This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

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A team charter is a document that is developed in a group setting that clarifies team direction while establishing boundaries. It is developed early during the forming of the team. The charter should be developed in a group session to encourage understanding and buy-in.

The team charter has two purposes. First, it serves as a source for the team members to illustrate the focus and direction of the team. Second, it educates others (for example the organizational leaders and other work groups), illustrating the direction of the team.

Investing the required time to develop a charter reduces confusion about the group’s objectives. The charter also provides the information needed to reduce the risk of rework, enabling the team to get it right the first time.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Team Charter Sections:

Team Purpose – This answers two questions: What’s the value of drawing these people together? What problem are they facing and what would be an acceptable outcome?

Duration and Time Commitment – The amount of time the team will be working together needs to be documented (for example is this a six month time frame?). Depending on proposed solutions, the duration of implementing these recommendations may require time beyond the team’s meeting schedule. Another aspect to be considered is the estimated amount of time that will be dedicated weekly / monthly.

Scope (in scope / out of scope) – Thinking though the scope helps to define the beginning and end of the spectrum. It may list departments included or excluded. The scope, while setting parameters, also helps the team leader(s) easily identify tasks that are outside of the scope, minimizing scope creep.

Members – Team leader and members should be listed individually. This provides recognition and enhances commitment. Alternate members can also be listed. The team sponsor from the leadership group needs to be assigned and listed after the team members.

Desired End Result – This provides an opportunity to begin with the end in mind. This is where the sponsor can establish goals for the team to achieve. The goals need to be clearly defined. By defining the desired end result, the magnitude of the change becomes evident.

Supporting Resources – The supporting resources almost always include other people that were not assigned as team members but still add value toward the overall purpose.  Other resources are dependent on the team activities (blue prints, meeting rooms, travel budgets, corporate authority, software, etc.)

Reporting Plan –
This defines how the team will communicate progress. The team usually has a higher authority that they answer to and it is important to report how the team activities are going and what hurdles the team is facing. The reporting plan should establish the frequency of reporting as well as content.

Deliverables – This section defines the outputs. It should include Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure the intended success. By considering the KPIs at this stage, immeasurable deliverables are eliminated early. The deliverables should include the documents, the desired behaviors, and a long-term auditing process that verifies the deliverables are in place.

Links – This section considers other departments or organizational initiatives that may have overlap with the group’s purpose. It could also include key resources that are known Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in specific fields.

The hypothetical example below shows all the elements can come together to create a highly useful document that boost the team’s success.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

© Life Cycle Engineering

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

For More Information

843.744.7110 | [email protected]

Venecia Williams

  • Understand the different types of reports
  • Discuss the main parts of a formal report
  • Examine how to use headings and lists
  • Learn how to integrate graphics

Reports are documents designed to record and convey information to the reader. Reports are part of any business or organization; from credit reports to sales reports, they serve to document specific information for specific audiences, goals, or functions. Reports come in all sizes but are typically longer than a page and somewhat shorter than a book. The type of report depends on its function. The function of the report is its essential purpose, often indicated in the purpose statement. The function may also contribute to parameters like report length (page or word count) or word choice and readability. Reports vary by function, but they also vary by style and tradition. Within your organization, there may be employer-specific expectations that need to be addressed to meet audience expectations.

Informational or Analytical Report?

There are two main categories for reports, regardless of their specific function or type. An informational report informs or instructs and presents details of events, activities, individuals, or conditions without analysis. An example of this type of “just the facts” report is a summary report. The report will summarize the most pertinent information from a text based on the audience’s needs.

The second type of report is called an analytical report. An analytical report presents information with a comprehensive analysis to solve problems, demonstrate relationships, or make recommendations. An example of this report may be a field report by a physician from the Public Health Agency of Canada from the site of an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, noting symptoms, disease progression, steps taken to arrest the spread of the disease, and recommendations on the treatment and quarantine of subjects.

Informal and Formal Reports

Reports can also be classified as informal and formal reports. Informal reports tend to be a few pages long and are normally written for someone within the organization. Informal reports are normally sent as memos, sometimes attached to an email, or as letters. Formal reports, on the other hand, are much longer and are usually, though not always, sent outside an organization. Whether you write an informal or formal report depends on the audience for the report and the information required.

