What is a report?
Let’s begin with two dictionary definitions of a report:
“A formal statement of the results of an investigation or of any matter on which definite information is required, made by some person instructed or required to do so.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
“An account prepared for the benefit of others, especially one that provides information obtained through investigation.”
(Collins English Dictionary)
These definitions can help us to identify the key criteria for a report, which are:
- Formal - following an established form or convention.
- Factual - containing information obtained through investigation.
- For the benefit of others - supplying the reader with the information he or she needs in a form he or she can understand.
- Requested - either expressly or implicitly.
Business reports are written to communicate facts and ideas to others. Without facts and ideas, without data on costs and expenses, and without statistics that indicate trends, business could not operate. The flow of information and ideas is necessary for business executives to make their decisions. The quality and accuracy of their decisions determine the future of the company. To make sucessful decisions, executives, managers, and supervisors rely heavily on the information that is reported to them.
Information is reported on all levels of business. The board of directors studies the report from presidents and vice presidents, who in turn rely on reports from their department heads and assistants. Managers and supervisors rely on reports from their sales staff, their accounting department, and so on. The information reported may be complex and detailed, or it may be simple and straightforward.
The format, contents and purpose of reports vary a lot. A report could be, for instance:
- a pre-printed form, which the report writer completes by answering a series of questions;
- a memo;
- a precis of another report;
- a technical report: informational, analytical and so on.
Defining the purpose of the report you have been asked to produce is essential as the first stage in its preparation and successful conclusion. You need to know why you are writing the report. You may find it helpful to ask yourself the question - “What is the purpose of this report?” Will it be to inform, to instruct, to influence, to interpret or to interest?