We are going to learn how to write a simple business report with four sections:
This is the most common type of business report.
Let’s look at an example. The Kingsley Helpdesk Operation has a high rate of employee turnover and a team of Human Resources executives from head office have been asked to look into it and write a report giving suggestions on how to address the problem. This is the report they wrote:
Read through the following short report and do the tasks that follow:
This report is written at the request of the Chief Financial Officer in order to investigate the high turnover rate amongst employees in the Kingsley Helpdesk Operation. The information in the report is based on a week-long investigation into the matter by three members of the Human Resource Department. The three-member team interviewed staff, checked administration records and observed working conditions. Recommendations are made in this report on how to decrease the high rate of staff turnover at the centre.
The Kingsley Helpdesk Centre has been in operation for four years. It employs 100 personnel whose work comprises mainly of handling telephone enquiries from the general public regarding our range of telecommunication services. Although situated in an area with high unemployment, the annual turnover has been between 50 and 55% every year since it opened. The average annual turnover for the helpdesk/call centre industry is 33%, already considered high compared to other industries
One of the first things that the team noticed was the lack of training of the personnel in handling a call. Each employee had their own system of dealing with an issue. Where a process needed to be explained, different employees would provide different steps. In many instances, the employees felt frustrated because they had not been trained how to handle an issue and were merely guessing at the solution.
When the staff survey was carried out, it was found that the most common complaint was about the working environment. Although a fifteen minute break every three hours was promised, in reality the long queue of callers on hold meant that a break was impossible, especially during peak hours. The lunch break was usually shortened for the same reason.
The employees work in teams of eight, supervised by a team leader. The team leaders were observed to criticise and correct the employees when they made mistakes, but never to praise the employees when they did well. Interviews with the team members confirmed this.
Finally, many employees complained that there was no chance of decent career progression. Team leaders are paid only very slightly more than the team members and have to work slightly longer hours. The centre is run by three managers, who were sent there from headquarters rather than being promoted from amongst the ranks.
The main issues that we found were as follows:
1 A lack of training leads to employee frustrations and disillusionment.
2 The hectic working environment, due to understaffing, means employees cannot socialise and do not enjoy their work.
3 Employees are reprimanded but never praised, leading to employee disillusionment.
4 Employees do not perceive that they are able to better themselves by remaining in this organisation.
To address these four main issues, we recommend the following steps be taken:
1 A team of three full time training officers should be hired by the centre. These officers should be tasked with organising a proper training session for all incoming staff. The staff must be trained on company procedures as well as basic and advanced customer service skills.
2 The number of helpdesk operators should be increased by 10% during peak hours. Centre managers must ensure that break and lunch hours are not shortened or skipped.
3 A workshop should be held for team leaders and they should be trained on how to give appropriate feedback – constructive criticism and praise.4 Team leaders should receive either a pay increase or an improved annual bonus in order to reward their greater contribution. At least one manager should be promoted from within.
1 How many main problems were highlighted in the report?
Four main problems were highlighted. These correspond to the four numbered points in the conclusions section.
2 How many main solutions were given?
Four solutions were given, one for each of the main problems highlighted. These correspond to the four numbered points in the recommendations section.
3 Most reports have four sections. This report has one extra section. What is it and why is it included?
The report includes a ‘background’ section which could be taken to be as part of the introduction. It is necessary to ensure people reading the report at head office can fully understand the situation.
4 Who wrote the report?
It is not mentioned, but we can understand that it is one of the three-member team who carried out the investigation.
5 What is the annual turnover at the helpdesk? Is this higher than average?
It is 50-55%. The industry average is 33%.
The introduction answers the following:
This style of introduction is sometimes called the Terms of Reference and is also sometimes under the heading of Terms of Reference. The terms of reference may also mention who wrote the report and what date it was submitted.
The background section could be included in the introduction, but it seems neater here to give it its own heading.
Some reports begin with a summary, known as the Executive Summary. This is generally used for much longer reports and is included so that top executives can get an overview without reading the entire report. By convention, the executive summary comes before the introduction. Our example report does not have an executive summary because it is already relatively short.
The Findings or Body section is generally the longest section of a report. It is called the findings because it is generally written after a period of some sort of investigation or research.
The findings section should simply present information without drawing conclusions (which go in the conclusions section) or giving recommendations (which go in the recommendations section). However, it should be written in a way that conclusions and recommendations naturally follow.
Note that, unlike an academic essay, the conclusions section is not the last section of the report – it is the second last.
In this case, the conclusions have been numbered to make it easy to see that there are four main conclusions. Look back at the findings; for each body paragraph, there is one conclusion, and they are written in the same order. Each conclusion is basically a summary of a problem written about in the Findings section.
The last section of a report is the recommendations section. For each concluding point, a recommendation is given. The recommendations are given in the same order as the conclusions and are numbered here for easy reference.
Notice the language which is used. The most common modal verb used in the recommendations section is ‘should’. Remember that the person writing the report is not the person who makes the decisions – the writer’s job is simply to give recommendations. Hence, we do not use the word ‘will’ and we prefer ‘should’. We reserve ‘must’ for strong advice:
In this case, there could be legal issues if the recommendation is not followed. Hence the use of ‘must’ is justified.
For weaker advice or suggestions, we may use the word ‘could’:
Generally, the language used in a report is formal.
We tend not to use the words ‘I’ or ‘We’. So instead of writing:
…we use the passive voice:
However, this is a rule that is often broken. Modern writers do sometimes use ‘I’ or ‘We’ in a report.
The language in a report should be logical and factual.
Sample report writing tasks
These reports could be written using the example above as a model.
1 Imagine you work for the HR Department of a large company. Recently, there has been a string of robberies in the surrounding area. Your boss has asked you to look into the company’s security systems and recommend ways to strengthen them if necessary. Use your imagination to fill in the details.
2 Your company cafeteria has become a source of employee complaints. Your boss has asked you to conduct a survey of the staff’s feelings of the cafeteria and write a report based on the results, including recommendations for improvements if necessary. Use your imagination to fill in the details.
3 You work at the head office of a major retailing company which runs twenty stores around the country. Recently, one of the stores has been losing money while all the other stores have been increasing their revenues. Your boss has asked you to look into the matter and write a report on your findings, giving recommendations if necessary. Use your imagination to fill in the details.