Effective Report Writing Workshop by yec20588


									Effective Report Writing Workshop

1. Why do we have Reports?

1.      To present the results of research and investigation work to allow
        the reader to make conclusions.
2.      A specific form to communicate between interested parties with a
        certain goal - to present a message to encourage specific action
3.      To keep a written systematic record for the future
4.      To summarise a situation.
Effective Report Writing Workshop

2. Characteristics of “The best report I
have ever read”

    1.    Concise - long enough for the message
    2.    Clear message
    3.    Gave an explanation of background
    4.    Linked with other information sources
    5.    Clearly structured
    6.    Clear focus – clear main point
    7.    Interesting presentation of ideas
    8.    Punctual language avoided ambiguity
    9.    Good layout that was easy to read and follow
    10.   Understandable for audience
    11.   Logically collected - Good sequence
    12.   Met the objectives it was written for
    13.   Readable – consistent, visually appealing, well formatted –
          bullets, ordered
    14.   Was based on strong reliable information
    15.   Was based on up to date and original information
    16.   Contained new messages
    17.   Was convincing – especially conclusions – well defined.
    18.   Had enough real evidence based on information presented
    19.   Answered all my questions and the problem set.
    20.   Used appropriate language for audience
    21.   Was Informative
    22.   Was obviously Honest + Reliable + Balanced + Unbiased
    23.   I knew the position of writer
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3. Writing a Terms of Reference for a
A good terms of reference (sometimes abbreviated to ToR) is developed
in partnership between the person doing the research and writing the
report, and the person wanting the report. The terms of reference might
be amended as a result of this discussion. Not all these points might be
needed for every report. For example, for some reports the
implementation might not be the responsibility of the report writer and so
her or she might not need to know the budget.
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    1. Who is the Report for? Who will read it and who will act on it?
    2. When does the Report have to be completed?
    3. Why is the Report needed? What stimulated the Report?
    4. What is the Scope of Work? Will the Report be written using
       currently available data or does original research have to be done?
    5. What is the Goal of the Report? What is the Report going to be
       used for?
    6. What are the requirements for the Report – structure, length,
       layout, illustrations and so on
    7. What budget can be spent on putting the Reports recommendations
       into practise?
    8. What background information is there available?
    9. How much is the Report itself going to cost to research and write.
       What budget is available?
    10.Are priorities for action required?
    11.Are there conditions in the timescale? Are interim Reports
    12.What is process for redrafting a report - does it have to go through
       different stages?
    13.How is the Report going to be judged? What are the criteria for
    14.Who is the Report for? Who will read it and act on it?
    15.When does the Report have to be completed?
    16.Why is the Report needed? What stimulated the Report?
    17.What is the Scope of Work? – will the Report be written using
       currently available data or does original research have to be done?
    18.What is the Goal of the Report? What is the Report going to be
       used for?
Effective Report Writing Workshop

    19.What are the requirements for the Report – structure, length,
       layout, illustrations and so on
    20.What budget can be spent on putting the Reports recommendations
       into practise?
    21.What background information is there available?
    22.How much is the Report itself going to cost to research and write –
       what budget is available?
    23.Are there priorities for action?
    24.Are there conditions in the timescale? - are interim Reports
       needed, will the report need redrafting?
    25.How is the Report going to be judged? - what are the criteria for
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4. Deciding and Researching the data

Once the ToR have been agreed, the next step is to decide on the data
required. This is not a single fixed process. Data might be gathered and
the report writing process start, before the researcher realises that more
data is needed!

Data can be gathered through

    1. Desk research using secondary sources - other reports for example.
    2. Indirect research using questionnaires or surveys
    3. Direct research through talking to people - primary data
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5. Collecting information - Setting up a
Collecting information will often involve meeting with people and
through a variety of processes gaining information about the topic you are

Introducing a Meeting
Create a comfortable positive atmosphere -warm welcome – make people
comfortable (sweets, water) - clearly explain the purpose of the meeting –
explain about group working – make people feel valued - explain how
information will be used - encourage honesty - set ground rules - say what
will happen after the meeting

Running a Meeting

The key is to use techniques that get the maximum amount of information
from people. Many of the techniques can use the THINK – PAIR –
SHARE approach – getting people to think individually and then share
information in pairs before sharing as a whole group.

