Report Writing

by Clare Forrest

Step five – write

When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.

Vickie Karp

Now – at last – it’s time to write. Pick up your report map and complete it by creating sentences around each of the headings and sub-headings. In other words, write the main body of your report.

Note that what you don’t do is start writing the introduction. Leave this until you’ve written up your main body and your conclusions. This way it will fall into place much more easily.

Don’t try to format your text as you write. Just focus on putting the words you are using together persuasively and getting the grammar right. You can add bold, italics, bullets and other effects later in Step six.

Persuasive writing

Confident writers have the courage to speak plainly; to let their thoughts shine rather than their vocabulary.

Ralph Keyes

Any report you write will be because you want someone to do something or to believe something. This means that you need to write persuasively – some of the ideas in Business writing: writing to influence will help you. You also need to keep your language simple so that you attract readers with the excellence of your ideas and don’t put them off with the complexity of your language.

The dreaded ‘G’ word

Grammar is the use of the rules of a language in speaking and in writing. Many people think that grammar is a) difficult and b) unimportant. It can be difficult at times but it certainly isn’t unimportant. It matters in the same way that recognising that 2+2 = 4 is important. Grammar adds structure, logic and sense to writing.

Do you find grammar difficult (who doesn’t?)? Not sure when to use ‘it’s’ or ‘its’? Don’t know the difference between principal and principle? Like to sprinkle commas like confetti (I do)? Then you need to buy a simple grammar book. Those written for non-native English speakers tend to be the easiest to understand. Any book on English usage will be very useful too – try Angela Burt’s Quick Solutions to Common Errors in English. Keep your grammar guides by you and refer to them often – I do.

Tip

A word on grammar checkers

Don’t use ‘em. Unless you understand grammar then you’re more likely to be confused than enlightened. And who wants those wiggly green lines anyway?

Keep it simple

To write simply is as difficult as to be good

W Somerset Maugham

Many people think that business writing has to be ‘proper’. This usually means using long (and often wrong) words such as ‘regarding’ for ‘about’ or ‘at this moment in time’ for ‘now’. If you do this, you will end up with a lengthy and meaningless document – and sound like you are living in the eighteenth century. Choose short and familiar words which you and your readers will instantly understand.

Did you know that any sentence much longer than 30 words is unlikely to be understood on its first reading, however clever the reader? Observe these golden rules: use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Don’t worry about using a word twice in the same sentence or paragraph. Clarity is what you’re after and changing one word to another with a similar meaning leads to inexactness, as in the (genuine) example below. See how many synonyms you can spot and then see if you can write the sentence so it’s shorter and clearer.

Example

An increase to staff remuneration, wages, salary and pay was agreed at the meeting held with the Trade Union. All employees will commence to begin to start to receive an increase of a 3 per cent pay rise during the next four week period.

Spot them all? Here’s the answer.

Should I write in the third person?

There’s no easy answer to this one. It really depends on what is required and who you’re writing the report for. In general, these days it is more usual to write in the first person. It’s more direct and more personal. However, for academic reports there is still a tendency to write more formally, using the third person. If you’re not sure which is best for your report, the following examples will help you to decide.

Note that the third person neutral, shown in example three, will always mean you write in the passive voice. This is less personal and less definite than the first two examples, where it is clear who did what.

  1. We discovered three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (First person: this uses ‘I’ or ‘We’, so the writing is active.)
  2. The writers discovered three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (Third person: you refer to yourself as if you were another person, but the writing remains active.)
  3. It was discovered that there were three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (Third person neutral using ‘it’: here, the writing is passive and less precise – no one is doing the discovering.)
Note

If you are the only person writing the report, resist the temptation to use ‘we’ to sounder grander. Use ‘we’, on the other hand, if you are discussing organisational policy.