Application – Preparing informative documents
To keep enterprises going, managers divvy the firm’s work among individuals, teams, and external service providers. The deliberations of these workers, their analyses, solutions, and plans find their way into reports.
Organizations also use reports to record decisions. This compensates for the inability of different people to remember things exactly the same. In this way, reports align institutional knowledge. If no one collects the facts and describes the analysis, the investment in collecting data and studying problems is wasted.
One more point—organizations prepare reports to communicate consistently with their customers and stakeholders.
Determine the purpose and identify readers
When starting to write a report, assess the report’s purpose, context, and readership. Determine the general length and complexity of the report. Decide on a format. Determine if you have sufficient information to commence work. If needed, lay out a research plan and/or get other people to help with the research and writing.
Get started and keep going
As you begin, manage your emotions. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when assigned to write a long or complex report. Needing to enlist the help of other people from other departments or other companies can heighten your uneasiness, since enlisting others increases uncertainty of the timing, quality, and cost of their involvement.
When faced with a difficult report to write, it is best to jump in and start doing something as soon as possible. As you do, your feelings will change from being overwhelmed to being resigned to see the project through. And as you make measureable progress, your confidence will grow and you will acquire a hope that the assignment will turn out well. Your growing knowledge and enthusiasm will propel you through the project.
You seldom are without a guide when writing a report. Whoever assigns or requests a report is your sponsor. Often this person is your manager or other person in charge.
When assigned a report to write, gain as full an understanding as possible of what is wanted. Do this by asking questions and taking notes.
As you advance your assignment—when your research reveals new things or when your brainstorming and organizing yields insights—check back with your sponsor to gain his or her guidance.
Invite your sponsor’s advice when working outside your prior experience, facing contradictory and incomplete evidence, or dealing with weighty and emotionally charged situations. He or she likely will understand context important to your report.
It is implicit that you write honestly.
Refrain from guessing. Carefully research your topic. Consult credible sources. Document where you found supporting information. State limitations to evidence. When drafting and revising, include only validated data and relevant information. Present objective conclusions.
If you hedge the truth, you and your organization eventually will suffer the consequences for compromising your integrity.
Brainstorm, organize, and assemble pre-existing material
When you feel your research has answered the important questions, brainstorm the major ideas and organize your material into an outline. Next, bring together any text that you have already written that can be reused. Using two windows on a PC, copy sections from the already written material into the outline of the new report. This technique also works well when assembling text written by multiple authors.
When appropriate, get help from other people. Working with others can be challenging and time consuming, but it is imperative when writing a long and complex report.
It helps if one person manages the project and the same or another person takes the lead to assemble and wordsmith the entire document. The project manager or document editor should:
· Clearly communicate the scope, schedule, and budget of the assignment
· Define roles for the team members, including assigning portions of the document to team members according to contributors’ expertise
· Establish an overall outline for the report
· Adopt standards, such as:
· A style guide — a document that prescribes how things will be written and formatted
· A list of abbreviations and units of measure
· A glossary — a list of special words or terms used in the document
Standards are essential to ensure consistency and to avoid excess rewriting. Sometimes the chief editor will need to assume the role of writing instructor and educate contributors on what is and what is not effective prose.
Organize your material
After doing your research and brainstorming, decide how you will organize your report. As discussed in a prior chapter, common development patterns include:
· Problem solving
· Proposed change
· Templates specified by governments and trade associations
Select a relevant title. Add section headings. Include summary, conclusion, and recommendation sections. Use bulleted and numbered lists. Add tables, charts, illustrations, and photos. When appropriate, provide a glossary, list of abbreviations, and list of information sources. For longer reports, add finding aides, such as a table of contents, list of tables, list of figures, and/or index.
Use a minimum number of fonts. Ensure the overall document is neat and consistently formatted.
After you draft your report, during the revision phase, cycle back to check the effectiveness of the development pattern you selected and consider resequencing sections.
When your report is essentially complete, but yet unissued, obtain feedback by submitting a draft to your sponsor or to a sample set of the intended readers to obtain their comments.
Implement revision control
When working on a complex report, add a revision label to the file name and keep different versions. This is especially important when multiple persons edit or review a document. An effective way to do this is to add a revision letter or number to the end of the file name, such as rev C or rev 03. Use letters to indicate revisions prior to formally issuing the document and numbers to revisions that follow the formal release, with the first official issuance being revision 00 or edition 1.
Avoid using the label final as a revision indicator, because 99% of the time what you or others think is the final revision will still require further changes. When this happens, the final revision is no longer final and this can create confusion. For this reason, numbers or letters make superior revision labels.