See other handouts for specific techniques – use some of the techniques
modelled during the workshop for dividing people into groups ,
collecting information by going round a group (rather than waiting for
some people to shout out!)

Concluding a Meeting
Thanks and say what is happening to the data – give opportunity for more
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6. Getting Information - Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a technique used to generate new ideas. It is a creative

Brainstorms can be

     structured - where everyone gives and idea in turn - for example
      by going round a group one by one
     unstructured - where people say their ideas as and when !

The first method is better as it makes everyone contribute towards the
group thinking but as a creative process it can put pressure on people.

There are basic rules for brainstorming which must be followed –

     Brainstorms should be fast - people should give ideas without too
      much thought.
     People should be creative - any ideas are possible
     Phrases should be written as stated – there should be no change of
      words or even clarification
     There should be no criticism or discussion by the participants OR
      the person writing up the idea
     All phrases should be written – nothing should be deleted.

Sometimes if you are brainstorming in a large group it is best to have two
flip charts so that the speed of people giving ideas can be kept up. Ideas
are written on alternate flip charts.

Do not confuse brainstorming with listing - which many people do.
Brainstorming is designed to generate creative new ideas and solutions to
a problem. You do not brainstorm the names of countries in the world
for example, or any other list where there is no opportunity for new ideas.

Effective Report Writing Workshop
Effective Report Writing Workshop

7. Getting information from people -

Holding and open ended discussion with a group of people is rarely
useful. If you want specific information you have to structure a
discussion - and make sure that a good record is kept of what conclusions
are made.

Because different people communicate in different ways it is important to
both select approaches to communication that match the group and use a
range of approaches so that all those who attend a meeting feel that they
can express their opinions

Different ways of communication
People have what are called preferred learning and communication styles

Visual             more than 35% of people prefer to communicate
through visual                  methods - in meetings they will enjoy
drawing posters
Kinaesthetic       through body language and movement - in meetings
they will enjoy          activities of movement to express opinions
Auditory     through words - in meetings they will enjoy talking!

So basically, we need to try and communicate using all three methods to
ensure that all people feel comfortable with our communication. The
methods on these sheets summarise different communication methods.

Forcefield analysis

Helps to look at the forces which can encourage change and the forces
which fight against change). This is a little like Opportunities and

Please draw the diagram
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8. Getting information from people -
different techniques

Nominal Group Technique
This is a simple way of taking everyone’s views into account when
deciding priorities. Members of a group are all asked to vote about an
issue and put the options in a rank order. The rank orders from all the
groups members are collected and added together to find out which
option has the highest (or lowest score)
For example, group members are asked to rank the weaknesses of
biodiversity training at University level in Bulgaria - six weaknesses have
been identified.

The main Scores for members
Weaknesses 1 - biggest weakness

A               1       2           1   1     5     lowest score =
B               3       5           6   3     17    the biggest problem
C               4       3           2   2     11
D               5       4           4   5     19
E               2       1           3   4     10
F               6       6           5   6     23

Fishbone diagram (Cause and Effect)

You will have to draw it yourself here!! With the effect (or problem that
you have brainstormed on the right and the causes as the bones of the fish
on the left!)

For every effect there are likely to be a number of causes - for areas like
capacity building these might be People, Plant, Policies and Procedures –
but you can always think of your own groupings if these don’t fit.
Remember to look at the real cause and not the symptoms.

After you have brainstormed causes of the problem you can fit them onto
the four main bones of the fish – and them for each one as the question
“why does it happen?” and write these as the smaller bones!! When you
have completed the diagram you can then look for linkages and repeated
causes that you will have to tackle.
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9. SWOT analysis

This is a technique to use to structure group discussions to get
information from groups. The thing to do to get a good SWOT is to
encourage people to be specific. A weakness might be “Poor leadership”
- but how is this defined - what do people mean by “poor”. So be
specific “leaders that cannot delegate effectively” is specific.

Do be aware that different people use the same word to mean different
things - so always check for the meaning of words.

