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Page 1 Writing a Report < previous page page_1 next page > < previous page page_2 next page >
Page 2 How To Books on Business and Management
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Business & Management Personal Finance Computer Basics Self-Development General Reference Small Business Jobs & Careers Student Handbooks Living & Working Abroad Successful Writing Please send for a free copy of the latest catalogue for full details (see back cover for address). < previous page page_2 next page > < previous page page_3 next page >
Page 3 Writing a Report
A Step-by-Step Guide to Effective Report Writing
4th edition How To Books < previous page page_3 next page > < previous page page_4 next page >
Page 4 This book is dedicated to the memory of my father,
Jack Leslie Bowden. Cartoons by Mike Flanagan
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
© 1997 by John Bowden
Published by How To Books Ltd, 3 Newtec Place,
Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RE, United Kingdom.
Tel: (01865) 793806. Fax: (01865) 248780.
First published 1991
Second edition 1994
Third edition 1996
Fourth edition (revised and updated) 1997
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or stored in an information retrieval system (other than
short extracts for the purposes of review) without the express permission of the Publisher given in writing.
The information in this book was as up to date as possible at the time of writing. However, details are subject to
change and readers are cautioned to check the current position before making arrangements.
Produced for How To Books by Deer Park Productions.
Typeset by Concept Communications (Design & Print) Ltd, Crayford, Kent.
Printed and bound by The Cromwell Press, Trowbridge, Wiltshire. < previous page page_4 next page > < previous page page_5 next page >
Page 5 CONTENTS List of Illustrations 7 Preface 9 Part 1
The Practical Side of Report Writing 11 1
Preparation and Planning 11 Identifying Your Precise Purpose Identifying Your Readership Identifying Your Objective(s) Identifying Your Resources Thinking About Your Content Preparing Your Skeletal Framework Summary
Collecting and Handling Information Finding Adequate Relevant Information Obtaining the Information Recording Your Findings Sorting and Grouping Your Findings Evaluating Your Findings Prioritising Your Findings 11 12 13 14 14 15 30 32 32 39 52 55 55 57 58 Checking Your Findings 58 Summary
Writing and Revising Your Report 61 61 Pre-Writing 62 Drafting the Main Body and Appendixes 62 Reviewing the Main Body and Appendixes Drafting the Conclusions, Recommendations, Introduction and Summary 64 Checking and Amending the Report 68 Issuing the Report 70 Summary < previous page 63 page_5 next page > < previous page page_6 next page >
Page 6 Part 2
The Creative Side of Report Writing 71 4
A Style Guide to Good Report Writing 71 Report Style Achieving a Good Style Principles for Effective Report Writing Summary
The Use of English Grammar Punctuation Spelling Vocabulary Summary
Improving the Presentation of Your Report Word Processing and Desktop Publishing Layout and Design Typography Visual Illustrations Colour 71 73 77 80 82 82 87 91 96 124 126 127 129 136 141 156 Paper, Covers, Binding and Indexing Summary
Some Common Types of Report Accident Reports Agendas for Committee Meetings Annual Reports Appraisal Reports Audit Reports Comparative Testing Reports Duty Notes Reports Explanatory Reports Feasibility Reports Informative Reports Instructional Manuals Interview Reports Investigation into the Financial Affairs of a Company Reports Minutes Process Description Reports Progress Reports 158 163 165 167 168 171 172 173 175 178 178 179 180 181 181 183 184 186 187 187 Research Reports 189 Scientific Reports 191 Student Project Reports < previous page page_6 next page > < previous page page_7 next page >
Page 7 Systems Evaluation Reports Technical Reports Technological Reports Trouble-Shooting Reports 192 194 195 197 Glossary 200 Further Reading 211 Index 213 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS: 1
An Algorithm 26 2
A Tally Sheet 44 3
A Questionnaire 47 4
Patterned Notes 54 5
Three Page Designs 130 6
Page Orientation 131 7
Type Alignment 140 8
Lines, Arrows, Boxes, Frames, and Shading 144 9
A Pie Chart 145 10
A Bar Chart 146 11
A Pictogram 147 12
A Flow Chart 151 13
An Organisational Chart 152 14
An Isometric Drawing 153 15
An Exploded Drawing 153 16
A Cut-Away Drawing 154 17
Contrasting Backgrounds and Type 157 18
Indexing a Report 162 < previous page page_7 next page > page_8 < previous page next page >
Page 8 IS THIS YOU?
Journalist Scientist Government worker
Academic Teacher Computer user
Researcher Writer Designer
Salesperson Town planner Education manager
Doctor Parent Traveller
Communicator Course tutor Health manager
Hobbyist Advertiser Self-employed
Manufacturer Financier Transport officer
Accountant Marketer Publisher
Business consultant Voluntary group organiser < previous page Charity officer page_8 next page > < previous page page_9 next page >
Page 9 PREFACE
TO THE FOURTH EDITION
Successful report writing requires a combination of substance and style: having something worthwhile to say and
knowing how to say it effectively.
