REPORT WRITING TECHNIQUES

 

WHAT IS A REPORT?

   

A Report may be defined as a document in which a given problem is examined for the purpose of conveying information, reporting findings, putting forward ideas and, sometimes, making recommendations.

 

Report writing is a specialised form of written communication.  Many of the rules which must be observed when writing a report are therefore, equally applicable to written communications in general.

 

 There are three Cardinal Rules of Report Writing:-

 

                  a) Accuracy

                  b) Brevity

                  c) Clarity

       

These are not easily mastered. "Hard writing makes easy reading".  A Report writer must constantly strive to make       his/her reader's task as easy as the subject matter permits.

 

 THE FOUR STAGE METHOD IN REPORT WRITING

 

              Stage I  :   Preparation of report

              Stage II :  Arrangement of report

              Stage III:  Writing of Report 

              Stage  IV:  Revision of Report

 

  

 STAGE I:   PREPARATION OF A REPORT          

 

  1. Your Purpose

 

        a) Find out exactly what you have been asked to do. In other words; try to get concise "Terms of Reference."

 

         b) Establish clearly in your mind the subject , scope and purpose of your report.  The purpose will generally be a
             combination of some or all of the following:-

       

                   - To give information, either general or detailed

                   - To report findings;

                   - To put forward ideas;

                   - To recommend a course of action.

 

 

   2. Your Reader

 

             Ask yourself:-

 

              a) What does my reader want to know ?

              b) What does he know already ?

              c) How can I graft new knowledge on to his existing knowledge ?

              d) What kind of terminology will he understand ?

              e) How will he /she use my report ?

 

              Remember that you have to meet the needs of a specific reader(s).  Is his (or their) outlook Executive, Administrative,
              ttechnical or Practical ?

 

       

  3. Your Material

 

           a) Collect facts and ideas about your subject by  experiment, observation, reading, conversation,                
                interviewing etc.  This may be a bigger job than the actual writing of the report.

 

            b) Check the facts for accuracy.

  

             NOTE:  Jot Down All Your Facts and Ideas.  Record them in note form.  Any order may be followed                     
                          at this stage, as circumstances dictate. If any main division of your subject are obvious, however, you can allot
                          a separate page or index card to each of them. For instance, an Information System
                          D
evelopment  Project may divide itself naturally intoTechnical, Financial and Administrative aspects.

 

  

 STAGE II:  ARRANGEMENT OF A REPORT

 

 Observance of the following ten points will help you to construct a concise, logical and well arranged report:-

 

     1. Write down your purpose in one terse sentence.

 

         This will test your understanding of your task and deter you from including unnecessary points. Then choose a title that
          makes your purpose plain.

 

     2. Consider your collected Facts and Ideas.

 

         Reject any which on second thoughts are neither helpful nor necessary to your purpose.  Add notes  of any others which
         now appear essential or desirable.

 

    3. Review any main division critically, and revise them if necessary.

 

        If you could not make groupings earlier, consider now what the main divisions should be.  Choose a section heading for
        each main division.

        

   4. Decide the order in which you will present the main divisions.

 

       They will form sections of your report. Number your section headings so that they can be easily referred to in any   
      
discussions of your report.

 

   5. Within each division, arrange your material in an order which your reader will easily follow.

 

        Lead the reader step by step from the known to the unknown.  If there are few items in any one group, you can number
        them on your existing sheet or card.  If there are many items under any one heading, you may prefer to re-write them, in
        your chosen order, on a fresh sheet or card.  Careful preparation of this kind is the only way to clarify a complex subject.

 

   6. Make sure your Conclusion or Recommendations square with your facts.

 

      Decide whether to group them in a section of their own which will form a natural Conclusion to your report, or distribute
      them among the sections to which they belong.  You may use even use both methods, stating your Conclusions
      and Recommendations Section by section, and re-stating them with cumulative force in your Conclusion.

 

  7. Review your Title and Section Headings critically.

 

      They should identify, and not merely describe, the subject matter under them. Brevity is desirable,  but three or four
       precise, informative words are better than two vague, ambiguous ones.

 

 

   8. Consider what use you can make of Illustrations to supplement or replace words

 

              "A good diagram is often worth more than a page of writing."

 

  9. Consider the Advisability of using Footnotes.

 

       If used with discretion they may help the unimpeded flow of narrative or argument. However, Footnotes should be as brief
       as possible.

 

                Footnotes may be used to:-

       

                  a) Give sources of quotations or references mentioned in the text;

 

                  b) Indicate authorities or sources of additional information;

 

                  c) Explain passages in the text which may be clear to some readers but not to others.

