Let’s not dance around it: if you’re writing a report, you want something.

In fact, ‘report’ is a misleading name. We’d be better off calling them a persuade’ or an engage’ – maybe sometimes a warning’. We don’t write them for the sake of it.

Trouble is, we often let that want slip through our fingers. We revert to ‘report writing mode’ – doing our best job at camouflaging our purpose among layers of context, figures and… fluff. But why?

It’s possibly because the prospect of tackling a report is the writing equivalent of sitting down to untangle a giant knot.

But here’s a secret: report writing’s easy

Sure, there’s work to be done. But the bulk of it needs to happen before you even start typing. 

These three steps should help convince you that getting exactly what you want out of your report isn’t quite the uphill struggle you think it is...

Rather watch? Here’s our free webinar: Get what you want

1. Plan with precision​

When we don our report writing hats, we effectively become salespeople. And scrupulous salespeople don’t give customers the chance to wriggle away or make the unfavourable choice.

But our reports often give readers too many options; lacking the recommendation, informed insight or nudge to get decision makers round to our way of thinking. We need laser-like incision.  

How we do it:

  • Put some thought into your report’s ‘real’ name – is it ‘a sell’, ‘a persuade’? Don’t actually use this, of course – it’ll just help you nail down your purpose.
  • Ask two big questions about your reader: What do they need to know, and what do they need to do? Isolate these points then build around them, so your readers don’t have to dig.
  • Use the inverted pyramid as a planning tool to order your information by importance. Imagine each report section could get a late-in-the-day chop from a ruthless editor: would your reader still get the stuff you really need them to see?

2. Narrate with numbers

Whisper it quietly, but numbers are a writer’s best friend. But only when we’ve thought discerningly about how to use them and are happy to let them do some heavy lifting.

The art of using numbers is more delicate than throwing them all out there and seeing what sticks. We use them to paint pictures in readers’ minds. To bring decision makers closer to our material by framing numbers in relatable, everyday scenarios that don’t always jump out immediately.

How we do it:

  • Pinpoint standout figures ​before you start and stick to them. Don’t oversaturate your early pages with a confusion of digits – make an impact.
  • Use comparisons, metaphors and reference points to make them stick. (e.g. ‘That’s over 66 times the amount we invested in ESG over the same period…’)
  • Let these figures do the work for you​. Are you more likely to buy the product that Contains 20% fat’ or is ‘80% fat free’? The same theory works for your reports.​

3. Create your compass

An executive summary is prime real estate at the start of your report. But there’s another way to think of it too – as a compass to keep you on the straight and narrow throughout the writing process.

Treat it as a north star – ask: is everything I’m writing in this report relevant to this mission statement; my purpose? Going off track? Maybe it’s time to rewrite, reframe or just ditch that section altogether.

Nailing your exec summary is the ultimate time saver. The moral code of your report. If you can’t crystalise the point of your report into this space yet, you’re probably not ready to write it in full.

How we do it:

  • Put yourself in your readers’ shoes with simple questions like: ‘Why is this important?’ ‘What are we waiting for in order to fix it?’, ‘Do I need to escalate this to anyone?’ etc.
  • Gather the content for your summary using the answers to these questions, and nothing more.
  • Push your thinking and find the real reason for your reader to care. Ask ‘So What?’ until you find the thing that resonates. (‘The operation could run more smoothly’ doesn’t carry the same impact as ‘The way we’re doing things is costing us money’).