How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word

Saikat Basu 11-12-2019

If Microsoft Office had been a country, it would have been the third most populous country in the world. 1.2 billion people using a single suite of apps is mind-boggling. And, they “speak” 107 languages!

This guide is available to download as a free PDF. Download How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word now. Feel free to copy and share this with your friends and family.

But right now, you and I are speaking in English and we are going to talk about the most popular tool in the Microsoft Office arsenal — Microsoft Word Yes, Get Microsoft Word for Free: Here's How Don't want to pay for the full Microsoft Word experience? Here are some ways on how you can use Microsoft Word for free. Read More 2016.

This document editor is used for writing a variety of documents. From a simple application to the necessary resume. From a plain bucket list to an office memo. We think we can work with Word. But it is when we sit down to write a serious professional report, we discover an important fact.

Professional report writing needs a different set of skills.

So, ask yourself this — can you make the leap from a single document to a lengthy report? Do you know all the Microsoft Word features 9 Tips to Learn All About Office 2016 Microsoft Office 2016 is among us. How are you mastering the latest version for the sake of your productivity? We tip you off to the best links for Office learning. Steal a march with these... Read More that will help manage this large scale document project? Can you collaborate on the work with other team members?

You may be a student, a small business owner, or an office worker…you will need to create a report or a professionally formatted document of some kind. This MakeUseOf guide will help you update your techniques and sharpen your design approach.


In this guide:

Writing a ReportIntroduction | The Report Checklist

Useful Microsoft Word Tools — Paste Special | Researcher | Freeze Parts of Your Document

Work on the Layout & Design — Intro | Cover Page | Table of Contents | Header and Footer | Page Numbers | Font Styling | Paragraph Styling | Page Breaks | Styles and Themes | Captions | Quick Parts | Page Borders

References and Collaboration — Index | Bibliographies | Cross-Referencing | Comments


Finalize Your report — Signatures | Watermarks | Read Only | Print to PDF

The Next StepConclusion

Writing a Report

Report writing involves research and then publishing the outcome of that analysis. In the professional world, the “look” or appearance of what you publish is paramount. The eye-pleasing final result could burnish your reputation and enhance your personal brand.

The steps below will handhold you through the expert features in Microsoft Word 2016. Spend a lot of time on a plan. Start with these guidelines…


Microsoft Word 2016 - Guidelines for a Report

Step 1: Decide the Purpose

Before you begin the report, you must first know why you are writing it in the first place. Reports are of many kinds but they are either meant to inform or persuade. It can be meant for describing a technical process, sharing background information, or demonstrate progress on a project.

Ask yourself – What and Why. This will help you distill the purpose to the one main point and stick to it instead of rambling on with unnecessary details.

Step 2: Identify Your Audience

The second important consideration is to evaluate your audience. Will they be able to understand what you are talking about? Are there different levels of readers who will read the report? The reader’s knowledge of the subject will greatly influence the information that you need to include.


Decide on the primary audience and then script the report at the adequate technical level. The secondary audience can be supported with supplemental information at the end of the report.

Step 3: Know Your Topic

You must know what you are talking about. So, research the topic, and include all the relevant information to prove your point. Make sure that you come to a conclusion based on facts and not personal opinion. The information must be correct, current, and well-referenced.

Also use a variety of resources such as journals, newspaper articles, books, websites, brochures, raw data, annual reports, and speeches to help support your point. Just don’t stick to Wikipedia.

Step 4: Outline the Report

You have done the research. There’s a ton of information that is waiting to be typed and printed. But wait! Don’t drown before you enter the water. Prepare the final outline of the report which will be the chart of waypoints to help you navigate from start to finish. The outline is the blueprint. It will give you a bird’s eye view of the land and also show you where you need to fill in the details.

The structure of an idea report can include the following elements:

  • Title Page
  • Executive Summary
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • The Body of the Report
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography and References

Microsoft Word’s Document Outline is a powerful feature that can help you organize a document even before you start filling it with research. Take advantage of brainstorming and mind-mapping templates 8 MS Word Templates That Help You Brainstorm & Mind Map Your Ideas Quickly Free Word templates are not just about beautiful documents, perfect resumes, and cover pages. They can be vital for brainstorming and mind maps too. Here are eight Word templates for your ideation needs. Read More too.

Step 5: Write, Edit, Proofread, and Finish

Once you have structured your report, it is time to fill out the headers with content. I personally find it best to tackle a little bit of each section, and then bulk it up with information. You can do that if you want, or finish each section as you go down the report structure. Make sure you focus on presenting your ideas and using supportive evidence rather than spelling and grammar first. Outline your argument and write a few sentences that cast your main ideas. If you find something worth quoting, quote it.

Once the majority of your text is written, it is now time to read through it and make sure it flows well. Make sure you guide the reader’s understanding with transition words such as “This information shows…”, “In other words…”, “Similarly…” and do highlight relevant and key points.

