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Writing a business report

This is a must read tutorial including nearly everything you need to know about report style writing for business reports.

 

Overview of business report writing for Business Studies
Why use report style writing?
Business example of report style writing: National Australia Bank
Business example of report style writing: Woolworths
Report writing strategies that you can use
Adding polish to your writing
Students exercises in report writing
Concluding remarks

 

Overview of business report writing for Business Studies

Because it so closely mirrors the real commercial world, business actually has a language of its own. The language of business is known either as the report format or as report style writing. In this tutorial the two terms are used interchangeably.

In most cases your Business Studies teachers will prefer that you use report style writing for your assignments instead of the more familiar "essay style" of writing that you have become so accustomed to over the past ten years.

For example: The sentence below contains the same words but there is a slight difference in presentation. The first sentence is written in report style writing and the second sentence is written in standard essay style.

(Sentence one , written in report style writing)

The good news is that report style writing is:

  • easy to learn
  • easy to organise and
  • likely to help earn you higher marks in Business Studies.

(Sentence two, written in essay style writing)

The good news is that report style writing is easy to learn, easy to organise and likely to earn you higher marks in Business Studies.

See the difference? There is of course more to report format writing than this. Please read on.

Note: Other subjects may also use a form of report style writing. Check with your teachers as you may run into slight variations from subject to subject.

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Why use report style writing?

In the business world decision making is critical. Business people need access to information that is:

Business managers don’t want, nor do they have time, to wade through paragraphs or pages of non essential information. In a growing number of businesses decision makers refuse to deal with reports or proposals that are over specified lengths.

For example: More commonly now employment advertisements do not include telephone business names or telephone numbers for applicants to respond. Instead they specify that interested parties should send a one page resume by email. Imagine the time saving for personnel managers.

Hence, the development of the business report, or in our case, business report style writing for extended response questions and assignments.

An important point in favour of report style writing for your purposes is that, in most cases, well organised reports are less time consuming to evaluate. Ask your teachers which they prefer to mark, report style assignments or essays.

Looking beyond the classroom, there are some practical reasons for becoming acquainted with the report medium.

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Business example of report style writing: National Australia Bank

A quick and practical way to see how the business report format is used by business managers, is to get ahold of a public company’s annual report. Virtually any report from any public company will do. To illustrate we have selected excerpts from the 2001 annual reports of the National Australia Bank and of Woolworths.

The bank’s full annual report is well over 100 pages detailing hundreds of items, from key financial ratios to total remuneration paid to company directors. To read and become familiar with all the pages would be a fascinating, although time consuming task, critical for the professional analyst, but overwhelming for the average stakeholder.

The graphs below are adapted from information contained in the 2001 Annual Report of the National Australia Bank.

National Australia Bank Group financial highlights


Net profit decreased for the first time in more than ten years due to an abnormal loss incurred in an overseas operation. Net profit is expected to rise above 2000 levels in the next financial year.
Group operating profit

Dividends


Dividends paid to shareholders rose by a significant 9.7 per cent, the tenth consecutive year that dividends have increased. Dividends continue to be fully franked.
Dividends

Assets


In the past five years shareholders equity has nearly doubled. The National Australia Bank remains the largest of all Australian banks.
Shareholders' equity

Finally, the bank’s Group Financial Highlights page includes a Wealth Index, a time line graph illustrating how shareholders have fared over the past ten years. This powerful statement placed right beside the graph reinforces what is illustrated by the chart, another feature of report style writing.

This single Group Financial Highlight report format page is excellent. It reports to the reader all the bank’s major financial data for the year in summary form on a single page. The same page features several graphs that further explain that data, perfect for the reader who needs key points, not details.

Several pages later all of the key points are expanded in greater detail, for the serious reader who wants to know more. This same technique is just what you need to do for best results in Business Studies.

Report writing tip: After you have obtained several annual reports, invest an hour or two to study their style, then adapt those same techniques to your own presentations. You should not go too far wrong following the experts. Be sure to get your teacher’s opinion of your work.

