Rules for Report Writing
Preparation and Planning
To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. The importance of preparation and planning cannot be stressed too highly. Often, however, writers simply ignore this aspect or dismiss it as too mechanical to be worthwhile. As a result they plough too quickly into the writing process itself and end up failing to realise their full potential. Anything you commit to paper before your overall plan has taken shape is likely to be wasted; it will be like a bricklayer starting to build the wall of a house before the architect has drawn up the plans.
Before you write a single word you must:
- Set your objective.
- Assess your readership.
- Decide what information you will need.
- Prepare your skeletal framework.
- Test and revise your skeletal framework.
Collectively these activities constitute the planning stage of report writing, and the amount of time and thought you spend on them will make a vast difference to the effectiveness of all the work that will follow, by:
- continually reminding you of your overall objective
- making you constantly 'think readers'
- ensuring you know what information you will need to gather
- giving you clear guidelines to follow when writing each section
- enabling you to rise above the detail and obtain an overview of the entire report at any time.
Setting your Objective
It is vital to establish your precise objective. You must first be absolutely sure of the purpose of your report. Only then can you even begin to think about what you are going to write and how you are going to write it.
A clearly defined objective has a number of important benefits:
- It helps you decide what information to include - and leave out.
- It helps you pitch the report at the right level.
- It makes it easier to write the report.
Assessing your Readership
The next stage is to identify and assess your readership. In many cases, you know who will be reading your report and the detailed content, style and structure can then be matched to their level of knowledge and expertise:
- Concentrate on points they will care about.
- Explain things they do not know.
- Address questions and concerns they would be likely to raise.
Deciding What Information you will Need
For some reports, you will need to collect very little information, while for others you will require a great deal. You will need to think this through carefully, either on your own or with other people.
It is often useful to discuss this with the person who commissioned the report and with prospective readers, particularly any key decision makers. Are there any specific areas they would like covered? The very fact that people have been consulted at this early stage will involve them and, psychologically, this will greatly increase the likelihood of them accepting your conclusions and any recommendations you subsequently may make.
You are now in a position to think about the overall plan of your report. This is known as the skeletal framework. It is like drawing up the plans for a new house. Not only will it show its overall structure, it will also remind you of the materials (information) you will need to gather before the process of construction can begin.
There are three stages involved in the preparation of a skeletal framework:
- Write a working title.
- Consider the overall structure of the report.
- Consider how information will be presented within the main body.
All reports have a number of commonly recognised components, including:
- Title page
- Contents page
- Summary or Abstract
- Main body, including substructures
Do not be concerned about the large number of components that may be used; no report ever uses all of them. However, it is as well to know something about each of these components for two reasons:
- You can then choose the ones best suited to your report, and
- You may be asked to include one or more of them.