Scotty’s Report Style Guide
Purpose of a report
A business report serves as an essential tool in strategic decision-making, providing comprehensive, data-driven insights on company performance, challenges, and opportunities. It assists leaders in making informed choices, detailing the rationale behind proposed changes or strategies through evidence-based analysis and clear recommendations. Its standardised format ensures focused, effective communication, aiding strategic initiatives.
This page is a guide for those looking for a starting point to construct a report. There are different ways to format and structure a report, these are suggestions based on Scotty’s style guide.
There must be a consistent ‘look and feel’ to a report, and this is achieved by using formatting conventions that cover aspects such as page layout, type, and text.
A general structure for a report consists of clearly labelled headings and sub-headings that are consistently formatted.
These are set using the Layout tab/Page setup:
- margins – 2.5 cm the top, bottom, and both sides of the document
- paper – A4 size
- layout – Choose a different first page
- layout – Header 1.5 cm.
Header & Footer
- There is no header.
- Footer must include Title of Report (may be shortened version) and Student name.
- Text and page number are all on one line.
- Font size in the footer is 10 points.
Page numbering is in the footer of the page, justified right.
- Arabic numbers
- Page 1 is the Title page.
The look and size of the font is the typeface. Although serif fonts such as Times have been used traditionally in formal reports, contemporary reports usually have a sans serif font such as Calibri or Arial. The same font should be used throughout the report.
12pt type is the normal size for the text of a report, but 10pt may be used for block quotes, figures, analytical tools, and tables
- Italics can be used to emphasise text on rare occasions.
- The use of underlining or bold to emphasise text is avoided because it is distracting to the eye.
Lists can either be numbered or using dots.
There is no place for dashes in a professional business report.
Headings are numbered hierarchically according to their importance, using the decimal numbering system.
- The best headings are clear, descriptive statements rather than questions.
- Headings are not underlined or punctuated.
- Headings can be highlighted by using bold type and large font size.
- A heading without text following it should never appear at the bottom of a page.
Minimal capitalisation is used in headings as overuse slows reading. Capital letters are used for the first letter of the first word in each heading only, except for any acronyms (e.g. IEEE), trade names, or personal names and places, which may require more than one capital.
This report style aligns all text and headings against the left margin except where indentation is appropriate.
Line spacing of 1.5 is traditionally used for formal reports. It may be decreased between headings and text or if it helps group information such as in a bulleted list. If this format is used, it must be done consistently throughout the document.
An extra line space should be inserted in the following cases:
- to separate paragraphs
- to separate the main heading from the text which comes before
- to separate figures, tables, equations and long quotations from the text.
This report style does not use text indenting at the beginning of a paragraph because there is an extra line space between paragraphs. Indentation is appropriate for numbered lists or lists with bullet points.
‘Figures’ is used in this style guide to describe diagrams, graphs, sketches, photographs, screenshots, and maps included in either the body of the report or in an appendix.
Figures are used frequently in reports as they convey significant amounts of information quickly, and this also reduces the word count.
A figure needs to be numbered in italics, e.g. Figure 2. and titled. This is known as the label. The label is directly below the Figure, followed by the reference.
The full reference must be included in the reference list unless it is a figure that you have created yourself. All figures should be numbered in the order they first appear in the text.
Tip: Font size is to be smaller than the body text.
- Figures must be referred to in the text by their label.
- Do not use ‘see Figure above’ or similar.
- Figures must always be on the same page as their content.
Examples of how to refer to figures in body text:
Although the population growth rate is positive across most states (Figure 1), there is a clear issue with population growth in the Northern Territory.
Figure 1 shows the lack of population growth in the Northern Territory (Australian Demographic Statistics 2019) and supports the view that Victoria has the fastest population growth.
Tables contain data in rows and columns. They may be in either the body of the report or in an appendix. Tables are used frequently in reports as they can convey significant amounts of data in a condensed format. A dash (-) in a table indicates no data.
A table needs to be numbered, e.g. Table 2. and titled. This is known as the label, which is. directly above the table. The reference is below the table.
The full reference must be included in the reference list unless it is a table that you have created yourself. All tables should be numbered in order they first appear in the text.
RULE OF NUMBERS
Words are used for numbers up to one hundred and common fractions.
Example: ‘one-fifth of the class’.
Use figures for numbers:
- preceding measurement, for example, 3 cm
- grouped in figures, for example, 3 of 21
- in statistics, for example, 4% of the population
- in times, dates, ages, money.
REFERENCES IN A REPORT
A reference is a way of acknowledging the source of information. This is someone’s intellectual property. It could constitute plagiarism if there is no acknowledgment.
A reference list only includes the sources referred to in the report. It is not a bibliography, which also includes all texts and other sources that have been consulted as part of the investigation, even if they are not referred to in the report.
Reference list examples
There are many sources of information that must be referenced in a specific way. Swinburne University has released an excellent document that set out how to use APA referencing (Swinburne, 2019). Below are a few examples of how to reference using APA.
