Business report structure
Business reports typically adopt the sections listed below. Your assignment question may specify the appropriate sections to use.
Executive summaries are sometimes placed at the start of reports. So, check your assignment instructions regarding whether you need to include an executive summary. A useful summary condenses the essence of the report so that the reader can quickly grasp the report's aims, objectives, and main findings (with key recommendations if the report is an action plan).
Example Executive Summary
Agribus Consultants were commissioned by Mr and Mrs Stuart to prepare a financial management plan for the 1994/95 season for situations where the existing horticultural operation was maintained and where a neighbouring 10 ha property with 3-5 year old apple trees was purchased.
The forecast cashflow budget for the existing and expanded orchard businesses were based on current levels of production and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Policy forecasted prices (May 2018) for various apple varieties and grades. Total production of apples would increase by 30,000 tray carton equivalents (100%) if the neighbouring orchard was acquired. These would be produced between March and May. The net cash surplus would increase by 120% to $60,000 with the expanded operation. Economics of scale for labour and machinery, and a better varietal mix (20% more Braeburn) would contribute to the proportionately greater returns.
It is recommended that arrangements to purchase the property proceed forthwith. It will be necessary to arrange a 10-year loan of $100 to purchase the land and buildings.
This is the first section of the report and is easiest to write after you have written the other report sections, as then you know what your outcomes will be, which you can briefly summarise in the introduction. The purpose of the introduction is to
- State the purpose or aim of the report, which may include who has commissioned it, if relevant.
- Provide background details relevant to the situation, such as a brief overview of historical developments, as well as definitions of any terms that are unlikely to be recognised by the audience.
- Summarise the problems and recommended solutions.
- Clarify any limitations, restrictions, and/or assumptions made in undertaking your investigation of the situation, such as restrictions on time, lack of money, limited access to information and people, and/or assumptions made about the organisation because of the lack of information available.
In general, one page is more than adequate to address the issues typically required in an introduction.
This section is traditionally allocated the most marks, so it is well worth your investment in time to do it thoroughly.
The discussion section is generally the only section where you are able to support your analysis and reasoning with theoretical ideas, concepts, and models available within the course. Secondly, it is the only place where you can actually provide evidence to back up your conclusions and recommendations. Therefore, ensure that you draw on evidence from the literature, course materials, as well as your own observations from the actual case or organisation, where applicable.
A key task of the discussion is for you to be able to identify the problem(s) and then consider a range of possible solutions. Consequently, it may be useful in preparing this section to identify your conclusions and recommendations first, before proceeding to support these outcomes in the discussion.
Once you have planned the points you need to cover in your discussion, it is very appropriate to look at creating different sub-sections within the discussion that encompass and frame each of the issues, with meaningful headings for each sub-section. When writing each sub-section within the discussion, the following structure may be useful for demonstrating the process you used to carry out your analysis and evaluation.
- Identify the problem
Example: The problem involves a lack of coordination at top-level management.
- Identify the causes
Example: This is caused by a lack of organisational skills and a lack of assistance from support people.
- Identify the symptoms
Example: As a result, the department is constantly in a state of flux, with no knowledge of where it should be heading.
- Identify possible solutions
This can be achieved by explaining advantages and disadvantages of a few options, which may involve describing short-term and long-term benefits.
- This is arranged as a numbered, bulleted-list.
- Arrange each point in order of importance, rather than necessarily in the order found in your discussion.
- Match each point in sequence with the list of recommendations.
- Each point provides a brief summary of one of the problems outlined in detail in the report.
- Ensure each point links with the report's objectives.
- Write each conclusion in the present tense.
- Each point needs to be specific and clear.
- This is also arranged as a numbered, bulleted-list.
- Each recommendation should appear in sequence with the order of points in the list of conclusions.
- Each recommendation should provide a response to each problem identified in the list of conclusions.
- Each recommendation should be action-oriented, concise, and clear.
- Each recommendation should also be realistic and feasible within the social, economic, and political climate.
- Write each recommendation in the future tense, as appropriate.
The order of these sections varies depending on whether it is an inductive or deductive report. Business reports will usually need a reference list, and sometimes include a letter or memo (see below) to the client, a title page, table of contents and/or appendices.