How to Write a Report
This is the same method some
people use to write a report. They have a vast number of facts boiling in their minds, and
they believe if they throw out enough of them, some will eventually stick in the reader's
Bonnie Stern, the gourmet
guru, claims the "throw the spaghetti at the wall" trick is useless
spaghetti will stick just before and just after it is "a le dente." (She claims
tasting is the only way to determine if pasta is perfect.)
And, I believe throwing
ideas into a report for the sake of covering off any potentiality is just as bad. All you
end up with is a lengthy report filled with irrelevant information and frustrated
readers. People are busy; they don't have time to wade through an unwieldy mass of details
searching for what interests them and for what they need to know.
Good writers take time to
analyze their readers before they begin to write. They take into account the following
the information the reader
the information the reader
needs to make a decision
the technical information
the reader understands
the step you want
the reader to take after reading your message
the reader's reaction
toward the message
the sort of reports the
reader likes to read
If you don't know this
information, you are not ready to begin writing. Not only will you waste your reader's
time in providing irrelevant or incomplete information, but you will waste your own time
and weaken your professional image.
What If Your Reports Are Too Short
Some people have a problem
with writing too concisely. They are told their reports don't have enough detail. The
reason for this is that they are starting their reports in the wrong place. They are
starting from what they know about the topic and from what they feel.
I once made cookies using
only 1/8 cup of butter instead of the 3/4 cup required. (It was all the butter I had.) I
rationalized this decision well: it would cut back on cholesterol. Despite my reasoning,
the cookies were dry and tough.
You can't cut corners with
writing either. If your reports are too short and lack necessary details, you must go back
to the questions mentioned earlier. Always ensure the reader has enough information so he
or she can comfortably take action.
If You Write for Multiple Readers
Be alert to secondary
audiences. These are the people the primary reader may send your report on to. This
audience usually has less background information and technical knowledge than your primary
If you write for multiple
audiences, I recommend you chunk the information in sections according to needs. For
example, you might explain the benefits of a new type of widget to all the readers. In the
next section, you could explain why you need a widget and how it works for the less
informative sub-heads for each of these sections so the reader can determine the sections
he needs to read. Organize your reports so busy readers can "jump-skip"
through the information to get the details they need to make a decision.
Remember, good writers can
be compared to good cooks. They both have to end up with products that meet their
audience's needs and tastes.
About Jane Watson