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The "4 Step" Guide to Report Writing     

A business-English activity

Madrid English Teacher Christopher Wright writes about how to write reports. Do the interactive activities in this order: Websequitur, Vocabulary Matching, Listening and Cloze, Comprehension Quiz, and for the really daring: WebRhubarb. Or, if you prefer, simply read and listen to the article below.

Christopher Wright
Christopher Wright

Profesor de inglés de negocios y de inglés general imparte clases en empresas y a particulares en el centro de Madrid.
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William Christison
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The definitions of some words and phrases can be found at the bottom of the page.

The "4-step" guide to Report Writing

By Christopher Wright

Writing reports in English can be time-consuming but with practice and a plan you can do it. Here are some practical tips to a simple “4-step guide” to get you started.

1. Think
2. Plan
3. Write
4. Revise

1) Think

Why am I writing?
It sounds obvious but if you don’t know exactly the purpose of your report, how will your readers know? Possible purposes include: to educate, inform, recommend, persuade, motivate action and instruct.

Who are my readers?
Yes, I know you know who your readers are, but how much information do you know about them? Close your eyes, imagine the person or people you’re writing about and put yourself in their shoes asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who are my readers? (Prioritise your readers based on your purpose: Key and non-key readers)
  • What background information or knowledge do they have?
  • What are their attitudes to the subject matter of the report?
  • What are they looking to find in the report?
  • What are their needs?
  • What is my key message?
    Once you know the purpose of your report, you must decide what your key message is. Include it in the executive summary and also put it in the beginning so the reader knows what follows will support your key message and will help the readers reach a conclusion. For example: Option 1 will be the best in the short term, but option 2 offers a better long term solution.

    What action do I want my readers to take?
    What outcomes do you want? What do you want your reader to do after reading your report? This is where you deliver your recommendations, next steps and follow-up.

    2. Plan

    While reading all of part (1) jot down any ideas you have and slowly expand them. Group all your ideas together that require a similar action. A mind-map is an excellent visual tool to organise this.

    Structuring the report depends on the purpose of your report and the readers. I always assume that most readers are very busy and so will not read all the report. Instead they will skim read using your contents page and executive summary to guide them and they’ll thank you for doing that.

    Most business reports follow this typical structure:

    1. Executive Summary and Recommendations
    2. Introduction
    3. Content
    4. Conclusion
    5. Appendices

    Lets be realistic, who has time to read a 15-20 page report in English? Readers will only read your report if it has something that benefits them. The Executive Summary is your secret weapon to grabbing the attention of the reader by giving them a taste of the benefits inside your report. Keep it brief, to the point and ideally no more than 1 page. It should include, purpose, background information, key issues, your findings, conclusions reached and recommendations.

    3. Write

    The order in which you present your ideas is critical. It has to have a logical flow, so you can guide the reader and prove to the reader that your ideas have merit.
    Be confident in your recommendations and give them importance by using the active instead of the passive voice. For example “We recommend that …..” instead of “It is recommended that ….”
    Be clear and to the point.
    Separate each idea and focus on it entirely.
    Use layout to help the reader skim read and quickly find the information they want. Make main ideas and recommendations stand-out by using bullet points, headings, sub-headings, bolding, graphics and colour.

    4. Revise

    Only keep the ideas you’re 100% confident in.
    Find two proof readers you know to read and critique your report.

  • Firstly someone who is knowledgeable in the area to check and critique the technical content of your ideas.
  • Secondly someone with a high level of English or a native to check and critique the clarity and simplicity of your ideas.
  • If you can’t find two proof readers, ask your colleagues if they can recommend a translator with expertise in your industry or sector.


    Practice expressions from the text: Vocabulary Activity

    time-consuming - Something that takes a long time to do.
    motivate action - Encourages people to do something.
    put yourself in their shoes - Imagine the situation from somebody else’s perspective .
    background information - Information about the area you’re writing about that helps the reader.
    subject matter - The area or topic you're writing about.
    reach a conclusion - To arrive at a conclusion
    deliver your recommendations - To communicate your main ideas
    jot down - Write down something
    skim read - Read quickly searching for main or key information
    executive summary - Main summary
    grabbing the attention of - To get the attention of
    logical flow - To follow a logical order
    proof readers - People paid to read


    (Email me your answers to

    1. What are the 4 steps of the “4-step guide”?

    2. Name 3 purposes of writing a report?

    3. Why do readers skim read?

    4. What is an executive summary used for in a report?

    5. Why do your ideas have to have a logical flow in the flow?

    6. What are the benefits of using two proof readers?

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