Business Communication and Report Writing


Good report writers like the great General Colin Powell, are good at simplifying facts so that anyone can understand them. Collecting information and organizing it clearly and simply into meaningful reports are skills that all successful businesspeople today require. In this age of information, reports play a significant role in helping decision makers solve problems. You can learn to write good reports by examining basic techniques and by analyzing appropriate models.  In this chapter we’ll concentrate on informal reports. These reports tend to be short (usually under 10 pages), use memo or letter format, and are personal in tone. (Guffey, 1998)

At the end of this chapter, the students should be able to identify the seven kinds of informal reports and four report formats.  They will learn how to organize report data using effective headings and present these data objectively to gain credibility.  Furthermore, students will learn how to write the types of informal reports.


Information Reports.  Reports that collect and organize information that are informative or investigative.  They may record routine activities, such as daily, weekly, and monthly reports of sales or profits.  They may investigate options, performance, or equipment. Although they provide information, they do not analyze that information.

Recommendation Reports.  Recommendation Reports are similar to information reports in that they present information. However, they offer analysis in addition to data.  They attempt to solve problems by evaluating options and offering recommendations. These reports are solicited; that is, the writer has been asked to investigate the report.

Justification Reports.  Like recommendation reports, justification reports attempt to solve problems. However, they are unsolicited; that is, the writer generates the report on his or her own. He or she observes a problem, analyzes alternatives, and describes a potential solution.

Progress Reports.  Progress reports monitor the headway of unusual or non-routine activities.  For example, progress reports keep management informed about a committee’s preparations for a trade fair 14 months from now. Such reports usually answer these questions:  (1) Is the project on schedule?  (2)  Are corrective measures needed?  (3) What activities are next?

Minutes of the Meetings.   A record of the proceedings of a meeting is called “the minutes”.  A secretary generally keeps this record.  Minutes may be kept for groups that convene regularly, such as the monthly meetings of a club, or for groups that meet irregularly, such as committees.

Summaries.   A summary condenses the primary ideas, conclusions, and recommendations of a longer report or publication.  Employees may be asked to write summaries of technical reports.  Students may be asked to write summaries of periodical articles or books to sharpen their writing skills.

To-File Reports.  Reports prepared to document an idea or actions are called “to file” reports.  These useful reports provide a writer record of conversations, directives, and decisions.  In today’s often-litigious business world, such reports are becoming increasingly important.


How should a report look? The following four formats are frequently used.  

Letter Format.  This is appropriate for informal reports prepared by one organization for another.  These reports are much like letters except that they are more carefully
Organized, using headings and lists where appropriate.

Memo Format.   This is common for informal reports written for circulation within an organization.  These internal reports follow the conventions of memos with the addition of headings.

Report Format.   This is used for longer and somewhat more formal reports.  Printed on plain paper (instead of letterhead or memo forms), these reports begin with a title followed by carefully displayed headings and subheadings.

Prepared Forms.   They are useful in reporting routine activities, such as police arrest reports or merchandise inventories.  Standardized headings on these forms save time for the writer; forms also make similar information easy to locate.

Today’s reports and business documents are far more sophisticated than typewritten documents of the past.  If you’ve worked with a computer and a laser printer, you know how easy it is to make your documents look as if they were professionally printed.  In fact, reports are no longer typed today, they are designed. You must learn to use fonts, margins, and a host of word processing capabilities to fashion attractive documents.

Guidelines for Writing Informal Reports

Defining the Project

Begin the process of writing by defining your project.  This definition should include a statement of purpose.  Ask yourself:  Am I writing this report to inform, to analyze, to solve a problem, or to persuade?  The answer to this question should be clear, accurate statement identifying your purpose.  In informal reports the statement of purpose may be only one sentence; that sentence usually becomes part of the introduction.  Notice how the following introductory statement describes the purpose of the report:

This report presents data regarding in-service training activities coordinated and supervised by the Human Resources Department between the first of the year and the present.

After writing a statement of purpose, analyze who will read your report.  If your report is intended for your immediate supervisors and they are supportive of your project, you need not include extensive details, historical development, definition of terms, or persuasion.  Other readers, however, may require background data and persuasive strategies.

The expected audience for your report influences your writing style, your research method, your vocabulary, your areas of emphasis, and your communication strategy.

Remember too, that your audience may consist of more than one set of readers.  Reports are often distributed to secondary readers who may need more details than the primary reader.

Gathering Data

A good report is based on solid, accurate, verifiable facts.  Typical sources of factual information for informal reports include (1) company records;  (2) observation;   (3) surveys, questionnaires, and inventories;  (4) interviews; and (5) research(Guffey, 1998).

