Historically, the terms data report or business report haven’t got the crowds excited. Data reports have always been important for businesses. However, they have been a necessary evil, created by analysts and consultants. The term usually conjures up images of static PDFs, old-school PowerPoint slides and big tables. Usually created with past data without the possibility to generate real-time or future insights, these reports were obsolete, comprised of numerous external and internal files, without proper data management processes at hand.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The business intelligence industry has been revolutionized over the past decade and data reports are in on the fun. The rise of innovative report tools means you can create data reports people love to read. If you utilize business intelligence correctly, not only you will be able to connect your data dots, but take control of your data across the company and improve your bottom line.
In this post, we will explain what is a data report, how to write one and provide the best possible examples created with modern software. Read on to see why data reports matter and our top data reporting tips.
What Is A Data Report?
Data report is an evaluation tool used to assess past, present, and future business information while keeping track of the overall performance of a company. It combines various business data, and usually used both on an operational or strategic level of decision-making.
As mentioned, these reports had features of static presentation of data, manually written or calculated, but with the introduction of modern processes such as dashboard reporting, they have developed into an invaluable resource to successfully manage your sales processes, marketing data, even robust manufacturing analytics and numerous other business processes needed to stay on top of the pack.
But let’s get into the basics in more detail, and afterward, we will explore data reporting examples that you can use for your own internal processes and more.
Data Reporting Basics
Data analytics is the science of examining raw data with the purpose of drawing conclusions about that information. Data reports present the data, analyses, conclusions, and recommendations in an easy to decipher and digest format. These business reports can cover a wide variety of topics and objectives and can vary greatly in length, content, and format. It can be annual reports, monthly sales reports, accounting reports, reports requested by management exploring a specific issue, reports requested by the government showing a company’s compliance with regulations, progress reports, and feasibility studies.
Historically, creating these business data reports was time and resource-intensive. Data pull requests had to be made to the IT department and a significant amount of time was spent analyzing, formatting and then presenting the data. Because this task was so resource-heavy, it couldn’t be done often. Also, by the time the data was presented, it was generally out of date. The emergence of real-time cloud-based BI reporting tools has changed the data reporting game. Now a wider range of business users can act as analysts, even performing advanced analytics. The right BI platform can blend multiple data sources into one report and analysis: enhancing business insights and better-informed decision making. These cloud-based tools allow organizations to collaborate on a report, bringing various subject matter experts (SME) to the same table. Modern business dashboard tools allow a wider audience to comprehend and disseminate the report findings. Users can also easily export these dashboards and data visualizations into visually stunning reports that can be shared via multiple options such as automating e-mails or providing a secure viewer area, even embedding reports into your own application, for example.
OK, now you are sold on how new data reporting tools are making reports easier to build, more encompassing of disparate data sources, visually powerful and easier to share in various formats. They are also increasing analytic capabilities.
Now, let’s look into some tips and ideas to keep in mind before and when you start to build and create data reports that will enable you to save time, and, ultimately, costs.
How To Write A Data Report?
Depending on the type of the report, each has its own set of rules and best practices. We will mention below the most popular ones, but our main focus is on business data reports that will, ultimately, provide you with a roadmap on how you can make your reports more productive. Let’s get started.
1. Define The Type Of Your Data Report
What types of data reporting do you need to present? Having this definition ahead of time will help set parameters you can easily stick to. Here are the most common data report types:
1) Informational vs. analytical: First determine if this report is just providing factual information. Informational reports are usually smaller in size, the writing structure is not strict, and the sole purpose is to inform about facts without adding any analysis. On the other hand, if it is providing any analysis, demonstrates relationships or recommendations, it is an analytical report.
2) Recommendation/justification report: Presents an idea and makes suggestions to management or other important decision-makers. What the name suggests, it provides recommendations to changes in business procedures and justifies courses of actions that have the goal of improving business performance.
3) Investigative report: Helps determine the risks involved with a specific course of action. Here, reporting data is based on documenting specific information objectively with the purpose of presenting enough information to stakeholders. They will ultimately decide if further actions are needed. An example would be a report created for legal purposes.
4) Compliance report: Shows accountability by providing compliance information for example to a governing body.
5) Feasibility report: An exploratory report to determine whether an idea will work.
