Writing a report is not only about knowing what type of things to include (and not include) and how you structure it, but how you say it: the words and phrases you use.

Although your choice of vocabulary is not as important for writing good reports as what you actually write about, to look professional you should you try the right type of vocabulary and not overuse the same words and phrases in your reports.

To help you know what words and phrases to use in your own reports, I have created the below online exercise. Through reading an example of a good report and doing a quiz/test, you'll learn and remember some English vocabulary which will make your reports look more professional and read better.

If you have already done the exercise on 'how to write business reports' (which explains what type of things to write about and how to structure them in a report), you don't need to reread the report below again. Just focus on the words and phrases in bold in the report and from the context which you find them in (e.g. the sentence they are in), think about what their purpose is and their meaning.


Example & Exercise: The report

The following report evaulates the performance of a help desk in a small bank. From the context, try to guess what the meaning and purpose of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Report on the customer help desk's inbound customer call performance

Introduction

The following report evaluates the current performance level of our customer help desk based in Pudsey, Leeds. It focuses on its performance when dealing with inbound customer enquiries made by phone.

This report was produced in response to the results of a recent customer survey. This survey identified a high level of customer dissatisfaction with our company's help desk. Of the 1506 customers who left a rating for the help desk in the survey, 1254 of those rated the service as bad or terrible. Of this 1254, 67% gave the reason for their dissatisfaction as 'call waiting time', while 25% said that the 'service is unhelpful'.

The purpose of this report is to identify failings with the current set up of the help desk which could account for this low customer rating. And to recommend changes to the help desk to improve the service provided to customers.


Procedure

The findings which are contained in this report are predominantly based on a combination of statistics from the help desk's call management system (CallCom) and random monitoring of calls (100 in total) between customers and help desk analysts. Both the statistics and the call monitoring stem from the same 7 day period (4 May to the 11 May 2015).

In order to ensure the integrity of the results, during the period of evaluation, nobody in the help desk section was aware that an evaluation was being conducted.

After this 7 day period, a number of interviews with staff at the help desk (the manager of the section, a team leader and 6 help desk analysts) were then conducted to hear their views and opinions.

In addition to the above, I also reviewed the processes and procedures in place at the help desk for dealing with inbound call customer enquiries.


Findings

Customer waiting time

From reviewing the statistics from CallCom, one thing did stand out, the customer waiting time (before a call is answered by an help desk analyst). The length of customer waiting time varied throughout the day. During most of the day, the average waiting time for customers was around 25 seconds, but during 5pm to 9pm (except on weekends), this rose to an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

These 4 hours of the day, coincide with the highest call volume of the day for the help desk. On average, 41% of all calls each day were received during these 4 hours.

Chart showing the average customer weekday waiting time and the average percentage of calls received during the period of the study.

During these peak hours of call volume, the help desk does have more analysts answering customer calls. On average 10 extra staff (mainly part-time) are answering customer calls during these peak hours.

Length of call

Not only did customer waiting time increase during these peak hours, but there was also an increase in how long staff were actually speaking with customers during these hours as well. During 5pm to 9pm (except on weekends), the average time that analysts spoke to customers increased from 4 minutes 23 seconds to 7 minutes and 59 seconds.

Chart showing the average length of help desk analyst speaking time with customers during the period of the study.

During these peak hours of call volume, the nature of the calls did not differ significantly from those received during the rest of the day. But what did stand out was a difference between the length of time that full-time analysts spoke to customers during these peaks hours (on average 6 minutes and 56 seconds) and part-time analysts (on average 9 minutes and 28 seconds).

The statistics from ComCall indicated that although part-time analysts performed only slightly slower than their full-time counterparts on simple enquiries (e.g. confirming account and balance information), they performed significantly slower on more complex enquiries (e.g. freezing and resetting accounts).

Monitoring of customers calls supports this. On more complex enquiries, part-time staff put their customers on hold more often and for longer while they consulted with other staff to find out what they had to do.

Call procedures and processes

The procedures and processes that are in place in the help desk for dealing with customer enquiries meet the industry's highest standards (the standards set down in the Financial Services Association's customer service best practices).

Through monitoring calls between customers and help desk analysts, I can confirm that the vast majority of analysts always followed set procedures when dealing with customer enquiries. Furthermore, except for one or two occasions, they dealt with customers in a professional manner (even when customers were aggressive).

The help desk's customer application system

From conducting interviews with help desk analysts, one of the things they stated was an issue was the slowness of the help desk's customer application system. In particular, they stated that the system had a tendency to run slow at peak hours (between 5pm to 9pm on weekdays). Resulting in them taking longer to deal with customer enquiries.

The monitoring of customer calls seems to confirm this. Analysts performed tasks using the system a lot slower when there were more staff taking calls (during peak call volume hours) than when there were less staff taking calls during the rest of the day.


Conclusion

The findings of this report on the help desk's performance would strongly seem to indicate that there is a problem with dealing with customer calls only during the hours of peak call volume (between 5pm to 9pm on weekdays). During these peak hours, the average waiting time for customers was nearly 10 times higher than during other times of the day (from an average of 25 seconds to an average of 3 minutes and 44 seconds).

