A report can be defined as a testimonial or account of some happening. It is purely based on observation and analysis. A report gives an explanation of any circumstance. In today’s corporate world, reports play a crucial role. They are a strong base for planning and control in an organization, i.e., reports give information which can be utilized by the management team in an organization for making plans and for solving complex issues in the organization.
Report writing is an essential skill for professionals in almost every field. Each kind of report has its characteristics. An enquiry report or a survey report is essentially a fact-finding report and should bring out the facts clearly. A Directors’ Report, on the other hand, is the detailing of the developments or the progress relating to the business organization during a particular period. A committee report may not only bring out facts and figures, but also cover the alternative viewpoints expressed by the members and final recommendations.
A report discusses a particular problem in detail. It brings significant and reliable information to the limelight of top management in an organization. Hence, on the basis of such information, the management can make strong decisions. Reports are required for judging the performances of various departments in an organization.
An effective report can be written going through the following steps-
- Determine the objective of the report, i.e., identify the problem.
- Collect the required material (facts) for the report.
- Study and examine the facts gathered.
- Plan the facts for the report.
- Prepare an outline for the report, i.e., draft the report.
- Edit the drafted report.
- Distribute the draft report to the advisory team and ask for feedback and recommendations.
The essentials of good/effective report writing are as follows-
- Know your objective, i.e., be focused.
- Analyze the niche audience, i.e., make an analysis of the target audience, the purpose for which audience requires the report, kind of data audience is looking for in the report, the implications of report reading, etc.
- Decide the length of report.
- Disclose correct and true information in a report.
- Discuss all sides of the problem reasonably and impartially. Include all relevant facts in a report.
- Concentrate on the report structure and matter. Pre-decide the report writing style. Use vivid structure of sentences.
- The report should be neatly presented and should be carefully documented.
- Highlight and recap the main message in a report.
- Encourage feedback on the report from the critics. The feedback, if negative, might be useful if properly supported with reasons by the critics. The report can be modified based on such feedback.
- Use graphs, pie-charts, etc to show the numerical data records over years.
- Decide on the margins on a report. Ideally, the top and the side margins should be the same (minimum 1 inch broad), but the lower/bottom margins can be one and a half times as broad as others.
- Attempt to generate reader’s interest by making appropriate paragraphs, giving bold headings for each paragraph, using bullets wherever required, etc.
Notwithstanding these features specific to the reports, there are certain essential features good report writing:-
1. Issue in perspective
The first essential for any good report is to bring out the issue in its proper perspective emphasizing the pros and cons. Be it a progress report; a survey report, an analytical report or an enquiry report, the subject should be presented in an unbiased and objective manner. Both the positive and negative aspects of the issues studied should be covered in the report.
2. Authoritative facts and figures
The report writer should ensure that the facts and figures quoted in the report are authentic and reliable. The data quoted in the report is likely to be made use of by several other individuals and agencies. When the data quoted is taken from secondary sources, care should be taken to see that the sources are reliable and cross-verified.
3. Maintain a judicial approach
The report writer should keep to measurable facts and verifiable details. Impressionistic statements and inaccuracies will have to be avoided. A good report calls for an effective assessment based on authentic facts and figures. Human errors, biases and any kind of selective reporting have no place in report writing. Good reports are those where the report writer maintains non-partisan attitude.
4. In-depth analysis
Any report that does not go into the details of the subject studied may turn out to be peripheral requiring additional information. The reporting authority or the report writer, as the case may be, should make it a point to meticulously go about collecting all related information for inclusion in the report.
5. Alternative viewpoints
The purpose of a report is to get the facts in proper perspective. There should be an intention to get the inputs or views from different persons who are in a position to throw light on the subject or incident under study. Although the final recommendations may be based on a consensus or majority view, the fact that some other views were also expressed during the course of deliberations or enquiries should also be mentioned.
6. Appropriate annexures
Most reports contain relevant annexures, which cover additional information which is pertinent to the matter dealt within the-body of the report. Such annexures normally include charts, graphs, relevant statistics, questionnaires and so on. Care should be taken to ensure that any such’ charts, maps and tables are relevant to the matter under study and enhance understanding.