Report Writing By Doug Knight Why is an engineer in an English class? Engineers must communicate - everyone must communicate somehow - writing is still the main method of communicating when you can't talk face to face In my case, I have written reports on one subject and another all my career, and for six years I have been a technical writer A technical writer translates the engineer's notes, drawings, etc into manuals that tell people how to use and fix things - writes many other things also What kinds of writers are there? KEEP SHORT Fiction - story tellers Non-fiction - write about real things, or situations - just about any topic where the subject is real Journalist Historian General non-fiction (cookbooks, how to books, investigations) Technical (instruction manuals, reports, specifications) Business (memos, reports, usually on an organisational - get things done - theme) Advertising (everything in the best light) Who is a writer writing for? The reader The reader is the most important person in the writing process The writer must do the thinking for the reader - must answer all the questions that the reader will have - and answer them at the right time - the reader cannot stick up their hand ALWAYS THINK OF THE READER ABC’s of Good Report Writing Probably many different definitions, but I like to keep things simple Accurate The most important thing If reader finds an error, they will not believe anything you say In technical document, errors can hurt the reader - literally State your sources - so accuracy can be checked Brief Most people don't have unlimited time Wordiness and repetition tire and irritate the reader Example - a proposal to perform a service (ARDS) Many repeated paragraphs and paragraph groups See the same group for the tenth time - jump to the next section Evaluation involved a checklist - five of us - evaluate individually and then compared our scores There was one item on the list - four of us scored zero - not there The item was in the proposal but the repetition had hidden it - one evaluator started halfway through the report and saw it Clear Be as brief as you can - but if there is a choice between brevity and clarity - be clear EXAMPLE - The boy saw the girl with the telescope… Say exactly what you mean - don't waffle, don't repeat unless there is a specific reason to do so Don't use slang, or jargon, avoid abbreviations, and always define any unusual terms EXAMPLE - bi-weekly, table a report Organise your report Use procedures - step 1, step 2, … Use lists Use headings Use diagrams Display - readability Lay out the report to give the reader their best chance Don’t scrunch up – use white space, line spacing, fonts Use headings, bullets, page breaks Use colour – but be very careful, not everyone can see colour Information and Acknowledging Sources Pierre Berton - journalist and popular historian Easy to read - Seems to know his subject But minimal sources If I want to know more - where do I go? If I want to check his facts - where do I go? Roger Sarty - naval historian Heavier subject Not as easy to read - But well documented Endnotes state where he got his information - the reference book or the document in the public archives Bibliography - a list of books that he referred to, or that are associated with his subject Engineering design report Very heavy subject - readable only by another engineer Clearly states assumptions, references and handbooks used States the source of each equation - Shows all work SO THE WORK CAN BE CHECKED Example - St John Fortifications Research assistant with Roger Sarty - now working on a small book - about 100 pages My part is before 1850 - he has after 1850 Almost every paragraph of mine is footnoted - so he knows where I got my information We will probably remove the notes before publication - but we will keep a copy of the version with the notes so we can answer questions if our facts are challenged What is in a report? First thing asked is "how much do I have to write?" - wrong approach WHEN IS IT DUE? Always be on time. 1. AIM State the task or objective 2. BACKGROUND Give any necessary background to the report 3. DISCUSSION Discuss the problem - do the thinking for the reader 4. CONCLUSIONS Draw conclusions - must be supported in the discussion 5. REFERENCES Sources, bibliography, supporting documents 6. APPENDICES Optional supporting documents - more details Quality Control Do your work early - easier to review Read your writing aloud - easier to see errors Spelling and grammar always count Get someone to check your work - editor, peer, How to Write a (Technical) Report Always keep in mind what the READER wants to know The writer must do the thinking for the reader - must answer all the questions that the reader may have - and answer them clearly. ABC’s of Good Report Writing Accurate Accuracy is the most important principle. Brief Be brief - but if you must choose between brevity and clarity - be clear. Clear Say exactly what you mean - do not waffle, do not repeat yourself. Do not use slang, or jargon, avoid abbreviations, and define unusual terms. Display – make it easy for the reader Organise the report - use headings, lists, and procedures. Use diagrams, but be careful when using colour. Use white space, line spacing, and fonts. How to organise a report? 1. AIM State what the report is going to do - the task or objective. 2. BACKGROUND Give any necessary background – set the scene. 3. DISCUSSION Discuss all sides of the problem - do the thinking for the reader. 4. CONCLUSIONS Draw conclusions (that must be supported in the discussion). 5. REFERENCES Quote sources, bibliography, glossary, and supporting documents. 