This updated and extensively revised handbook provides a complete guide to creating professional, persuasive
reports which will give you the competitive edge in selling your ideas and winning your case. It shows you how to
produce reports that will be:
read without unnecessary delay
understood without undue effort
accepted and, where appropriate, acted upon.
To achieve these aims you must do more than present the relevant facts accurately; you must communicate in a way
that is both acceptable and intelligible to your readers.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 describes the systematic approach needed to produce an effective report,
regardless of the subject matter. It takes you step-by-step all the way from being asked to write a report to issuing a
tailor-made product which meets the needs of all your readers.
In Part 2 we turn to the creative side of writing. Producing a professional report today requires a merging of the
technologies of communication, computers and graphic design. What you say is important. But how you say it and
how it looks are vital in creating a high-impact report that stands out from the deluge of material your audience
Part 3 describes some common types of report in more detail. This section complements Parts 1 and 2 by
highlighting the particular emphases associated with each report type.
Reports are important. They are a key component in virtually all < previous page page_9 next page > < previous page page_10 next page >
Page 10 major decision making. Today, good communication skills and the ability to write effective reports are essential
competencies for every successful businessperson.
This book is based on many years' experience of report writing and helping other people write their reports. It seeks
to guide, to advise and most of all to stimulate the reader.
JOHN BOWDEN < previous page page_10 next page > < previous page page_11 next page >
Page 11 PART 1 1
Preparation and Planning
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. The importance of planning and gradually refining the framework for a report
cannot be stressed too highly. Often, however, writers simply ignore this aspect or dismiss it as being too
mechanical to be worthwhile. As a result they plough too quickly into the writing process itself and end up failing to
realise their full potential. Anything you commit to paper before your overall plan has taken shape is likely to be
wasted; it will be like a bricklayer starting to build the wall of a house before the architect has drawn up the plans.
Before you write a single word you must:
Identify your precise purpose
Identify your readership
Identify your objective(s)
Identify your resources
Think about your content
Prepare your framework.
Collectively these activities constitute the planning stage of report writing, and the amount of time and thought you
spend on them will make a vast difference to the effectiveness of all the work that will follow. This chapter
considers each activity in turn.
Identifying Your Precise Purpose
If someone has asked you to prepare the report, make sure you know < previous page page_11 next page > < previous page page_12 next page >
Page 12 precisely what is expected of you. In other words, ask for terms of reference. If the response to your question is in
any way ambiguous (for example, 'Just do a report on absenteeism'), it is a good idea to write down what you believe
are the intended terms of reference preferably in just one sentence and then seek confirmation that this is indeed
what is required. (For example, 'Absenteeism in the Cardiff and Edinburgh Branches of ABC Limited, 19921997'.)
It is equally important to define your precise purpose when you have initiated the report yourself. Only by
continually thinking about this purpose can you expect to remain relevant throughout and ensure that everything that
should be covered has been covered.
Identifying Your Readership
Your aim is to communicate, and the effectiveness of communication is measured by the quality of its reception, not
by the quality of its transmission. So ask yourself:
Are the readers alike or mixed?
Are they used to reading and understanding reports?
Will they be expecting a formal or informal report?
How much time will they spend on this report?
Are they familiar with the subject?
What do they already know?
What else will they need to know?
What are their attitudes to the subject and to me?
What is the relationship between them and me?
You would write different things, and in different ways, when addressing your boss, your staff or members of the
Meet Your Readers
If possible, find answers to questions such as: < previous page page_12 next page > < previous page page_13 next page >
Page 13 Do they use, or at least understand technical terms?
What sort of publications are in their offices?
If you cannot meet them in person, then phone them or ask someone about them. Failing this, at least establish their
occupations. This will give you some useful clues, from which you might ask:
What deductions can I make about their education, training and technical ability?
What priorities, attitudes and prejudices are they likely to have?
Obviously you are generalising; accountants are not all alike, nor are publicans, or any other group. However, you
can make some reasonable assumptions about them, which gives you something to work on.
Always remember that you will be writing for real people. Good doctors talk to fellow professionals in a very
different way from how they talk to patients, in terms of both content and presentation. Similarly, try to write in the
way that is most appropriate for your readers.
Clearly, the more diverse your readership, the more difficult it is to pitch the report at the right level. Is one reader
more important than the others? If so, target the report at him or her. If not, there are ways of getting around the
problem of a mixed readership. It can be done by issuing two or more reports or and this is more likely by including
a summary, a glossary, and/or some appendixes. In this way the interests of a wide range of readers can be
Identifying Your Objective(s)
What do you hope this report will achieve? What results are you hoping for? What do you want to happen next?