Strengths                              Weaknesses

Current strengths                      Current weaknesses

Things can appear in more that one     Encourage people to be specific
box (be a strength and a weakness      A weakness of SWOT is that it
for example)                           doesn’t show links

Opportunities                          Threats

Things that could provide a chance     Things that could be a threat to
to build on strengths and get rid of   change in the future – these are
weaknesses – in the future!            often difficult to do and requires
Make sure people don’t put actual      some creative thinking.
action points here
                                       Make sure these are really threats –
                                       and not weaknesses!

     When doing SWOT you need to be aware of who is in the group -
      a wide group of stakeholders will give a balanced SWOT
     The outputs of SWOT might depend on the reasons for doing it
     After doing a SWOT you can use one of a number of methods to
      prioritise the issues with the boxes.
Effective Report Writing Workshop

10. Questionnaires – finding out information
    from people

Questionnaires are a common form of finding out information from
people for a Report. However unless you need to make sure that the
information you get from a questionnaire is reliable and valid – unless
you do this then the effort you spend on making a questionnaire will not
produce any useful data

Here are some tips

    1. Make sure you know what data you need to get from the
       questionnaire – be clear about the outcome.
    2. Only ask questions related to this outcome – and always be clear
       about why you are asking a question.
    3. Questionnaires that give the best results are those that are asked by
       a researcher – OR where people complete them in your presence.
    4. Questionnaires that require people to take the questionnaire away
       with them and send it back to you in some way are usually much
       less reliable, and you also get fewer replies – and they are more
       costly – you have to produce more to get the result that you want.
    5. If you do have a send it back questionnaire then incentives to
       encourage people to do this are helpful – a prize of some kind (that
       the respondents are likely to want – a free copy of the report might
       not be enough!!)
    6. Although there are scientific methods for calculating the number of
       questionnaires to do between 50 and 200 is usually enough for the
       kind of work we do.
    7. Make sure that you get a representative sample of people -
       questionnaires that rely on being sent back are less good at this – or
       less easy to achieve. The best questionnaires are those where you
       select the people to be asked and then get a researcher to do the
    8. Always try and pre test your questionnaire to check that it works!
       People rarely do this but it really is worth it! It takes time but
       saves time. There is nothing more frustrating than finding out that
       important questions do not work or give you information needed.
    9. Have a good introduction is important. stress – why the
       questionnaire is being done – whether it is confidential or not –
       how helpful it will be both for the research and in the long term for
Effective Report Writing Workshop

       the respondent – to create a “good mood” of “I want to fill this in”
       with the researcher.
    10.Structure the questionnaire in sections if there are a larger number
       of questions.
    11.Make sure that the instructions to the questions are clear – testing
       will establish this!
    12.If you want to – you can explain why you are asking the questions
       – this often helps people to understand why they are answering it.
    13.Try to make sure that the questionnaire does not take long to
       complete – 20 minutes is usually the most!
    14.Have a mix of questions – open ended, Yes/No and multiple choice
       – bear in mind that multiple choice are usually the easiest to
       analyse quantitatively. However, multiple choice questionnaires
       must be pretested other wise you are likely to get the options
    15.Have the easy factual and general questions at the beginning and
       more complex ones towards the end.
    16.Have questions about opinions towards the end
    17.It is possible to ask the same thing a few times but in different
       ways if you want to check that truthful answers have been given.
    18.If you do have multiple choice then 4 or 6 options are better at
       giving results that three or five – people nearly always go for the
       middle response
    19.It is more usual to ask questions about the respondent at the end –
       but it can be done at the beginning. Remember that it is difficult
       to ensure honest answers for some questions such as income!
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11. Communication Checklist (Lego)
Our Reports will communicate successfully if

     We keep our language simple and appropriate to the target group
     We describe the “big picture” before starting
     We take things step by step - and make sure that we explain one
      idea at a time
     We use simple instructions
     We recognise that we need to use graphics and words to explain
      the same idea
     We use the model “tell people what we are going to tell them - then
      tell them - and then tell them we have told them”
     We recognise the background of the target group and their level of
     We understand how they are going to read the report - how much
      time they have.