 

 10. Consider whether you can lift any Factual details out of the Main Divisions and placthem in
       Appendices.

 

        Appendices perform functions similar to those of footnotes by removing distracting details and thus enabling the reader to
        follow the main line of thought without interruption. You may of course have the summarize the  relegated details in the
        Report itself.  

 

 

 STAGE III: WRITING THE REPORT

 

    1. Report Style

 

      Decide what the tone of your text should be. A lucid, business-like and balanced exposition is usually desired in Business,
      Scientific and Technical Reports.  A challenging or controversial approach may, however, occasionally be justified.

 

 

  2. Arrangement

 

     Consider whether you can help your reader by numbering or lettering paragraphs or items within the sections. Any
     numbering scheme must be maintained consistently and must be set out on the page so that it is clearly subordinate to the
     section numbering.

 

 3. Illustrations

 

    Think of your illustrations as you write, so that reading mater and visual items may be closely linked. Every illustration should
    be referred to at least once in the text and should be accompanied by an identifying caption or title.  If you have more
    than 2 or 3 illustrations, it may be advisable to number them for reference.

 

4. Introduction

 

     Your report will need an introduction- which may be written last of all.  The introduction is the place for a
      broad, general view of your material.  Avoid details which belong properly to the main sections or Appendices.

 

     In your introduction:-

 

    a) State the name and appointment of the recipient.     

        If the report is to go to several people append a Distribution
List sub-divided, if necessary, into two parts. 
         As:   - For Action Recipients
                 - For Information Recipients.

 

    b) Date your report;

 

    c) Use Classifications,

 

        Such as "Secret",  "Confidential" and "Private" only where they genuinely apply.

 

    d) Define your subject and indicate broadly its extent, composition and significance.

         

    e) State your purpose and Terms of Reference, and indicate how far you are able to carry them out.

 

    f) Provide background information,

        Information in which your reader will need, and which he may not know or clearly remember.

 

    g) State fully, or summarize, your Results, Conclusions and  Recommendations.

 

    h) Announce the arrangement of your Main sections.

 

    i) Define Technical terms and words (Jargons) that you intend to use in a special sense.

 

Make your Introduction as interesting as you can, for instance by singling out points of immediate practical or financial significance, but beware of sensationalism or distortion of the fact.

 

5. THE MAIN SECTION AND APPENDICES

 

     Concentrate on writing one of your sections or Appendices at a time. You may need to do some or all of the following in
      each section:-

 

                           a) State facts obtained and indicate source;

                           b) Analyses these facts;

                           c) State the conclusions or recommendations based on them;

                           d) Describe the procedure followed in your  investigations or experiments;

                           e) Refer to, or summarize, matters fully presented in an Appendix.

 

    Once you have overcome the first inertia, forge ahead from point to point in the sequence you planned when             
    arranging your material.  What you are producing is a "Draft Report", subject to revision. 

    It is more important to achieve a flowing style than to worry at this stage about niceties of grammar, or even the                 
   
exact observance of the advice on this page.   

 

6. THE CONCLUSION

 

     Your conclusion should do some or all of the following:-

 

             a) summarize the discussion in the main sections;

             b) summarize findings and inferences;

             c) Make recommendations based on your findings and inferences;

             d) State clearly what action should be taken as a result of your Recommendations, and by whom;

             e) Emphasise  finally the significance of your subject matter;

             f) Refer briefly to any wider considerations, outside your terms of reference, on which your report may have a bearing.

 

     "Conclusion and Introduction are closely interdependent"

     If you merely summarise your Conclusion and Recommendations  in your Introduction you will still need to give them in full
     in your Conclusion section.  If you give them in full in your Introduction section, you may decide not to repeat them in your
     Conclusion.

 

     The Conclusion should have a section heading of its own, to mark it off clearly from the last main section.

 

     You may decide to make a radical change in the Introduction  - Main Section - Conclusion sequence of the report by
      placing the Conclusion immediately after the Introduction section as the "Management Summary", or even by
      combining the Introduction and Conclusion sections.
     The Main Section of the report  will then become in effect, though not in name, Appendices.

 

     This re-arrangement is often suitable when you have to cater for two classes of reader:-

 

     a) The General Reader, who wants to reach your Conclusions and Recommendations quickly without studying your facts
         and reasoning.

 

     b) The Specialist readers, who wishes to examine your subject matter in full detail.

 

 

 7. LIST OF REFERENCES

 

     If your report contains numerous references to other publications it may be useful to compile a separate            
     bibliographical appendix.

 

     Each reference should contain full information in the  following order:-
                           - Author(s)

                           -  Title

                           -  Edition

                           -  Place of Publication

                           -  Publisher

                           -  Date of Publication

                                 etc.