Many business professionals need to write a formal report at some point during their career, and some professionals write them on a regular basis. Key decision-makers in business, education, and government use formal reports to make important decisions. As opposed to informational reports that offer facts and information without analysis, formal reports provide the end product of a thorough investigation with analysis. Although writing a formal report can seem like a daunting task, the final product enables you to contribute directly to your company’s success.

While you may write much shorter, more casual reports, it’s helpful to go into a bit of detail about formal reports. Formal reports are modular, which means that they have many pieces. Most audience members will not read every piece, so these pieces should stand on their own. That means that you will often repeat yourself. That’s okay. Your audience should be able to find exactly what they need in a particular section, even if that information has been repeated elsewhere.

While it’s fine to copy and paste between sections, you will likely need to edit your work to ensure that the tone, level of detail and organization meet the needs of that section. For example, the Executive Summary is aimed at managers. It’s a short, persuasive overview of everything in the report. The Introduction may contain very similar information, but it focuses on giving a short overview of everything in the report. Its goal is to inform, not to persuade.

Report Organization

Reports vary by size, format, and function. You need to be flexible and adjust your report to the needs of the audience. Reports are typically organized around six key elements:

  1. Who the report is about and/or prepared for
  2. What was done, what problems were addressed, and the results, including conclusions and/or recommendations
  3. Where the subject studied occurred
  4. When the subject studied occurred
  5. Why the report was written (function), including under what authority, for what reason, or by whose request
  6. How the subject operated, functioned, or was used

Pay attention to these essential elements when you consider your stakeholders. That may include the person(s) the report is about, whom it is for, and the larger audience of the organization. Ask yourself who the key decision-makers are, who the experts will be, and how your words and images may be interpreted.

While there is no universal format for a report, there is a common order to the information. Each element supports the main purpose or function, playing an important role in the transmission of information. There are several different organizational patterns that may be used for formal reports, but all formal reports contain front matter (prefatory) material, a body, and back matter (supplementary) items. The prefatory material is therefore critical to providing the audience with an overview and roadmap of the report. The body of a formal report discusses the findings that lead to the recommendations. The back matter provides additional information. Some common elements in a report are shown in Figure 11.1.



Report title; date of submission; name, title, and organization of the person who prepared the report; name, title, and organization of the person receiving the report.

If your report contains sensitive information or if it is going to be exposed to the elements, it might also contain a cover page.

No page number.

A list of the sections in the report and their respective page numbers.

All headings/sub-headings in the report should be listed on this page.

This page is not labelled with a page number.

The executive summary is a one-page overview of the entire report aimed at managers or people in a position of power. It discusses the managerial implications of your report: basically what managers or other people who have the authority to approve your report need to know. Summarize the topic, methods, data/evidence, results, and conclusions/recommendations.

On its own page.

Labelled as page iii.

Introduces the topic of the report, states the purpose of the report, and previews the structure of the report. This section often contains similar information to the Executive Summary, but in a clear, factual manner.

Begins on a new page.

Labelled as page 1.

Key elements of the report body may include the background, methods, results, and analysis or discussion.

Uses descriptive or functional headings and sub-headings (is not labelled “Body”).

Pagination continues from the introduction.

Concise presentation of findings and/or recommendations. Indicate the main results and their relation to the recommended action(s) or outcome(s).

Pagination continues from the body of the report.

A list of all references used in the report.

All in-text citations included in the report should have an accompanying entry in the reference list.

Begins on a new page.

Pagination continues from the conclusions and/or recommendations.

Related supporting materials.

All materials in the appendix (or appendices) must be referred to in the body of the report.

Only one item per appendix.

Each appendix begins on a new page, is labelled as Appendix A, B, C, etc, and is given a title.

Pagination continues from the reference list.

Figure 11.1 | Parts of a Report

Front Matter

Front matter includes all the information preceding the body of the report.

