Writing good, readable and meaningful reports is not easy. Sometimes people over do it, by imagining that the more they write the better. They also try to complicate it and make it seem as “professional” as possible. Professional in their definition is to use words that are rarely used by people to make them check the dictionary to be able to understand. Or use too many formulas and scientific facts and details. The result is a too long and too complicated document to read.
When you write a report the simpler the better. Your focus should be in meeting the aim of the document. Always ask yourself, what is the aim of this report? How should it benefit the reader? If you start this way, you will know exactly what to write in it.
If you want people to read what you write, do the following:
Step 1: Why are you writing this report? Define its aim and what is it supposed to serve.
Step 2: Define your scope. Depending on the topic of your report, sometimes it could be too wide and you yourself can digress while writing. Define your scope to avoid this problem and to avoid making your report too wide and hence vague to the reader. Every report should have a scope that limits the contents of the report.
Step 3: Know your audience. A report written to a technical audience differs than a report written to managing directors and executives, differs than a report written to accountants,..and so on. You have to know who will read the report to address them with the language they know best. And if it is a mixed audience, then write in a straight forward simple language that they will all understand. And if it is needed to mention some details for a group of the audience- do that – but clarify it in simple language in order not to loose the rest of your audience.
Step 4: Write the table of contents. This has to be finalized before you start writing to avoid loosing your focus in the middle of the report.
Step 5: Have all materials, statistics, research findings, images and references that you will need ready.
Step 6: Write your report.
Step 7: Include your conclusion or wrapping paragraph. A report with a conclusion is a wasted effort.
Step 8: Include the next step. This should highlight to the reader what will we do next or what is requested of him after he reads.
Steps 9, 10 and 11: PROOFREAD and PROOFREAD and PROOFREAD. Any document with spelling mistakes or grammatical mistakes or logical mistakes will loose its audience and will never deliver the message.
When you are writing the report take care that visual effects make a great difference. So make sure to make your report visually accepted as follows:
1-Use the same font throughout the document. Same type and size for content, headers and titles. And of course use a readable size.
2-Use normal black color for writing and use a different color to highlight parts that you need to stress their importance.
3-Whenever charts or images can make a certain idea or fact clearer use them.
4-Avoid too long sentences and too long paragraphs. The shorter and to the point the better.
5-Paginate your document.
6-Fix your margins and make sure your document prints well if you are going to send an electronic copy.