Although it would appear that simply increasing the number of help desk staff taking calls would resolve this issue, the rise in the average time that analysts spoke to customers when dealing with enquiries (an average of 7 minutes and 59 seconds at peak call volumes in comparison with an average 4 minutes 23 seconds outside of these hours) would indicate that it is not only a problem of not having enough staff on at these times.

Although having more staff taking customer calls at these times should reduce the average customer waiting time, it would not address the issue of customer enquiries taking longer to resolve at these times. It would appear that this is the main factor causing the longer waiting times that customers are experiencing.

The findings would appear to demonstrate that this issue is caused by two main reasons:

  • The help desk's customer application system
  • The underperformance of part-time staff

The first (and most important) reason is that there appears to be a problem with the help desk's customer application system. It appears to run a lot slower during periods of peak call volume when more analysts are logged on and using it.

The second reason is that part-time staff complete tasks slower on average than their full-time colleagues. This would appear to not stem from a lack of willingness on their part to answer calls quickly, but that they have less experience on resolving more complex customer enquiries.


Recommendations

On the basis of the above findings, I make the following recommendations:

1. Request the I.T. department to perform an investigation into the problems experienced with the help desk customer application system as soon as possible.

2. Undertake a training programme for part-time help desk staff to improve their knowledge and speed in dealing with customer enquiries (especially more complex enquiries).


Contact

If you require any clarification or further information on the report, please do not hesitate to contact myself (James Smith) by email (jsmith@suttonbank.com) or by phone (01535 666541).



Click to see more email/letter exercises & examples


Quiz:

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, an Additional Information Icon "" will appear next to the answer. Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation.

1. A formal way to say 'said', is
     

Stated:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to state'. This is commonly used in formal writing and basically means 'to say'. This can be used for both what people said verbally and in writing. If you want to write about what people told you in your report, I would recommend you use 'stated' instead of 'said' (it sounds more professionally).

For example:

'One of the customers stated that they were disappointed with the treatment that they had received.'

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2. A more formal way of saying 'strongly suggested that', is
     

Indicated that:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to indicate'. You use this when you are using the evidence in your findings to speculate about the causes or reasons behind things. It is a more formal way of saying 'to strongly suggest'. But it doesn't mean 'to suggest' (where you are less sure about your speculations).

For example:

'Our investigations indicated that the problem with the server was the result of a computer virus.'

If you want to make it sound politer and even more formal, you can add 'would appear to' in front of 'indicate'.

For example:

'Our investigations would appear to indicate that the problem with the server was the result of a computer virus.'

I would recommend you add this if what you are speculating about, could be seen as criticism of somebody.

If you want to use a more formal synonym of just 'suggest' in your report, use 'imply' instead.

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3. A phrase which is used to begin the paragraph where you explain to the readers the reasons behind why you are writing the report, is
     

This report was produced in response to:
(phrase) Once you have written what the report is about, the next thing you need to write about in the introduction is why you are writing it. You need to explain the reasons behind the report being written. Was it due to falling sales?, The result of a major incident? or Is it just a report which is written annually? By doing this this, you will give context to the report and help people to understand its relevance and importance (especially if it's being written in response to problems).

The phrase 'this report was produced in response to' is used to introduce the paragraph where you talk about the reasons behind the report being producing.

You would then follow this paragraph in the introduction, by writing about what the report's purposes are.

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4. A more formal way to say 'wasn't caused by' is
     

Not stem from:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to stem'. This phrase is basically a more professional way of saying 'is/was caused by'. Although there is no problem with using 'is/was caused by' in any report you write, it is good to vary the words and phrases you use (i.e. not repeat using the same ones to often). That's why I would recommend that you use 'to stem from' as well.

For example:

'The majority of damage to the airplane didn't stem from the collusion with the birds, but from the emergency landing.'

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5. A more formal way to say 'carrying out', which you can use to say how you got the data that you are using in the report, is
     

Conducting:
(verb and noun) The infinitive is 'to conduct'. This is a more formal way to say 'to carry out'. This verb is used when you want to say how you obtained the data you are using in the report.

For example:

'A survey was conducted with the staff on how they felt about the departmental restructuring.'

If you want to say that you 'conducted' interviews, you can use 'performed' as well.

For example:

'A series of interviews were performed with customers.'

The reason why you shouldn't use 'carry out' when writing reports is that it is a phrasal verb (a verb with two or more parts). And these types of verbs are not generally used in formal writing.

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6. A phrase which you use to introduce the part of the report where you say from where and how you obtained the data that you are using in it, is
     

The findings which are contained in this report:
(phrase) The phrase 'the findings which are contained in this report' is used in the procedures section. This is the part of the report (after the introduction) where you say from where and how you obtained the data that you are using in your report.

You should use this phrase to start this section.

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7. A verb which you use when you want to say that you noticed something important when you were investigating or evaluating, is
     

Stand out:
(phrasal verb) This means that something was more noticeable than other things or significantly different from expected. Normally when writing a report, this is one of the things that you will want to talk about in your findings. And to make the people reading the report aware of this, you can use the phrasal verb 'to stand out'.

