The Devil is in The Details: 5 Tips to Write Excellent Reports
Six of us recently joined WACSI as interns. We are all excited about this opportunity because we are aware of the outstanding professional exposure we would be getting. We are poised to learn, to do exploits, achieve milestones and leave a legacy at WACSI. To accomplish this, we must perform several tasks because as interns, learning-by-doing is the practical approach programmes staff employ to nurture interns.
A recurrent and inevitable task we are expected to perform is to write different kinds of reports. We were aware that we would be doing a lot of writing, but we were not sure of what to expect.
However, an interesting training session on Report Writing led by Charles Vandyck, Head of Capacity Development, gave us a fresher perspective on report writing. It was inspirational and made us more confident in our writing abilities. We were made to understand that reports stand out as an inevitable by-product of the engagements of civil society organisations (CSOs). Hence, report writing skills are an indispensable that must be in our professional toolbox.
Based on what we learnt, we’d like to share some tips on how to write better reports:
Agree on objectives: You must discuss expectations – and agree on certain terms – with whoever is requesting for the report. Know your audience and learn to ask the right questions concerning the content, format and length of the report. For example: Should the report contain pictures and (or) graphs? Having clear objectives helps you to manage the reader’s expectations without leaving the important aspects out.
Preparation is key: The structure of a report is very important to help the reader to follow the chronology of the event, subject or action you are reporting on. It is thus important to carefully plan and prepare an outline before starting the report. In this regard, you should develop a checklist, collect information related to the report, organise the right information by evaluating the relevance of the topic and structure the report writing by taking in consideration the language, style, tone and audience. In your first draft, you should plan to include at the very least an executive summary, introduction, the main body of the report and a section containing the conclusion and any recommendations.
Be Dynamic and Flexible: There are different ways and types of writing a report depending on the purpose of writing and the audience. A report can be as short as a half-pager or long, covering many pages. However, it must meet the requirement of the person(s) it is being written to or the institution submitted to. Anyone reading a report should be able to understand and relay the information gleaned to others simply!
Apply the 3Rs in report writing: Reread! Rewrite! Reorganize! One major lesson we learnt was that there is no such thing as a perfect report – there is always room for improvement. Make it a practice to share your report with someone to proofread and highlight essential points you might have missed or point out mistakes you should correct. Ensure that the flow of thought in the report is consistent. Have a keen eye for details: no comma or paragraph should be out of place. It’s the little things that matter.
Follow the KISS principle: One helpful tip is to follow the Keep It Short and Simple (KISS) principle. This involves knowing how to curate not just useful but relevant information. It is also important to engage the active voice, avoid the use of jargon or flamboyant sentences and maintain a consistent style.
While writing your report, always remember that your aim is not to confuse your readers, but to help them make meaning from every sentence.
NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.