Finance reports are not crime novels so don’t write them as if they are!

Whether writing an email or a 20-page report we tend to think of it needing a beginning, middle and end. This encourages a structure along the lines of:

Here’s a problem ==> This is the cause ==> These are possible solutions ==> Analysis of solutions ==> Recommended solution

The problem with this kind of structure, for busy people at work, is that the important bit is at the end. The reader (your boss or client) has to work through all your analysis to get to the answer. Report-writing is not (or should not be) for you to show off about all the analysis you have done.

You should focus on the needs of the reader and bring the end to the front of the report. Tell the reader the recommendation first and then explain why. This means a structure along the lines of:

Here’s the recommended solution to a problem ==> Explain why this is the recommendation ==> Analysis of possible solutions

One advantage of this structure is the potential for it to be framed more positively. It starts with suggestions for solutions (improvements over the status quo) rather than the negative start of describing a problem, challenge or something that has gone wrong.

Next time you are planning a report see if you can structure it so that the reader gets the conclusion/recommendation without having to read a long mystery story first.