Title Page

The title page provides the audience with the:

  • Name of the report
    • This should appear 2 inches from the top margin in uppercase letters.
  • Name, title, and organization of the individual receiving the report
    • Type “Prepared for” on one line, followed by two separate lines that provide the receiving organization’s name. Some reports may include an additional line that presents the name of a specific person.
  • Name of the author and any necessary identifying information
    • Type “prepared by” on one line, followed by the name(s) of the author(s) and their organization, all on separate lines.
  • Date of submission
    • This date may differ from the date the report was written. It should appear 2 inches above the bottom margin.

The items on the title page should be equally spaced apart from each other.

A note on page numbers: The title page should not include a page number, but this page is counted as page “i.” Use software features to create two sections for your report. You can then utilize two different types of numbering schemes. When numbering the pages (i.e., i, ii, iii, etc.) for a formal report, use lowercase Roman numerals for all front matter components. Utilize Arabic numbers for the other pages that follow. Additionally, if you intend to bind the report on the left, move the left margin and center 0.25 inches to the right.

A note on font: If there is no specific preference for serif vs. sans serif font, choose one and use it consistently throughout the report. Do not utilize anything besides a traditional serif (e.g., Times New Roman) or sans serif (e.g., Arial or Calibri) font.

Letter or Memo of Transmittal

A letter or memo of transmittal announces the report topic to the recipient(s).

If applicable, the first paragraph should identify who authorized the report and why the report is significant. Provide the purpose of the report in the first paragraph as well. The next paragraph should briefly identify, categorize, and describe the primary and secondary research of the report. Use the concluding paragraph to offer to discuss the report; it is also customary to conclude by thanking the reader for their time and consideration.

A letter of transmittal should be formatted as a business letter. Some report writers prefer to send a memo of transmittal instead. When considering your audience for the letter or memo of transmittal, make sure that you use a level of formality appropriate for your relationship with the reader. While all letters should contain professional and respectful language, you should pay closer attention to the formality of the word choice and tone in a letter to someone you do not know. Figure 11.2 illustrates a report with a letter of transmittal.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.
Figure 11.2 | Report Cover and Letter of Transmittal Binding Cover and Letter of Transmittal (Source- David McMurray)
Table of Contents

The table of contents page features the headings and secondary headings of the report and their page numbers, enabling audience members to quickly locate specific parts of the report. Leaders (i.e. spaced or unspaced dots) are used to guide the reader’s eye from the headings to their page numbers.

The words “TABLE OF CONTENTS” should appear at the top of the page in all uppercase and bolded letters. Type the titles of major report parts in all uppercase letters as well, double spacing between them. Secondary headings should be indented and single-spaced, using a combination of upper and lowercase letters. Figure 11.3 demonstrates the organization of a typical table of contents and executive summary for a report.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.
Figure 11.3 | Table of Contents and Executive Summary (Source- David McMurray)
List of Figures and Tables

The list of figures has many of the same design considerations as the table of contents. Readers use the list of figures to find the illustrations, diagrams, tables, and charts in your report. Complications arise when you have both tables and figures. Strictly speaking, figures are illustrations, drawings, photographs, graphs, and charts. Tables are rows and columns of words and numbers; they are not considered figures. For longer reports that contain dozens of figures and tables each, create separate lists of figures and tables. Put them together on the same page if they fit. You can combine the two lists under the heading, “List of Figures and Tables,” and identify the items as figure or table as is done in Figure 13.3.

Executive Summary

An executive summary presents an overview of the report that can be used as a time-saving device by recipients who do not have time to read the entire report.

The executive summary should include a:

  • Summary of purpose
  • Overview of key findings
  • Identification of conclusions
  • Overview of recommendations

If the executive summary, introduction, and transmittal letter strike you as repetitive, remember that readers don’t necessarily start at the beginning of a report and read page by page to the end. They skip around; they may scan the table of contents and they usually skim the executive summary for key facts and conclusions. They may read carefully only a section or two from the body of the report, and then skip the rest. For these reasons, reports are designed with some duplication so that readers will be sure to see the important information no matter where they dip into the report.

To organize this section, type “EXECUTIVE SUMMARY” in all uppercase letters and centred. Follow this functional head with paragraphs that include the above information, but do not use first-level headings to separate each item. Each paragraph of information should be single-spaced with double spacing between paragraphs. Everything except for the title should be left-aligned.

