In the last issue we looked at preparing to write a report. If you have been following all the tips in that issue, you are now ready to write your report! To write well, use plain English and adopt the ABC's of writing: be accurate, be brief and be clear. There is no point investing time and effort in your report only to have your readers lay it aside or ignore it because they find it full of jargon, difficult to read or badly laid out. So here are top ten tips for writing a report:
1. Be accurate by checking the spelling, grammar and punctuation. Also check all your facts and figures. For example, check that columns add up, or that your survey results haven’t been superseded by the time you come to compile your report.
2. Aim for an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. Use about 10 words for impact. The aim is to have the reader read each sentence only once to get the full impact. The longer the sentence, the more chance there is that a reader will have to go back over the sentence to understand it.
3. Use shorter, more familiar words. Use “try” instead of “endeavour”; “help” instead of “assistance”. And avoid jargon that can confuse the reader.
4. Use single words instead of phrases. Use “can” instead of “has the capacity to”; “now” instead of “at this moment in time”. Remember, the easier the sentence is to read, at first reading, the better the chances of your reader getting to the end of your report!
5. Avoid overuse of adjectives, adverbs, tautologies, clichés and nominalisations. For example:
Avoid using the following:
- a round circle
- absolutely full
- with regard to
- enclosed herewith
- order to
- should be grateful if you would
- I have carried out the preparation of your accounts
- a circle
- I have prepared your accounts
6. Use the active voice whenever possible. For example, “John made the investment”, not “the investment was made by John”. Using the active voice makes your writing more direct and easier to read as it uses fewer words.
7. Avoid using “smothered” verbs. So use “meet” instead of “hold a meeting”; “decide” instead of “make a decision”; “agree” instead of “reach an agreement”.
8. Break up long chunks of text by using the following:
- paragraphs for sections of information
- headings and sub-headings
- diagrams, charts, graphs and tables
- lists and bullet points
Remember to consider the “picture frame effect” of your writing. If it looks good on the page, people are more likely to want to read it.
9. Make sure that your conclusions and recommendations are supported by evidence in the main body of the report.
10. Check you have a clear introduction, that the order is logical and that there is a clear ending.
In the next issue we will look at how to check the report you have written. So watch this space!