6) Research studies report: Presents in-depth research and insights on a specific issue or problem.
7) Periodic report: Improves policies, products or processes via consistent monitoring at fixed intervals, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
8) KPI report: Monitors and measures Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess if your operations deliver the expected results.
9) Yardstick report: Weighs several potential solutions for a given situation.
2. Know Your Target Audience
Knowing your audience will help determine what data you present, the recommendations you make and how you present the data. Your audience may be upper, middle or line management, other departments in the company, coworkers, the client, potential clients, the government or another company in the same market. Knowing your audience helps determine what type of information to include in the report. If a report is internal facing, branding such as colors, font, and logo aren’t as crucial. If it is a one-time live presentation, formatting for printing isn’t key. Determine ahead of time if your audience needs persuasion or education. If your audience is C-suite level or the board, you may want to present mostly high-level data with specific call outs and action items. If the report is more exploratory in nature, you may want to include more granular data and options to interact with the data. Ramon Ray, tech evangelist and founder of Smart Hustle Magazine, wrote about how to best present your data to a wide audience. He focused on keeping text simple, use visualizations whenever possible, including video and animation when appropriate, and making your reports/presentations interactive. Knowing your audience before you start your analysis – and even more importantly before you put together the report – will keep your reports and data focused and impactful.
3. Have A Detailed Plan And Select Your KPIs
We are going to sound like a broken record here, but have a report plan before you start your analysis. What information does the management need for its effective decision making? What data and insights do your shareholders require? Understand the scope of data required and think about how you will want to use that data. Utilize as many data sources as possible. But don’t go data crazy and get bogged down in unnecessary information. Of course, you have to remain agile and may have to adapt the plan, but a robust plan is crucial. Remaining purpose-driven will focus your work, save you time in the long run and improve your business reporting outcomes.
When creating your plan, it is crucial to select the right KPIs. You don’t need dozens of metrics that will answer all your business questions at once, but pick a few that will tell a comprehensive data story (more on that later), and enable you to take proper action (more on that later, too). Depending on your department or industry, reports will vary as KPIs also vary, but choose the ones that will help you put your data into proper context and always keep in mind the audience you’re addressing.
4. Be Objective, When Possible
A good business data report describes the past, present or possible future situation in an objective and neutral way. Objective means the report states facts, not an opinion. Keep the opinions minimal. It helps to combine them in one section, possibly titled “Suggested Actions.” Also, using a passive voice in a report will help keep the report formal and objective. For example:
Active: The managers need to make changes in their management style. Passive: Changes in management style need to be made.
5. Be Visually Stunning
Numerous types of data visualization have proven to be extremely powerful. Analytics presented visually make it easier for decision-makers to grasp difficult concepts or identify new patterns. Data presented visually are easier for humans to perceive and digest. Reports should include data visualizations over text whenever possible. Just make sure you are choosing the most appropriate data visualization to tell your data story and that you are following BI dashboard best practices. With the right data reporting tool, anyone can create meaningful visuals and share them with their team, customers and other shareholders. All this can be accomplished without involving a data scientist.
Also, make sure your report remains visually stunning, no matter how it is shared and disseminated. Your report should look good on a computer, tablet, PDF or even on a mobile screen. That’s why utilizing a dashboard can be the most cost-effective solution that will provide you with not only stunning visuals but interactivity as well.
Bonus tip: For reports like annual reports that will be printed and widely shared, the extra focus should be spent on dashboard design principles.
6. Have Content Sharply Written
While the focus should be on visuals, some data report types also need text. Make sure your reports use persuasive and even-toned business writing. Use concise, active and engaging language. Use bullet points versus long paragraphs. Use headers and provide legends and supplementary text for your visualizations. Also, you should always proofread!
7. Make Sure The Report Is Actionable
Prescriptive, descriptive, and predictive analytics are becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Each brings new insights needed to make better business decisions and increase ROI – insights from the past, future, and prescribing possible outcomes. That being said, make sure your report has a conclusion. When necessary, provide recommendations. Reports should be objective but the best ones are also actionable. Intended audiences should walk away with the next steps or greater insights. By doing so, you will enable a data-driven business environment and foster a more efficient collaboration.