An executive summary is usually ten percent of the length of the report. For example, a ten-page report should offer a one-page summary. A 100-page report should feature a summary that is approximately ten pages.

The body is the main section of the report and includes the introduction, discussion or findings, conclusion and recommendations.


The body of a formal report begins with an introduction. The introduction sets the stage for the report, clarifies what need(s) motivated it, and orients the reader to its structure. Most report introductions address the following elements: background information, problem or purpose, significance, scope, methods, organization, and sources. As you may have noticed, some parts of a formal report fulfill similar purposes. Information from the letter of transmittal and the executive summary may be repeated in the introduction. Reword the information in order to avoid sounding repetitive.

To begin this section, type “BACKGROUND” or “INTRODUCTION” in all uppercase letters. This functional head should be followed by the information specified above (i.e., background information, problem or purpose, etc.). You do not need to utilize any first-level headings in this section.

Because this section includes background information, it would be the appropriate place to address the needs of audiences that may need additional knowledge about the topic. Provide definitions of technical terms and instructions about the overall project if necessary. If you are uncertain if your audience needs a particular piece of information, go ahead and include it; it’s better to give your reader a little bit too much background than not enough. The organization of a typical introduction is illustrated in Figure 11.4.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.
Figure 11.4 | Introduction and List of Figures (Source- David McMurray)
Discussion of Findings

The Discussion of Findings section presents the evidence for your conclusions. This key section should be carefully organized to enhance readability.

To begin, type “DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS” in all uppercase letters. Center this and all other functional heads. Follow “DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS” with a brief paragraph that previews the organization of the report.

Useful organizational patterns for report findings include but are not limited to:

  • Best Case/Worst Case
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Chronology
  • Geography
  • Importance
  • Journalism Pattern

Use a Best Case/Worst Case organizational pattern when you think that the audience may lack interest in the topic. When examining a topic with clear alternatives to your proposed solution, consider using a Compare/Contrast pattern. Geographical patterns work effectively for topics that are discussed by location. When describing the organization of the report in the first paragraph, broadly identify how the material in the report is organized rather than state that the report uses a specific pattern (e.g. Chronology, Geography). For example, write, “The research findings address curriculum trends in three provinces: (a) British Columbia, (b) Alberta, and (c) Ontario,” not, “This report uses a geographical organizational pattern.”

Follow the first paragraph with a first-level heading. Use first-level headings for all other major parts of this section. First-level headings should appear in bold, uppercase letters. Center first-level headings, but align any second-level headings with the left margin. Type any second-level headings in bold, upper- and lowercase letters.

As you present, interpret, and analyze evidence, consider using both text and graphics. Take into account what will be easiest for your audience to understand. Include citations for all quoted or paraphrased material from sources as well; check with your organization as to whether they prefer parenthetical citations or footnotes.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The conclusions and recommendations section conveys the key results from the analysis in the discussion of findings section. Up to this point, readers have reviewed the data in the report; they are now logically prepared to read the report’s conclusions and recommendations. Type “CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS” in all uppercase letters. Follow this functional head with the conclusions of the report. The conclusions should answer any research questions that were posed earlier in the report. Present the conclusions in an enumerated or bulleted list to enhance readability. Recommendations offer a course of action, and they should answer any problem or research questions as well.  Think back to the expectations of your audience.  Have all of their requirements been addressed?

Back Matters

Back matters contain all the supplementary materials and can include works cited, appendices, a glossary and an index.

Works Cited

All formal reports should include a works cited page; this page documents the sources cited within the report. Documenting your information sources is all about establishing, maintaining, and protecting your credibility in the profession. You must cite (“document”) borrowed information regardless of the shape or form in which you present it. Whether you directly quote, paraphrase, or summarize it—it’s still borrowed information. Whether it comes from a book, article, a diagram, a table, a web page, a product brochure, an expert whom you interview in person—it’s still borrowed information. Use the documentation style appropriate to your industry (e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago).


