How to Write a Report
Report writing can be described as a career skill. Not only is it a task that forms part of an increasing number of business jobs, but also it can make a huge difference to how you are perceived and even how well you get on in your career. Today, good communication skills and the ability to write effective reports are essential competencies for every successful businessperson.
Style is the most nebulous area of report writing. It is very easy to criticise a writer’s style as ‘poor’ or ‘inappropriate’; what is not so easy is to specify the stylistic improvements that should be encouraged.
To be completely successful, a report which makes recommendations must ensure that the persons for whom the report is intended:
- Read it without unnecessary delay.
- Understand everything in it without undue effort.
- Accept the facts, findings, conclusions and recommendations.
- Decide to take the action recommended.
Achieving this demands more of you than merely presenting relevant facts accurately. It also demands that you communicate in a way that is both acceptable and intelligible to the readers.
Careful choice of words can enable you to convey many subtleties of meaning.
Check that everything you write is factually accurate. The facts should be capable of being verified. Moreover, arguments should be soundly based and your reasoning should be logical. You should not write anything that will misinform, mislead or unfairly persuade your readers. If you do, you will be doing a disservice not only to yourself but also to your department and organisation. Accurate information is essential for effective communication and decision making.
A report should not be an essay reflecting personal emotions and opinions. You must look at all sides of a problem with an open mind before stating your conclusions.
Making it clear that you have an open mind when writing your report will, in most cases, make your conclusions and recommendations more acceptable to your readers. The emphasis, therefore, should be on the factual material presented and the conclusions drawn, rather than on any personal beliefs, biases or prejudices.
Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). That is how Julius Caesar reported his visit to our shores. While none of your reports will be as short as this, you should aim to keep them concise. In doing this, do not mistake brevity for conciseness. A report may be brief because it omits important information. A concise report, on the other hand, is short but still contains all the essential details.
To ensure you do not include material which can safely be left out, you should not ask: 'Can this information be included?' Rather, you should ask: 'Is it necessary for this information to be included?'
Clarity and Consistency
The best way to achieve clarity in your writing is to allow some time to elapse between the first draft and its revision. Try to leave it over the weekend, or at least overnight. If you are really under pressure and this is simply not possible, at least leave it over a lunch or coffee break. It is essential to have a period of time, no matter how short, when you can think of other things. In this way, when you come back to the report, you can look at it with a degree of objectivity.
Usually, if your writing is selective, accurate, objective, concise, clear and consistent, it will also be as simple as it can be. You should guard against over-simplifying, for example to the point of missing out information which the reader needs to fully understand what you are trying to say. You should again keep your readers firmly in mind and keep asking yourself whether or not they will be able to follow the logic of your presentation.
Avoid Pointless Words
Some words and phrases - like basically, actually, undoubtedly, each and every one and during the course of our investigation - keep cropping up in reports. Yet they add nothing to the message and often can be removed without changing the meaning or the tone. Try leaving them out of your writing. You will find your sentences survive, succeed and may even flourish without them.