How to write an outstanding report — 7 tips — (Business not academic)
1) Know your audience(s)– if your report will only be seen by industry pros, do use appropriate industry-specific jargon. This will ensure clarity among your peers and a level of comfort and credibility will be bestowed to you because you are speaking the same language. However, if this is going out to other audiences who may be unfamiliar with your industry jargon (e.g. B2C marketing, stockholders/investors, etc.), kill the jargon and just tell the story.
2) Visuals are important– use charts, graphs and other descriptive images, but do make certain that these images directly correlate to the text, and make sure that the text you are referencing is nearby in the layout. Do not use images in place of text.
3) Words are part of your layout and design– love the text as much as the pretty pictures. Remember that visual balance is important, so don’t leave a lonely word hanging on one line or just a few sentences lingering on the final page. Make certain your text looks as good as it reads. Edit… which brings us to the next point…
4) Editing– I recommend putting everything including the kitchen sink into your first draft. That way, everything you might possibly need is there. You won’t have to look for it later when you decide that a particular piece of data or quote or whatever would be the greatest thing right now. Edit for content first, eloquence second, grammar and punctuation third and then the ever-present character count if needed. Subtract, tighten, refine, polish and delete your way to the final draft.
5) Organization and flow– Put first things first. It’s helpful, though not always necessary, to create an outline. If you’re having difficulty with organizing your report, ask yourself simple questions: What would I, as a reader, want to know first? Second, once I know that, what is the next question I want answered? Continue following this thought-pattern until all of your content for your report has been addressed.
6) Details count– added details will help your readers follow your content and add aesthetics to your report. These details might include a table of contents, text boxes that highlight quotes or facts/statistics, page numbers and references. If your report will be distributed and/or accessed electronically, consider providing an interactive table of contents and hyperlinks within texts and photos as appropriate.
7) Software– if you’re lucky, you can create the report in a professional Adobe InDesign or cloud program. However, many professionals are lucky if they even have an updated version of MS Word. It’s best if your end product is a PDF regardless of what software you used to create it. Not only will this elevate most problems with diverse software accessibility from your readers’ perspectives, but this also will help maintain the integrity of your content—not allowing it to be manipulated easily.
*BONUS– Have fun! Reports need not be stuffy. The most engaging, well-written and useful reports are generated by people who enjoy writing them. Use accurate data and statistics, collect accurate facts and quotes—this is most important. Next, enjoy the process of telling the story about the data, statistics, facts and quotes. The choice is yours—miserable people create miserable reports.