Report Writing

by Clare Forrest

The report writing process

Is this you?  

The project is moving on nicely. You’ve carried out an interim review; the team are happy, and all is on target. But this isn’t enough for your manager. Now she wants a report on progress so far to take to the Board.

Sighing, you reluctantly sit at your PC. Without too much thought, you immediately start typing. Ten minutes or so later you stare hopelessly at the screen, realising that you have completely lost track of what you wanted to say. And is that ‘effect’ or ‘affect’ you should be using? Heck. You’re a manager, not a writer: a hands-on people person. Why bother with it anyway? Well, you promised it to your boss. And bosses like this sort of stuff. Grumpily, you carry on...

Is this how you approach report writing? If so, you’re not alone.

Writing or alligators?

William Saroyan, the novelist, observed that ‘writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators’. Journalist Gloria Steinem said ‘I do not like to write – I like to have written’, while Gene Fowler observed bitterly that ‘Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.’

It seems that writers just don’t enjoy writing.

I certainly dislike it. When I sit down to write, I’ll happily spend hours finding other things to do. Anything else, rather than actually write. Mind you, I think I’d definitely take writing over wrestling alligators.

Process is the key

Is there the process that can make writing a report more bearable? Yes, there is, and the good news is that most of the process involves no writing at all. Did you spot that word ‘process’? That’s the key. The reason why people who don’t often write reports usually have a miserable time when faced with the task is that they don’t use a systematic process.

Don’t start writing

It may sound odd, but trust me – the worst way to write a report is to sit down and start writing. Use this approach and you’ll almost certainly lose your thread, bring in irrelevancies and spend hours longer than you need. There is, as the advert says, a better way.

Have a look below and notice that writing isn’t mentioned until near the end. By using this step-by-step approach you’ll be able to put together an effective report, reasonably quickly.

Six steps to report writing

Step one

Establish objectives and readers

Step two

Research data

Step three

Organise and sequence data

Step four

Structure whole report

Step five

Write

Step six

Format

Step seven

Edit and proof
Key point

Don’t start writing until you’ve planned your report.