Company Records.   Many business related reports begin with analysis of company records and files.  From theses records you can observe past performance and methods used to solve previous problems.

Observation.   Another logical source of data for many problems lies in observation and experience.  For example, if you were writing a report on the need for additional computer equipment, you might observe how much the current equipment is being used and for what purpose.

Surveys, Questionnaires, and Inventories.    Using surveys, questionnaires, and inventories can collect data from groups of people most efficiently and economically.  For example, if you were part of a committee investigating the success of a campus-recycling program, you might begin by using a questionnaire to survey use of the program by students and faculty.

Interviews.    Talking with individuals directly concerned with the problem produces excellent first-hand information.  Interviews also allow for one-on one communication, thus giving you an opportunity to explain your questions and ideas in eliciting the most accurate information.

Electronic and Other Research.   An extensive source of current and historical information is available electronically by using computer to connect to databases and other on-line resources.  From a personal or office computer you can access storehouses of information provided by the government, newspapers, etc.

Determining Organization

Like correspondence, reports may be organized inductively (indirectly) or deductively (directly).  The difference between inductive and deductive strategy is the placement of conclusions and recommendations.  Placement of the main idea (recommendations or conclusions) is delayed in the inductive approach.   The deductive approach is more direct; recommendations and conclusions are presented first so that readers have a frame of reference for reading the following discussion and analysis (Guffey, 1998).

Inductive Organization

Inadequate student parking on campus during prime class times.

10,000 permits sold for 3000 parking spaces; some parking lots unusable in bad weather; large numbers of visitors without permits fill parking spaces; no land for new lots.

Carpool?  Try shuttles from distant parking lots?  Enforce current regulations more strictly?  Charge premium for parking in prime locations or during prime times?  Build double-deck parking structures? Restrict visitors?

Short-term:  Begin shuttle program.  Long-term:  solicit funds for improving current lots and building new multistory structures.

Deductive Organization

Inadequate student parking on campus during prime class times.

Short-term:  begin shuttle program.  Long-term: solicit funds for improving current lots and building new multistory structures.

10,000 permits sold for 3000 parking spaces; some lots unusable in bad weather; large number of visitors without permits fill parking spaces; no land for new lots.

Carpool?  Try shuttles from distant parking lots?  Enforce current regulations more strictly?  Charge premium for parking in prime locations during prime times?  Build double-deck parking structures? 

(This is adapted from Guffey’s Essentials of  Business Communications)


Good headings are helpful to both the report reader and the writer.  For the reader, they serve as an outline of the text, highlighting major ideas and categories.  They also act as guide for locating facts and in pointing the way through the text.

Functional heads (such as Problem, Summary, Recommendations) help the writer outline the report.  Talking heads (such as Students perplexed by Shortage of Parking or Short-Term Parking Solutions) provide more information to the reader.  Whether your heads are talking and functional, keep them clear and brief.

Here are general tips (Guffey,1998) on displaying headings effectively:

Strive for parallel construction.  Used balanced expressions such as Visible Costs and Invisible Costs rather than Visible Costs and Costs That Don’t Show.

Don’t enclose headings in quotation marks.  Quotation marks are appropriate only for making quoted words or words used in a special sense, such as slang.

Don’t use headings as antecedents for pronouns such as like, this that, these, and those.

Being Objective

Reports are convincing only when the last facts are believable and the writer is credible.  You can build credibility in a number of ways:

Present both sides of an issue.  Even if you favor one possibility, discuss both sides and show through local reasoning why your position is superior.  Remain impartial, letting the facts prove your points.

Separate fact from opinion.  Do not state opinion that is difficult to prove for it might damage the credibility of the writer

Be sensitive and moderate in your choice of language.  Don’t exaggerate.  Avoid using labels and slanted expressions.  Calling someone a turkey, an egghead, or an elitist demonstrates bias.

Cite sources.  Tell your readers where the information came from by referring to respected source.


Writers of information reports provide information without drawing conclusions or making recommendations.  Some information reports are highly standardized such as police reports, hospital admittance reports, monthly sales reports, or government regulatory reports.  They usually contain three parts:  introduction, findings, and summary.
Introduction. This part may also be called Background. In this section do the following: (1) explain why you are writing, (2) describe what methods and sources were used to gather information, (3) provide any special background information that may be necessary, (4) give the purpose of the report, and (5) offer a preview of your findings.

Findings. This section may also be called Observations, Facts, Results, or Discussion. Important points to consider are organization and display. Since information reports generally do not include conclusions or recommendations, inductive or deductive organization may be less appropriate. Instead consider one of these methods of organization: (1) chronological, (2) alphabetical, (3) topical, or (4) most too least important.

Summary. This section is optional. If it is included, use it to summarize your findings objectively and impartially

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