By Dr. Rhonda Rhodes and Dr. Joyce Kupsh
Is writing a report a daunting task? Does the task seem terrifying and arduous? Would you rather have a root canal? Do you dread writing a report for your boss? Do you need to teach others to write reports?
Writing effective reports does not have to be intimidating. If you follow a few basic guidelines and view the task as manageable parts, your report can be completed without too much frustration. The manageable parts are: Organizing, Starting, Writing, Polishing, Producing, and Finishing.
Before starting to write, organize yourself. First, determine the purpose of your report. Other decisions in organizing involve what type of report—research report, case study analysis, case study, feasibility study, strategic plan, business plan, business proposal, evaluation report, synthesis report, assessment/audit report, technical report, follow-up report, press release, or other types.
Next, decide what format style would be most appropriate. These styles include e-mail, memo, letter, form, report, newsletter, brochure, magazine, booklet, or manual. A final step in organizing is to examine the various parts available. Reports can include an executive summary/abstract, title page, contents, introduction, body, appendices, and bibliography/reference/resources. Determine which of these parts are appropriate for the report you are writing.
Planning comes first. Plan your report by answering some basic questions.
Next, where will you find your information—research? Information is found in two places. Existing data is already written and is found on your computer or by visiting a library. Original data is data you have collected yourself through interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, surveys, or experiments. During the research phase, be sure to keep good notes so you can cite sources for any direct quotations or information you paraphrase. Numerous reference manuals and style manuals are available online to help you use the correct format for citing these sources.
Once you have the gathered your data, a critical step is necessary—outlining. The outline is a possibly the most important step in organizing a written project. The outline helps the writer organize the report as an orderly, functional, and structured whole. The outline keeps the writer on track, and completing the report becomes a task of filling in the outline. One method is to record random thoughts and then cluster these thoughts into logical groups. These logical groups will help to form an outline using the following guidelines:
A report should be written from an objective viewpoint, including facts and findings leading to recommendations. Normally, personal emotions and opinions should be avoided. Be concise and avoid expletives, irrelevant information, redundancy, and clutter or extra phrases. For example, consider the following phrases:
Use: “The report states . . .” instead of “There are…”
Use “Furthermore, the results indicate…” rather than “It is noted that…”
Transitions, such as also or for example, help in blending thoughts and paragraphs. Bulleted lists help make the information easy and quick to grasp. Use a symbol for the bullet lists unless numbers are important to show order in the listing.
Write in a positive way as much as possible. To give a positive note to something negative, use a more positive word. For instance, say remember versus do not forgetand please send versus you neglected to send.
Biased writing, concerning gender, race, religion, age, disability, or ethnic group, should be avoided. For instance, do not assume all bosses are male and all secretaries are female. Pronouns of he, she, him, her, they, and them are usually better than using the first person of I or we.
Variety in writing can be good. You can create variety by varying the sentence length. Another technique is to use complex or compound sentences, as well as simple sentences.
The content of the report is of the utmost importance. However, people are drawn to the report that stands out (covered in the next section) in addition to one that is well written. Grammar and punctuation errors leave a negative impression of the writer and may nullify the brilliant technical aspects of the report.
Abbreviations and acronyms should be used sparingly and spelled out the first time they appear. For example: Supply Chain Management (SCM) is the proper format for the first time SCM is used in a paper. And always capitalize the first word of a sentence, the first word of a direct quotation, and the names of specific things. Polishing also includes the following guidelines.
Numbers can appear in various formats . . .
February 20, 20— or 20th of February
eight o’clock or 8 p.m.
Fifty years ago (spell out a number used as the first word of a sentence)
Possessives appear as shown . . .
John’s jacket, but boys’ car can be boy’s car (the first is right if two boys own the car together)
its if the possessive is desired, but if you mean it is, it’s is correct.
For quotations . . .
Periods and commas are always inside the quotation mark. For example, (next week.”)
Other punctuation (such as a ? or ;) depend on whether the whole sentence is a question or just the information within the quotation marks.
Similar sounding word should be double checked . . .
week and weak
personal and personnel
their and there
Producing high-impact reports using technology includes the design elements of font, color, paper, layout, and graphics. Using technology can be time-consuming, but the results are worth the effort. The following hints will start you on the way to producing a professional report.
Choosing the right font makes a difference. Be sure the font is readable and appropriate. Fonts are classified as Professional, Headings/Subheadings, Formal, and Casual. Title, headings, and subheadings should be bold and larger. And remember, you can use color to make the headings stand out.
Your report can be in two columns for easier reading. However, if you use right justification, be sure you do not have large extra spaces between the words. In shorter columns, it might be better to have ragged margins.
The first page is not numbered. Starting with the second page, you can place the number in either the upper or lower outside corners or the middle of the bottom of the page. Word processing programs allow you to do this task so the pages will number automatically.
In today’s technological world, many graphic are available. Make use of the following options in your report.
Finishing a report involves two steps—editing and proofreading. In editing, look for substance, style, and consistency. In proofreading, you are looking for all types of errors, ranging from typographical errors to punctuation and everything in between.
If at all possible, find someone else to edit and proofread your report. However, doing so does not release you from the responsibility. Try reading the report by placing a ruler underneath each line to make you read slower. You might even read the report out loud. Another trick in finding typographical errors is to read each line starting at the end of the line and reading backward.
With the above suggestions, your report should be off to a good start.
For more ideas, examples, and checklists obtain a copy of “Report Writing—A Survival Guide” by Drs. Joyce Kupsh and Rhonda Rhodes. The book is available on www.amazon.com.
Dr. Rhonda Rhodes is a professor of Technology and Operations Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She teaches management strategies at both the undergraduate and graduate level and encourages her students to write high-impact, effective reports.
Dr. Joyce Kupsh is a professor emerita from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She continues to teach a graduate course each year titled Professional Presentations Using Technology.The course includes both oral and written presentations. In her class, she uses “Report Writing—A Survival Guide,” as well as a book she co-authored with Dr. Pat Graves titled “Presentation Design and Delivery.”