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

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  1. […] How to write reports that get read, part 2 August 30, 2011 By SuzanStMaur Leave a Comment Tweet 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.) […]

  2. BizSugar.com says:

    How to write reports that get read – and acted on…

    Reports don’t have to be boring, and writing them doesn’t have to be, either. In this article and its sequel pro bizwriter Suzan St Maur looks at the issues, and how to set up a structure that works……

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