Search Results for: reports

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

[Read more…]

How to write reports that get read, part 2

Mention to most business people that they need to write a report and you’re likely to hear a groan … “oh, what’s the point, it’s so boring and no-one ever reads the damned things anyway…” But reports don’t have to be boring, and writing them doesn’t have to be, either. In this first of two articles, we look at the basic issues you need to consider, and how to set up a structure that works…(if you haven’t read part 1, click here.)

The executive summary: just like an abstract

Depending on the nature of your report you may be expected to include an executive summary, or at least an introduction that captures the key points of your information. This is much like the “abstracts” used in medical and other reports which encapsulate the main points, so giving the reader the key issues as quickly as possible. Write this after you’ve done the body of the report, not before. Use your list of headings as a guide.

Keep strictly to the facts – this is still part of the report, not your interpretation of it. Strip each sentence down to bare bones with minimal adjectives and adverbs. Use short words and sentences.

Don’t just get to the point – start with it and stick to it.

What you think: even if they want to know, keep it separate

If part of your remit is to comment on the report and/or its conclusions, keep this separate from the main body of information. (Blocked off in a box or under a clearly separated heading will do.)

Naturally as you’re professional you will be as objective as possible. But if you do feel strongly one way or another, ensure that your argument is put as reasonably as possible without going on for pages and pages.

Remember, brief is beautiful, although it’s harder to write briefly (and include all the important points) than it is to produce words in abundance.

Pictures are fine but don’t replace relevant words

Graphs and charts are great to illustrate important issues and like the man said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” However ensure that those you use are of a level of complexity that will be understood by the least topic-literate of your readers. There’s nothing more irritating than a graph that takes you 20 minutes to decipher.

It’s not so much a case that readers are too stupid to understand a complex graph, as it is that they don’t want to spend too much time working it out. The easier/quicker you make it for readers to understand and assimilate your information, the more successful your report.

Try, also, to keep graphs and charts physically adjacent to the text that talks about the same thing. As before, there’s nothing more irritating for the reader if they have to keep flipping from front to back of a document, whether online or paper-based. (When in doubt, think of someone reading your report on that crowded commuter train.)

Keep it simple and dump any padding

Still on that topic, try to avoid including too many diverse elements in your report, no matter how long and involved it is.

If you do need to include appendices and various bits of background material, research statistics, etc., make sure they’re neatly labeled and contained at the back of your document.

As I suggested earlier, don’t ask readers to skip back and forth, directing them with asterisks and other reference directing symbols.

If you’re writing a medical report or paper then you’re obliged to include these when quoting references from other papers, but please keep even these to a minimum. They’re very distracting and can break your reader’s concentration.

Looks matter – and can help readers absorb information

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but people do. Like it or not. According to most image consultants, when you walk into a meeting 55% of your first impression of someone is reflected exclusively in the way they’re dressed.  Documents fall into the same hole.

So how your document looks goes a long way to creating the right impression of your work, and of you.

Obviously if a report is due to go outside your organization and particularly to clients or customers, you will be careful to ensure it’s polished and clearly branded with your corporate identity and all that.

However, how the hard copy of an internal report looks is important, too, although your Head of Finance might have apoplexy if you bind it in expensive glossy card. Be sensible with the internal variety – neat, understated, groomed looks don’t have to cost much but they “say” a lot about the value of your report (and you.)

Make sure all your writing gets read and acted on:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to write reports that get read, part 1

Mention to most business people that they need to write a report and you’re likely to hear a groan … “oh, what’s the point, it’s so boring and no-one ever reads the damned things anyway…” But reports don’t have to be boring, and writing them doesn’t have to be, either. In this first of two articles, we look at the basic issues you need to consider, and how to set up a structure that works…

There is one key difference between reports and most other forms of business writing, and we get a hint of that in the word, “report.” Whereas with many other forms of written comms you can be a little creative and put your own slant on your words, in a report you must not. Not in theory, anyway.

In a report, you’re supposed to report – not embellish, embroider, influence, etc. Just the facts and nothing but the facts.

This does not, however, mean that reports need to be dull and boring. It does, however, mean that you can’t make the content more interesting than it really is. Impossible? No, it just takes some good organization and clear writing.

Before we go any further, there are numerous books and training courses on the market that teach you the formalities and practicalities of report writing. Some are more long-winded than others. Most of them are good.

