Everyone has to write a report at some stage in their career. A well written report can further your career, since people see not only the content and well reasoned arguments or recommendations, but also the confidence and clarity with which it is written.
But preparation is key when writing a report: "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail". So time spent at this stage will mean that your report is more focussed, it will be written with the reader in mind and it will be structured into a logical order, avoiding repetition. By preparing more thoroughly you will also be able to write your reports quicker and do fewer drafts – if you prepare really well you may only have to write it once. So here are the top ten tips to help with preparation.
1. Ask yourself “Why am I writing this report?” Are you writing it to persuade or to dissuade an action? Perhaps it is to inform, or to record a series of events. This will give you the purpose of your report and tell you what you are aiming to achieve. Keep this purpose in mind whilst planning.
2. Ask yourself “Who am I writing to?” Consider the reader or readers; their knowledge and level of expertise; their needs and expectations; what they are like; how they want the report presented; what their reaction is likely to be to your report; and who else may read it.
3. Ask yourself “What is the content?” What shall I include/exclude? What will achieve my purpose? What will achieve their objectives? What is suitable for the reader? How much content shall I include? What extra content do I need – appendices? What style shall I use (formal/chatty)? What’s appropriate for this reader? What recommendations shall I make?
4. Ask yourself “How will I structure the report?” What order will I write in? How will I make it interesting and appropriate for this reader? If there is an expected house style or format for the report, are you familiar with it? If not, where will you go to find out?
5. Ask yourself “When will I write the report?” When is the report needed by? When shall I plan, write and check? When do I need a response from the reader? If you are up against a tight deadline for its submission, you may need to plan in "quiet" time, or break down the report into chunks, and plan in those chunks to your working day.
6. Ask yourself “Where will I write the report?” Where is the document going? Where will they read it? If you need quiet time to do this, consider booking a spare room, sitting in the Library, or taking some time to work on it outside of the office.
7. Collate all the information. Decide what to include based on the purpose of the report and the reader. Double check that the information you have and will work from is the most up to date, e.g. figures, statistics, quotes or survey results.
8. Plan and organise the content either by writing notes, brainstorming or mind mapping. Then decide the order based on the purpose, the reader(s) and any house style or publication format that you need to stick to.
9. Know what the ending is going to be. Know the conclusions and any recommendations. If you need evidence to support your recommendations, this should have been part of tip No 7.
10. Now you can begin writing!