Finally, spend time to proofread, check for grammar and spelling How to Spell and Grammar Check in Microsoft Word You can customize Microsoft Word's built-in spelling and grammar checking tools to meet your needs. You can even use AutoCorrect to speed up your typing. Read More , and double-check all relevant information and its logical flow. It is best to leave at least one day to check and proofread your work. Don’t try to edit it straight after you think you have finished, as you will tend to miss read what you have written. Get some sleep, and proofread it the next day.

The Report Checklist

Before you go and submit or hand in your report that you have worked so hard on, make sure you have done the following:

  • Completed the title page with the Title, Your Name, Date, Who the report is for, and a possible description of what the report is about.
  • The contents page has appropriate headings and pages numbers are correct.
  • Make sure the introduction covers key points, the scope of the report, and the objective it wants to meet.
  • You have added captions above tables and below images/graphs.
  • Does the content of the report present the information in a clear way, logical, factual, stay on topic, is to the point?
  • Does the conclusion state the results, restate main idea’s, and does not include any new information?
  • Are the headings and sub headings clearly labeled?
  • Are quotes relevant, up-to-date, and correctly referenced?
  • Have you used page breaks where appropriate?

Now, let’s launch Microsoft Word and take you through the features that will help piece together the draft of your report and present it as a professional document.

Useful Microsoft Word Features for Report Writing

Take these as bite-sized tips and master them one by one.

Microsoft Word is a big howitzer with many nuts and bolts. Let’s focus on the key skill sets and the tools you will need to plan, prepare, and present the professional report. The Microsoft Word features we will cover below are also productivity shortcuts that will make your job easier.

Tip: Use Microsoft Word 2016’s “Tell Me” assistant to learn more about new features in the Office suite.

Let’s start with three preliminary tools…

Use Paste Special

For most of us, when we need to copy text or an image into Word, the CTRL+V shortcut does just fine. But sometimes we might want to paste the copied data into another format, such as Excel data as an image. With the Paste Special command you can discard or specify the format when you paste a picture, presentation data, table, or object from any other program into Word.

You will work a lot with Excel tables and charts in a professional document.

If you just copy what you want and click paste, you will notice that it will insert the data as tables. But, if it is a large area of cells you want to paste, and you do not want to edit it, you may want to paste it as an image, with the extra option to edit it.

In Microsoft Excel: Select and highlight the cells that you want to copy > Press CTRL+C.

In Microsoft Word: Go to Home > Paste > Paste Special. Select Paste Special and from the dialog select Microsoft Office Excel Worksheet Object.

Microsoft Word Paste Special

You can resize the data as it was an image, and if you double click, you will be able to edit the values. You can change the table or chart and redesign it. And, if you update the data in the chart or table in Excel, you can automatically refresh the chart in Word.

Try the right-click context menu too. The Paste Special menu pops up:

Microsoft Word Paste Special Right-Click

There are more options to import data from Excel into Word 8 Surprising Ways You Can Import Data into Microsoft Word Knowing how to import data into Microsoft Word from any source, including Excel, PDF files, or other Word documents, can save you a lot of time. We'll show you all the tricks. Read More .  The Microsoft Office Support page also describes them in detail.

Use the Researcher

Yes, there is Google and Wikipedia. But constantly switching from Word to your browser can hamper your productivity. Office 2016 brings in powerful research integration to this grunt work. The Researcher can not only help you find content from within Microsoft Word but also help you quickly add citations. It uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to find the right content to support your document.

Go to Ribbon > References tab and c Choose Researcher. A pane will open on the right with the search options.

Type a keyword for the topic want to search for and press Enter.

The Results pane shows a list of sources you can use in your document. Choose a topic to explore in detail.

Add the topic to your Microsoft Word document with a click on the plus sign on the top-right. You can also click the plus sign on any result to cite the source in your research document. The cite source helps you support your research with web sources and books.

As we will see later, an annotated bibliography is one of the toughest parts of a document. The Researcher is an intelligent assistant who steps in.

Freeze Part of Your Word Document

Let’s take for granted that your professional report will be a long and complex work. You can split the Word window into two panes so that you can view two different parts of a document at the same time. It is a valuable time saver when you want to copy and paste parts from one place to another or refer to one part of the document while working in another.

Go to Ribbon > View tab > Split.

To remove the split, click on Remove Split in the same tab.

Split Windows in Microsoft Word

The Windows group gives you several options to change the way you work with two or more documents. The features are self-explanatory.

To scroll both documents at the same time, click Synchronous Scrolling in the Window group on the View tab. You can also click on View Side by Side to put two parts of the document next to each other.

Tip: Use Split View to display two different layouts – for instance, Print and Outline. Set the split. Then, click in the pane that you want to change, and then select a different layout on the View tab.