We should remember that if somebody says “I don’t understand your
report” then this is OUR responsibility to get it right.
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12. Data Description
When describing data we should make sure that

     We present all the data necessary in the Report Text - the full data
      can go in an appendix.
     We question our data and ensure people know its limitations
     We make our conclusions robust from the data
     We make sure our conclusions are valid from the data. The most
      common mistake people make is to infer motivation or emotion
      from factual data.
     We recognise and acknowledge that sometimes more data is
     We question relationships between data
     We make an honest evaluation of the data.
     We do not use data that are meaningless. Some Reports say things
      like “we did not get enough responses to our questionnaire but here
      is the data anyway” - and of course people remember the
      conclusions that you make and Not the fact that the data is

We read too many reports where the person writing the Report makes the
data fit the conclusion he or she wants to make. Of course, it should be
the other way round.
Effective Report Writing Workshop

13. Data Presentation
We used four kinds of data presentation

     Histograms (remember to put them in order of size from left to
      right unless the data is time sequenced or sequenced in order ways)
     Scatter graphs (great for looking at the relationship between data)
     Line graphs (We did not use these! For presenting data that goes
      over time or space and where we can interpolate values in
     Pie charts for looking at percentages
     Diagrams (such as the earth diagram) or cartoons – pictograms.

Diagrams can be simple and complex - for example - you can have more
than one line on a line graph, histograms can be divided inside the bar
graph and so on. Make sure that you check with an expert first. The
most common mistake people make is to draw lines on graphs that mean
nothing at all!

We should select data that is appropriate the audience and the data itself

www.earthdays.net is a good website for ecological footprint
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14 Structuring a Report
Reports can have the following ingredients or sections – they are in kind
of the right order!

       Cover - this should be attractive for the target group
       Title page
       Authors list - and short biographies if this is important
       Content
       List of figures
       List of tables
       List of abbreviations
       Introduction
       Executive Summary - this can go before some of the pages listed
       Key words
       Main points
       Background and Terms of Reference for the Research
       Methodology
       Body of text
       Data
       Analysis of results
       Conclusions
       Recommendations
       Lessons learned
       Discussion
       Glossary - can go at the beginning
       Acknowledgements - can go at the beginning
       References
       Bibliography
       Index
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15 Technical issues about a Report
Always remember the audience - what might be good for an academic
audience will not be good for the general public!

When writing a Report you have to decide

     Page layout - number of columns, use of illustrations
     Page size - A4 is the most normal but non standard sizes can make
      you report more memorable (though m ore difficult to file!)
     Font size - 12 point is most usual
     Font type - serif type faces are generally easier to read - avoid
      using too many type faces
     Margin size - large margins can encourage note making, but
      otherwise they can waste space and make a report bigger than it
      needs to be.
     Paragraph numbering - don’t be too complicated -
     Use of bullet points - good idea but difficult to reference
     Table and Figure numbering
     Page number placing - bottom right is usual and easy to reference
     Text spacing
     Line spacing - 1.5 at the most
     Justified margins or not - non justified margins are easier to read
      on large pages
     Use of footnotes - put at the end unless the reference is vitally
     Use of appendices
     Headers and Footers - especially if your report is going to be
     The use of logos on each page or not - a good idea - especially if
      your report is going to be photocopied - but don’t use logos as a
      background to the whole pages as they can easily obscure text.
     Use of and number of illustrations
     Is there going to be any decoration on the page - avoid unrelated
      diagrams and pictures - if you use pictures make sure they carry a
     Kind of paper - of course it should be recycled!
     Number of columns
     Method of referencing
     Other things - don’t let the design confuse the information!
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Effective Report Writing Workshop


    1. Keep it short, up to one page
    2. Focus on the main goals, methods, topics and results
    3. Make sure it contains the most important information needed
    4. Do not explain what is known
    5. Do not include too many technical and too specific terms
    6. Clear, concise and easy to understand content
    7. Be aware that a wide group of people might read the summary -
       and some will read ONLY the summary
    8. Be aware that a summary might be used by others (including
       sometimes the media!) and can be used in bibliographic
    9. Include only relevant information.
    10.Try to write it so that it will increase interest in reading the full


