Stages of report writing

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					The stagesof report writing
There are four distinct stages in the report writing process—investigation, planning, writing, revision.

1          Investigation
This first stage is the foundation on which all good reports are built. This is when facts are obtained,
problems and opinions uncovered, and a full understanding of the subject developed.

The facts are, in some cases, already known, and merely have to be shaped to meet the objective of the
report. In others, it will be necessary to undertake a full investigation.

(i)        Obtaining the facts
When a full investigation is necessary, it should be thorough, intensive and complete.

It should be approached with an open mind. All information offered should be accepted, even though at the
time it might not appear to be relevant.

Information given by others must be critically examined—people can be biased, or say what they think
others want to hear. Personal observation is always better than second-hand reporting.

Questioning must be persistent. The report writer needs to be alert at all times for the half-truth, the facts
being concealed, and the clues to matters which may have more importance than the person realises.

(ii)       Note taking
It is surprising how things can be fotgotten; and things which seem unimportant at the time can assume
significance later. If the investigation is lengthy, notes should be written up at the end of the day, while
details are freash in the mind.

2          Planning
This is the stage in which the facts uncovered in the investigation are sorted and arranged in the best
sequence for presentation.

Method, order and logic are vital.

(i)        Selection
Information will have been collected from many sources, in random order. Some will be relevant, and
necessary; some not.

The first step in planning is therefore to select what is to be used, and reject what is not required. This
selection must be made on the basis of both what the report is to achieve, and who is going to read it.

The prime rule is to leave out nothing important; and to include nothing that is unimportant.

During this selection process, it is useful to write main headings on separate sheets of paper so that relevant
information may be placed under the appropriate heading. There may be just one or two headings, or dozens,
depending on the length and complexity of the report.

(ii)       Order
The next step in planning is to order the material in the main areas to be covered by the report.

This means looking for a “shape”—a logical progression. The progression may be chronological; or dictated
by organisational considerations; or by the subject of the report itself.

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The progression will most likely go from the known to the unknown; from the past to the present, to the

Be sure that if one section relies on information in others, it does not precede them!

(iii)      The introduction
There should always be an introduction. This should be designed to help the reader get the greatest value
from the report. To achieve this the introduction will normally include:

(a)        a statement of the purpose of the report
(b)        necessary background information
(c)        relevant information about the arrangement of sections
(d)        definition of technical terms.

(iv)       The body of the report
The body of the report is made up of the main sections that have already been identified. Within each section
the same logic and order should apply so that a clear presentation will be made of the facts and their sources.
At each stage in the presentation these facts should be analysed and explained so that all implications are
clear to the reader.

By the end of the body of the report the reader should be in possession of all the necessary information and
have had all the available alternatives clearly explained.

(v)        Conclusion of the recommendations
The majority of reports will require the writer to come to some conclusions about an existing situation or to
recommend a suitable course of future action. It is essential therefore that within the report there is a clear
statement of the conclusions that the writer has reached and of the action that is being recommended.

(vi)       Appendices
There can be occasions where the writer will wish the reader to have access to much of the background
information that has been used in the preparation of the report. This can be achieved by including this
background data in the form of appendices attached to the report. It should be clear that appendices do not
normally form part of the report itself. The test should be, if information is necessary for the report to
achieve its objectives then that information should be in the body of the report. If it is merely detailed
background that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the report and confuse the reader then it should be
separated out and placed in the appendix.

3          Writing
If the investigation and planning have been done well, the writing of the report should be relatively straight
forward. However, great attention must be given to two areas, language and layout.

(i)        Language
It must be remembered that the best reports are easy to read and easily understood. This means that the
words used must be kept as simple as possible, and unnecessary jargon must be eliminated. Sentences should
be short and each point made needs to be identified clearly in a separate paragraph.

All normal rules of good grammar and punctuation should be followed. The basic principle is that
punctuation and grammatical construction should be used to help understanding.

(ii)       Layout
There are many forms of good layout. Good layout helps the report to communicate, by ensuring the reader’s
involvement and understanding.

It ensures the presentation of the report reflects the clear structure that has been developed at the planning
stage. The reader should be able to see and identify the introduction, the body of the report, the conclusions
and recommendations, if any, and the synopsis.

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The title should attract attention, and tell the reader what the report is about. The introduction should develop
interest, and provide encouragement to read on. Sections, and paragraphs, and sub-paragraphs should be
given headings and sub-headings, to refresh the eye and help orientation throughout the document.

Good layout will also ensure that facts are separated from interpretations and from conclusions.

(iii)      Illustrations
In the context of a report this usually means diagrams, graphs and tables—but the old saying still applies: “A
good picture is worth a thousand words”.

Illustrative graphic material should be used whenever ti will clarify a point. It should be located near the
relevant text; have a caption, and be referred to in the text.

Figures are clearer if tabulated. Compare figure I with figure II.

“Turnover figures were $600,000 in 1980, $1,700,000 in 1984 with figures of $640,000. $970,000 and
$1,200,000 being reached during the years in between. During the same period profit growth was $7,300,
$97,000, $150,000, $113,000, $156,000.”

Figure I—untabulated figures

Profit & turnover 1980–1984—$’000

Year             Turnover                Profit
1980               600,000                7,300
1981               640,000               97,000
1982               970,000              150,000
1983             1,200,000              113,000
1984              1,00,000              156,000

Figure II—tabulated figures

4          Revision
The report must be checked, of course, for spelling mistakes, bad grammar and errors. Failure to eliminate
them can create an overall impression of inefficiency, and bring the whole report into disrepute.

But the main value of revision comes from standing back and reviewing the report as a whole. The writer
may have become too involved in the detail to judge if it follows the rule of the four Cs throughout, (Clear,
Concise, Complete, Correct).

Many experienced writers leave a gap whenever possible of at least 24 hours between writing and revision.
This enables the report to be viewed afresh, and read through the eyes of the intended reader.

The writer should be very critical and ask:

       Is the “shape” apparent?
       Is the body consistent with the objective?
       Are the introduction, conclusion and recommendations integrated?
       Hs the right language and proper punctuation been used throughout?
       Word by word, line by line, is it clear?
       Does it have readability and impact?

It is often of great value to undertake revision with the help of a colleague.

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From all the foregoing it can be seen that for a success in writing a report, a systematic approach is needed.
Almost anyone can write effective reports by following the principles and techniques set out in this
document, and by being prepared to accept that improvement will continue as time goes by.

Source: Rank Aldis: A Report on the Writing of Reports

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