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									                                                                Appendix ‘C6’
How to write a good report – the practical guide

These guidelines attempt to ensure consistency and clarity in

The way we write is an important part of the council’s corporate image. The
council will appear confused unless staff use language consistently when
writing material which is open to the press and public.

If you use clear, concise language your readers are more likely to believe that
you are being open and honest.

This guidance is about writing reports (for committee) and they should be
checked through the line management system as set out in the Report
Checklist. Communications staff will advise on material being published
specifically for external circulation.

What makes a good report?
It should be:
 well structured
 have clear objectives
 be clearly and concisely written for the audience in mind

Where do I start?
Use the corporate Report Template as your starting point.
You will need to allocate and schedule enough time for the writing process. A
good split is
 20%         planning
 30%         writing
 45%         revising
 5%          evaluating

A simple report may well centre on problem/cause/solution.

A more complex situation might need you to use ‘The 4 Ps’:
 Position         (a statement of the problem and current situation)
 Problem          (an analysis of the situation and why change is needed)
 Possibilities    (possible solutions including discounted options)
 Proposal         (recommended solution)

Think about who is reading your report!
It's not enough that you understand the report – those reading it need to
understand it too! Reports to committee are available to the press and public,
not just to our own councillors and staff.

A report full of big words and acronyms will confuse – keep it simple,
straightforward and keep the technical stuff to a minimum. Only use
appendices or essential reference papers if necessary.
Remember: you may have detailed technical knowledge of the subject matter,
some of those reading your report may also, but many of them won't... don't

                                                                  Appendix ‘C6’

Your reports and the media

It's a fact that reporters may well write a story solely on information from your
report. Their knowledge will be limited of the subject matter, their time is short
and if they don't understand they probably won't call to check, they'll make

If your report isn't clear, it could well end up as a confused and somewhat
inaccurate article in the local newspaper. This can cause unnecessary
damage to the council's reputation.

If you feel your report is contentious or politically sensitive, you should check
with Communications before it goes public as part of the Report Checklist

Communications officers can advise you on how it reads from a journalistic
point of view. Much more detail on this can be found through the Smarter
Comms intranet page.

Report deadlines
All reports for committees must be available to the press and public 5 days
before the date of the meeting.

Make sure you plan well in advance, remembering all the stages of drafting,
checking and authorisation you'll have to go through.

Dates and Deadlines for all committees can be found on the intranet.

                                                                Appendix ‘C6’
Tips and hints

   it is faster to write
   it is faster to read
   you get your message across more often, more easily and in a friendlier

Plain English is a customer-focused message, written with the reader in mind
and with the right content and tone of voice, that is clear and concise.

Plain English is not:
 slovenly in style, spelling or grammar
 a baby English, over simple or patronising
 about banning long words or new words
 an amateur’s method of communication. Most forward-looking managers
   always write in plain English

This guide will provide you with simple tips for writing clear, concise English.
The key points covered are:
 Keeping words and sentences short
 Keeping sentences active
 Using abbreviations
 Ways to emphasis text

It is important that you engage your audience. Always consider what you
are trying to say and then say it.

Don’t try to complicate the message.

Try to cut the number of words you use. Short sentences make clearer
reading. They also reduce misunderstanding.

Use the following simple principles:
 Never use a long word if a short one will do
 if it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out
 Aim for your sentences to be a maximum of 20 to 25 words in length
 Remember what you are trying to say; be specific and avoid long
  descriptive sentences
 Break up long sentences into more manageable chunks
 Always remember your audience; will people outside the council – in effect
  your public – really understand what you are saying?

Cutting long sentences doesn’t mean that you have to make every
sentence you write the same length. You can vary your writing so that you
have a mix of mid-length and shorter sentences.

                                                                   Appendix ‘C6’
Keeping sentences active
According to the Plain English Campaign ( active
sentences are crisp and professional, passive sentences are stuffy and

Use active verbs
Active verbs stop reports sounding over bureaucratic – and make
them sound crisp and professional. Passive verbs make writing more
long-winded and less lively.
     ‘The compactor crushed the market waste’ is active but ‘the market
     waste was crushed by the compactor’ is passive.

Here are some more examples of how to turn a passive verb into an active
      This matter will be considered by the council shortly. (Passive)
      The Council will consider this matter shortly. (Active)

     The grant was awarded by East Herts Council. (Passive)
     East Herts Council awarded the grant. (Active)

There are advantages to using passive verbs:
 To make something less hostile – ‘this appointment has not been kept’
  (passive) is friendlier than ‘you have not kept this appointment’ (active).
 To avoid taking the blame – ‘a mistake was made’ (passive) rather than
  ‘we made a mistake’ (active).

But active verbs should be used wherever possible, as they deliver a crisper

The use of ‘the council’
East Herts Council needs initial capital letters, but ‘the council’ does not.
When writing letters the council always uses either ‘I’ or ‘the council’. Reports
for committee are usually written in the third person (East Herts Council is…)
to make the reports more formal. The council does not advocate the use of
‘you’ or ‘we’ in letters and formal communications.

Always explain Abbreviations and Acronyms
Unless a word is universally known in its abbreviated form (for example BBC)
using abbreviations without explanation can look unprofessional and is a lazy
way of writing. Always write out the title/phrase in full the first time you use it
in the report and show the abbreviation or acronym in brackets immediately
after. This shortened version can then be used later in the report if
appropriate – although the full wording may still be a better choice.

