Engaging Reports

Reports in a company are crucial for managing projects, departments and the whole company. Creating reports however can be a form of art which can have significant impact on how well information is transported to the target audience as well as how well this information can be used. Important factors for a good report are audience, information/purpose and layout.

Report Audience

Know your audience! Before you do anything in terms of creating a report you have to know your audience. Depending on your audience the information (amount and type) and layout should change. The following recommendations are very situational the best way to figure out what kind of reports are most helpful is to actually request feedback by the audience and potentially implement change requests.


The Management of a company usually needs information which contains a very broad overview of all aspects of the business which allow the management to see the current situation in a very fast way. Based on these information the management tends to go more and more into detail in order to understand deviations to their expectation or learn about specific changes.

At the same time the management may also have interests in very detailed information on specific aspects/projects of the company. These very specialized information/reports should already be available for the responsible departments and project managers. It is helpful to simply re-use existing reports so that the responsible person has the same information available as the management. Of course responsible head of departments or project manager may have additional reports which are even more detailed if helpful.

For the management it is important to be able to analyze a company from a top level approach down to the bottom level. A bottom up reporting may be uninteresting because a lot of detailed information has to be analyzed until it's possible to form to the actual conclusion or necessary level of information.

Finance / Controlling

Finance and controlling reports are usually very comprehensive since and numerous. Finance people live with numbers and very often feel comfortable with tables/lists and lots of information. This is also very often required because finance and controlling has to answer detailed questions coming from the management, shareholders and departments.

Due to the sheer amount of information it is necessary to structure these reports very well so that the information can be extracted very fast even if these reports are not always reviewed on a regular basis or in detail.

For finance and controlling I recommend to use the same reporting as the management and head of departments for regular reviews and then be comfortable with the in detail reports/lists/tables for detailed questions. Knowing and using the same reports as management and head of departments however is very important to be on the same page. Very often finance/controlling uses different reports than the management or head of departments. This can result in a different understanding and even misunderstandings but the finance/controlling department should be on the same page in order to understand where questions may result from. By using the same reports finance and controlling is also forced to constantly check if the reports for management and departments still contain the necessary information or if they maybe should be updated.

Head Of Departments

Head of departments may not necessarily work with numbers and statistics on a regular basis. This is why very often graphics are very important to share information, especially when these reports are shared with employees of this department. I made the experience that in many cases reports with charts and graphics alone were very easy to understand, the information was very easy to compare with previous/expected figures and the report could be understood in a much shorter time than with tables and lists.

The information on the reports for the departments is also very crucial. In some cases existing reports get re-purposed so that they can be used by the departments but because of this these reports feel like second class reports for these departments. A report which contains only department relevant information is much more engaging than working through additional information which is irrelevant for the department. This is also why it's important to communicate especially with the head of departments how these reports should be structured and what kind of information should be displayed.

External Or Shareholder

The external reporting or shareholder reporting often requires a lot of explanations since this audience is not in the day-to-day business and doesn't have the detailed information which the employees and management has. At the same time it's important to use a good mix of charts and graphics to visualize the figures. The easier the reports are to read the less questions you may receive with regards to the basis of the report and how it has to be interpreted.

A good mix of visualizations and explanations also reflects professionalism and the effort is seen in a positive light. The quality of a report can even help with mitigating negative information. A high quality report gives the impression that despite the negative content the company at least recognized and worked on it comprehensively.

External and shareholder reports can be the face of a company as much as a website, personal meetings and marketing projects.

Regular / Irregular Reporting

In this section we will talk about the effect of reports with different frequencies.

Reports with a high frequency (e.g. monthly, weekly, daily) usually can contain very little amount of written explanations since the target groups usually adapt to the format and how to interpret the contained information very quickly. This is especially true for more detailed reports. For high level reports (e.g. a management report only including very broad information) some written information may be necessary but even this can be kept on a little bit more abstract level. If more detailed information is required the management usually will ask in person about the backgrounds or use the more detailed reports to answer these questions.

Reports with a low frequency often require much more explanations especially in terms of what is being analyzed, how the result should be interpreted and what the reasons for the results are. The reader is also much more willing to read this detailed information in a report which only gets generated in a low frequency (e.g. quarterly or annually) than in a report with a high frequency (e.g. weekly).



Colors in reports can make them more appealing to the eye and appealing to read. I recommend to include colors from your corporate design. Using some colors and a logo in a header and/or footer can already have a huge impact on the reader. I personally am a fan of using a consistent color palette (if possible maybe ask your marketing department to help with this). Places where I use colors are:

  • Header/Footer
  • Table Headline
  • In some table contents (e.g. alternating row colors instead of black borders per row)
  • Boxes / icons to visualize special information (e.g. ratio of female/male employees)

I try to keep the amount of different colors low for the layout low (instead use different saturations). The reason for this is that this allows to use more colors in the charts (the actual information I want to highlight).


For charts I recommend one of the two following approaches.

Either use bright different colors or use similar colors with different saturations (be careful they still have to be easily distinguishable). In both cases I would recommend to use colors which are mostly different from the general layout colors (e.g. in the header, footer, table headline etc.). The goal of the report is to provide information and the main focus for the reader should be on the information and not on the background.

Tables And Line Spacing

Very often I see reports crammed with information which make a report visually unappealing and a lot of work to read through. Spacing can do wonders on the readability, both in tables and text and makes it a much more relaxed experience to work through.

Charts & Graphics

Use different charts and graphics for different information. There are many ways to structure and show information. It doesn't always have to be table. Different types of charts are very helpful to compare different types of information. Even if the information is the same a different chart may help to interpret it in a different way. You just have to be careful to not just use different types of graphics and charts for the sake of it. Again the information is important, if the information can be represented in a line chart much better than a gauge chart use the line chart.

Despite working with numbers all the time I appreciate small highlights (especially with icons). Instead of creating a table which contains the percentage of women employees and male employees maybe use a icon to represent one of them and write the percentage below.

The human brain tries to recognize patterns and structures all the time (even if they are not existing). In a regular report by using icons they eyes can jump to unique icons/structures much faster than some text. This makes it much faster to search for specific information in a report.


You don't have to be the most graphically talented person. You don't have to be a marketing person. Start with small improvements. Here is an example with very few changes done in excel and word which can already have an impact. Of course the sky is the limit (google for finance or business reports and have a look at some of the very appealing report designs).

Sample Reporting

(Disclaimer: figures and charts are fictional)