If you do use it, 'stand out' normally comes after 'one thing that' or 'one of the things that' and then the thing you want to tell them about.

For example:

'One of the things that stood out was the lack of processes in place for dealing with emergencies.'

If you want to add more emphasis or importance to this, you should add 'did' or 'does' in front of the verb.

For example:

'One of the things that did stand out was the lack of processes in place for dealing with emergencies.'

Although it is not generally recommended to use phrasal verbs in formal writing (verbs with two or more parts like 'take off' or 'go through' or 'cross off'), there are some exceptions. 'stand out' is one of these.

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8. A phrase which is used to begin the paragraph where you tell the readers what the report looks at, is
     

The following report evaluates:
(phrase) Without doubt, the most important paragraph you'll write in any report is what the report is about. You need to explain what the report is looking at (is it a product?, an individual?, a department? or a company/organisation?), how (is it a review?, an evaluation?, a feasibility study?) and what particular aspect(s) (if the report is on a product, is it looking at the design?, the usability?, the performance? etc...).

If you don't explain these things in the very first paragraph you write, you are increasing the likelihood that the people reading the report will get confused or misunderstand things you have written in the rest of the report.

The phrase 'the following report evaluates' is used to introduce the paragraph where you talk about what the report is about. The verb 'evaluates' is used in this phrase because the report it is used in evaluates in a study the performance of a company department. If the report you are writing isn't based on an evaluation, then you should change this (e.g. you could change it to 'reviews', 'considers', 'examines' etc...).

You would then follow this paragraph in the introduction, by writing about the reasons behind the report being written.

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9. A formal way to say that there 'wasn't a big difference' between two things, is
     

Did not differ significantly from:
(phrase) When you are comparing things in a report (normally in the findings section) a very professional verb you can use to do this is 'to differ'. You use this to say there was a difference (or not if the case may be) either between things or in one thing over a period of time.

By adding an adverb to 'differ', you can change the degree of this difference (e.g. differ significantly (for large differences), differ marginally (for small differences)).

For example:

'The number of drinks sold differed significantly between the afternoon and the evening.'

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10. A different way of saying 'causing', is
     

Resulting in:
(phrase) In a report or any type of formal writing, you will probably use 'causing' quite a few times. The art of good writing is to not repeat the use of the same words or phrase too many times. So in addition to using 'causing', I would recommend that you also use 'resulting in' or 'leading to' as well. There is no difference in meaning between the three. Although the latter two do sound a little more professional, you would use them in your reports to mainly make the language you use more varied.

For example:

'The server started to encounter hardware problems at 11.32 am. Resulting in the website going offline.'

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11. A phrase you would use when you want to say that doing an action 'won't have any impact on resolving' a particular problem, is
     

It would not address:
(phrase) The infinitive is to 'to address'. This verb has many different meanings, but in the context used here it means to 'deal with' or 'try to resolve' an issue or problem. With this meaning, it is more commonly used in the negative (i.e. 'it doesn't deal with').

Normally, you would follow 'it would not address' with 'the issue/problem of'. You would then follow that by saying what the problem is.

For example:

'Although this would help with improving pass rates, it would not address the issue of attendance rates.'

Although you can use 'it does not address' or 'it will not address' instead of 'it would not address', I would use the latter because the use of 'would' makes it sound politer and more professional.

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12. A more formal way of saying 'clearly show that', is
     

Demonstrate that:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to demonstrate'. You use this when you are using the evidence in your findings to speculate about the causes or reasons behind things. Unlike 'indicate', you would use 'demonstrate' when you are very sure what you are speculating about is true (but you are still not 100% sure).

For example:

'Our investigations have demonstrated that the problem with the server was the result of a computer virus.'

It is basically a more formal way of saying 'to show'. Although you can use 'show' when writing a report, for me 'demonstrate' sounds more professional.

If you want to make it sound politer and more formal, you can add 'would appear to' in front of 'demonstrate'.

For example:

'Our investigations would appear to demonstrate that the problem with the server was the result of a computer virus.'

I would recommend you add this if what you are speculating about, could be seen as criticism of somebody.

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13. A phrase which is used to begin the paragraph where you tell the readers what you want to achieve in the report, is
     

The purpose of this report is to:
(phrase) Once you have written what the report is about and why you are writing it, the last thing you need to write in the introduction is what you want to achieve in it (i.e. the purpose). Is it to identify problems?, recommend something? or check if something is possible? Normally, there will be more than one purpose for the report and this is where you write about them.

The phrase 'the purpose of this report' is used to introduce the paragraph where you talk about the report's purposes.

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14. A different way to say 'in addition', is
     

Furthermore:
(adverb) Like 'in addition', 'furthermore' is basically a more professional way of saying 'also'. The art of good writing is to not repeat the use of the same words or phrases too many times. So besides using 'in addition', I would recommend that you also use 'furthermore'. This will make the language you use more varied in the report, which is good.

I wouldn't recommend that you use 'also' in reports. For me, it sounds a little too informal for this type of writing.

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Practice

Now that you understand the vocabulary, practise it by writing your writing your own report with these words/phrases.

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