So what makes a good report?
Here’s the eleven key priority areas, I’d suggest we need to focus on when writing reports.
- Logical Sequence
- Proper Form
- Simplicity – Make it simple
Let’s look at these in more detail:
Keep it as simple as possible – so that a report is easily understandable. Jargon and technical words need to be appropriate for the audience – If they’re not – Avoid them! Even in a technical report there needs to be restricted use of technical terms if it has to be presented to laymen.
The language shall be lucid and direction of writing needs to be straight, clearly expressing what is intended. The thought processes behind the report need to be written in the correct form and following logical steps – telling a story.
A report shall not be unnecessarily long – and shouldn’t test the patience of the reader. Ideas should be succinctly communicated without confusion. But, at the same time, a report must be complete. A report is not an essay. Avoid unnecessary details, names, locations or detail that isn’t appropriate for the audience.
As far as possible, positive statements should be made instead of negative ones. For example, it is better to say what should be done to solve an issue rather than what should not be done.
Punctuation should be carefully and correctly used, otherwise the meaning of sentences may be misunderstood or misrepresented.
There are two types of approaches: (a) Personal—When a report is written based on personal enquiry or observations, the approach shall be personal and the sentences shall be in the first person and in direct speech, (b) Impersonal—When a report is prepared as a source of information and when it is merely factual (e.g. a report on a meeting), the approach shall be impersonal and the sentences shall be in the third person and in indirect speech.
The keynote of a report is readability – How quickly can the reader extract the purpose of the report. The style of presentation and the diction (use of words) should be such that the readers find it attractive and they are compelled to read the report from the beginning to the end.’ Only then does a report serve its purpose. A report on the same subject matter can be written many different ways – depending on the audience. Technical detail or names of training attendees would be inappropriate for senior management. However technical detail for a technical management group would be the key reporting metrics.
A report needs to be accurate when facts or metrics are being presented. However, where the facts presented are too detailed or cannot be summarised without creating confusion, the level of detail is simply misaligned. Management reports need to present key findings – not present detailed technical scenarios or detail that is unnecessary for the audience. This will inevitably create unnecessary friction and misguided energy. The information presented needs to be unbiased and removed from the personal feelings of the writer.
- Logical Sequence:
The points in a report need to be arranged with a logical sequence, step by step telling the story in an audience-focussed way – and not in a haphazard manner. Planning is necessary before a report is prepared.
- Proper Form:
A report must be in the proper form. Think about the needs of the audience and focus the form on the correct level of detail and focus required for the audience. Maintain consistency where possible though the use of a targeted template. One size rarely fits all though. If the template isn’t right for the audience, change it. Don’t persist with a misaligned report. The report is a communications tool that should demonstrate program value – It’s not an end in itself.
A report needs to be attractively presented to provide efficiency in the creation and in the reading. The use of traffic-light reporting, simple graphics, and a clear presentation style should allow the reader to rapidly get obtain the key points from the report. The format should also allow for familiarity in the case of a regular weekly or monthly reporting template. Refinement of the template should be considered normal. A stale, static report that misrepresents the data is the inevitable result from a template that doesn’t evolve to meet business needs.
These are just my thoughts on reporting this week… Let me know in the comments below what you think!