How to write a report – explained in 1692 words
My first experience of helping someone to write reports was when I was working for an international drugs company. I was asked speak to a Doctor in Chemistry who was finding writing reports completely mystifying. She had gone on scientific report writing courses, undertaken courses on-line, done management report writing courses and read loads of books on the subject. She was also staying up until the early hours of the morning to try to do her reports which were then heavily criticised by her superiors. Far from improving she was getting much worse and had lost all confidence in her ability to express herself in writing. And in that particular organisation if you could not write reports you would not get promoted. So she was getting more and more frustrated.
After a very short period of time talking to her I realised what the problem was – every time she got criticised she wrote more and more and in the process got further away from the target that she was trying to hit – without having any idea where the target was.
After about 40 minutes I managed to sort the problem for her. I asked her what the headings were for a typical scientific report and she told me what the headings were – clearly they were very predictable since she rattled them off so easily. I then said to her ‘ok what information is relevant to this heading?’ and she told me what it was and I wrote it down and then in effect she had written the report. She was doing what a lot of people do and was over complicating the task. She could not believe that it could be so easy. After following my suggestions, about 6 months later I heard that she had got her promotion.
The next time I was asked to help people with report writing was when I was running six month management courses which included writing a report and doing a presentation at the end of the programme. At the start of the programme I realised that they were likely to be very scared of doing these two things particularly if they had not written a report or presented before. So I spent a lot of time reassuring them during the first module that I would provide them with all the support required to get them through the programme and that whilst they would be doing the work, I would be with them every step of the way. In the 15 years that I ran the programme only one person did not finish the presentation but even she had written up her project and done a very good job.
The main reason I believe that people feel so nervous about writing reports is that the education system so poorly prepares people for the world of work and most people leave school or university believing that they cannot write because they have been constantly criticised, although at no time did these establishments tell people how to write.
Some people booked annual leave to enable them to have time to do the project but what I said to the people on the course was ‘I will give you a structure with some questions in it and providing you have done the work, if you answer the questions the report will write itself’. As a result instead of taking days and sometimes weeks to write up their project, I believed that the vast bulk of it could be written in half an hour.
Wouldn’t your life be transformed if you could write what you needed to write in 30 minutes and hit the target so that the reader completely understood the message you wanted to convey AND it answered the questions they wanted answered?
I have used this method for many years now and in fact it was also this approach that I used to write my book ‘The People Skills Revolution’. This book provides answers to your questions about what makes people tick and why they behave the way they do. Based on a model I call the ‘Continuum of Interpersonal skills’ it tells you how to adapt your style in order to be more assertive, increase your ability to influence, how to negotiate effectively, step in to become a conciliator, take a stand for what you believe in and finally how to make peace. All this is achieved by using a very ‘tight’ writing style which provides step by step approaches for all these people skills. Because I was so focused at the beginning where I was heading and the book had a clear beginning, middle and end I was able to write the whole book in 4 months.
Now I have told you about the approach I want to share the project report writing template with you which I used with my course participants successfully for all those years. Obviously if you are writing a management report or a scientific report the headings will change but I believe the basic structure and idea can be applied to many situations where you have to communicate factual information.
HOW TO WRITE UP YOUR PROJECT
The structure outlined below is a guide to how to layout your project, it is meant to give you ideas not be a straightjacket
- Why did you write the project
- What attracted you to the particular topic that you chose
- What made the project worthwhile to undertake
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
- What was your overall aim for the project – state this simply in one or two sentences – lay it out in bold typing so that the reader can see it at a glance.
- List the objectives out in bullet points – the objectives should cover the steps you will need to take to achieve your aim.
- An objective should be something that you can ‘tick off’ as completed not something vague ‘like to improve communication’.
METHODOLOGY (OR WHAT HAPPENED COMPARED TO WHAT YOU EXPECTED TO HAPPEN)
- This is where you describe how you went about your project
- What particularly methods did you use, for example
- Meetings with management or your mentor to discuss your approach
- Meetings with staff to discuss the problem
- Meetings with staff to find a solution
- Meetings with staff to present a solution
- Interviews with individual staff
- A pilot study to test a new idea or procedure
- What were your timescales and what obstacles did you experience.
- How many people were involved in the project – how many did you intend to talk to
- (Put any copies of questionnaires or interview structures in the appendix and refer to them in this section)
- How many people did you involve in your project compared to your expectations
- Following on from your methodology – what did you find when you discussed the problem or issue with others
- What evidence do you have to support your claims
- How receptive where they to change
- How receptive was the problem to a solution
- Were the outcomes what you expected
It is useful here to outline any statistics or figures you have to support your argument (Detailed results should be included in an appendix and referred to in this section)
- Having undertaken your study what recommendations would your project suggest for the future
- What recommendations would you make to a senior manager about applying the knowledge you have learnt to other situations
- What implications does your project have for additional funding or resources in the future
- Would it be worthwhile for you or others to research the topic in more depth
- What areas of your project still need to be tackled
- What aspects of the project went well – what aspects did not go so well and why
- What did you learn about the subject after undertaking this project
- What did you learn about yourself in undertaking the project
- What would you do differently next time
- The appendix should include all relevant information that the reader may need to refer to, but which are not central to your argument, this may include:-
- Detailed results
- Interview structures etc
What you will find as you start to answer the questions is that more and more relevant information will come into your head and you can add it under the appropriate sections as the content of your report starts to build up.
AND if it does not fit under one of these headings ( or something very like them) is the information you are considering including really necessary?
Taking this idea a stage further when I did my Master’s Degree in Change Agent Skills and Strategies I realised something interesting about writing my assignments. What we found was that each of the four Tutors had different expectations and therefore some people were getting high marks from some of the Tutors but not others. This was very frustrating until I realised that to get good marks you had to understand the expectations of the person who is marking the report. As a result of learning this I was able to get consistently high scores for my assignments ‘across the board’, so much so that my fellow students started to ask how I was doing this.
On a final note, I was once talking to a Head of Training and Development who was complaining about how long it took him to write reports. At the end of conversation I asked him how much time he spent reading anyone else’s report. I will never forget his answer which was ‘not very much because I am spending so much time writing my own’.
What a report needs to do is convey the appropriate message in the right amount of words – anything else and the reader just loses the will to live. In contrast a succinct clearly written report will be very much appreciated by its target audience.
I hope that if you are struggling with writing reports that these words have been helpful to you.
Please remember that this blog is copyright and cannot be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without my prior written permission and an appropriate credit.
To find out more information about the continuum of interpersonal skills model and the step by step approaches to developing sophisticated people skills, read the People Skills Revolution which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
© Pamela Milne, Solutionsunlimited.co.uk 2015