Recently, I attended a 2-day workshop conducted by the British Council on Reports that Work. The workshop was very fruitful and hands-on, which helped with retaining the learning points. For some activities, we had to work in groups and for some in pairs.
The trainer, Eileen herself was excellent. She made the workshop very interactive with the activities and discussions.
The workshop covered the different types of reports and the important points to keep in mind when writing a report. Because this is a workshop that I found helpful, I decided to share about what I had learnt and perhaps explain why I would recommend this workshop to anyone who would like to improve the way they write a report.
Why did I decide to attend this training?
At every point in our working lives, we may be expected to write reports. These reports are written for different reasons and read by different groups of people. For example:
- Your Finance Department may require you to write a detailed report on the organisation’s expenditure and to explain and surplus or deficits
- To communicate with clients, for instance, parents, teachers may need to write reports for parents on how their child is progressing and suggestions on what can be further done to help the child improve better
My role requires me to put together different types of reports too, and usually, I tend to put together information in a manner that I feel is easy to be read and understood by me and anyone reading the report.
However, it occurred to me that not all reports are the same. Some can be kept simple and straight to the point, while others require greater details, where tables, charts, etc need to be included to reflect some visuals for a better understanding at one glance.
Writing a report is not an easy task. It takes patience and sometimes teamwork to collate, analyse and put together the necessary information. Knowing how to put together a good report takes skills, hence it is important to equip oneself with this knowledge. One also has to understand who the readers are. With this in mind, one needs to plan and organise how to put together the required information and finally how to make the report visual by including tables, graphs & charts
With the above in mind, I thought it would be best for me to attend a training that would allow me to pick up a few skills and gain a better understanding on the types of reports there are and the information that goes into these reports, as well as how and who I can get the necessary information from to put the details down in the most accurate and organised manner.
To begin with, do you know what a good report is? – No? Well, a good report is one that has a clear presentation of facts that are carefully analysed, to produce logical opinions, which are then used to make decisions.
First, allow me to share with you the different types of reports:
|Investigates and explains something that has gone wrong.
Possibly recommends action to prevent a recurrence.
|Investigation reports range from very thorough, 100- page plus reports (e.g. on a national disaster) to short, standard forms (e.g. for minor accidents or incidents in a factory)
|Provides an overview of an existing situation and identifies broad trends and patterns as a basis for policy or strategy, formulation, marketing and planning.
|Often written on the basis of research using:
Usually based on large amounts of data, therefore likely to include appendices, tables, and graphs.
Often extrapolates from the past to make predictions.
Experience and judgement may be important.
May be the basis for major decisions and so special knowledge or analytical techniques may be required.
|Assesses the feasibility of a particular proposal or course of action.
|May be similar to survey reports in that data collection may be required and that it may extrapolate from the data.
The starting point must be the course of action proposed.
Should outline the full implications of the course of action and evaluate them in terms of advantages and disadvantages.
A recommendation is usually required. However, it may recommend an alternative or a modification of the original proposal rather than outright acceptance.
|Reviews a system, procedure or structure with a view to recommending changes or improvements.
|Often prompted by the feeling that there is a problem or that an opportunity is being missed.
Must include a description of the system (etc) under review.
Usually highlights weaknesses or disadvantages as a basis for recommending change.
|Presents in systematic form current information on the performance of an organisation or part of an organisation.
|Often important that information is presented in a way that allows comparison with other periods or jobs or with plans, norms or standards.
The format may be highly standardised (e.g. a form with space for comments).
Some explanation is usually required for unexpected or poor results.
Source: pg 52-53 of notes from the British Council Workshop Workbook
Second: The structure and organisation of a report – POWER:
P – Plan
O – Organise
W – Write
E – Edit
R – Review
Allow me to break down on what goes into each step of POWER.
- Understand what is the purpose of producing the report
- Think about who are your readers
- Collect relevant information
- Consider how to order the content according to the reader’s level and knowledge
- Logically sequence the content – Introduction, background, findings, conclusions & recommendations
- Group the ideas into short paragraphs
- Write with no regard for grammar or spelling
- Organise the layout of the information
- Check for grammar and spelling mistakes
- Make sure to use plain English
- Rewrite sentences and paragraphs (a sentence should not exceed 20 words)
- Check for punctuations
- Read through the document
- Ask a colleague to read through the document to check if it makes sense and covers the important points that are required to be highlighted
Third: The points you need to note when writing a report. This can be done simply by remembering the 6Cs:
Finally, to wrap it up, note 6 lessons on what a good report should entail:
- Make sure you mention the objective of the report at the beginning
- Organise the points into related groups
- Structure your argument
- Use plain English and avoid the use of jargons and big words
- Make the report readable by having spacing, headers and sub-headers
Finally, package the report to look presentable by including tables or charts, a summary, references and appendices if any.
I hope the sharing of my knowledge received from this workshop helped give some insights on what you could consider when planning and writing a report.
Written by Manmeet Kaur, Staff Professional Development Division (SPD) Executive
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