How to avoid waffle when writing a business report

A guest post by Charlotte Mannion

A key reason why reports often end up in the waste bin or discarded in a forgotten filing cabinet is that they are simply unreadable.

Formal words

For reasons best known to themselves some writers think it sounds more important or formal if they use big words instead of everyday language.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Why should a report be harder to read and subsequently to understand simply because it is labelled a ‘Report’?

When you are preparing a report remind yourself who you are writing for and how much you want your report to be read and understood, may be even to be persuasive.   Avoid the overdone statements or over long words too often found in hard to follow reports.

Excessive words

You also need to avoid the use of excessive words in your report.  Part of your editing process should be to remove excess words.  For example is there anything other than a ‘terrible’ disaster; an ‘armed’ gunman; ‘multiple’ choice ‘forward’ planning?  This often happens because you want to make your points too well.  Question every word and remove repetitions and excessive emphasis.

Management jargon

Then there is the dreaded ‘management speak’ What do we really mean by forward planning, or better, proactive forward planning which was in a document sent to me by a client!  I expect you have seen examples like ‘cutting edge’, ‘grassroots level’, ‘high visibility’ and ‘fundamentally flawed’.  I won’t go on.   And let’s stop ‘engaging’ with people and start talking, or involving or consulting with them instead?

Well worn expressions

Clichés are lazy.  Using others’ well used expressions in your report reduces trust in what you have to say.  Expressions like ‘at the end of the day’, ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘tip of the iceberg’, ‘in this day and age’ and ‘to all intents and purposes’ are all meaningless and turn your carefully crafted report into a woolly and often impenetrable diatribe.  Mixed metaphors particularly when written in ‘management speak’ will lose you your audience too.

The right word for the occasion

As you can see our wonderful language can be challenging.  The most difficult part is probably the fact that we have a huge number of words which sound the same but mean different things.  Words such as complimentary and complementary and principle and principal which are pronounced in exactly the same way can lead to misunderstandings if the wrong word is selected in your report.

The aim should always be for simplicity.  A simple report in simple language is far more effective than one stuffed full of outdated words and ideas.

Charlotte Mannion   Author of the Useful Guide to Report Writing


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  1. Charlotte’s advice on writing reports is brilliant – we’re very lucky to have her contribution here on HTWB. Thanks for sharing this, Charlotte!