Book with one author
Dawkins, R. (2012). The magic of reality. London, England: Black Swan.
Book with four authors
Adams, S., Furlong, B., Larsson, M., & Thompson, A. (2018). Business for QCE: Units 1 & 2: Creation and Growth. Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.
Trespass laws tighten. (2023, January 18). Herald Sun. p.15.
Webpage with an author
Scott, M. (2023). Home. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://scottybreaksitdown.com
Webpage without an author
Neuroendocrine Tumor. (2022). Retrieved April 16, 2023, from http://www.cancer.net/cancertypes/neuroendocrine-tumor.
Online tables, graphs and images
Seivers, W. (1975). Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin’s ceiling in the Capitol Theatre, Melbourne 1975. [photograph]. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an12752342-2
OpenAI, ChatGPT3.5 (May 25, 2023) Prompt: “Write a list of suggestions for mature online retail businesses that are local to Australia who have more than 10 employees”
In-text citation examples
When an abbreviated version of the reference is included in the body of the report, it is known as an in-text citation.
Book with one author
Cite the name of the author and year of publication (Jackson, 2017).
Example: The universe cannot do good or bad things to humans because it is not a sentient force (Dawkins, 2012).
Book with three authors
For references with two or three authors, give all authors’ names in every in-text reference. For example: (McCurley, Lynch, & Jackson, 2012, p. 78).
Book with four authors
For references with four or more authors, list only the first author’s name followed by ‘et al.’ This stands for ‘and others.’ For example: (Adams et al., 2018).
Example: A charge of Trespass can be made once the defendant is 150m or closer to a timber harvesting site (Trespass laws tighten, 2023).
Webpage with an author
Example: Differences of behaviour between various species of frog may affect the possibility of some species becoming extinct (Scott, 2023).
Webpage without an author
Example: Cells that produce hormones comprise the endocrine system (Neuroendocrine Tumor, 2022).
Webpage of a company
Example: Haigh’s see their company as being involved in consumer experiences (Haigh’s Chocolates, 2016).
Tables, graphs and images from a webpage
Example: Figure 1. Ceiling in the Capitol Theatre (Seivers 1975)
In many cases, a letter is attached to a report to officially present the report to the person who commissioned it. Sometimes it is referred to as a ‘Letter of Transmittal’ because it accompanies a document that is being handed over (transmitted) to someone else.
A covering letter is a short document that thanks the reader for requesting the report and mentions how to obtain further information if required.
It is usual to indicate that there is an enclosure with the letter (i.e. the report).
Enclosure: Name of Report (in italics)
A title page should be brief but descriptive of the project (see Appendix B). The page number is not shown on the title page. It must include:
- the title of the report
- name of the person who commissioned report and their position
- name of author/editor and their position
- date of submission (month and year)
- Any logos relevant to report
A powerful executive summary is the ‘first impression’ that the reader gets, so it is incredibly important. It is on a page by itself, which comes after the Title page and before the Table of Contents.
It is more than just an abstract. It must cover purpose, conclusions and key recommendations in a precise way so that the reader can grasp the whole report in one ‘bite’. In very large reports, people often only read the executive summary, which may take up several pages.
This section is like a mini overview of the report. Write:
- One sentence/short paragraph explaining the purpose of the report – who it is for and why they want it.
- One sentence /short paragraph setting out the conclusions (a very short version of key messages from this section later in the report).
- One sentence/short paragraph for key recommendations (a very short version of key messages from this section later in the report).
The executive summary is usually written last.
Table of Contents
Use the Table of Contents (TOC) feature in the platform you are creating your report in (Example: Word or Docs), as this gives a very professional appearance. To do this, the font needs to be set into ‘Headings’.
- be automated
- be on a separate page
- list major headings
- list one level of sub-headings
- contain leader dots …….. to the page number
- include reference list before appendix.
Write four separate sentences here to introduce the report, so the reader knows what to expect in it.
If there are any assumptions made by the writer, then they are mentioned here.
- One sentence for the background – What business the report is about – the existing situation. This sets the scene for the reader.
- One sentence for purpose – Why the report was written and what the investigation is aiming to achieve – the main questions it intends to answer, such as Do they have a competitive advantage? Are they operating effectively? Is it a good investment?
- One sentence for what is in scope – What the report covers.
- One sentence for what is out of scope – What the report does not cover – any limitations such as cost, time etc
This is an overview of the business so that the reader understands what is being discussed in the rest of the report. Therefore, it is ‘describing’ only – no explanations or questions. It may be titled ‘Business overview’. There are usually several components, so consider using subheadings.
Example of sub-headings
- Business profile (or overview)
2.1 Business overview (structure, useful facts)
2.2 Business Environment (information about the industry)
2.3 Business Situation (about the business in the current environment. Could include challenges, barriers of entry, potential, the problem the business is facing.)
- Have you included the important facts, features, and characteristics of the business?
