keep it short;
- has a strong focus on the recommendations and their justification ; and
- must accurately reflect what is in the report (the recommendations are sometimes word for word from the report).
Example: How to write an executive summary (University of Maryland University College, 2014)
Inform the reader of the objective, or purpose, of the report. For a health benefits report model, this paragraph might explain how the report demonstrates that a change in the organisation’s employee health plans would be beneficial to the organisation. The goal of the report is to support a change in the organisation’s benefits policy.
Then you might outline the benefits of the plan or course of action that you recommend. A bulleted list can be an effective way to state the benefits in a clear and concise way. Since an executive summary will not contain extensive data or details, this is an excellent way to summarise data in the report. For example, the organisation should consider a change for the following reasons:
- The organisation is currently spending an average of 32% of its annual earnings on benefits.
- The current health insurance is unsatisfactory according to the employees, since the current provider has raised deductibles and reduced benefits.
- A change to plan ABC from company XYZ would increase both profitability and employee satisfaction.
- Better health benefits will also improve the company’s ability to recruit and hire talented job candidates.
Finally, conclude the report with a specific recommendation based on the information in the summary. The organisation needs to switch to company XYZ’s health package at the beginning of the next fiscal year, since this will increase profitability and employee satisfaction.
The content of an business report introduction is similar to an essay introduction as it moves from general to specific information. You should write this part after you have written the body of the report. Answer questions like “What is this report about ?” and “How is it useful ?” and include:
- brief background information
- a description of the overall purpose and key objectives
- an overview of the issues that you will discuss (scope)
- an outline of any limitations to the report, or assumptions.
Do not be confused by an introduction and an executive summary as business reports can often have both. Be sure to check with your Lecturer or tutor to establish if you need one, the other or both.
For more details about the content of each section of a report, go to Section content for reports.