Work on the Layout & Design

The presentation of a report is what gets someone to read a report in the first place, and that is why it is crucial that your report is well presented. If you had the choice of four reports to read, what will you choose?

  1. A hand written report.
  2. A document printed in black and white.
  3. A report printed on normal A4 paper in color.
  4. A report printed in color, with a catchy title page, neatly bounded, and slick?

You will pick up the fourth report because it will pull you towards it by the visual appearance alone.

The front cover is not the only reason. A well-designed report is easier to read. It is also easier to scan when you don’t have time to read. That is why you need to spend some time on your headers and footers, and the different styles and themes. In short – the formatting of every element in the report.

Formatting may seem like a difficult chore, but it is a fun exercise that will exercise all your creative muscles. The key takeaways will be the skills you can apply to anything in Microsoft Office going forward. And the time you will save with all the productivity tips learned here.

Microsoft Word 2016 has a wealthy set of features. These are only some of the ways that your report design can stand out from the rest and be professional. So, let’s break down the layout and design skills.

This section will cover these features step-by-step:

  • Start with a Cover Page
  • Make a Table of Contents
  • Create Your Header and Footer
  • Add Page Numbers

(Format the Content)

  • Pick the Right Fonts
  • Style the Paragraphs
  • Control Page Breaks
  • Use Styles and Themes
  • Captions
  • Use Quick Parts
  • Decorate with Page Borders

1. Start With a Cover Page

The first page is the first point of contact with your reader. It is also your opportunity to make a favorable impression. Don’t let your lack of artistic skills be an excuse because Word takes up the job with its in-built gallery of title pages. All you have to do is marry one to the theme of the report.

Microsoft Word 2016 offers you 16 pre-formatted templates and three more on

Go to Insert > Pages Group > Cover Page.

The cover page appears at the beginning of the document by default.

As there are only 16 “official” templates on offer, you may find that all your other peers have the same cover page. So, why not customize it, and make it a bit more unique.

You can design a title page (or cover page) in Microsoft Word How to Make a Custom Cover Page in Microsoft Word A strong cover page design is a great way to stylize your document. We show you how to make your own cover page in Microsoft Word. Read More that can be an original in the stack. Save it as a template or easily change the design on the fly.

2. Make a Table of Contents

Casual readers scan. Good readers scan first and then dive deep. A table of contents provides the waypoints that help both. When it is a long and complicated document, wouldn’t you rather check the lay of the land before you head to the section that interests you?

Consider a Table of Contents (TOC) if your document is more than 10 pages long. You should first make sure you don’t need to rearrange any pages in your document 3 Ways to Move and Rearrange Pages in Microsoft Word When you work in Word, you will have to rearrange pages. It may not be intuitive but it not difficult with these three tips here. Read More before creating the TOC.

In Microsoft Word, you don’t have to write the entire TOC by hand. There’s a Table of Contents automatic tool under the References tab which takes your outline and designs it for you. Also, you can easily keep it updated when you want to change something.

There are also templates you can download and fit it around the nature of the content. For instance, a TOC for a thesis will look different from that of a company’s annual report.

We have a complete tutorial on how to create a table of contents page in Word How to Create a Table of Contents in Word & Free Templates Table of contents are a great way to keep your documents organized and improve navigation. We show you how to create your own table of contents in four easy steps. Free templates included. Read More .

The gist of it is this:

Create the outline and use heading styles to organize the hierarchy. Apply the automatic TOC tool to the heading styles. Word 2016 searches for those headings and then inserts the table of contents into your document. Then you can automatically update your TOC if you make changes in your document.

Table of Contents

For more hands-on control, you can also use the Manual Table of Contents style. Word inserts placeholder text and you have to insert and format each content in the list.

Headers and Footers are important in reports as the main purpose is to provide information about the report on every page. They are the common display areas for page numbers. The header of the document should contain the title of the report, and possibly the name of who created it. The title of the current section is helpful.

The footer, on the other hand, should include the page numbers, date of publication, and other administrative information that is required. Do note that some style guides have special guidelines for headers and footers How to Add Chicago Style Footnotes in Microsoft Word Footnotes can help you complement text with additional details. Adding footnotes in Microsoft and using styles like Turabian, MLA, APA, or Chicago, is very easy. We show you what you need to know about footnotes. Read More .

Let’s start with the header in your document and give it a unique look.

Select Insert, then select either Header or Footer from the group. The built-in gallery shows you several options you can choose from.

The header and footer space is inserted in your document with placeholder text or table.  The Header & Footer Tools opens on the Ribbon for other formatting work like the date, time, or picture.

Header & Footer Tools

Enter your text and then select Close Header and Footer.

You can start with a blank header and footer. If you have the design skills, use the Header & Footer Tools to design your own. Master the header and footer space if you want to create custom letterheads for your organization. You can use brand elements like company or organization logos at the top and neatly formatted footnotes at the bottom

Header and Footer Tools

Let’s try with and modify one of the inbuilt headers. I selected Facet from the gallery.