Appendices are those extra sections following the conclusion. What do you put in an appendix?—anything that does not comfortably fit in the main part of the report but cannot be left out of the report altogether. The appendix is commonly used for large tables of data, big chunks of sample code, fold-out maps, background that is too basic or too advanced for the body of the report, or large illustrations that just do not fit in the body of the report. Anything that you feel is too large for the main part of the report or that you think would be distracting and interrupt the flow of the report is a good candidate for an appendix. Notice that each one is given a letter (A, B, C, and so on).

Note that this report organizational structure is a guideline and may differ from the standard used by your organization. If you are asked to write a report, find out if there is a standard used in your organization. If not, the structure outlined above will suffice.

Headings are the titles and subtitles you see within the actual text of much professional scientific, technical, and business writing. Headings are like the parts of an outline that have been pasted into the actual pages of the document. Headings are an important feature of professional writing. They alert readers to upcoming topics and subtopics, help readers find their way around in long reports and skip what they are not interested in, and break up long stretches of straight text.

Headings are also useful for writers. They keep you organized and focused on the topic. When you begin using headings, your impulse may be to include the headings after you’ve written the rough draft. Instead, visualize the headings before you start the rough draft, and plug them in as you write.

General Guidelines

  • Use headings to mark off the boundaries of the major sections and subsections of a report.
  • Make the phrasing of headings parallel.
  • Avoid “stacked” headings—any two consecutive headings without intervening text.
  • When possible, omit articles from the beginning of headings. For example, “The Pressurized Water Reactor” can easily be changed to “Pressurized Water Reactor” or, better yet, “Pressurized Water Reactors.”
  • Don’t use headings as lead-ins to lists or as figure titles.
  • Avoid “widowed” headings; that’s where a heading occurs at the bottom of a page and the text it introduces starts at the top of the next page. Keep at least two lines of body text with the heading, or force it to start the new page.

Format and Style

The style and format for headings shown in this chapter is not the “right” or the “only” one; it is just one among many. As illustrated in Figure 11.5 headings function like outline elements inserted into the text at those points where they apply.

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.
Figure 11.5 | Format of Headings (Source- David McMurray)

When formatting your headings and subheadings, pay close attention to details such as vertical and horizontal spacing; capitalization; use of bold, italics, or underlining; and punctuation. Headings occur within the body of a document. Don’t confuse headings with document titles. Although titles may look like first-level headings in smaller documents, think of them as separate things.

First-level headings are the highest level of headings in your document. Apply the same format or style to all first-level headings. This style should be different from that which is applied to second-level heading. All second-level headings should have the same style. Similarly, this style should be different from that which is applied to third-level headings (and all third-level headings should have the same style), and so on. There are different ways and styles you can use to differentiate various levels of headings. Use whatever styles are appropriate for the document and audience.

Lists are useful because they emphasize selected information in regular text. Lists can be horizontal, with the listed items included directly in the sentence/paragraph. Lists can be vertical, such as when you see a list of three or four items strung out vertically on the page rather than in normal paragraph format. Lists, particularly vertical lists, are noticeable and readers are likely to pay more attention to them. Certain types of lists also make for easier reading. For example, in instructions, it is a big help for each step to be numbered and separated from the preceding and following steps. Lists also create more white space and spread out the text so that pages don’t seem like solid walls of words.

Like headings, the various types of lists are an important feature of professional writing. They help readers understand, remember, and review key points. They help readers follow a sequence of actions or events. They also break up long stretches of straight text.

General Guidelines

Follow these general guidelines when making lists:

  • Use lists to highlight or emphasize text or to enumerate sequential items.
  • Use a lead-in to introduce the list items and to indicate the meaning or purpose of the list.
  • Make sure that each item in the list reads grammatically with the lead-in.
  • Make list items parallel in phrasing.
  • Avoid overusing lists because using too many lists destroys their effectiveness.

Bullet points are democratic, meaning each item in a bulleted list is of equal importance. This is in contrast to numbered lists where items may have different levels of importance, priority, or sequence. Use bulleted lists for items that are in no required order. Use numbered lists for items that are in a required order (such as step-by-step instructions) or for items that must be referred to by item number.

Emphasis, as the term is used here, is the use of typographical effects to call attention to text. These effects can include italics, bold, all-caps, quotation marks, colour, and so on. Emphasis attracts the attention of the reader—or “cues” them—to actions they must take or to information they must consider carefully. Practically any special textual effect that is different from regular body text can function as an emphasis technique. Things like italics, bold, underscores, caps, different size type, alternate fonts, colour, and more can act as emphasis techniques.