Only when you have identified this 'bottom line' can you begin to concentrate on getting your message across
Here are some possible overall objectives for a report writer although in practice any report is likely to be produced
for some combination of these reasons:
to inform < previous page page_13 next page > < previous page page_14 next page >
Page 14 to describe
to evaluate (and recommend)
to provoke debate
The information you will include in your report, and the way you might arrange it, will be dictated largely by your
overall objective(s). For this reason the more closely you can identify your objective(s), the more useful your report
is likely to be.
Identifying Your Resources
You need to know what resources will be available to you before, during, and after your project, such as:
How many working hours have been allocated to it?
What is my budget?
What equipment or apparatus will be at my disposal?
When will it be available?
Can I reserve a quiet and peaceful room where I can write the report once the project has been completed?
Until you know your resources (or possibly your lack of resources) you cannot realistically decide what information
you will gather or how you will present your findings.
Thinking About Your Content
Your aim is to make the best use of your limited resources in order to < previous page page_14 next page > < previous page page_15 next page >
Page 15 obtain adequate relevant information which, when properly handled and presented, will enable you to:
achieve your precise purpose
meet all your readers' needs
realise your overall objective(s).
Analyse the subject to determine the main features to be examined. It is often helpful to make use of the Pareto
Principle which states that eighty per cent of what is important is represented by twenty per cent of what exists. This
is also known as the eighty-twenty rule, and can be illustrated by the following examples: Eighty per cent of horse races . . . are won by twenty per cent of horses in training. Eighty per cent of a company's revenue . . . is generated by 20 per cent of its customers. Eighty per cent of a speaker's message . . . is contained in twenty per cent of his words. While the eighty-twenty rule should not be taken literally, it is a very useful concept which will remind you to
always concentrate on what really matters.
Preparing Your Skeletal Framework
You are now in a position to think about the overall plan of your report. This is known as the skeletal framework. It
is like drawing up the plans for a new house. Not only will it show its overall structure, it will also remind you of the
materials (information) you will need to gather before the process of construction can begin. A well-planned skeletal
framework is the key to effective report writing since it enables the writer:
to be sure there is no misunderstanding over the terms of reference < previous page page_15 next page > < previous page page_16 next page >
Page 16 to have an overview of the entire report
to be reminded of what information must be collected, and what is not needed
to order his or her thoughts before considering how they should be expressed
to appreciate the significance of and the relationship between the various items of information that will be gathered
and to maintain a sense of perspective while gathering this information and, later, when writing the report.
You may find it necessary or desirable to revise this framework once the project has been completed; for example,
you might need to highlight some particularly important finding. However, it is far easier to revise a skeletal
framework than to attempt to structure your findings without an initial plan.
The skeletal framework you choose will be influenced by these factors:
the requirements of the person who commissioned the repot
custom and conventions
Let us consider each factor in turn.
The Requirements of the Person Who Commissioned the Report
If possible, agree the framework of the report with the person who asked you to produce it. In this way he or she will
be expecting a structure similar to the one you will be providing. After weeks or perhaps months of hard work, it is
extremely frustrating to hear those dreaded words: 'But I expected you to present it entirely differently from that'. < previous page page_16 next page > < previous page page_17 next page >
Page 17 House-style
Many organisations have their own house-style. For example, do they talk about house-style, house style, houserules or house rules? Such consistency helps the writer, the reader, and the typist or printer. It also projects the same
organisational image to the outside world. Sensible house-style will help the writer by providing practical guidance.
However, it should never be so rigid as to impede individual style.
Custom and Convention
Some routine reports are always presented in the same way, often on standard forms. For example, they may
compare certain key statistics from one period to another. If you are asked to complete such a report, you will have
little or no scope to influence its presentation. Simply refer to previous reports to see what is required. However, if
you believe that the existing format could be improved in some way and if you can justify this then do not be afraid
to say so.
Your Objective(s) and Your Readership
You now know that it helps to establish your objective. Perhaps you intend to persuade your chairperson (your
reader) to authorise the purchase of product A rather than product B (your objective). Or perhaps you wish to
instruct your staff (your readers) how to use a particular item of machinery (your objective). Clearly, these are
different messages to different audiences, and what you say and how you say it will be strongly influenced by these
two factors. The best single piece of advice to bear in mind is never write anything that you would not say to your
Remember that the task of the report writer is to supply his or her readers with the information they need in a form
they can understand. A report is a means to an end to inform, to explain, and so on it is not an end in itself. Your aim
therefore is to communicate effectively, not to produce a literary masterpiece.
Attracting the Reader
The report will succeed only if it is read ...
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