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Module Eleven - Writing a business report


Getting started

This module gives general advice on writing a business report using the topic of the wine industry as an example. From this example you should get a good sense of the process involved in writing a report.

You will learn through this example to:

  • Analyse a New Zealand business situation.
  • Research, analyse and evaluate secondary information to support your understanding and analysis of a New Zealand industry sector.
  • Present your business situation assessment as a formal business report.

Before starting to write a business report you need to:

  • Define the scope of the report.
  • Specifically address the needs and requirements of the recipient.
  • Research, analyse and evaluate information sources to support your understanding and analysis of the situation.

What is the purpose of a business report?

Business reports are commonly used to help people make decisions. They provide comprehensive information and expert opinion that aims to be objective, accurate and complete. A report might help someone decide:

  • Whether or not to invest in a business venture.
  • Whether there is consumer potential for a particular product.
  • If a business idea is viable.

It is important that environmental business scanning is thorough and accurate. Information that is incorrect or incomplete could lead the client to draw the wrong conclusion and make the wrong decision.

Writing a business report gives the opportunity to apply business theory to a real life business situation. Your writing must be directed to the needs of the recipient. What information do they need to enable them to make the best business decision?

Your ideas should remain objective. If you draw conclusions, these should be supported by evidence from your business research.

How good is my report?

What are the criteria that a business report might be be marked against?

A marker would assess a number of key areas including:

Content - Is the content relevant to the purpose of the report? Have ideas been analysed and explained clearly? Some reports draw conclusions, some make formal recommendations. With this report you may come to some conclusions which will assist your client.

Research - Were relevant quality information sources used to support ideas in the report? Are information sources correctly referenced using APA format both in the text of the report and in the reference list? See Module 2 and Module 6 for help with business information sources.

Organisation - Are the main ideas presented in the report clear and easy for a busy manager to read and follow? Is a report structure adhered to using headings and a logical order?

Writing mechanics - Are there any errors in spelling, grammar or style that the client may see as sloppy or unprofessional? When you read your report aloud, does it flow well? Does it appear professional?

Define the scope and map out your ideas

In this step you need to think about the purpose of the report and decide what information needs to be covered. You may want to begin with a preliminary outline to guide you when doing the research for your report. At this stage you may also want to write an introductory paragraph to define the purpose of the report.

You need to ask yourself some questions:

  • What is the report about? Write ideas for an outline structure.
  • This scope and outline will help shape your research, your writing, and your time frame. What research needs to be done? Make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
Mapping out your ideas in a diagram form can be a useful way of organising your thoughts.
  • The aim is to produce a map or outline that is detailed enough to guide you in your writing and enable changes and new ideas to be added as you go. Be prepared to be flexible with your plan as new information comes to hand.
  • It is useful to brainstorm synonyms, words and terms associated with the wine industry that could be used or combined as keywords in a search. These could be terms such as:
    • Wineries
    • Vineyards
    • Grape growing
    • Viticulture
  • Put ideas and keywords under headings and subheadings and list down all your ideas.

Every business report scenario is different. Here are some examples of questions you might be asking if you were researching the New Zealand wine industry.

Know your audience

The next step is planning the business report to suit the needs and requirements of the recipient. This will influence how the report is written and the type of information you include. This could be how technical the content is, or how much knowledge the recipient may have about New Zealand business.

Consider the recipient's

  • Business requirements for the report
  • Position of authority
  • Knowledge on the intended topic

Report structure

While there are different ways to structure a business report, a basic report structure consists of a number of main sections. You may be asked to include all or some of the sections below:

Cover letter

When a report is going to a recipient outside the writer's work environment a cover letter is required. The cover letter introduces the writer to the recipient and reiterates the understandings for the report. According to Emerson (2009) its function is to pass the report over officially from writer to reader, remind the reader of the terms of reference agreed upon for the report and indicate a willingness to supply more if help is required. Keep remarks brief. In the opening, explain what is being sent and why. Further information could include points of particular interest. Suitable content for a closing paragraph is any acknowledgements, offering more assistance and expressing hope that the report satisfies the reader's needs.

Executive summary

The executive summary is a concise summary of the contents of the report that enables the recipient, as a busy time-short manager, to get a quick overview of the major points and conclusions of the report. Summarise the key findings and points so that a clear overview of the report's content can be conveyed without the manager reading the report in its entirety.

Tip: Write the Executive Summary after you have written the report.

Table of contents

By giving page numbers, the table of contents directs the reader to the key sections in the report and shows the contents of the report in logical order.

Tip: Ensure that the headings of the Table of Contents match the headings in your report.

Report body

1.1 Introduction – this includes:

  • Why the report was requested.
  • The purpose of the report.
  • The scope of the subject matter of the report and what is covered.

1.2 Discussion – This main part of the report body includes detailed information to support your ideas.

  • It should include an explanation of the conclusions that were reached and detail that supports why you make the recommendations if you do.
  • It is arranged in logical order.
  • Headings are used where possible.

1.3 Conclusions – The conclusion section should be written in paragraphs like your discussion section but here you will be summarising and bringing your report to a conclusion rather than introducing any new material. Your recommendations section should then be written as a numbered list.

1.4 Recommendations – If you have been asked to provide recommendations, these are actions for the future and represent the writer's opinion, based on the environmental research undertaken. They suggest a course of action for the recipient to follow.

  • They relate to information presented in the discussion section of the report.
  • They are set out in numbered paragraphs.
  • They should flow on from the conclusion.
  • This section may include options or alternative actions, if discussed already in the report.
  • The recommendations section should contain no new material.

Reference list

APA referencing format requires that information or sources cited in your report are entered in a Reference List at the end of the report which gives full details of the sources.

Tip: Only include in the Reference List sources that have been cited in the introduction and the discussion sections of the report.

Appendices

This includes material that may be supplementary or too detailed to include in the body of the report because it breaks up the flow. Such material might be raw data, interview transcripts, maps, or graphics. Material in the appendices are referred to in the body of the report such as “Refer to Appendix I for NZ wine exports for 2007 by volume”.
Each appendix is on a separate page and each one should be numbered or lettered (A, B, C or I, II, III) and given a title.

Tip: You do not need to include an appendix, if you do not have any additional material to include in your report.

Report checklist

Before handing in your report, it is a good idea to go through it carefully, to make sure that it is complete.

Have you included all the parts required?

  • Cover letter
  • Executive summary
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations if required
  • References/Bibliography
  • Appendix/Appendices

List of all material used in preparation of a document even if the material has not been specifically referred to in the document, e.g., background reading.

 
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