However, if emphasis techniques are used in excess, readers can become reluctant to read a text and may avoid it altogether because it is too busy or distracting. NOTICE how UNREADABLE this sentence IS BECAUSE TOO MUCH emphasis is used.

As with any type of writing, when writing formal business reports, it is necessary to know your audience.  For example, if your audience is familiar with the background information related to your project, you don’t want to bombard them with details; instead, you will want to inform your audience about the aspects of your topic that they’re unfamiliar with or have limited knowledge of. In contrast, if your audience does not already know anything about your project, you will want to give them all of the necessary information for them to understand. Age and educational level are also important to consider when you write.  In addition, you don’t want to use technical jargon when writing to an audience of non-specialists.  These are just a couple of examples of different audience needs you will want to consider as you write your report.  

Educational Level and Subject Knowledge

While age may not necessarily be an issue in the business world—your audience will almost all be adults—educational level and knowledge of your subject are important to consider when writing your report.  If you are writing for someone outside of your specific field, you will either need to exclude technical jargon or provide in-text reminders or indications of what specific terms mean or items are.  For example, if you work for an automotive company, and you are writing on behalf of mechanical engineers but for an audience of business professionals, you don’t want to assume that your audience knows the names of all of the parts that make up an engine; you will have to use terms they will recognize. In some cases, a glossary of terms may be appropriate.

Expectations and Research

What does your audience expect to get out of reading your report?  What is its purpose?  Make sure that you have specifically responded to the expectations of your boss, manager, or client.  If your audience expects you to have research, make sure you know what type of research they expect. Do they want research from scholarly journal articles? Do they want you to conduct your own research?  No matter what type of research you do, make sure that it is properly documented using whatever format the audience prefers (MLA, APA, and Chicago Manual of Style are some of the most commonly-used formats).  You also want to establish a strong ethos in your report.  Use confident language that shows that you have done your research and present them with the research.

For further information about what types of research you may want to include, see this article about research methods and methodologies.

Here are some questions to consider about your audience as you write:

  • What does your audience expect to learn from your report?
  • What type of ethos should you establish?
  • How much research does your audience expect you to have?
  • How current does your research need to be?
  • What types of sources does your audience expect you to have?
  • What is the age of your audience?
  • What is the educational level of your audience?
  • How much background information does your audience need?
  • What technical terms will your audience need defined?  What terms will they already be familiar with?
  • What is the cultural background of your audience?

Sometimes, despite writing clearly and concisely, it can be helpful to your audience if you use supporting graphics–whether that be tables, illustrations, maps, photos, charts, or some other type of other visual aid.

Before getting into details on creating, formatting, and incorporating graphics, consider the types and their functions. You can use graphics to represent the following elements in your writing:

  • Objects: If you’re describing a fuel-injection system, you’ll probably need a drawing or diagram of the object. If you are explaining how to graft a fruit tree, you’ll need some illustrations of how that task is done. Photographs, drawings, diagrams, and schematics are the types of graphics that show objects.
  • Numbers: If you’re discussing the rising cost of housing in Vancouver, you could use a table with the columns being for five-year periods since 1970; the rows could be for different types of housing. You could show the same data in the form of bar charts, pie charts, or line graphs. Tables, bar charts, pie charts, and line graphs are some of the principal ways to show numerical data.
  • Concepts: If you want to show how your company is organized, such as the relationships of the different departments and officials, you could set up an organization chart, which is boxes and circles connected with lines showing how everything is hierarchically arranged and related. This would be an example of a graphic for a concept; this type depicts nonphysical, conceptual things and their relationships.
  • Words: Graphics can be used to depict words. You’ve probably noticed how some textbooks may put key definitions in a box, maybe with different colours in the background. The same can be done with key points or extended examples.

Documenting Graphics

Just as you would cite and reference a paraphrase or a direct quote, so too must you cite and reference any graphics that you use that were created by someone else or that were based on someone else’s data. Indicate the source of any graphic or data you have borrowed. Whenever you borrow a graphic or data from some other source, document that fact in the figure title using an in-text citation. You should also include the reference information in the reference list.