The final look took two minutes to put together with simple text effects and an icon sourced from the Microsoft Office icon gallery.

Header Design

The header and footer are in place. But, how do you know where you are in the document? Insert page numbers as the next important signpost.

4. Add Page Numbers

Page numbers look best in the footer (unlike in the header as in the image above). You can add a basic page number from the Insert > Page Number button on the Ribbon. You can also add it from the Design tab that appears when you add the header and the footer.

Footer - Page Number

You have a lot of control over page numbers. Choose from a wide range of number formats and customize them to your needs. In this case, we are adding the number to the footer, but you can put them at the top or even at the margins. In this example, I have placed the page number at the bottom left. But, I would like to change the default look and the format.

For example: Using a “Page X of XXX” makes for a better indicator on a long document.

Select the page number. Go to Insert > Quick Parts. From the drop-down menu, select Field. You can also reach the Field dialog from the Header and Footer Design tab.

Page Number – NumPages

Choose NumPages from the long list of field names. From the box on the right, you can pick a specific format. I selected the usual 1, 2, 3. Click OK, and the number of the number of pages will appear. Now all you have to do is add your text such as Page X of XXX, and change the look of the numbers with the usual text formatting tools available from the Home tab.

It now looks like this:

Example of a Page Number

Design the look on any page number in your document and Word updates all the remaining automatically. Page numbers are the most common elements in a footer, but it can also hold any other information like the header. From the options in the Insert group, you can add the date and time, document info, pictures, and more to your header or footer.

Next, we’re heading into formatting the content.

The visual draw of your professional report comes together with the “beautification” you apply to the content. Formatting is also an essential step for a document that flows well. So, you must focus a lot of energy on picking the right font, paragraph space, and the colors.

Don’t worry. Even, the artistically challenged will find this part easy because Microsoft Word comes packaged with default themes and visual styles. Let’s start with the most basic element of a document.

5. Pick and Style the Right Font

Your choice of font in a professional Word report How to Style Fonts in Microsoft Word to Make Your Text Stand Out A well formatted text can grab your reader's attention and help them flow through your document. We show you how to add that final touch in Microsoft Word. Read More not only determines how the text stands out but also how it is printed. You want both for maximum impact.

You can apply a typeface (i.e. the visual look of the font) to either an entire document or to specific parts of a document. All font choices are available from the Home tab. Go to Home > Font.

Choose a Font

The default font in Microsoft Word 2016 is Calibri. Look beyond that as you have lots of others to choose from. If you choose Times New Roman, you may be considered lazy, if you choose Windings, well… I don’t think I need to explain that. So make sure you choose a font that is easy to read and suits the report. To play it safe, pick from one of these professional-looking Google fonts The 10 Best Free Google Fonts for Professional Presentations Typography can make or break a presentation. Here are the best free Google fonts perfect for professional presentations. Read More ; they’re available for free.

Tip: Baskerville and Georgia are good alternatives to the over-used Times New Roman

Try different font pairing for the body text and Headings (and Subheadings). Several websites like FontJoy and TypeWolf will help you experiment with font pairings. You can download and use custom fonts too. But remember the thumb-rule — never use more than three different typefaces in a document.

For that extra bit of pizazz, try a drop cap to enhance your text How to Use Drop Caps to Enhance Your Text in Microsoft Word A drop cap is a stylistic addition to any document. It demands attention. How do you create a drop cap in a Microsoft Word document? Let's go through the simple creative process. Read More .

6. Style the Paragraphs

If you want to have your lines double spaced, or single spaced, you need to change the format of the paragraphs. By changing the spacing, you can make a document easier to read or give the impression that it is longer and that you have put more work into it.

Paragraph Formatting

To change the paragraph for the whole document, it is best that you select each block of text; otherwise, if you are using headers in your report, they will change too. Another better option is if you customize the particular style you are using to format the paragraph.

To do this, go to Home > Styles. Right click on the style you want to change and select Modify. Click on Format > Paragraph which is at the bottom of the dialog box. Now, change the spacing, indentation, and alignment for the paragraph. Click OK to close the dialogs.

Paragraph Style

When you want to change a smaller portion of the document, select what you want to change. Right click on the highlighted text and select Paragraph. The same dialog box as above will appear.

7. Control Page Breaks

A page break — by its very name — splits a continuous block of text across two pages. Page breaks are important structural elements for long documents. Word automatically inserts a page break at the end of the page. But in a long document, you can place page breaks where you want them.

To insert a manual page break, click Insert > Page Break. (Keyboard shortcut: CTRL + Enter)

A page break looks like this when you click on the Show/Hide command in the Paragraph group.

Microsoft Word 2016 - Page Break

But what if you want to keep a bunch of lines together on a page or column and not have them separate because of a page break? The layout is in your control. Click the tiny arrow you see in the bottom right of the Paragraph group.

