Techniques for reading lengthy reports and understanding them

by Dan Byrne on May 5, 2023

Techniques for reading reports

Techniques for reading reports can be game-changing additions to your skills as a busy professional.

Imagine you have till the end of the day to understand a 100-page report you’ve just been handed. Not only that, but the report covers a topic you half-know and half-don’t. Plus, it has crucial info you’ll need to make a big decision at tomorrow’s board meeting. 

Worried? Don’t be. Some techniques can ease us into processing lots of information at once.

Techniques for reading reports: what are the top picks?

Find a summary and start there

Summaries explain any problems or questions and outline the solutions and answers. In less than a hundred words, you could know exactly what the report is about, its parameters, and the context of every page within. 

Depending on the report, you could be looking for an executive summary, a foreword, an introduction, a chairperson’s remarks or something similar.


We don’t mean skim in its most obvious sense. Don’t fly through words faster than you can process them. 

But do flick through the report and take note of the main headers for each section. If you need to, use a pen or fold page corners to note the most relevant areas. 

In doing this, you will know the basic structure of the report and where the information you want is located.

Pay attention to the format

This is crucial. 

The people who made the report know what they’re talking about. So, if they put certain information in bold, increased font, its own text box, displayed with clever graphics, you know this is important for them. 

And if it’s important for them, it should be important for you because this is the primary information that the report writers want you to grasp.

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Learn from professionals

Understanding reports will always be much easier if you have some base knowledge to get you started. 

Whether it’s pure corporate governance or ESG, learning the essentials of good reporting means developing a second-nature understanding of what to expect and where. It’s a valuable asset.

Plan the time to read

Learn your capabilities and apply them whenever a report lands on your desk. If you know it will take three days to properly understand, plan three days into your diary. 

Of course, busy professionals might find this part challenging. Time is hard to come by, and the moment for decision-making might be looming. But planning should still be done as much as possible.

Find a good space to read

If you can, read in an area with few distractions. This can be tricky in busy offices where the open plan often dominates. But in today’s remote-centric way of working, you should be able to find some kind of happy place for digesting extensive information. 

An empty meeting room, a cafe, a park, a library, your home office – somewhere is bound to give you the setting you need.

In summary

Documents like board reports are essential to any group of directors. They provide the correct information to help you make informed decisions. If you don’t understand that information thoroughly, you have a problem. 

The tips above are a way to make reports seem less daunting, handing you back control and giving you the preparation you need.

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