Here I can’t do what other writers do in a full-length book, so if you need to write reports a lot, I recommend that you buy one or two of the most popular books and study them. What I’m doing here then, is to highlight the points I think are most important to help you make your reports more readable, and the information in them come across more vividly.

If you work in a larger organization, there will probably be set formats for reports, at least for the internal variety. Whether you like them or not you’re normally obliged to stick to them. However the way you roll out and write your content is still up to you.

So what are the key points to focus on?

Keep focused on the reader, as well as the report

Don’t allow yourself to fall into “businessese” jargon and phrasing no matter how much you or other people may feel it’s more appropriate. It isn’t. Use language and tone of voice that your key readers will feel comfortable with.

If you don’t know what they feel comfortable with, find out. It’s well worth taking the trouble, because it will make the report much more enjoyable for them to read – a good reflection on you.

If your report is to be read by a wide variety of different audiences, focus your language on the most important groups. Ensure that less topic-literate readers are catered for by using discreet explanations of technical terms or perhaps a short glossary of terms as an appendix within the report.

Create a logical structure

Start by writing yourself out a list of headings which start at the beginning and finish with the conclusions of your information.

If you must include a lot of background information before you get into the “meat” of the information, section it off clearly with headings that say that it’s background (“Research Project Objectives,” “Research Methods Used To Collate Information,” “Personnel Involved In Questionnaire,” etc.) so those who know it all already can skip straight to the important stuff.

Make sure your headings “tell the story” so someone glancing through those alone will get the basic messages. (You’ll find that busy executives will thank you for doing this, especially when they have 16 other, similar reports to read in a crowded commuter train on the way into a meeting to discuss all of them.) Then fill in the details under each heading as concisely as you can.

Click link to read Part 2 of this article…

Make sure all your writing gets read and acted on:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Book reviews: the HTWB pick of the best for summer reading

Here are my reviews for a great choice of summer reading from sharp police thrillers to vintage whodunnits to a romantic family saga, and even a fictionalised memoir that will bring joy to your heart. Some of the original reviews were quite long so I have given them a haircut to save you reading my extended thoughts on the books!

book reviews

What books would you recommend for summer reading this year?

Let’s start with the hard stuff

Retired detective and now author Stephen G Collier has now published his second book in a chilling series of murder mysteries set in and around the city of Northampton, England where he served many years on the Northamptonshire Force. This being just up the road from where I live, I enjoy the stories even more as I know the places he’s talking about. [Read more…]

How to write about The Queen … of horses

“Canadien Horse?  Never heard of it,” said the magazine editor down the phone to me, “but write it up and we’ll have a look.” I had just read an article about the breed in an obscure Canadian historical magazine and had fallen in love with these tough, hardy, talented “little iron horses” as they’re known.

Article about the Queen's horse

HM Queen riding her famous horse “Burmese”, given to her by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1969. Burmese was ridden by the Queen at every Trooping the Colour ceremony from 1969 to 1986. Many thanks for this image to Leonard Bentley.

Being Canadian myself, I was particularly enthused at the thought of introducing British readers to a Canadian product that’s lot more interesting than maple syrup, lumberjacks, or Toronto’s CN tower which once earned itself the dubious accolade of being “the largest free-standing erection in North America.”

I was also fascinated to learn more about what I imagine is, if not the only one, certainly one of the few North American “native” breeds not descended from horses left behind by the Spanish. [Read more…]

Weddings – it’s official. Women’s speeches are IN!

Society eyebrows were raised in many well-heeled quarters a few weeks ago when Meghan Markle let it be known that she was going to make a speech at her wedding to the UK’s very eligible bachelor, Prince Harry.

Weddings: it's official - women's speeches are IN

In the modern world of the 21st century, women have been making wedding speeches for many years. But a High Five to Meghan Markle who, we’re told, intends to make a speech at her upcoming wedding to the UK’s Prince Harry in May 2018 despite this being a break in royal protocol…

“Meghan Markle will be doing things differently from those who wed at Windsor Castle before her, with reports that she is planning on breaking tradition by giving her own speech,” wrote Rose Burke in The Independent, Jan 29th 2018. “As an advocate for women, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Markle plans on ditching the tradition. In a not-so-distant past, women were considered to be little more than property worth about as much as a few cows and a small patch of grass. Owned by their fathers from birth, girls would eventually be married off to the highest bidder.” [Read more…]

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