In the Paragraph box, click Line and Page Breaks. Select from these four pagination options:

  • Widow/Orphan control places at least two lines of a paragraph at the top or bottom of a page.
  • Keep with next prevents breaks between paragraphs you want to stay together.
  • Keep lines together prevents page breaks in the middle of paragraphs.
  • Page break before adds a page break before a specific paragraph.

We’ve also shown how to remove page breaks 2 Ways to Remove a Page Break in Microsoft Word Page breaks are part of well-designed Word documents. Let's see how to create them, and also quickly remove them with two methods. Read More when necessary.

8. Use Styles and Themes

Styles and themes are perhaps two of the more underused features in Microsoft Word 7 Underused Microsoft Word Features and How to Use Them Are you overlooking some of Microsoft Word's most useful features? This application features a surprising number of underused tools and options. We have unearthed seven and will show you how to use them. Read More . But I think you should use them at every opportunity to save a lot of time.

But what is the difference between a theme and a style? Microsoft says:

Themes provide a quick way to change the overall color and fonts. If you want to change text formatting quickly, Word Styles are the most effective tools.

So, as themes control the general look with color, effects, and fonts – start with a good theme for your document first. Then, use Styles to dig into the specific portions you want to change the appearance for.

For Themes: Go to the Design tab. Pick a theme from the gallery. You can see previews of what the color combination is like.

For Styles:  Select the part of the text you want to change. Go to the Styles group on the Home tab. You can see previews of what they look like. Choose the Style that is suitable for your content. For instance, choose a heading style for the headings in your document. Or, a particular style for any quotes. You can also modify an existing style and create new styles from scratch.

9. Captions

Every picture, chart, or illustration needs a caption to clearly describe it. It is a single line of text, usually located below a graphic. Captions are also an important reference when you need to mention them in another place. Many documents omit this small detail.

It is easy to add a caption. Right-click the illustration you want to add a caption to. Select Add Caption.

Write Captions

In the dialog box, add your caption text and configure the remaining options. Captions can be automatically referenced in Word.

10. Use Quick Parts

Professional documents can get repetitive. This is why you should start using Quick Parts for boilerplate content you reuse all the time. For instance, let’s say there is a contract clause you include with every document. Or, some introductory information. Instead of repeated copy-paste, save them as Quick Parts and re-use them again and again.

Quick Parts

Quick Parts is also a type of building block. You can see the gallery of all reusable blocks of content in the Building Block Organizer.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Building Blocks Organizer

Save and reuse your own Quick Parts in two steps:

  1. Select the phrase, sentence, or other portion of your document that you want to save to the gallery.
  2. Go to Insert > Text group > Quick Parts > Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. Change the name and add a description if you like. Click OK.

Just as easily, you can re-use the saved snippet of content.

Place your cursor where you want to insert a selection from the Quick Parts Gallery. Go to Insert > Text group > Quick Parts. Then click the sentence, phrase, or other saved selection you want to reuse.

You will notice three other categories in the Quick Parts menu.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Quick Parts Categories

AutoText: Word 2016 has retained the old AutoText feature. It works like Quick Parts for any block of text that you use a great deal. Example: A note you want to use with every document.

Document Property: A set of constant properties that you can include with every document. Example: Company name or author.

Fields: These are predefined elements that update automatically. Example: Date, time, page numbers etc.

Remember, entries for document property can sometimes include information you wouldn’t want to share with everyone. So, keep a close eye on these fields and remove the hidden personal data whenever required.

11. Decorate With Page Borders

Page borders look good not only on flyers and invitations. If done right, they can add a touch of class to a document. A variety of line styles and widths and art borders are available from the Design menu on the Ribbon.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Page Borders

Go to Design > Page Borders.

In the Borders and Shading box, use the Page Border tab to design your border.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Borders and Shading

The settings are self-explanatory. Try Shadow or 3-D with the right colors to add a subtle but elegant border. The Art styles with their clip-art borders might be too garish for professional documents.

Use the four corner buttons in the Preview window to select the sides of the page to draw borders. Click these buttons to remove or add borders, as you wish.

Place the cursor on the first page of a document if you want to put a border around only the first page. You can also put borders around certain pages in a section. Place the cursor in the section — either in the first page of that section or in a subsequent page.

References and Collaboration

A Word report can seem like an unmanageable chore. It’s like organizing a million piles of hay into neat little stacks. The idea is to know precisely which stack has the pin you are looking for. These features are meant to make it easier.

1. Create an Index

When writing large documents such as a report that contains a lot of information, a contents page may not be enough. An Index should appear at the end of the document, with page numbers to keywords and information in the report. Create an index to help the reader reference the right information with just the page number.