6. APPENDICES Optional supporting documents –more details on some part. Editing – the quality control check Spelling and grammar always count. Do your work early - review it after a day or so. Get someone to check your work. Read your writing aloud - it is easier to catch errors. Always State Your Sources How to Write a (Technical) Report Always keep in mind what the READER wants to know The writer must do the thinking for the reader - must answer all the questions that the reader may have - and answer them clearly. ABC’s of Good Report Writing Accurate Accuracy is the most important principle. Brief Be brief - but if you must choose between brevity and clarity - be clear. Clear Say exactly what you mean - do not waffle, do not repeat yourself. Do not use slang, or jargon, avoid abbreviations, and define unusual terms. Display – make it easy for the reader Organise the report - use headings, lists, and procedures. Use diagrams, but be careful when using colour. Use white space, line spacing, and fonts. How to organise a report? AIM State what the report is going to do - the task or objective. BACKGROUND Give any necessary background – set the scene. DISCUSSION Discuss all sides of the problem - do the thinking for the reader. CONCLUSIONS Draw conclusions (that must be supported in the discussion). REFERENCES Quote sources, bibliography, glossary, and supporting documents. APPENDICES Optional supporting documents –more details on some part. Editing – the quality control check Spelling and grammar always count. Do your work early - review it after a day or so. Get someone to check your work. Read your writing aloud - it is easier to catch errors. Always State Your Sources The ABC’s of a Good Report Accurate The most important thing Brief Wordiness and repetition tire and irritate the reader Clear Be brief - but if you must choose between brief and clear - be clear Don't use slang, or jargon, avoid abbreviations, and always define any unusual terms Organise your report Display - readability Lay out the report to help the reader Use procedures - step 1, step 2, … Use lists Use headings Use diagrams Use white space, line spacing, fonts Use headings, bullets, page breaks Use colour –VERY carefully How to organise a report AIM State what the report is about - the task or objective BACKGROUND Give any necessary background – set the scene DISCUSSION Discuss all sides of the problem - think for the reader CONCLUSIONS Draw conclusions (that must be supported in the discussion REFERENCES Quote sources, bibliography, glossary APPENDICES Optional supporting documents – more details REMEMBER… WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, HOW Super Sport Special This magnificent bicycle makes short work of hills and roads with its 15 gears. Weighing a meagre 10 kilos, even a child can easily carry it over obstacles. The high technology, ergonomically- designed seat will leave the rider relaxed and rested after a long trip. Benny’s Basic Bike This bike, which has only 15 gears, will be an absolutely exhausting experience for the rider. It weighs a staggering 10 kilos, which is what even a large person will be doing if they try to lift it. The weird-looking oddly-shaped seat will leave the rider tired and bruised after a long trip. Report Writing Accounting professionals often write reports for audiences within their firm and outside of their firm. These reports cover a wide variety of topics such as analysis of technical accounting issues, assessment of a client's internal control systems, evaluation of the company's new recruiting practices, and analysis of competitive forces in the market. The reports vary in length, scope, and level of detail; but they all have one common purpose: to provide the user with information that will facilitate decision making. This handout contains suggestions for writing a good report and also a checklist for revising and editing a report. You should use your judgment as you apply these suggestions to your writing. Content A report generally consists of the following main sections: Introduction, Discussion of Data (or Discussion of Problem), Analysis of Alternatives, Recommendations, and Conclusion. These sections may vary for some reports; you can use other section headings that are appropriate for the content and context of the report. 1. The Introduction should include a brief description of the purpose, scope, and content of the report. It should be clear and concise; it should not be abrupt and blunt. 2. The Discussion should include the analysis of data and/or identification and analysis of the problem. You can include the conclusions in this section. These conclusions should be logical inferences from the data/analysis presented. Often, the visual aids appear in this section of the report to support the analysis presented. 3. The Alternatives should focus on the different alternatives available to the reader for resolving the problem. It should also focus on the feasibility of the suggested alternatives. 4. The Recommendations should include the recommendations based upon the analysis of data and the feasibility of the proposed alternatives. 5. The Conclusion should include remarks that ensure a smooth closure. Sometimes, you can combine the Recommendations and Conclusion sections. Organization 1. Before you start writing the report, analyze the audience, and determine the purpose of the report. The audience profile will help in shaping the content and the structure of the report; it will also help in selecting the writing style and level of detail. Having a clearly defined purpose will help you to determine the content and the structure of the report. 2. Create an outline for your report. Use headings and subheadings in your outline for the different topics/ideas covered in the report. Review your outline and make necessary changes to ensure that the ideas are organized in a logical and coherent manner. This will enhance the 'readability' of the report. There is no one 'correct' way for organizing the content of a report; on the other hand, you should realize that some patterns of organization are far more effective than others in a given context. Use your judgment in selecting a pattern of organization that will enable you to communicate your ideas to the intended audience in a clear and coherent way. To emphasize the importance of creating an outline before you start writing the report, I am quoting an excerpt from a letter that I received from a partner in a Big Six firm: " I rarely see staff members outline their thoughts before they begin writing....After dumping their thoughts into the PC, most don't bother to edit, and those that do edit their drafts tend to leave a number of extraneous thoughts attached to paragraphs in awkward places. It is frustrating to fight through these memos." 3. If the report is longer than a page, use headings and subheadings (as in the outline) to indicate the structure and the content of the report. Make sure that the headings are descriptive of the content of the sections. You can enhance the structure of reports by using lists in certain sections (examples: list of procedures; checklist for evaluation); the items in a list should be parallel in grammatical structure. 