The main goal of the current report is …
The report was commission by… for the purpose of…
This goal was reached through… methodology.
The results obtained are…
The main conclusion are…
On the basis of this were made the following recommendations …
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    1. Opaque paper, white, A4 format, portrait layout, bound, paginated,
       margins (4sm. On the left, 2 sm. On other sides), 1,5 spaced
    2. Title page – The Golden section should be used. Title authors,
       logos of required, year (date)
    3. Fonts – wide spread, standard, 12pt recommended, Times New
    4. Highlight consistently the important info use boxed text when
    5. All illustrations, graphs and tables should be consecutively
       numbered and with captions, good quality
    6. Headers and footers used in informative way
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    1. Keep them Brief
    2. Draw conclusions from discussion section
    3. Do not include any new materials
    4. Make clear final points
    5. The conclusion might include reflections on study limitations /
    6. The conclusions must relate to the data


A period of twenty years is envisaged (this is too weak a word and in
English a little vague - “needed” is better) for full implementation of the

The main investments in methane tanks for anaerobic digestion (no need
for all this detail about the kind of digestion - this would have been
described in the Report itself) are envisaged (see above) after 2010.
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    1. Make them precise
    2. Make them Action-oriented
    3. Make them Concise
    4. Make them Clear
    5. Use firm language
    6. Follow-up the conclusion
    7. Make them Specific
    8. Make sure that Define responsibilities and timeframe are defined
    9. Make sure they are recommendations from the data and research
    10.Make sure that some priority is attached to them and that the
       readers are clear what the criteria for the priority are.

The Department of the Environment should consider the development of
a training course for teachers

This is very poor

The Department of the Environment (which section) should consider (this
is easy to do if all they have to do is consider it!) the development of a
training course (what does this mean?) for teachers (all teachers?)(when

The Training Section of the Department of the Environment should
develop a programme and resources for a 15 hour training course for
primary school teachers on “How to teach biodiversity outside the
classroom” to be delivered through University Biology Departments on
an annual basis starting in the Academic year 2006.

This is better (even if it is longer)
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    1. Keep sentences short – if necessary- no more than 20 words
    2. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms too much unless you are
       completely certain that everyone will understand them without
       references. “We attended the CPC meetings together with the
       UNECE and PPFM directorates of CCCTI and MEPRF. Together
       with developed a joint statement for the GGHT and FSC.” NO!
    3. Avoid the Passive voice - some reports can be personal and others
    4. One paragraph should contain one main idea
    5. Eliminate jargon and
    6. Illustrate points with examples
    7. Be careful with scientific terms
    8. Balanced decoration (bullets, numbers, header, footer, etc.)
    9. Avoid use of foreign words
    10.Avoid “bla-bla”
    11.Avoid repetitions

       -        “Writing” is also “art”: needs creativeness
       -        Make impersonal
       -        Make it sound interesting
       -        Avoid emotive language
       -        Link paragraphs logically


A “Report Writing” workshop was held at the hotel Club Vladaya near
Sofia on 25-27 November 2003. The seminar was organized by Self-
assessment” Project. The main objective of the workshop was to improve
trainees’ skills in information collection, analysis, organization and
presentation. The trainer was Mr. James Hindson, representative of the
“Field Studies Council” UK.
25 project participants took part in the sessions.
Effective Report Writing Workshop

A contents list is like map of the Report - after reading the summary
many people will go to the contents list to find the information they most
want to read.

1. Make sure the contents are easy to orientate
2. Make sure they are full, and include all the headings of title, chapters
3. Make sure that the page number is accurate and that the numbering of
   titles match the page numbers
4. Keep the chapter titles bold,
5. For long reports have two contents lists - one showing the pages of the
   chapters and the long one with more detail. (like maps of different
6. Look through some reports and follow a model you like.
7. Tables, charts, figures
- Titled
- Positioned according to the text
- Subsequently numbered
- Source of information
- Legend

Example 1

1. INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………….. 5
      1.1. Definition of capacity …………………………………
      1.2. Levels of capacity …………………………………….
      2.1. Kyoto Protocol…………………………………………
      2.2.Obligations ……………………………………………..

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