Make an index if your document has more than 20 pages. Microsoft Word 2016 doesn’t let the process overwhelm you. It basically has two parts:

  • Select the words or information you want to include in the index.
  • Place the index at the right place in your document.

You can scroll through the finished document and mark the words or phrases you want to include in the index or mark them as you go along. Either way, select the text you’d like to use as an index entry or click where you want to insert the entry.

1. Click References > Mark Entry.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word References Mark Entry

2. Edit the text in the Mark Index Entry dialog box. You can also add a sub-entry which further defines the main word you used in the index. You can add multiple levels and each appears indented under the main entry.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Mark Entry Index

3. Under Options, you can also create a cross-reference to another main entry. A reader can use this to refer related information elsewhere in the same document.

4. Use the Page number format to decide on the appearance of the page numbers in the index.

5. Click Mark to mark the index entry. To mark this text everywhere it shows up in the document, click Mark All.

6. Repeat the process for all the words and phrases you want to include in the index.

You have now built your index. Insert it at the right place towards the end of the document.

1. Click on the page where you want to insert the index.

2. Click References > Insert Index.

3. The Index dialog box is displayed. Here you can choose to format the text entries, page numbers, tabs, and leader characters.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Format Index

4. Choose the appearance from the different formats in the list and check the Preview window on the right. Remember, the Preview window doesn’t show you actual index. It is just a “simulation” of how it will look like.

5. Click OK. Your Index is now ready.

Sometimes, you may need to add more entries to the index after you have inserted it on the page. Mark the entry and go to References > Update index to include the new mentions.

Also, add a heading for the index because Word doesn’t do it automatically.

2. Creating Bibliographies

Your document is almost done. Now, you need to credit all the other research work and ideas which you have referenced in your document. It’s time for a bibliography.

A company report might not need a bibliography but an academic paper isn’t finished without one. The bibliography is one of the most painstaking jobs in an academic report. You need to have all your citations in order before you sit down to frame the bibliography. Also, decide on the citation style (typically MLA, APA, or Chicago-style) as per the guidelines of your subject.

Don’t hesitate to take advantage of third-party citation and bibliography generators 5 Automatic Citation Apps That Make Bibliographies Easier to Write Free online bibliography and citation tools support any kind of writing. These apps also save your time with automatic citations. Read More for constructing this section.

But, Microsoft Word 2016 has a complete toolset to make this process as painless as possible. So, go to the point in the document where you would like to place the bibliography. It’s good if you have at least one citation to include, but even if you don’t, Word 2016 lets you use a placeholder citation and fill in the sources later.

Click References > Bibliography.

Word offers a few bibliography styles that differ only in their heading names. Choose the appropriate style and then insert citations from the button in the Citations & Bibliography group.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Bibliography

The bibliography tool has a few steps to it. For the sake of brevity, I will direct you to the excellent Microsoft Office help page which is a step-by-step guide.

Some academic papers will ask you to create an annotated bibliography How to Create an Annotated Bibliography in Microsoft Word An annotated bibliography is an important part of any research document. Let's see how to create one with the help of Microsoft Word. Read More . It is a more fleshed out version of a bibliography with a list of citations to journals, books, articles, and other documents followed by a brief paragraph. The paragraph is a description of the source and how it supports your paper.

3. Cross-Referencing

You can use a cross-reference to help the reader navigate through a long document. At any point in a document, you can tell the reader to refer back to a heading, page number, image, chart, footnote, endnote, and paragraph. A cross-reference link is a neat way to connect related information together. The reader just has to click on the link to go that snippet of information.

Here’s how you begin:

1. Select the place for the cross-reference and type the text that tells the reader about it. For instance: “Refer to Chart 3 for future trends.”

2. Go to Insert > Cross-reference.

3. In the Reference type box, click the drop-down list to select what you want to link to.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Cross Reference

4. The options in the Insert Reference to drop-down will change according to your choice above.

5. In the For Which field, go through the choices and tell Word the exact information to link to.

6. Check the Insert as hyperlink box to create the hyperlink for the referenced information.

7. Click on Insert to include the cross-reference in the document.

Remember, our mention of captions? You can make cross-references to equations, figures, graphs, and tables if you used captions below them.

Word cannot create a cross-reference for something that does not exist. Word will let you know about these errors and also update the cross-references automatically when you change the page number or text of the referenced item.

4. Using Comments

A professional report can be a solitary job or you can take the help of a team to prepare the first draft. The humble Comment is one of the most underused tools of a Word document. It is displayed as a rectangular colored balloon in the margin or in the Reviewing Pane.

You can use comments as small “stickies” or self-notes. Leave little notes to yourself in the margins as you write, edit, and revise your way through a report or a manuscript. Be creative – add extra links to other resources, use them for tips and pointers, link to different parts of a document, or set up a feedback link for your readers. And when you finalize, you can easily remove all comments in Word How to Remove Comments and Accept All Changes in Word If you work with collaborators, you should know how to remove comments in Word. Let's see how to manage comments in a document. Read More .

