Top Ten Tips on...

Report Writing

29 May 2023
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
How to get reports written easily and effectively, so they are right first time...

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1

Clarify the brief

Be clear about what it is that either you are writing or that you want somebody else to write. Use the four panel approach: who, why, what and how. ‘Who?’ stands for who is this report for? Always have your audience in mind - they're the people who are going to be reading the report and not you. Then ‘Why?’: why are you writing this? What's the purpose? What's the objective or objectives you want to meet in putting this report together? Then ‘What?’: what are you going to put in the report? Think less about content, and more about messages. What key messages do you want to get across in the report? And finally, ‘How?’: arew there any conventions that you have to meet in terms of writing this report? Are there particular layouts or notations? How do you want it to look to make it more readable and accessible?

2

Mind map the content

This can be done using pen and paper, or on the screen. If you're doing it on a sheet of paper, you simply put the title of the report in the center of the page, fire off several lines from the center of the page from that title and start thinking about what's going to go into the report. And at the end of each line, they'll perhaps be a heading. And then for each heading, perhaps fire off some other lines at the end of which are some of the key points or messages you want to make under that heading. If you were doing this on the screen, all you should do then is open a word document, put in the title, and then scroll down and put in the various headings as you think of them. Then move up and down the screen to add relevant messages under their headings as you think of them. Next, assess for each bullet point how much research you have to do – mark each message accordingly – none, some, a lot. This will let you know how soon you’d be able to write the report, and how much research you have to do.

3

Write up your bullet points

Write up your bullet points into sentences and paragraphs. So at this stage you are converting your mind map into a preliminary report.

4

Use plain English

This is covered in detail in a separate podcast, called ‘Effective Writing’, and two other podcasts – ‘Added Value Language’ and ‘High Impact Language’ might also be useful. As one of the podcasts says, “make words work hard, and not hard work”.

5

Create the structure

In this stage, you need to re-order all of those headings and paragraphs into a sensible structure, and a useful plan is to think about a beginning, a middle and an end. Which is the headings would go towards the front end of the report, which towards the middle, and which towards the end. Now that's a matter of your personal choice, and any conventions that currently exist that you have to meet, but in general at the beginning, you perhaps need some introduction, maybe a contents page to give people an idea of what's coming. You may need to define some of your key terms as you may need to outline the methodology you've used to create the content of the report. The middle is where the analysis and case for and against is presented. That's the substantive part of the report. The end would typically have a conclusion and recommendations.

6

Create the layout and look of the report

The visual appeal of a report can be quite important. Too much text on the page can make it look intimidating and boring. So make the information appealing on the page. Think about the use of space, margins, fonts, and visuals such as photos or graphs.

7

Check your GPS

Not your satnav system, but grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Save this until the report is complete, so you only have to do it the once.

8

Have someone else proof read the report

Have someone else read your report – for two reasons. Firstly to check the GPS – remember, no one deliberately mis-spells, so there’s no point checking your own spelling! And secondly, you are by now too close to the content of the report to tell how good it is – a fresh pair of eyes can help.

9

This approach is interruption-friendly

You'll find this approach really helpful if you're somebody who is often interrupted. Usually, if you have to answer that interruption, then when you go back to the report, you've lost the flow. If you use the process outlined here, if you're interrupted, you know exactly where you are when you come back.

10

Right first time

If you use this structure, it’s more likely that you'll write the report once only. You won't do several drafts because you get each stage right before you move on to the next stage. So if you're somebody who is regularly interrupted and tends to over-elaborate and do several drafts, Then this structure might help you.

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