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Report Writing – Tips on Writing Effective Business Reports
Writing a very good report can be important for our career and therefore it is something that we should take very seriously. After all, a written report is a permanent record. It is a record not only of our writing skills, but also of our clarity of thought, our ability to analyze evidence, our problem-solving skills, and our ability to successfully achieve the purpose for which the report was commissioned.
What is a Report?
“A report is a statement of the results of an investigation or of any matter about which definite information is required.” (Oxford English Dictionary) A report is not a narrative or an essay. We are not telling a story, or giving a subjective description. Equally, it is not a series of hard-hitting vignettes. A report is a well-written statement of evidence, with conclusions and perhaps recommendations. It is an analysis of research data, written in an objective, logical and factual manner.
A report has a purpose, and to be effective, it must be achieved. The people reading this report, the audience, must be able to find the required information, understand it, and follow the logical flow of the argument from beginning to end. Writing a truly effective report that makes it happen this way requires 1) a plan and 2) structure.
Plan before you write
As with most things in life, it is better to spend more time planning the report than writing it. Time spent planning will make even the most complex report much easier to write and result in a much better quality and more effective final product. The first step is to clarify your purpose, to have a very clear focus on your goals. The “Triangle of Purpose” will help you figure out what exactly you are producing. Think of an equal-sided triangle with the word “purpose” in the middle. The 3 sides of the triangle are the aspects we work on to reveal our purpose. They are overlapping elements and working on all 3 separately will help you clarify your thinking.
The 3 sides are –
1. Subject and objective
Side 1 – Theme and objective
Write the answers to the following questions. If you don’t know the answers, ask someone! What exactly is the topic? Who requested this report? What is the scope of your report? What aspects of the subject are you going to cover? What are the limits of the report? What do you not have to address? What is the deadline? What size report is required? The next important question to look at is what exactly is the goal? Why am I writing this report? Is it to give information, to evaluate, to persuade or what?
Side 2 – Public
Who do you write for? You are writing for an audience, not for yourself. Spend time thinking about your audience. You want them to understand and accept your report. You want them to be positively impressed with your efforts. Remember that only 20% of the population is like you – 20% think like you, think the same logical and obvious things as you. The other 80% are different. You may like a lot of facts and figures, they may see this as waffle and want to see the bottom line. You may like only the top level points; they may want the detail. Do a little research on your audience and present your points, flow, and language style to suit them.
Side 3 – the Use
This question will also help us determine the level of detail and focus of our report. Do not assume that the person ordering the report simply wants to read the information. Should this report be used to take action, to be presented to someone outside the organization, to be used in a legal proceeding, etc.? Knowing exactly what your report will be used for will influence how you write it. Work out all the sides of the purpose triangle using the questions above. When you’re done, you should be able to write a very clear purpose statement in a short paragraph.
Structure of the report
A report has a defined structure. It is organized so that the reader can easily find the information they need. A structure also makes it easier for the writer to organize our thoughts into a logical flow and write a readable report. In its simplest form, a report will consist of a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning, the Introduction, sets the scene by informing the reader what the report is about and what it aims to achieve. The central section, the findings, is the most important part of the document where the details of the findings and the arguments developed are presented. The conclusion section is logically structured, written in clear language, and organized into appropriate headings and subheadings. This clarifies the purpose of the report and ensures that the reader’s interest is maintained. The conclusion should naturally follow the main body of the report. We reach a conclusion and guide the reader to a series of recommendations.
A good report is like a well-told joke, sending the reader to the bottom line:
– Introduction – Set the scene
– Findings – Give the details
– Conclusions – Land the punch line
We bring the reader to our logical conclusions. The titles we use should demonstrate this clear and logical structure. Focusing on your Plan and Structure should help you write a highly effective report.
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