Effective report writing

Most of us have been involved in writing a report at some time, either in our working lives or our personal lives. Be it an audit report, a director’s report or simply an insurance claim report, it is very important for any report to effectively communicate information to the report user.

So, what constitutes an effective report? A report is a general term that simply means ‘telling’ or ‘relating’. It may present itself in a wide range of formats. If you give someone a verbal account, or write a message in a letter or a memorandum informing, say, your manager of facts, events, actions you have taken, suggestions you wish to make as a result of the investigation and so on, you are ‘reporting’.

Someone who is instructed to do so by a superior usually writes a report. A manager, who will then expect to make a decision on the basis of what the report tells him, may commission a special ‘one-off’ report. For example, the board of directors of a company might call for a report on the financial viability of a new product or investment, and they will expect to decide whether or not to undertake the product development or the investment on the basis of the report’s findings.

On the other hand, routine reports, such as performance reports, might be required because they are a part of established procedures. The managers receiving the reports will not have commissioned them specifically, but they will be expected to act on anything out of the ordinary that the report tells them. Some reports arise out of a particular event, on which regulations prescribe the writing of a report. For example, a leaving or exit interview report must be written following an employee’s resignation; any accident in the workplace must be reported. Individual responsibilities often include the requirement to write reports — a representative on a committee, or the secretary at a meeting, will have to report to members, or other committees, the procedures and decisions taken.

Whether the report is ‘one-off’ or routine, there is an obligation on the part of the person requesting the report to state the use to which it will be put. In other words, the purpose of the report must be clear to both its writers and its users. There is also an obligation on the part of the report writer to communicate information in an unbiased way. The report writer knows more about the subject matter of the report than the report user (otherwise there would be no need for the report in the first place). It is important that this information should be communicated impartially, so that the report user can make his or her own judgements. It is important that the report contains:

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