- Have you described the business environment and situation as set out in the task?
- Have you used appropriate business terminology in this section?
The title/s of the headings in this section will depend on what you have been asked to do in the task.
Examples of sub-headings
3. STRATEGY NAME
- Strategy Name
3.1 Roles and personnel
3.2 Financial considerations
3.3 Legal requirements
3. NAME OF STRATEGY
3.1 IMPACT ON OPERATIONS
3.2 IMPACT ON MARKETING
- Have you identified the most important elements of the concept, strategy or processes?
- Have you clearly explained the concept, strategy or processes you are writing about and the relationship to the business?
- Have you used appropriate business terminology in this section?
Every business report investigates the environment in which the business operates to identify and analyse factors that may impact on the success of the business.
Analytical tools are used to identify and understand patterns, trends and relationships. Some are SWOT, STEEPLE, Porter’s five forces, competitive analysis, unique selling proposition (USP analysis), force field analysis and power interest grid (PIG).
The analytical tool is included as an appendix or body. However, the summary is included in the body of the report. If there are two tools used, then their results are both summarised here. This section may have other tables or figures that support the summary in some way.
This section is about examining information to find patterns, similarities and differences. It is about exploring, comparing and contrasting the information. It is important to make sure that there are no suggestions or conclusions here. Think of this section as the evidence that will be used to support the next sections.
Examples of sub-headings
- Environmental analysis
4.1 SWOT Analysis of Company
4.2 STEEPLE Analysis of Company
4.3 Internal Summary
4.4 External Summary (includes the external from the SWOT and the STEEPLE)
- Have you chosen the best information you can find to provide a useful analysis?
- Have you gathered information from both primary and secondary sources?
- Have you analysed the information (data) to create a useful summary?
- Have you closely tied the analysis to the business situation?
This is one of the most important sections. You were asked to prepare the report because of your expertise, so now you must interpret the information in the analysis and draw conclusions.
IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU DON’T:
- introduce new information
- speculate or exaggerate
- suggest any actions
- offer an opinion
There may be more than one conclusion, especially if more than one analytical tool has been used in the report. Two examples of conclusions –
Based on the analysis, Scotty’s Soda Stream Pty Ltd, is not in a secure financial position. The data indicates that……., improvements in operations to improve efficiencies are required in the short-term, if the business is to become financially stable within the next year.
It is apparent from the data analysis that Scotty’s Soda Stream Pty Ltd, is overstaffed in the metropolitan area and that operational processes are out-of-date. As a result, the financial position of the business will continue to decline unless this human resourcing oversight is corrected.
- Have you noted the important relationships, patterns and trends in both the internal and external business environment?
- Have you drawn your conclusions based on these relationships, patterns and trends?
- Have you made a good summary statement about the business situation?
This is what the person who commissioned the report wants to know. You draw on the information in the sections above to make this evaluation. There must not be any new information here. This section has two parts to it:
- Judgement/s – Decide the merit, value or significance of whatever you are investigating, based on criteria.
- Recommendations – based on the judgments
Two examples of sub-headings
6.1 Operations management
6.2 Human resource strategies
Make a decision
Decide about the main questions that relate to the purpose of the report, as set out in the introduction. In other words, tie the end back to the beginning of the report.
- Do they have a competitive advantage?
- Are they operating effectively?
- Are they exhibiting critical success factors?
- Is it a good investment?
- Is there likely to be a long wait before there is a return on investment?
Justify your decision
All business decisions must be justified against business criteria. A decision must be shown to have merit, be advantageous in some way. The four criteria for evaluating a business are:
- Stakeholder satisfaction
If you have been asked to use two of these, then make sure that you use them both to justify your decisions in both areas that you are investigating, such as human resource strategies and financial strategies.
- Have you made judgement/decision?
- Have you justified these judgements/decisions using business criteria?
Recommendations should follow on logically from the judgements. Write an introductory sentence and then provide one or more recommendations about what the person who commissioned the report should do. Often recommendations are presented in point form.
A recommendation is a specific, action-oriented suggestion to solve the problem or answer the question that triggered the report. They go in descending order of importance. Powerful recommendations often begin with an imperative verb. An imperative verb is an action word that gives a command.
It is recommended that the event organisers:
- restrict the number of people attending the event to minimise the risk of participants being crushed because of overcrowding
- erect a three-metre-high wire barricade around the venue to stop unauthorised entry
- issue passes to people who leave the event and intend to return so that authorised participants can enjoy the full festival.
It is recommended that the organisation reduce its financial exposure by:
- recruiting a qualified accountant to…
- not extending any more credit to slow payers to avoid…
- hiring a debt collection agency to…
- Have you made recommendations that follow logically from your judgements?
FINDING INFORMATION FOR YOUR STEEPLE ANALYSIS (8 mins)
WRITING A CONCLUSION (5 mins)
JOINING THE DOTS (2 mins)
STARTING THE EVALUATION (4 mins)