Microsoft Word 2016 is also an enhanced collaborative writing tool. Comments play a huge role in communicating feedback across a team. Here’s how the comment system works…

1. Highlight the text you want to add a comment to or click at the end of a text block.

2. Go to Insert > Comment. Type your comment in the box. The comments appear in the markup area on the right. The Print Layout view is usually the best way to see the comments alongside the text.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Insert Comment

3. Go to the Review tab and see more options for comments. This tab also shows all the controls for tracking changes and comments in a collaborative document. Use the Markup options to display or hide the comments. For instance: No Markup will hide the comments and the markup area on the right.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Review Markup

Finalize Your Report

Once the bulk of your report is completed and saved, it is time to finalize your report. When I say finalize, I don’t mean proofread it. That should be done too. Now, you have to take the security measures to protect the report from unauthorized changes and plagiarism.

These security measures will give an extra level of authenticity to your electronic file before you share it.

This section will cover:

  • Signatures
  • Insert watermarks
  • Make the document ‘read only’
  • Password protect your document
  • Print your document to PDF

1. Signatures

You can add text signature for a personal touch to the report. But a simple text signature does not need any authentication. A digital signature is the better way to protect your document from unauthorized access. A digital signature Is Your Electronic Signature Legal Around the World? Are electronic signatures valid and legal around the world? Are they more preferable to the inked handwritten signature in a paperless world? We look at what the law says globally. Read More confirms that the document came from the signer and hasn’t been tampered in any way.

Let’s create a signature line in Microsoft Word 2016.

In the document, place your cursor where you want to create a signature line.

1. Go to Insert > Text group > Signature Line and click Microsoft Office Signature Line.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Signature Line

2. The Signature Setup dialog box is displayed. Fill the fields as indicated. If you are sending the document to someone else for signing, add instructions for the signer in the field reserved for it (Instructions to the signer). The signer can also add give the purpose for the signing if the Allow the signer to add comments in the Sign dialog box is checked.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Signature Setup

3. Click on OK and the document will now display a placeholder for the signature.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Signature Line Placeholder

Enter a signature:

When you need to sign a document with a digital signature, go to the signature line and right-click on it.

You will be prompted to sign with a digital ID. If you don’t have one, Microsoft will tell you to get one from a signature service partner.

If you don’t have a digital ID, you can just insert a textual representation of a signature line. You can use a written signature or an image that doesn’t require authentication.

2. Insert Watermarks

A Microsoft Word watermark is a “fake” but still useful visual indicator for the status of the document. For instance, you can use a watermark that says “Drafts” to differentiate it from the final version of the document. Or, use the watermark to suggest the document is “Copyrighted” or “Confidential”.

The “Draft” mark is the most common. But, Microsoft Word gives you several other watermarks to choose from.

1. Go to Design > Page Background and choose Watermark. The Watermark button will be enabled in the Print view only.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Watermark

2. You can choose a picture or a text watermark from the gallery. Both horizontal and diagonal versions are available. The dialog box gives you all the customization options for the final look of the watermark. Try different fonts, layouts, sizes, and colors.

3. You can type your own text in the Text field to create your custom watermark.

4. Choose OK to apply the watermark to your document. Word automatically applies the watermark to every page except the title page.

3. Make Documents “Read Only”

A professional report by its nature should not need to be edited by its readers. Converting the document to a PDF is one way. But, you can also apply a few more restrictions in Microsoft Word and prevent accidental modification or omission of any kind.

There are three ways to protect a document.

First — Make your document “read only”.

This ensures that your document can only be read or copied. It won’t prevent anyone from copying the file and making changes to the copy.

1. Go to the File tab > Info > Protect Document Mark as Final.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Protect Document

2. When readers open a document, a bar on top will prompt readers to treat this document as read only. But, they can click on “Edit Anyway” to open the document in Edit mode.

Second — Password Protect Your Document.

Protect your document from unwanted edits with a password barrier.

1. Under Protect Document, choose Encrypt with Password. Type a password and click OK.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Encrypt Document

2. In the Confirm Password box, type the password again, and then click OK. The document will open with the reader prompted for a password.

Microsoft uses the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), 128-bit key length, SHA1 (a cryptographic hashing algorithm which generates an almost unique 160-bit key to replace the plaintext), and CBC (cipher block chaining) to give a hacker a well-deserved headache.

Third — Restrict Editing.

This control feature helps you as the author decide which parts of the document others can edit and which will be locked out. Think of it as the bouncer who lets the VIPs in but otherwise bars the door for the common folk.

1. Go to Review > Restrict Editing.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Restrict Editing

2. Under Editing restrictions, check Allow only this type of editing in the document, and make sure the list says No changes (Read only).

