Business report format and layout
Important: Always check your course guide or ask your lecturer for guidance about how to format business reports.
It is important that your report looks professional - you are, after all, in training for a profession. A typical business report uses the following format and layout:
- Use a clearly legible font and font size (Times New Roman is the most common font and 12 point is the most common size).
- Set page margins to around 1 inch/2.5cm.
- Use 1.5 or double line-spacing.
- Be consistent in how you format headings and subsection headings (e.g. font, font size, line spacing, sequenced numbering, number or bullet point style).
- Make sure any numbered sections or subsections, are sequential (e.g. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.).
- Be consistent in how you present any tables and figures. Make sure tables and figures are sequentially numbered for each type and your captions are sufficiently descriptive e.g. Table 1. NZ Gross Domestic Product 2008-2018, Table 2. Debt to capital ratio for year ended March 2019, Figure 1. Savings by age group in 2010, etc.
Note: In APA 7th edition, both table and figure numbers and captions are given above the table/figure in bold; table and figure titles appear on the next double-spaced line, flush left with the margin, in italics with major words capitalized (i.e. in title case) with no full stop. Any notes appear below the table/figure. See here for more information about tables and figures. In APA 6th edition however, the figure number and caption go below the figure and the table number caption goes above the table. See here for an overview of differences between APA 6th and 7th editions.
- Keep the space between paragraphs consistent. Two styles are:
- Do not indent paragraphs and leave a blank line between paragraphs. (This is the most common style.)
- Indent the first line of each paragraph, but leave no spaces between paragraphs.
- Make sure your spelling and grammar check software is turned on.
- Make sure your references are correctly formatted in the required style.
Most assignments do not require a title page however reports often do. It is important you check your course guide or ask your lecturer. The format of report title pages varies according to the specific requirements of the assignment, but typically contains:
- The title, centred, approximately one third of the way down the page, surrounded by white space. Your title should be focused and descriptive of your report objectives (and, often, intended audience). If you use a graphic, keep it simple so the report title remains the focus of the page.
- The date of the assignment's completion, in smaller font, under the title.
- Your name and the name of the person the report is being submitted to (this may be an imaginary client or your lecturer/tutor- make sure you check who you should address on your title page) with the paper name and number in the bottom corner of the title page.
Table of contents
If a report is more than six pages, you might need a table of contents which tells the reader the page location of the headings and subsections in the report. Again, check with your course guide or lecturer if this is necessary. Most word processing software has a table of contents function that simplifies formatting.
Headings and subheadings
Reports generally require specific sections with specific headings (e.g. Introduction, Discussion) and subheadings (e.g. Key issues, Proposed solution/s). APA has guidelines about how to format headings and although APA advises against numbered headings, it is convention in reports to have numbered sections and it is likely this what is asked for in your assignment instructions. It is important that heading and subheading style (i.e. font, font size, font colour) is consistent throughout the assignment and subheadings within each section are sequentially numbered (e.g. 2.1 Strengths, 2.2 Weaknesses).
Sometimes, it may be appropriate for the numbering in one section to match numbering in another section (e.g. the recommendation discussed in subsection 3.1 relates to the conclusion discussed in subsection 4.1). Sometimes, however, matching numbering across sections may not be possible, or you may not present information in a numbered (or bullet point) style. Below is an example of business report format; this is, however, only a suggestion and you should seek advice from your lecturer about required format.
Example business report structure
Table of Contents
1.1 Situation overview
1.2 Key stakeholders
1.3 Key issues
2.1.1 Loyal customer base
2.1.3 Retirees and older people
2.2.1 New customers
2.2.2 Existing customers
2.2.3 Synergies with suppliers
2.3.1 Limited supply of resources
2.3.2 Ageing customer base
2.3.3 Technological limitations
3.1 Customer retention
3.2 New customer recruitment
3.3 Supply chain importance
4.1 Develop customer loyalty programmes and incentives
4.2 Marketing and promotion for new customers
4.3 Consolidate supply chain
As you are writing a report as part of a course assignment, it is likely that you will need a reference list. Check your course requirements about which referencing style is preferred. APA is the most commonly used style at Massey, however, MLA and Chicago are also used by some departments. Whichever style is required, it is important that citations are formatted correctly both in text and at the end of your assignment. Make sure your reference list (or works cited list, or bibliography) begins on a new page with a clear heading.
Sometimes you need to include additional information, transcripts, questionnaire details, or raw data. These should go in an appendix.
If there is only one appendix, it is given the title "Appendix". If there are several appendices, each is given a letter (follow the same order that they are mentioned in the body of the assignment): "Appendix A", "Appendix B", "Appendix C", etc. You refer to the title of the appendix in the body of your assignment (e.g. see Appendix B for details).
APA style (the style most commonly used at Massey University) put the appendices after the reference list.