4. Establish appropriate transitions within sections and between sections to ensure that the ideas flow smoothly. Once you have written a draft, read it and determine whether you have sustained the logic within sections and between sections. Look for thoughts/ideas that may suggest to the reader that you are waffling, and unable to maintain the line of argument you initiated. Check and make sure that your recommendation (or final stance) stems from the preceding arguments. Writing Style and Mechanics 1. Use appropriate words/phrases that will communicate your ideas clearly to your readers. Avoid unnecessary words and phrases. Your writing should be clear, precise, and concise, not blunt, abrupt, and inadequate. Reading a lot of good writing will help you to improve your writing style; seeing words in 'contexts' will enable you to develop an appreciation for the proper use of words/phrases. 2. You can use an informal style of writing, but avoid slang and colloquialisms. Use technical jargon if you are certain that the reader will understand it. Understand that the rhythms of writing are different from the rhythms of speech. Maintain a professional tone in your writing. Avoid humor, jokes, and anecdotes if they are not appropriate for the context and audience. 3. Write in the active voice whenever possible. This will make your writing sound strong and forceful. Writing in the active voice does not mean that every sentence should begin with the word "I." Passive voice renders the writing weak and wordy, but it has its uses. Use the passive voice when you have to maintain an impersonal tone. Avoid a shift in voice in the same sentence. 4. Vary the structure of your sentences so that your writing does not sound monotonous. By revising and editing your paper, you can enhance the quality of your writing. 5. Follow the conventions of grammar, punctuation, and spelling while writing professional documents. Make sure you have access to a grammar book, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Use the grammar checker and spell checker features of the word processing software; understand these features have their limitations. These features cannot replace careful editing and proofreading on your part. Use of Visual Aids Both in oral and written communication, it is easier for readers to understand and remember information that is conveyed through visual aids such as tables, graphs, charts, and pictures. You can include these visual aids in the text of the report or in the appendix. Use word processing or graphics software to create these visual aids; hand-drawn visual aids do not look professional. You should select a visual aid that is appropriate for the objective. i) Use a table if you have to present large quantities of data ii) Use a bar graph to compare items and also to indicate the segments within an item iii) Use a line graph to indicate trends iv) Use a pie chart to indicate the whole and its components 3. After creating your visual aids, check for the following: i) Every visual aid should have a number (examples: Table 1,Table 2,Graph 1, Graph 2) and a descriptive title (example: Change in GNP) ii) In tables, the rows and columns should be labeled, the units for the numbers should be indicated and the items should be arranged in a logical order (highest to lowest, alphabetical, chronological) iii) In bar graphs, the bars and the segments should be proportional iv) In line graphs, time should be indicated on the horizontal axis and the other variable on the vertical axis v) In pie graphs, the wedges should be arranged from the largest to the smallest in a clockwise manner with the largest wedge starting at the 12 o'clock position (This may not be possible with some software!) vi) The data represented through the visual aids should be accurate vii) The visual aids should not be cluttered with too many details 4. Use visual aids whenever they will convey information more effectively than text. Integrate the visual aids into the text of the report in an effective way (examples: As seen in Table 2; This trend is indicated in Graph 2). If possible, place the visual aids close to the references so that the reader can easily follow your discussion of the data. Format and Professional Appearance 1. Generally, a fairly long report consists of Title Page Letter of Transmittal Table of Contents Table of Visuals Executive Summary Report Appendices List of References What you should include will depend on the nature and length of the assignment. Follow the guidelines provided by your instructor and clarify any doubts you may have regarding the scope and nature of the report. 2. Use a 12-pitch font so that it is easy for the reader to read the report. Do not vary the font type frequently in the report; this may distract the reader. Exercise judgment in the bold, italics and underline features of the software. Such features, generally, enhance the readability of the report; sometimes, these features can divert the reader’s attention from the main message. 3. Include page numbers if the report is longer than a page. Have a one- inch margin on all four sides of the page. Maintain a balance between white space and print to enhance the visual appeal of the report. Staple together the pages; do not use paper clips or report folders. Criteria for evaluating written reports Content Does the report provide relevant and accurate information? Is the report complete? Is it adequate? Organization/structure Is the report coherent? Does it have a logical structure? Are the transitions appropriate and adequate? Do section headings and lists enhance readability and coherence? Writing style Is the report clear and concise? Are the writing style and tone appropriate for the subject, audience and context? Is the report free of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors? Use of visual aids Are the visual aids relevant and accurate? Are the visual aids adequate and complete? Are the references to the visual aids integrated into the text of the report? Format and professional appearance Is the report (text and visual aids) visually appealing? Does the visual appearance of the report (margins, font type and size, use of bold, italics and underline features, quality of the visual aids) enhance the readability of the report?