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Business example of report style writing: Woolworths

The 2001 Woolworths' Annual Report is also an impressive document although it is less than half the physical size of its counterpart from the National Australia Bank.

The Woolworths' report is extremely reader-friendly, almost fun to read. It too is filled with factual information, but is nicely broken up with readable charts, graphs and colour photos of some of Woolworths' 140 000 staff members at work. As with all annual reports, the financial statements and detailed notes to the financial statements are found in the final part of the report.

The Woolworths' document begins with a report-style presentation titled About Us. Part of the text is reproduced here.

Imagine how much brighter and more impressive this page actually looks with colour photos beside each major point.

About Us

Our company

Woolworths Limited is an Australian retail company made up of a number of businesses all providing our customers with quality, range, value and everyday low prices.

Location

We operate more than 1 400 stores in Australia, plus an additional 33 Dick Smith Electronic stores in New Zealand.

Shareholders

Woolworths Limited has over 285 000 shareholders, plus around 45 000 employee shareholders ­ which make us one of the largest employee ownership corporations in Australia.

People

  • Woolworths employs around 140 000 people. Some 50 000 of our employees are in rural and regional areas.
  • We train more apprentices than any other company in Australia.
Go To Top Report writing strategies that you can use

When you are writing a good report style response you will find that you are placing less emphasis on traditional formal essay techniques. Reports, in contrast, feature carefully constructed introductions, detailed bodies and logical conclusions.

Components of business reports

  • short preview or overview statements
  • shorter than "traditional essay paragraphs" that "get right to the point"
  • lists of main points, as in the previous sample reports, followed by expanded descriptions where appropriate
  • headings to draw attention to major points or new sections
  • selective underlining or highlighting where emphasis is required
  • inclusions where possible of graphs, tables and diagrams
  • expression and justification of your own point of view and
  • strong but condensed conclusions with recommendations for action where called for.

One disadvantage of report style writing can be that some students tend to write only an outline. Avoid that trap. So, instead of being a concise "report", the presentation becomes nothing more than a series of short points lacking depth, explanation and substantial conclusions or recommendations for action.

For example: Read this hypothetical student response below to an extended response question about why so many small businesses fail.

Studies have shown that two thirds of new small business ventures are not in business more than five years. The principal reasons for small business failure in Australia include:

  • lack of management skills and experience
  • inadequate, inaccurate, non existent books and records
  • excessive private drawings
  • under-capitalisation
  • inventory problems (dead stock)
  • bad credit policies and slow collections
  • inability to read and interpret financial statements
  • inadequate sales.

Such a response shows that the writer has a good working knowledge of the question. It is factually correct. However, it is completely lacking in illustrative examples or supporting statements.As it is, there is no attempt to justify or explain any of the points. So, it falls far below its potential.

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Adding polish to your writing

An editor perfects the written word by following certain guidelines. Follow the same rules to add polish to your own reports.

Reread your report. Have you:

  • cut out unnecessary words and lengthy phrases
  • been specific - "net profit increased by 15 per cent to $40 000"
  • repeated sentences and main points
  • avoided lengthy introductions and "padded out" conclusions
  • put just one main idea in each paragraph.
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Student exercises in report writing

Write about an A4 page (around 250 words) on either or both of the following. Incorporate a few report format techniques, then seek an opinion from your teacher.

  • Report on a successful business you have dealt with in your community. From what you know about the business, discuss what factors you think may have contributed to the success of the business over the years.
  • Describe how you would explain the term "business" to another senior non Business Studies student who has asked you "What is business?"
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Concluding remarks

Most business problems may be successfully approached in more than one way. Likewise, there is no single or "only way" to present a report or to respond to an examination question or an assignment.

While practising, remember:

  • not to become obsessed with the report format. Some questions and parts of many assignments may still be better answered in traditional essay type format.
  • that reports need to address the question directly
  • to avoid elaborate introductions and rambling content.
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