Help! How do I train staff to write better local government reports?

Hi Suze:
Do you have any tips for writing ‘interesting’ reports for committees in a local government environment? I am doing some internal training in my local government department and am looking for ideas for exercises for our staff, which go beyond the ‘basic’ report writing.”
David from Manchester, England.

Training staff to write better reportsHi David!
Here are a few tips you might like to build into exercises – not just in writing interesting reports, but also in the thinking staff need to get right before they start writing.

7 ways to create more interesting reports for local government and similar organisations

  1. Focus not so much on what you want to say, but on what your report should achieve. This will help keep your mind on the right priorities while you write the report, and help you to make it “interesting!”
  1. Be sure you know as much as possible about the people who will read your report and align its contents to *their* needs and expectations, not yours.
  1. Phrase your report in language the readers will feel comfortable with – only use jargon you’re certain they will understand, and be sure to explain any terms, acronyms, initials etc. if there’s any chance readers won’t be familiar with them.
  1. Don’t use old fashioned grammar or stilted English; try to be as conversational as possible, because that makes any document easier to read and absorb. Be informal, without being overly familiar or chummy.
  1. Match the way you organise the information in your report to the nature and logic of the subject matter. Don’t follow well-trodden ways of presenting information if they don’t work.
  1. Reading from screens is unfriendly, so if your report is to be read online you must keep at least your summaries and key text short and crisp. Put details, technical data, lengthy appendices etc into PDF files or other separated format that they can look at later.
  1. If you have a say in how a paper-based report is presented visually, be sure to keep it uncluttered with plenty of white space and not too much information per page. People tend to get word-blindness when reading tightly packed text.

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Get participants in your exercises, out of their comfort zones

I find when doing my business writing workshops that the most effective exercises involve critiquing real examples and then going about solving the problems we’ve uncovered.
Writing better reports on How To Write Better

A bit of role reversal play is also useful here.

It’s amazing how much people’s writing skills sharpen up if they can empathise with what it’s like to be someone who has to read their material – especially when they can “feel” readers’ time pressures and other agenda.

Hope that’s helpful!

What other advice can you give David about making local government reports more interesting?

Please share your thoughts!

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