Month: February 2012

The Last Thing You Do Is Write

These notes will help you to create a report that achieves the result you want.
When you are asked to write a report the last thing you should do is write it.  Some people will go straight to their keyboard and start to type but if you want to be a successful writer you need to think and plan before you begin.
What type of report are you writing?
Factual: a statement of facts to create an accurate record.
Instructional: an explanation or step-by-step description.
Leading: to persuade the reader to reach the decision you want.
Who is going to read the report?
What is their knowledge of the subject – will you need to explain technical terms or will this bore them so much that they stop reading.  Communicate at their level.
What do they want and need – think about if they have any aspirations such as saving money and then look at how your proposal supports that.
Report Structure
Find out if your company or organisation has a report template or house style.  If not then use the following structure:
Title Page: include the report title, the author, the distribution list and any reference details.
Executive Summary:  this is essential if you have a long report as it will draw the reader to the most important facts and may encourage a busy reader to read the entire report.
Contents: list the major sections, the subsections and appendices.  Use a clear layout that is easy for the reader to navigate.
Introduction: a background to why the report has been written.
Body: the main content of your report.
Conclusions: cite the main arguments and give a considered judgement.
Recommendations: clear summary of what actions should be taken.
Appendices:  detailed supporting information or information only needed by selected readers – may include a bibliography, references and a glossary of any terms used.
Identify your objectives
Define what you want the report to achieve.  Compile your material to build a logical and consistent case that is supported with facts.  Arrange this material into the order it will appear in the main body of the report.  Select the most important points first.  You will probably find that you delete the less important points as a distraction from your main argument.
Having planned the content of the report and mapped out the structure it is time to start writing.  And now is the time to just write – get anything down to break up the blank paper.  Do not edit or review it until you have written a complete first draft and then read it imagining you are the reader and ask “does it make sense?”.
Long sentences and lots of punctuation do not make you look clever.  If you are not sure how to use a punctuation mark then do not create a situation where you have to use it.  Two short sentences are better than one very long one.  The simplest way to convey a complex idea is to use one thought per sentence and only one comma per sentence.
Make sure your spelling is accurate – predictive text and spell check make it easy to be lazy about spelling but you can’t always trust spell-check.  Invest in a pocket dictionary and check what you have written.  If you type “fish and ships” instead of “fish and chips” then spell-check will see a correctly spelt word not a correctly spelt word in the wrong context.
Keep it clear, clutter free and consistent.  Do not mix fonts or font sizes except to give emphasis to a specific heading or point.