Creating a compelling informational report
In an increasingly data-driven business climate, communication skills are essential. As a business professional, you’ll need the writing skills to present your lenders, investors, and associates with informational reports. These reports provide valuable insight into the status of your company or the progress of a particular project.
This guide will cover the nature of informational reports and how to use them in your core processes.
What is an informational report?
There are many types of business reports. An informational report (sometimes just called an information report) is simply designed to provide information about a particular topic.
Information reports are used in a variety of settings, but in the business community, these reports are used to provide data, facts, and feedback with no attempt made to evaluate or interpret the data.
In other words, informational reports are concerned with “just the facts” and might consist of things like:
- Meeting minutes
- Expense reports
- Progress or status updates
- Customer feedback
The information in these documents might be analyzed in a future document, but your primary goal in an informational report is to simply convey information, nothing more and nothing less.
The difference between informational and analytical reports
It’s helpful to distinguish between the two main categories of business reporting: informational and analytical reports. It’s common to encounter both of these written reports in the world of business, but they have some important differences.
An information report is defined by several distinct characteristics:
- Provides facts, research data, and other key findings
- Does not offer analysis or evaluation
- Does not reflect the author’s personal opinion
- Offers no recommendations for the future
Information reports are designed solely to inform, with no analysis or action steps.
Analytical reports, by contrast, are designed to provide analysis of data or a business problem. Typically, analytical reports are defined by several characteristics, including:
- Designed to interpret the information provided in the report
- Offer thorough analysis and render a conclusion
- May reflect the author’s personal opinion
- May offer recommendations for the future
Modern analytical reports can therefore have a slightly persuasive writing style in that they’re designed to help readers understand how the data fits together in a larger picture.
Types of informational reports
The definitions of informational and analytical reports may be helpful, but the term “information report” may still sound somewhat broad. You might get a better understanding by looking at some specific types of information reports. Some of the most common examples of informational reports include:
Status reports are very narrow in purpose. These documents highlight the progress made on a particular project or business process. A company may create a status report when updating their client about a project, or a status report can be used internally to address a pressing issue affecting the company or a workgroup.
Expense reports include financial reporting with little to no free writing involved. This form of reporting follows a prescribed format that highlights critical business expenses and other financial details.
After an important meeting, it may help to distribute a report to participating staff. This reporting ensures that your entire group has a shared understanding of meeting outcomes, as well as any action steps that influence their work or their department moving forward.
Trip or conference reports
Trips and industry conferences can be great sources of information, but not everyone in the company has a chance to attend. After returning, attendees can create an information report to provide a summary of what they’ve learned so that everyone can benefit from the event.
A compliance report presents information to regulatory agencies to ensure that your company is operating in good standing. For example, your business may need to provide quarterly, midpoint, and annual financial reports as requested by the government.
Depending on your organization, you may find it useful to have a policy report that covers guidelines and procedures. For example, you might have a policy report that provides information regarding sexual harassment policies or documentation for employee benefits and other internal issues.
Just because an information report doesn’t contain detailed analysis doesn’t mean that it can’t be used as part of your planning process. Informational reports can be used to provide up-to-the-minute data and allow you to make a decision based on the information included in the report.
When to use an informational report
Writing a report may not sound like the most exciting use of your time, but there are many times when an information report will be a vital part of your business. For example, information reports can be helpful in the following situations:
When a client requests an update
Many businesses work on long-term projects for their clients. During this process, your customers may request updates to learn more about how things are progressing. An information report can provide your clients with a status update and ensure that you’re all on the same page.
When making a new business decision
Analytical reports can often be helpful when making new decisions, but so can informational reports. For instance, feasibility studies, justification reports, or other relevant information can help you determine the best course for the future. After all, sometimes, the best way forward is to understand how the company has functioned in the past.
When distributing information throughout your workforce
There are many times when companies need to disseminate information to their entire staff. For example, you may need to distribute data related to a new corporate policy or new initiative. An information report will ensure that your entire team has the same information and can be on the same page moving forward.
When maintaining compliance
Many industries must comply with certain regulatory issues. An informational report can help you summarize your company’s processes and ensure that regulatory and government agencies understand your basic operations and strategies for compliance.
