How To Write a Professional Report in 7 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 16, 2022 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated June 16, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

Person seated at a desk, using a laptop, writing in a notebook.

Writing reports is an important part of a variety of job descriptions. Knowing how to write an effective report is a helpful skill that can make you a valuable addition to any workplace. If you want to write professional reports, you will need to know what they typically entail and how to get started.

In this article, we discuss what a report is, how it is used in the workplace and the steps you can follow to write a successful report.

Read more: 5 Steps for Great Business Writing (With Tips)

What is a report?

A report is a document that presents the results of an investigation, project or initiative. It can also be an in-depth analysis of a particular issue or data set. The purpose of a report is to inform, educate and present options and recommendations for future action. Reports are an integral element of dozens of industries, including science, health care, criminal justice, business and academia. Reports typically consist of several key elements, including:

  • Detailed summaries of events or activities

  • Analysis of the impact of the event

  • Evaluations of the facts and data

  • Predictions for what may happen as a result of an event

  • Recommendation for next course of action

  • Conclusion

Many occupations involve writing reports as a primary responsibility. Doctors must write medical reports that present their analyses of certain patients or cases. Police officers write reports that outline the details of interrogations and confrontations. Project managers write regular reports that keep their supervisors updated on how a particular project is developing. All of these reports must be well-written, accurate and efficient.

Related: Report Writing Skills: Definition and Examples

How to write a report

Knowing how to write a successful report can make you a valuable asset in your current workplace or an appealing candidate for new employers. Here are some steps to follow when writing a report:

1. Decide on terms of reference

Many formal reports include a section that details the document's "terms of reference". These terms include:

  • What the report is about

  • Why it is necessary

  • When it was written

  • What its purpose is

Setting these terms helps both the writer and their readers to understand why the report is important and what it hopes to accomplish. The terms of reference are usually explained in the first paragraph so that the reader can determine their relevance without having to read the entire document. Setting concrete terms early on will help you create the report's outline and keep your discussions on track throughout the writing process.

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2. Conduct your research

Most reports will require you to collect a store of data that directly relates to your topic. You may already have access to this information if, for example, you are a doctor who has copies of a patient's medical charts. However, if you are tasked with analyzing an issue or investigating an event, you will likely need to spend some time requesting, finding and organizing data.

Interpreting data and formatting it in a way that your readers will understand is an important part of writing a report. You may need to create charts, graphs or timelines that make your raw information easier to comprehend. You will also need to carefully cite your sources and keep track of where and how you found your data to present it professionally.

Related: How To Understand Graphs: Types, Uses and Tips

3. Write an outline

The next step is to construct your report's outline. This typically looks like a bulleted or numbered list of all the different sections in the document. Your report's outline might look similar to this:

  • Title page

  • Table of contents

  • Introduction

  • Terms of reference

  • Summary of procedure

  • Findings

  • Analysis

  • Conclusion

  • References or bibliography

The order of these sections—and whether you decide to include them all—depends on the specific type of report, how long it is and how formal it needs to be. The most important thing to do when writing your outline is to include all the necessary sections and eliminate anything that does not directly contribute to the report's purpose.

Related: How To Write an Outline

4. Write the first draft

Writing the first draft is one of the most important stages of constructing a successful report. The purpose of the first draft is not to write a perfect document, but rather to get all the main elements of your information out of your head and onto the page. You will have time to add to and edit this first attempt, so your primary goal is just to organize your data and analysis into a rough draft that will eventually become a final product.

While writing your first draft, you will likely find gaps in your data or holes in your analysis. Make note of these, but do not try to address every issue as you write. Instead, finish the draft, and save the problem-solving for when you begin the editing process.

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5. Analyze data and record findings

The focus of every report is the "findings" section or the part where you present your interpretation of the data. For an accountant, the findings could involve an explanation as to why a company's stock drooped during the previous quarter. For an environmental scientist, it could include a summary of an experiment on biodegradable plastics and how the results could affect waste management methods.

The findings section of your report should always provide valuable information related to the topic or issue you are addressing, even if the results are less than ideal. If you conclude that the data was insufficient or the research method was flawed, you will need to explain this professionally and accurately.

6. Recommend a course of action

The final section of your report's body is your recommendation. After examining the data and analyzing any outcomes, you are qualified to present an idea as to what actions should be taken in response to your findings. For example, after reviewing the number of overtime hours that their team has been working, a project manager may recommend that an additional employee be added to the team. A surgeon might recommend that the hospital introduce new sterilization methods into the operating room after noting an increase in preventable infections in the previous six months.

If you have presented your data well and shown your expertise, your reader is likely to trust your judgment.

7. Edit and distribute

The final stage of writing a report is editing it thoroughly and distributing it to your audience. You will need to edit for grammar mistakes, spelling errors and typing mistakes. You will also need to double-check your data, make sure your citations are correct and read over the entire document to make sure it presents a cohesive narrative. If the report is going to be read by a wide audience, you may decide to ask someone else to proofread it or give you their opinion on the readability of the content.

Distributing the report can take different forms depending on your particular occupation. You might email it to your supervisor, present it verbally during a staff meeting or publish it in a professional journal. Regardless of how or where it is read, your goal is always to create a concise, informative and effective document that will contribute to increased productivity in your workplace.

Tips for writing successful reports

Here are some final suggestions to guide you when writing reports:

  • Know your audience. Before you begin writing, be sure you understand who the report is for, why they need the information and what you want them to do after reading it. Knowing your audience will help you guide your style and ensure you communicate your information as efficiently as possible.

  • Proofread carefully. Nothing ruins a quality report quite like a typo. Before you submit or present your report, be sure to proofread it carefully for any errors.

  • Be open to feedback. Depending on your job title, you may receive criticism or feedback on your reports. Try to remain receptive and open to critique. If you are willing to take feedback and implement your superiors' suggestions, your writing will likely improve as a result.

  • Use your time wisely. Writing a quality report can take anywhere from a couple of hours to several weeks. Before you begin, be sure to budget your time and set a regular writing schedule. You may need also need to set hourly or daily goals to ensure that your progress stays on track.

Related: How To Write a Formal Business Report in 11 Steps

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