It is likely that, at some point in your career, you will be asked — or feel compelled — to write a report. Here are seven steps to producing a successful account or analysis.
1. Identify the report’s objective: Inform, or advise? If the former, predict, or review? If the latter, persuade, or dissuade?
2. Consider your audience: Are your readers experts, or laypeople? Are they fellow employees, or colleagues in the same profession or industry? Take into account their educational level and their familiarity with the subject matter to guide your writing style and your use and explication of specialized vocabulary.
3. Research your topic. If you have been assigned the report, be sure the person you received the assignment from has thoroughly briefed you on its goal and its scope. If you are initiating the report yourself, again, be sure you know those parameters. Then, consult with other stakeholders — those whose work relies on the dissemination of such reports — and ask any experts you know for advice before studying print, online, and other media sources and collecting data.
4. Using all this information, produce a first draft. Review it to ascertain whether you have covered all the pertinent points and whether the report answers questions and/or resolves concerns inherent in the topic. Revise as necessary.
5. If it your responsibility to format the report and there is no template, research effective report design online and incorporate the principles to the best of your ability; however, don’t become distracted by this phase of the project or let design overwhelm the content. A crisp, clean presentation with an attractive layout is sufficient, but strategize how to use graphic information and how to emphasize key points with typographic treatment.
6. Ask colleagues or other knowledgeable associates to critique the latest draft and note any revisions they suggest — inserting or deleting sections or details, reorganizing the structure, clarifying your argument or your point of view, and so on.
7. Produce a revised version, step away from it as your schedule allows, and then finesse it to create a final draft. If editing and/or proofreading are not established stages in the report’s development, at least ask someone whose skills you trust to check for errors, and incorporate the changes before submitting the report.