Parts of an information report
Generally speaking, an information report is fairly straightforward and will contain only a few basic features:
- Main body
- Supporting data
Depending on the report’s length, you may want to include multiple subheadings to help readers follow the contents more smoothly. It may also help to provide photographs, diagrams, graphs, or other visual aids to illustrate your data.
How to write an informational report
Even if you haven’t written a formal report since you were a high school student, you’ll find the process to be relatively straightforward. Here’s how to go about creating a helpful information report:
1. Plan ahead
Planning can actually be the first step. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish through this report. Remember, the more narrow your focus, the easier it will be to create your report. Ask questions like:
- What topic/question(s) should my report focus on?
- What research tools/references will I need to complete my report?
- Do I have a target for the length in pages or number of words?
If you’re asked to provide this report by your employer, you might ask if there are any past reports that you might look at to get an idea of the form your final report might take.
2. Know your audience
Anytime you communicate, you need to think about your target audience. Who will be the primary reader of your report? This identification is important, as you’ll want to ensure that you use language that will be easy for every reader to understand, even if they don’t share your technical knowledge or are unfamiliar with the problem.
3. Research, research, research
To present relevant data, you’ll need to find data to present. Depending on the nature of your report, you might look at things like:
- Company data and past reports
- Internet resources
- Reference books
- Industry publications
- Customer feedback
- Financial statements
Don’t worry about organization at this stage. Just focus on taking good notes. Once your research is completed, you can organize your findings into a better structure.
4. Make an outline
Give your report some structure by making an outline. Generally speaking, it helps to have at least three headings, though if your report is longer, you might want to break these headings into subheadings as well.
For example, if you’re writing a report about customer feedback on a new product line, you might structure your report around groups of customers:
- Customers aged 18 to 24
- Customers aged 25 to 39
- Those aged 40+
Obviously, you’ll have to determine the best way to organize your report, but this will make it easier for your audience to follow.
5. Write your report
Now comes the fun part. Once your outline is created, writing the report itself should flow a bit more easily. Remember those notes you took during the research phase? You’ll use that data to support your main points in your completed outline.
Your writing style should be clear and direct. Use the third-person, meaning you’ll avoid using words like "I" or "we." Your writing should also avoid any personal reflections on the information. Remember: your primary objective is to present the facts, not to persuade, so your report should aim to simply summarize and describe the information you’ve learned.
Keep your paragraph structure short. You want your informational report to be simple to skim through so that your audience will easily glean the relevant details from your writing.
6. Add visuals
During the writing process, you may have additional charts, graphs, or other visuals that can help you support your main idea. You can also use these visual aids to break up your paragraphs, helping your readers understand the subject that you’re writing about.
7. Make sure your references are properly cited
While writing, you’ll include specific types of information that support the main idea of your report. Your reader may want to check these facts.
Including references will allow readers to learn more about the statements you’re making. In an online report, you can easily link to supporting documents or other web-based evidence. You may need to use footnotes or endnotes, with each note pointing to the original source of the information you’re presenting.
8. Write your conclusion
Once your main section writing process is complete, you can write your conclusion. This brief section should summarize your main points and how they relate to the subject of your report itself. In an informational report, you won’t provide any interpretation or action steps as you would in an analytical report.
9. Write your introduction
Many writers prefer to write the introduction last. Keep this section brief as well, but make sure to clearly articulate your main idea.
Here’s a tip: frame the topic as a question. You might even repeat the same question you determined in step 1. This approach helps your audience understand exactly what your report is about and what information they can hope to gain from it.
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Frequently asked questions
Need a hand with writing your report? Here are the answers to some common questions:
An informational report can be used by your own company, but it can also be distributed to your clients to provide status updates regarding a major project. It’s important to know your reader, which can guide your writing process.
Informational reports can be distributed in a variety of ways, including:
- Company letters and memos
- Web postings
Just remember that for sensitive information, you’ll want to distribute your report without compromising your security.
Depending on your subject or objective, you might start with your company’s past reports and other internal information. Otherwise, you can rely on industry-specific publications to provide reliable data.
If you come across a website you’re unfamiliar with, try to cross-reference the data with other sources to ensure that you’re presenting your audience with the best information possible.