 

 

8. THE TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

    Some people may wish to read your main headings without going right through your report. You should, therefore, provide
    them with a Table of Contents
    This customarily precedes the Introduction, but it is equally logical for the Introduction to come first.

           

    The Tables Of Content may be compiled as follows:-

 

          a) Copy the numbered section and sub-section headings.

 

          b) Indicate the relationship between headings and sub-headings by indentation.

 

          c) Add separate lists of tables and illustrations, if necessary.

 

         d) Leave space for page numbering to be filled in by the typist (if you are not typing the report yourself).

 

 

9. THE SYNOPSIS (Summary or Outline)

 

   You may think it helpful, or it may be the practice of your organisation, to present a Synopsis of the whole Report before the
   Table of Contents and Introduction.  Your original Single-sentence statement of your Purpose may help you to make
    the Synopsis brief and pithy. 

 

 

 

STAGE IV: REVISION

 

When you have completed your Draft report, lay it aside for a day or two, if time permits.  Then try to criticise it        objectively as though it were the work of another author.

 

      1. Make a Cursory Examination of your Draft as a whole.

        
          Is the design of your report apparent ? Check your  System  headings.  Are the  purpose consistent with your 

          with your purpose?
 

      2. Consider The Title, Table of Contents, Introduction and Conclusion in relation to one
          another
.

        

          - Have you stated your subject, purpose and plan clearly in Introduction ?

   

          - Do your headings agree with the Table Of Contents and with the plan announced in the Introduction section

 

           - Have you carried out your plan from start to finish of your report ?

 

           - Have you placed emphasis on the correct points ?

 

           - Are the parts in agreement with, and in proportion to, one another ?

 

 

      3. Examine the Text In Detail.           

 

           Weigh every statement critically, especially if you think it is liable to be quoted out of its context. Check
            grammar, spelling, punctuation and style. 

        

      4. Read the Text aloud to yourself, or preferably to somebody else.

        

              - Does it read easily and smoothly ?

 

              - Can your listener follow you ?

 

              - Are there any tiresome repetitions ?

 

              - Have you omitted any essential points  or failed to mention them early enough to ensure understanding ?

 

       5. Check Your Illustrations

 

               - Does each convey its message clearly ?

 

               - Have you eliminated unnecessary detail ?

 

               - Have you included everything helpful to your purpose ?

               - Is the association between and Illustrations as clear and as close as possible ?

 

               - Have you fully exploited your Illustrations as a means of avoiding longwinded explanations in the text ?

 

              - Are the captions precise and informative ?

 

       6. If Possible, Submit your Draft Report to a Person Qualified to give constructive criticism. 

 

 

    LENGTH OF A WRITTEN REPORT

 

    Unfortunately the written report is the most abused method  used by Analyst to communicate with end-users. The
    Systems Analyst have a tendency to generate large, voluminous reports that look quite impressive.  Sometimes such reports
    are necessary, but often they are not.  If you lay a 300 pages  report on a manager's desk, you can expect that manager
    will skim it but not read it - and you can be certain that the  manager will not study it carefully!

 

    Report size is an important issue, after many bad experience,  we have learned to use the following guidelines to restrict     
    report size:-

 

              o  To Executive-level managers - One or two pages

              o  To Middle-level managers  - Three to five pages

              o  To Supervisory-level managers- Less than 10 pages

              o  To Operational - level personnel - less than 50 pages.

 

    It is possible to organize a larger report to include sub-reports for managers who are at different levels. These
    sub-reports are usually included as early sections in the report and summarize the report, focusing on the bottom line;   
   
What is wrong; what do you suggest or want ? 

  

 

    A LAST WORD ON THE REPORT WRITING TECHNIQUES

 

   As you are entering in the field of Systems Analysis do avail yourselves of every opportunity to improve your writing        
   skills, through business and technical writing classes, books and seminars.  Writing can greatly influence career paths in any
   profession. There are a few  further guidelines which we can strongly recommended you to follow in addition to the

   Four-stage methods covered under this topic.

 

      o  A Paragraph should convey a single idea.  They should flow nicely, one to the next.  Proper
          paragraphs structure  can almost always be traced to outlining  deficiencies.

 

     o  Sentences should not be too long.  The average sentence  length should not exceed 20 words.  Studies
         suggest that sentences longer than 20 words are more difficult to read and understand.

 

     o  Write in Active Voice (Direct Speech). The passive voice becomes wordy and boring when used consistently. 

 

     o  Eliminate Jargon.  

 

                                  ***   Always Remember  -    HARD WRITING MAKES EASY READING !!!"            

 

      

               

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