Mastering Report Writing
by Duncan Brodie
As you progress up the career ladder, it is likely that producing reports will become a core part of your role. Reports cover a whole range of areas such as:
* Health and safety
So what are the key points that you need to grasp to master report writing?
1. Set clear objectives
Like any task that you undertake you need to have a clear outcome or goal. Report writing is no different. When you are starting out the process of producing a report, ask yourself what do I want for the recipient of the report? It might be:
* To provide an update on the success of a sales promotion
* To measure progress on a financial turnaround programme
* To secure agreement to a revised strategy
* To obtain a decision on whether to lease or buy a piece of equipment
Knowing what you want provides the foundations for a good report.
2. Use a clear structure
The recipients of reports will only have a limited amount of time that they can set aside to review the report. You therefore want to make it easy for them to read it. A simple but effective structure for doing this is to:
* Describe the current situation
* Outline the implications
* Set out possibilities
* Make a recommendation
3. Include an executive summary
A good executive summary will:
* Tell the reader the purpose of the report
* Highlight 2-3 main points
* State what action is required
A useful tip for writing an executive summary is to leave it till last after you have done the detailed report. The reason for this is that it will be much easier to pull out the salient points.
4. Use headings and sub-headings
Headings and sub-headings make it easy for the reader to skim or speed read the report. It also helps you as writer to present ideas succinctly.
5. Keep figures to a minimum
It can be tempting (especially with financial reports) to include lots of figures. Avoid doing this. Include headline figures in the main body of the report and include detail as an appendix.
6. Make use of graphs and charts
Graphs and charts are particularly effective when it comes to presenting information. For example, you might use:
* A line graph to show trends in sales, lengths of stay in a hospital, complaint response times
* Pie charts to show how donations to a charity were spent
In my experience people generally find reports with graphs and charts easy to follow, particularly non-executive directors who may not know about the detailed activities of the business.
At the end of the report always include a few sentences that re-state the main points of the report. Remember, there will be some people who will read the introduction and conclusion and expect to get all of the key information from those sections.
At the end of the day there is no magic formula for report writing. Following some simple tips is a great place to start but remember that one individual's idea of a good report will differ from another. So how do you address this? Ask for feedback and try to incorporate as many suggestions as possible.
Duncan Brodie may be contacted at http://www.goalsandachievements.co.uk
Duncan Brodie of Goals and Achievements Ltd (G&A) works with individuals, teams and organisations to develop their management and leadership capability. Sign up for his free e-course and monthly newsletter at http://www.goalsandachievements.co.uk