Written reports – OPEN

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Topic 4.4: Written reports

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An unfortunate reality is that we do judge books by their covers.

A high quality but poorly presented report can sometimes fail to convince decision-makers, in as much as we have all been taken in at some stage by something flashy and shiny with no substance.

A convincing business case (or any report) relies on more than just good analysis – how it is presented is just as likely to define its chances of success.

In the last topic, we proposed some questions you should ask yourself before you commence writing.

These questions are intended to put you in the mind of the reader. As a rule, people who read reports:

Are busy

See multiple reports

Won’t read every word

Make multiple decisions

Will take credit for those decisions, and

Blame you when it all goes wrong.

Well that last point is probably a bit facetious; however, as well as being accountable for your recommendations, you should try to capture and hold readers’ attention.

To ensure your report is reader-friendly, you should:

I'm old and easily distracted

Use headings and sub-headings

Use plenty of white space to make the separate parts of your report stand out clearly

Use dot points/ numbers/ letters to articulate these elements

Use tables and figures (such as graphs, illustrations and maps) for clarification. Label them clearly and cite the source.

Number each page (a neat header and/or footer makes your work look more professional), and

Use consistent and appropriate formatting.

If your organisation does not have its own templates or style guides, you might follow one of the report formats or themes supplied in Microsoft Word.

An effective report presents and analyses facts and evidence that are relevant to the specific problem or issue of the report brief.

Although they are formally written, reports should avoid using overly complicated language.

If a report is to persuade, brief or justify – as a business case is expected to – its message must be clear.

Information overload

Furthermore, the factual presentation of data should not be swamped with sophisticated, lengthy sentences.

Avoid, too, unnecessary jargon – this confuses even the most informed reader – and ensure as well that your abbreviations are standardised.

You should also avoid the use of subjective language

For example, to propose a change in colour from, ‘… a stunning green to a brilliant blue,’ is to project your own values onto a measurable outcome.

What does ‘beautiful’ mean to you? Will it mean the same thing to your reader?

Such subjective or personal language commonly has no place in the more objective discipline of report writing.

It may be worth having a look at the language that is used in other, similar reports to check out useful expressions and terms.

Other common problems with report writing that you should take care to avoid include:

Careless, inaccurate, or conflicting information

Outdated or irrelevant data

Facts and opinions that are not separated

Unsupported conclusions and recommendations

Careless presentation and proofreading, and

Too much emphasis on appearance and not enough attention to solid content.