Effective Report Writing

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  • Topic: Report, Writing, Technical communication
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  • Published : October 14, 2008
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This article summarizes effective writing techniques for reports.

I.The typical structure is as follows:
II.Title, author, date.
III.Contents.
IV.Introduction and Terms of Reference (plan for report).
V.Executive Summary (containing main points of evidence, recommendations and outcomes.) VI.(1-2 pages maximum)
VII.Background/history/situation.
VIII.Implications/issues/opportunities/threats, with source-referenced facts and figures evidence. IX.Solution/action/decision options with implications/effects/results, including financials and parameters inputs and outputs. X.Recommendations and actions with input and outcomes values and costs, and if necessary return on investment. XI.Appendices.

XII.Optional Bibliography and Acknowledgements.

Map out your structure before you begin researching and writing your report.

Ensure the purpose, aims and scope of the report are clearly explained in your terms of reference.

The executive summary should be be very concise, summarising the main recommendations and findings. Provide interpretation of situations and options. Show the important hard facts and figures. Your recommendations should include implications, with values and costs where applicable. Unless yours is a highly complex study, limit the executive summary to less than two sides of standard business paper.

The body of the report should be divided into logical sections. The content must be very concise. Use hard facts and figures, evidence and justification. Use efficient language - big reports with too many words are not impressive. The best reports are simple and quick to read because the writer has properly interpreted the data and developed viable recommendations.

Do not cram lots of detail, diagrams, figures, evidence, references etc., into the main body of the report. Index and attach these references as appendices at the end of the report.

Where you state figures or evidence you must always identify the source.

Show figures in columns. Try to support important figures with a graph.

If it's appropriate to acknowledge contributors then do so in the introduction or a separate section at the end.

writing reports when you're not sure what's required
If ever you are confronted with the task of writing a report and you are unsure of how to go about it, here are some tips.

It's common to be asked to write reports in business and organisations, for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes reports are required for good reasons - sometimes they are simply a waste of time. Sometimes reports are requested with clear terms of reference and criteria, but mostly they are not. It's common for reports to be requested with only a vague idea given as to what is actually needed - commonly there is no written 'brief' or specification.

The writer then spends days agonizing over what the report should include and look like, how long it should be, whether to include recommendations, whether to attach detailed information, etc. All this confusion is unnecessary and can be avoided by asking some simple questions.

Many people new to report-writing think that it's not the done thing to ask what the report should look like, often for fear of appearing unsure or incapable. But the fact is that before writing reports or business plans of any sort the writer should always first seek clarification of exactly what's required.

Don't assume that the request is reasonable and properly thought-through - in many cases it will not be. If the request for a written report is not perfectly clear, ask for clarification. Experienced people ask and seek clarification all the time - it's perfectly sensible and logical to do so.

Seeing sample reports from other industries and organisations is not always very helpful. Sample reports from completely different situations can be very misleading, aside from which, good sample reports are actually quite...
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