For abbreviations that are pronounced as a series of letters, write all the
letters in capitals (CMT, HR, IT, CBS, HEP etc) but those that are pronounced
as a word, use a capital for the first letter only (Mori etc).
When referring to a specific elected member you can abbreviate the title
councillor to Cllr. If you are writing about councillors in general, spell the
word out in full.

                                                                    Appendix ‘C6’
Bold, italics and underlining
Bold text can help give weight to headings or announcements. Used
sparingly, it can also give a page visual interest. But if used too much, all
the effort put into your report will be wasted because it will be too difficult
to read.

Italics can be used when referring to titles of books (Statutory Code of
Practice for Regulators), newspapers (The Mercury), magazines (LINK) and
TV and radio programmes (Panorama). Do not use bold, capitalised or
underlined text for emphasis; always use italics.

Having too many words in italics upsets the flow of text and confuses the
reader. Underlining paragraphs of text does not add stress or emphasis to
what you are trying to say. Always use moderation if you need to use bold
text or italics.

The use of underlining or blocks of text in capitals should be avoided in line
with the good practice checklist set out in the RNIB clear print guidelines.
These guidelines seek to make material as readable as possible for people
with visual impairment.

Bullet-point lists
Bullet-point lists break up text and are pleasing on the eye. By using bullet
points you can make your key points stand out. There are two ways of
writing a bullet-point list. The first is a statement followed by a series of
separate points:

You will need to take one of the following documents to prove your age:
 a passport
 a driving license
 a birth certificate
 a pension book

The second way is to use one unbroken sentence with several listed points
within it:

Please note that the road works programme does not include:
 emergency works;
 unforeseen works; or
 works by private developers that have been authorised to work on roads.

The ease of the text on the eye is important to encourage the reader to read

                                                                 Appendix ‘C6’
Putting your report together:

   Planning - be clear about your report's purpose and what you wish to
    include (define your aim; formulate your ideas; identify material and decide
    how to show the significance of the main points you wish to make within
    the report; consider the structure of the information you provide).

    Ask yourself:
     Why am I writing this? What's the purpose of the report?
     Who will read the report?
     What does the target audience want/need to know?
     How will the report be used?

   Presentation - present your reports using the corporate template available
    on the Council's intranet - please ensure that the reports are appropriately

TIP: Only include matters which are relevant rather than writing everything
you know about the subject. Remember, reports should be concise, not
demonstrate how clever you are! Write to inform, don’t write to impress!

   Editing - after drafting your report leave it and come back to it later to
    ensure you're happy with it:

    Ask yourself:
     does the report do what it should do?
     does it contain all the information necessary?
     is it accurate?
     is the language used clear, direct and easy to read (particularly will the
       target audience understand the report)?
     have you consulted with relevant colleagues on corporate implications
       (e.g. finance, human resources, 'PR', legal etc.)?
     could it be shorter?

TIP: A draft report may go through lots of amendments before it's finalised. It's
important therefore that a draft report has a version control mechanism (i.e.
the version under consideration is clearly printed on the draft report either as a
background watermark, as a header/footer or in the file name).

                                                                 Appendix ‘C6’

Can I make this easier for those reading it?

Not everyone likes to read a lot of text. The use of graphs, pie charts or
tables can make it a lot easier for everyone to grasp.
If you do use them: keep colour coding, lay out and style consistent.
Always think about what it might look like copied in black and white – could
the reader still differentiate between areas of ‘colour’ when shown in grey

Remember not to make any illustration too complex. The ability of a modern
computer to produce fancy graphics can be a menace. Keep it simple – if
your readers have to struggle to read or understand your illustration, it has
failed in its purpose.

Appendices and essential reference papers.
It's tempting, to include extra paperwork as appendices to a report.
 If it's relevant, it should be summarised in the main body of the report.
 Councillors are unlikely to have the time or inclination to trawl through lots
     of added information.
 Lots of appendices means lots of paper in agendas – save the trees, save
     postage and save our backs from carrying them all to meetings!
 List relevant documents as Background Papers – this means councillors
     can ask for them if they do want to see them.

Make sure you have used the correct word.
There are some common errors which can slip into any report and which can
significantly change the meaning of a sentence. The spell checker will not
pick them up as they are perfectly good words – just in the wrong place!

examples of what you might write ..      ….. when you might mean?
their                                    there (or they’re)
to                                       too (or two)
it’s                                     its
your                                     you’re
affect                                   effect
insure                                   ensure (or assure)
counsel (counsellor)                     council (councillor)
discreet                                 discrete
enquiry                                  inquiry
incidence                                incidents
advice/licence/practice                  advise/license/practise
principal                                principle
stationary                               stationery
compared to                              compared with
different to                             different from
biannual                                 biennial
complement                               compliment
viable                                   feasible
owing to (or due to)                     because of

                                                                 Appendix ‘C6’

For anyone looking for reference sources to check on a particular point, the
following websites contain information on writing and detailed use of English
(grammar, punctuation etc).

IDeA Plain English

Plain English Campaign

Guardian Style Guide

A brief guide to English punctuation

A quick and easy introduction to correct English grammar

Support and training for report writing
If you are still concerned about writing a report for committee, you need to
raise the matter within supervision with the line manager. It is important to get
the main issues into a Personal Development Review (PDR) and follow up on
training opportunities to improve skills and increase confidence.
HR can also offer support and guidance for individual, specific learning needs.


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