8. Keep It Simple And Don’t Be Misleading
While data should be objective, formatting, filtering, and manipulation can be easily misleading. Make sure you are being consistent and reliable with your reporting. Also, keep it simple. The boom of data visualization and reporting tools has led to the creation of visualizations that don’t tell a data story. You shouldn’t need 3-D glasses to read a report. Sometimes, a simple chart is all you need. You also don’t need to go nuts with colors and formats. You can easily overwhelm your audience this way. Choose a couple of colors that are easy on the eyes. Keep to one font. Don’t go crazy with highlighted, bold or italicized text. You don’t have to create a “piece of art” for your report to be visually stunning and impactful.
9. Don’t Forget To Tell A Complete Story
To successfully report data, you must take into account the logic of your story. The report should be able to provide a clear narrative that will not confuse the recipient but enable him/her to derive the most important findings.
Consider creating a dashboard presentation. That way you will have your data on a single screen with the possibility to interact with numerous charts and graphs while your story will stay focused and effective. By utilizing interactive visualizations, you not only have a strong backbone on how to write a data report but also ensure that your audience is well-informed and digests data easily and quickly.
10. Use Professional Data Report Software
Last but not least, utilizing a modern visual analytics software will ensure you design your reports based on the decisions you need to make, filtering the ever-present noise in reporting processes and making sure you don’t get lost in the details. Often times, reports are piled with large volumes of spreadsheets and presentation slides that can create an obscure view on the presented data, and increase the possibility of (unintentional) errors. The software can eliminate hideous manual tasks of searching through rows and columns, provide the necessary real-time view, alongside with the possibility to look into the past and the future of how the data will behave.
No matter if you’re an analyst working with databases and need a strong MySQL reporting tool or a marketing professional looking to consolidate all your channels under the same data-umbrella, the software will enable you to clear the clutter and automate your reports based on your specific time intervals. They will update the data automatically, and you will not need more than small refinements to make sure the data you present is the one your audience needs.
We have expounded on the data reports definition, saw the top 10 best practices to create your own, and now we will continue our focus on data reports examples from a few industries that will present these practices in action.
Data Reports Examples And Templates
To be able to create reports that drive action and provide added value to your company’s business efforts, here are some examples that put the reporting creation and presentation in perspective. These examples are created with the help of a professional dashboard designer that empowers everyone in the line of business to build their own reports. Let’s start with the finance department.
- Financial KPI dashboard
Finance is the beating heart of any business and creating a financial report is the basis for sustainable development. Companies need to keep a close eye on how their monetary operations perform and make sure their financial data is 100% accurate.
Our example focuses on KPIs that are meticulously chosen to depict the general financial health of a company. The displayed information is presented in a logical order, connecting various financial KPIs that make a complete data story, without the need to overcrowd the screen or complicate the report.
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What is data reporting doing in this case is quite simple. Presenting the most important information in a clear financial narrative that will drive action. We can see in this financial dashboard that the company managed to decrease the cash cycle, but the vendor payment rate had a spike in September last year. It might make sense to take action and see in more detail what happened so that the processes can be adjusted accordingly.
- Retail KPI dashboard
Retailers must be extra careful in picking the right KPIs and presenting their data into a clear order, without cluttering the report or confusing the people that need to read it and act accordingly.
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A retail dashboard such as the one presented above focuses on the perspective of orders which is one of the crucial points in this cutthroat business.
Gaining access to these business touchpoints will equip you with the best possible ingredients to stay competitive on the market. By utilizing KPIs such as the rate of return (also by category), customer retention rate and the number of new and returning customers, will enable you to access in-depth information on your order processes and ensure your actions stay focused on developing your business on a sustainable level. For example, you can keep an eye on the rate of return and make sure it stays as low as possible. That way, your costs will be significantly lower and, ultimately, customers more satisfied.
Your retail analytics processes don’t need to foster complex reports, but an example such as we presented above, you can see that reporting with dynamic visualizations empowers you to make better business decisions.
Start Building Your Data Reports Now!
Reporting, analytics, and information delivery can have a transformational impact on an organization if implemented correctly. Luckily, the mind-numbing task of manually creating daily or weekly reports is a thing of the past. With the right plan and proper business reporting software, you can easily analyze your data and also create eye-catching and remarkable reports.