Do you need to write an introduction to a report? Business reports can be dry, so getting the introduction right is key to keeping your reader engaged.
In this article, we’ll look at actionable steps to write a great report introduction.
Table of Contents
Why Report Introductions Matter
When we talk about the success (or otherwise) of online content, we tend to obsess about traffic. This is understandable – it’s easy to measure, and who doesn’t want more people visiting their website?
With a short blog, you might be more than happy to take a high click-through rate. It shows the piece is probably doing what you hoped it would do – it is appearing prominently in search results and/or is getting a good few shares on social media, both of which help to raise your profile and get people visiting your website.
But with a more in-depth report, is someone just opening the page enough? A lot of time and effort has probably gone into researching and writing your report, and with good reason. If you go the extra mile to craft a long-form piece of content, it is because you have something important to say.
In that case, what you really want is people reading, digesting and engaging with the whole thing.
Engage the Reader
Someone viewing a piece of content is not the same as someone reading it.
Second, if you want to grab their attention and convince them not to give up just a fifth of the way through, you don’t have very long to do it.
The standard figure thrown about is that most people spend 15 seconds or less reading the web pages they open.
That’s not ideal if you are writing a B2B-focused report, or any other type of long-form content for that matter. In those 15 seconds, your readers will get through much less than 20% of the text. If your aim is to maximise the number of people reading the whole thing, you have to grab their attention early.
That is why the introduction to a report is so important. In many ways, writing a report is like serving up a quality three-course meal. The introduction is the entrée, designed to whet the appetite for the main course to come, with a conclusion at the end to round things off by sweetly summarising and reinforcing the main points.
Only with a report, get the first course wrong and your readers are likely to leave the table without tucking into what follows.
How to Write the Introduction to a Report
If you don’t want to let a great report go cold, you have to get that introduction right. Here are our top tips for writing a great business report introduction.
1. Get to the Point in 2 Sentences
You only have 15 seconds to convince the reader that spending the next five to 10 minutes on your document is worth their time. Get straight to the point of telling them not just what your report is about, but why they need to read it.
For example, many reports offer fresh insight and analysis into a particular issue, and/or present an innovative solution. Work on summarising the purpose of your report in a short, snappy paragraph, and use that right at the top of your introduction. You should be able to do this in two sentences. Here’s an example:
Writing report introductions causes headaches for dozens of businesses. But when we trialled our simple five-point writing plan, XX% of participants saw an uptick in follow-up queries.
2. Address the Reader Directly
Using the second person to talk directly to the reader, especially in the form of a question, is known to boost engagement.
So the first sentence of the above could become something like: “Ever struggled with writing a winning introduction for a business report?”
Or, as we attempted at the start of this article, you could come up with a broader ‘big idea’-type question related to your topic.
Either way, addressing the reader directly makes them feel the article is relevant to them, while a question creates the expectation that they will get an answer if they read on.
3. Assume the Reader will Scan the Report Introduction
People don’t read digital content the way they do printed text on paper.
Eye-tracking analysis of how readers process text on a screen shows they tend to scan in an F-shaped pattern – that is, they often scroll down the right-hand side looking for information that grabs their attention, and then read across when they spot something.
There are a couple of ways you can use this knowledge to give your introduction more impact.
- Don’t be afraid to use subheadings and bullet points to break up even a relatively short block of text, as this makes it easier for the reader to pick out the main details. Short, even single-sentence paragraphs serve the same purpose.
- Get some nice juicy statistics in there, preferably at the start of a paragraph or sentence close to the right hand margin.
Whether from original research or secondary sources, statistics have the double benefit of being easy to spot in a block of text and readily remembered.
4. Give the Who, What, Why, and How in the Introduction
As well as grabbing your reader’s attention from the very start, your introduction needs to provide enough detail about what the main body of the report covers to convince them that their questions will be answered. A great guide is to make sure your introduction answers the who, what, why and how:
- Who is your report for, plus, if it relates to an original piece of research, who did you survey?
- What is the main objective of the report, and what are the main points you will cover (try to keep it to between three and five)?
- Why have you produced this report, and why should people read it through to the end?
- How will you answer the main issues and questions raised, and if you are reporting on a survey or piece of market research, how was it carried out?
5. Keep the Report Introduction Short
It’s important to give enough information to make the reader want to carry on into the main body as per above. But it’s also important not to get carried away.
If you write a long introduction to your report, the reader’s attention will start to wane and you’ll end up putting them off. Remember, this is the appetiser – let them fill up on the main body proper! Depending on the length of the overall report, anything from half a page to a page for a report introduction should be plenty.