No changes (Read only) is the default restriction type. For a different restriction level for the document, click the menu and select from Tracked changes, Comments, or Filling in forms.

3. To free some sections from the editing blockade, select the sections for editing without restrictions. To select more than one area, click CTRL while selecting the area using the mouse.

4. You can check Everyone under Exceptions (optional) in the Restrict Editing panel. Or, click More users… and allow only specific users to modify the sections. The allowable areas will be marked with square brackets.

5. Click Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.

Now, type a unique password in the box that opens. You have to type it again to confirm it.

The password is optional. But it ensures that no one can just click Stop Protection and edit the document. If you are still paranoid, go ahead and encrypt your Microsoft Word document How to Password Protect & Encrypt Your Microsoft Office Files Would you mind if someone peeked through your OneNote notebooks or had access to your Word documents? If your answer is yes, let us show you how to protect your Office files. Read More  as we did in the second process above.

4. Print Your Report to PDF

The Portable Document Format comes with many advantages. Not least is its cross-platform compatibility across all computers. Your document is ready and now you need to share it or send it across to be printed. Many professional reports — for instance, a legal document — need to retain the format as intended.

Save or convert a copy to PDF. Microsoft Word 2016 does not need any third-party add-ins.

Go to File > Export > Create PDF/XPS.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word File Export

Remember, your Word document may contain sensitive information that you do not want to be included in the PDF. Remove it before you publish to PDF. In the Publish as PDF or XPS window, choose Options. Then select Document and clear Document properties. Set any other options you want and choose OK.

How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word Publish as PDF or XPS

Browse to where you want to save the file and click on Publish.

The Next Step…

You are close to the finishing line. The report is ready to be handed over to your readers. But there’s one last job left.

Turn the pages and make sure (again) that your report is reader-friendly. Approach it with the eye of the reader. Have you organized your thoughts and written persuasively? Does the information flow well with the charts and illustrations? Can they skim through and find the information quickly? Is the text readable? Use the readability score to gauge the readability level of your documents as a final step.

You also might have noticed we didn’t cover some aspects of Microsoft Word. For instance, Microsoft Word Tables 8 Formatting Tips for Perfect Tables in Microsoft Word Microsoft Word tables are essential formatting tools. Find out how to make a table and format it perfectly with these simple tips. Read More are an important tool for data display. Or, the power of lists How to Format and Manage Lists in Microsoft Word No matter how many bulleted or numbered lists you have created with Microsoft Word in your life so far, I bet you will learn something new from this guide! Or did we miss something? Read More in information management.

Microsoft Word is more than a quarter of a century old, and packed with little features. At MakeUseOf, we have covered every nook and cranny of this beast. So, do use our resources to learn more about this software for free. Each new feature of Microsoft Word 10 Hidden Features of Microsoft Word That'll Make Your Life Easier Microsoft Word wouldn't be the tool it is without its productive features. Here are several features that can help you every day. Read More learned will make your life easier.

Make Your Report Shine

As author Nathaniel Hawthorne said,

Easy reading is damn hard writing

Isn’t this true for professional report writing too? After all, if given a choice, no one may want to read it. Writing a business report and using it to communicate are two different things. Microsoft Word is just a tool — it’s your job to engage.

For some alternatives, check out the best online word processors The 8 Best Free Online Word Processors Online word processors come in all shapes and sizes. Use these select picks to choose the writing tool that's right for you. Read More . And for more help with professional writing, take a look at how to apologize in an email and mean it The Art of the Apology: How to Say Sorry With an Email (And Mean It) Apologizing properly isn't easy. Here's how to apologize professionally in an email so you can right your wrongs. Read More .

What are the best practices for writing professional business reports? Tell us in the comments.

Related topics: Longform Guide, Microsoft Word.

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  1. Daisy Simpson
    September 20, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Wonderful post with great tips for writing professional reports documents.

    • Saikat Basu
      September 24, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Daisy.

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    April 14, 2018 at 3:58 am

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    May 11, 2017 at 8:09 am

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  4. Pawan
    July 6, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thanks a lot...this was undoubtedly very helpful..

  5. AJ
    May 26, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    This was SUPER helpful in preparing a report for my supervisor!! After being out of school a few years, I didn't know where to start. Your manual provided step-by-step instructions that made my report look awesome and taught me a bunch of tricks I never used in school! Love this and will always reference it going forward! THANK YOU!

  6. Anonymous
    October 14, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Also one thing can there be an Artificial Neural Networking based addin that will help in suggesting better word formation and sentence creation?

  7. Anonymous
    October 14, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    The information is really awesome. Getting Information about the MS-Word and that to in details is quite rare. Thank you sharing this wonderful info with all of us. Just one question: Is there a hand of Artificial Intelligence that makes my formatting in the word better?
    Are there any addins in your suggestion that will make my formatting work easier. I will be grateful to hear a response from you.

  8. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    You put once instead of one in step 2.1