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Recommended Headings for Business Reports and What Report Readers Want to Know

Contributed by Deane Gradous, Twin Cities consultant

Recommended Headings for Business Reports

Meeting reports

Chart of follow-up actions and persons responsible by
Those present (those absent*)
Agenda items
Discussion of each agenda item
· Background
· Discussion
· Action plan
Next meeting and proposed agenda

What is the meta-message? "We make well-considered and important decisions." "This group accomplishes a lot."

Progress reports

Projects completed
· Final against plan (data)
· Learning to be shared
Projects in process
· Status against plan (data)
· Issues/concerns

What is the meta-message? "I add value to the organization and am a learner/achiever."

Research reports

Executive summary
Research methods: design/activities/ costs, etc.
Research findings/results
Implications of these results
Appendices (data, graphs, tables, charts, etc.)

What is the meta-message? "I follow good scientific methods. You can trust my work, which is reliable and valid and the foundation for sound decisions."

Trip reports

Date of trip/destination
Purpose of the trip
· Who
· What
· Findings/results
· Implications
Follow up

What is the meta-message? "I am a good investigator/ambassador."

What Report Readers Want to Know From Research/Activity Reports

  1. Do I need to read your report? Does the title indicate a subject that is relevant to my responsibilities? Is the title accurate and descriptive? Does your report look interesting and readable?
  2. Give me a quick overview? Does your report have an executive summary so I can decide whether or not I need to read the whole thing?
  3. Why did you undertake this research/activity? Fill me in on the context and the background. Explain the relevance of your research/activity to our larger organizational goals.
  4. What purposes or accomplishments did you aim for? What were the major objectives and sub-objectives of your research/activity? What questions did you ask?
  5. What methods, processes, and procedures did you use? Because I and other may need to make decisions on the basis of information in your report, I expect to see a detailed description of what you did to obtain your results/findings. What obstacles and surprises did you encounter in the process?
  6. What are your results/findings? I don't want to know everything you know about your research/activity. I do want to know what you discovered/accomplished. I hope you have included negative as well as positive results, so I and many others can learn from your research/activity.
  7. How do you interpret your results/findings? Your facts are interesting and important, but they also require some heavy thinking to interpret. Don't leave all of the difficult, interpretive work to me. Give me tables, lists, charts, and/or graphs and point out the patterns in the data. Turn the data info information.
  8. What are the implications of your results/findings? What do your results/findings mean in terms of others' activities? Turn your information into knowledge. Go beyond your interpretation to explain the significance of these results/findings. Do also express the limitations of these results/findings.
  9. What follow-up research/activities do you recommend? Because you have studied and explored the context, the background, and the results/findings in some detail, I look to you to offer recommendations on related decisions and future research/activities.

In short,

  • What are the facts?
  • What do they mean?
  • What do we do now?

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