Guidelines for Using Graphics

  • Use graphics whenever they would normally be necessary.
  • Make sure your graphics are appropriate to your audience, subject matter, and purpose. Don’t include advanced, highly technical graphics your audience may not understand.
  • Intersperse graphics and text on the same page. Place graphics as near to the point in the text where they are relevant as is reasonable and don’t put them on pages by themselves or attach them to the end of documents. However, if a graphic does not fit properly on one page, put it at the top of the next, and continue with regular text on the preceding page. Don’t leave half a page blank just to keep a graphic near the text with which it is associated.
  • Always discuss graphics in nearby text preceding the graphic. Don’t just include a graphic without an explanation. Orient readers to the graphic and explain its basic meaning. They need to have a purpose and be introduced before the reader encounters them on the page. The first mention of a graphic is called a lead-in statement, and your graphics must always be introduced by a lead-in. Similarly, it is typically recommended to also use a lead-out statement after the graphic. This is a statement that connects the figure to the material that follows.
  • Use titles and labels for graphics.
  • Include identifying detail such as illustration labels, axis labels, keys, and so on.
  • Make sure graphics fit within normal margins—if they don’t, enlarge or reduce the copies. Leave at least 2 blank lines above and below graphics.

Computers have made it easier for professionals to create effective graphics. Most of the graphics in Figure 11.6 can be created in Microsoft Office Word and Excel. There may also be some occasions in which a formal report includes graphics from a particular print or online source. In these instances, it is critical to include a caption that presents the source of the graphic.

Figure 11.6 summarizes uses and audience benefits for the most frequently employed types of graphics.

Drawings, Diagrams, and Photos

To depict objects, place, people, and relationships between them, you can use photos, drawings, diagrams, and schematics. Just as you would cite and reference a paraphrase or a direct quote, so too must you cite and reference any illustrations, diagrams, and photos that you use that were created by someone else or that were based on someone else’s data. Indicate the source of any graphic or data you have borrowed. Whenever you borrow a graphic or data from some other source, document that fact in the figure title using an in-text citation. You should also include the reference information in the reference list.

Bar Chart

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Represents data with the height or length of rectangular bars • Compare items
• Grasp a series of numbers

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Illustrates a sequence of events with shapes connected by arrows • Grasp a series of steps
Line Chart

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Shows changes in quantitative data over time or plots the relationship between two variables with one or more lines • Compare variables
• Visualize change over time

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Illustrates activities or trends on a map that represents geographically organized parts of a region, country, or the world • Compare geographical trends
• Grasp geographical relationships
Pie Chart

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Depicts distribution of parts in a whole with wedges in a circle graph • Compare significance of parts and parts-to-whole   relationship(s)

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Presents data or values in rows and columns • Compare data or values
• Grasp relationships between data or values

Figure 11.6 | Types of Graphics

Tables, Charts, and Graphs


Tables are rows and columns of numbers and words (though mostly numbers). They permit rapid access to and relatively easy comparison of information. If the data is arranged chronologically (for example, sales figures over a ten-year period), the table can show trends—patterns of rising or falling activity. However, tables are not necessarily the most vivid or dramatic means of showing such trends or relationships between data—for that, you’d want to use a line graph, which is discussed in the next section.

Guidelines for using tables

Follow these general guidelines when making tables:

  • As with other types of graphics, you should refer to the table in the text just preceding the table.
  • You should also explain the general significance of the data in the table; don’t expect readers to figure it out entirely for themselves.
  • Don’t overwhelm readers with large tables! Simplify the table data down to just that amount of data that illustrates your point—without of course distorting that data.
  • Just as you would cite and reference a paraphrase or a direct quote, so too must you cite and reference any tables that you use that were created by someone else or that were based on someone else’s data. Indicate the source of any graphic or data you have borrowed. Whenever you borrow a graphic or data from some other source, document that fact in the figure title using an in-text citation. You should also include the reference information in the reference list.

Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs are just another way of presenting the same data that is presented in tables. At the same time, however, you get less detail or less precision in a chart or graph than you do in the table. Imagine the difference between a table of sales figures for a ten-year period and a line graph for that same data. You get a better sense of the overall trend in the graph but not the precise dollar amount. Other types of charts and graphs are horizontal bar charts, vertical bar charts, and pie charts.

Just as you would cite and reference a paraphrase or a direct quote, so too must you cite and reference any charts or graphs that you use that were created by someone else or that were based on someone else’s data. Indicate the source of any graphic or data you have borrowed. Whenever you borrow a graphic or data from some other source, document that fact in the figure title using an in-text citation. You should also include the reference information in the reference list.


This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Source: Statistics Canada (2019)

Pie Chart

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Source: Statistics Canada, Industry Accounts Division (2018)

Line Chart

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey and the Canadian Employer-Employee Dynamics Database (2019)

 A Bar Graph

This section clarifies the boundaries of the report, defining what will be included and excluded.

Source: Statistics Canada, Demography Division (2018)

Checklist for Writing Reports

As you reread and revise your report, keep in mind the following:

  • Report considers the audience’s needs
  • Form follows function of report
  • Format reflects institutional norms and expectations
  • Information is accurate, complete, and documented
  • Information is easy to read
  • Terms are clearly defined
  • Figures, tables, and art support written content
  • Figures, tables, and art are clear and correctly labelled
  • Figures, tables, and art are easily understood without text support
  • Words are easy to read (font, arrangement, organization)
  • Results are clear and concise
  • Recommendations are reasonable and well-supported


Reports require organization and a clear purpose. Business reports can be informational, analytical, formal and informal. Though reports vary by size, format, and function, most include six key elements. As with any type of business writing, it is important to use audience analysis to determine the organization and content of reports.

What are your key takeaways from this chapter? What is something you have learned or something you would like to add from your experience?

11b. Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever written a formal report?
  2. Do you feel confident converting data into tables, charts and graphs?
  3. Find an annual report for a business you would like to learn more about. Review it with the previous reading in mind and provide examples. Share and compare with classmates.

11c. Applying chapter concepts to a situation

Quick Meals is a food delivery service that delivers a variety of meal options to customers at an affordable cost. They provide customers with a new menu each week that they can use to choose items from for lunch or dinner. This service is used regularly by schools and businesses that do not have a cafeteria but would like to provide students and staff with convenient meal choices.

Farshad works as an Operations Manager at Quick Meals. He notices that their services are in high demand and decides to change the menus to offer healthier and more organic options. As a result, the meals cost more. Their regular customers are not pleased with this, and there is an increase in complaints and a decrease in sales.

Upon noticing the changes, Farshad calls a meeting with the supervisor of the customer service department, Susan. He asks her to reach out to the customers to find out their thoughts on the menu changes. Farshad intends to use this information to adjust the menus again. However, this time, it will be to suit the needs of the customers.

How should Susan go about getting this information to determine the issue?

11d. Writing Activity

Watch this video from on Txtng is killing language. JK!!!. We can think about texting as the opposite of what we would do in a formal report. Summarize the video. Do you think formal reports will change in the future as the way we communicate changes?

Content Attribution

This chapter contains information from Business Communication for Success which is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2010 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative, Business Communication For Everyone (c) 2019 by Arley Cruthers and is licensed under a Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, and Online Technical Writing by David McMurrey and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Media Attribution

Geography Icon made by Freepik from

Flowchart Icon made by Becris from

Table Icon made by Nhor Phai from

Line Chart Icon made by DinosoftLabs from

Pie Chart Icon made by Freepik from

Bar Chart Icon made by smalllikeart from


Government of Canada, S. (2017, September 29). Measuring the economy, region by region. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from

Government of Canada, S. (2018, September 27). Annual Demographic Estimates: Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2018 (Total Population only) Analysis: Total Population. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from

Government of Canada. (2020, June 30). Canadian Business Counts, with employees, December 2019. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from

Guffey, M. E., & Almonte, R. (2019). Essentials of Business Communication. Toronto, Ontario: Nelson.

Jeon, S., Liu, H., & Ostrovsky, Y. (2019, December 16). Measuring the Gig Economy in Canada Using Administrative Data. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from