Writing Reports Part 1
Report writing is a skill and not one that is inborn. The skill with report writing is to deliver your message as persuasively as possible in a
polished and professional manner.
What is a good report anyway? A good report is one where the information is presented in a concise, clear and logical way. The report will flow, delivering the information objectively, answering any questions the reader may have. Thinking of your report as a creative piece of art will help you apply all those finishing touches such as adequate white space, good formatting and business typology around solid plain English grammar
and correct spelling.
How do you do that? Here are a few tips to help you avoid pitfalls and get that polished appearance.
Seeking clarification for the report
Reports may be written as an annual review of a business, make or recommend proposals, analyse and resolve problems, present findings of
a project or an investigation. Whatever the reason, the process remains the same.
- Why you are writing reports?
- Are their ‘terms of reference’ or a clear set of objectives?
- What are the expectations of this report?
- Where did the original purpose of the report come from?
- Who is going to read the report?
- Is there a preferred or pre-set format?
- How long should the report be?
- Are diagrams and images expected to be used?
- Are recommendations and actions required?
All good structures need planning. A basic mistake is to start writing with no pre-planning. Important messages could get buried deep within your document and the logic and flow of your argument will be severely neglected.
A great starting point is a mindmap. A mindmap can be any format that is comfortable and could be the central light bulb idea with beams of light or ideas coming from it, a linear model or images or pictures. The purpose of a mindmap is to document uncensored information from your mind.
Of course, then you need to tease out whether or not you need that particular idea or concept, group relevant information together and
consider what adds to your argument and what can be discarded.
It is important to continually ask yourself: ‘how does this add to the main question or argument’ and ‘what questions will your readers have’? If you want your report to be successful, you must anticipate and answer your reader’s questions.
Presenting the information
All good reports have a clear and distinct format. Sometimes this format is given to you. Other times it comes from the development of your argument. Use headings and subheadings to guide your readers and set a standing for writing reports in your organisation.
If expressing a lot of ideas, remember that people can only remember about six or seven ideas clearly. Try grouping similar ideas and information into headings and subheadings, and build your information so a logical framework develops.
If you are uncovering an issue, you need to set the scene, identify the issues, and offer a resolution and your rationale which includes
reasons and evidence. Sometimes it helps to describe the present scenario so your readers quickly identify with the situation. When talking of your resolution, talk of options and benefits for the organisation.
Most importantly, don’t bury your key messages and hope they get missed.
When writing the summary, never lift information from the document. Always write your information for the intended purpose.
If you are collating information from various sources, take care ‘cutting and pasting’ information. Apart from the dangers of plagiarism, intentional or not, formatting can be pasted into the new document and the results will be a mash of formatting
that someone will have to untangle.
Express your information without emotion or subjectivity.
Writing reports can be challenging.It is a project and must be treated as such, with reasonable timelines and quality processes.
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Written by Rose Osborne.