Ten Tips on Report Writing

Report writing is something most of us have to do in our work lives or as members of associations we belong to. Here are ten tips for you.

1. Follow a Structure

There are many articles and publications on how to structure a formal report. At the least include;

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations

2. State the aim/purpose of the report in the introduction.

Even if you have to be blunt, put a big H2 heading saying “Aim” and then state:

“The aim of this report is to….”

It lets us all know what the report is about.

3. Use the “Journalistic Six” in developing the body.

The “Journalistic Six” is a checklist reporters use for developing their stories. It answers the questions:

  • who
  • what
  • where
  • when
  • why
  • how

4. If you have lots of technical information, attach it as an appendix.

Winston Churchill was really hot on this during WWII, when, as you can imagine, he had lots of bumf* to read.

5. Know your audience.

If the report is going to be read by the CEO, CFO and HR Manager you will have to express it differently than if it is going to be read by the Chief Engineer.

6. Do not use technical words, acronyms or jargon.

Unless you are absolutely sure that everyone who is going to read the report understands them, do not use the above, especially TLA’s (three letter acronyms). In general use plain English without foreign words.

7.  Separate facts and opinion.

Otherwise it detracts from the credibility of your report.

8. Conclusions and recommendations must be supported by the body of the report.

Firstly, make sure that you do have conclusions and recommendations. Reports without them that peter out into nothingness are frustrating to read. Also make sure that you have achieved your aim.

9. Review the document for accuracy, brevity and clarity.

Revise, revise, revise. Get someone else to proof read your document.

10. Follow George Orwell’s advice.

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

*n. Chiefly British Slang
1. Printed matter, such as pamphlets, forms, or memorandums, especially of an official nature and deemed of little interest or importance.
2. Toilet paper.
[Short for bum fodder]

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