Monday, 5 January 2015

Writing Effective Business Reports in Five Simple Steps

Samuel Johnson once said that "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Writing is hard work. It's laborious. Writing, especially business report writing, is more than just putting words down on paper. It's a process.
The writing process includes all the activities-thinking, writing, discussing and revising-that take place as you write a business report. Master the five steps in the process and you will write effective business reports.
Step 1: Collect your ideas
Ideas for your report will come to you in pre-written forms, such as words, thoughts, mental images, jottings, sketches and point form outlines in your head.
Collect your thoughts and ideas with:
  • thinking
  • reading
  • research
  • talking
  • free-writing
  • outlining
There is no such thing as a "bad idea" at this stage.
Think about why you are writing
  • make sure you know what you are trying to accomplish with your report
  • decide if a report is better than a letter, memo or meeting
  • decide if tables, charts, maps and other graphics will help your report
Think about your reader 
  • identify your reader or readers
  • make sure you know what you want your reader to do
  • know why it is important that your reader do what you want done
Organize your thoughts with an outline
First, make sure you have all the information you need. Then, sit down with a piece of paper (or the outlining utility on your word processing program) and outline what you need to say in your report. Then arrange what you need to say in the order that you want to say it. Outlining is one of the most important parts of the report-writing process. Don't shirk it. Outlining helps you think about everything you have to say and in what order you are going to say it. Outlining saves you time and helps your reader.
Step 2: Write a first draft
The drafting stage of the writing process is when you get down to work.
  • get your ideas down on paper or screen
  • think while you write
  • write to discover what you want to say
  • ignore spelling, grammar, style and organization for now
  • write as much as you can
  • discuss your draft with a colleague
Step 3: Revise your draft
This is the most important stage in the writing process. Think of your audience and re-write as needed to write to their level. Make two or three revisions, preferably over days or weeks instead of all in one day. Seek out the candid opinion of a colleague.
First, work on the big ideas
  • re-structure sections
  • re-organize major sections
  • add or remove ideas
  • move blocks of text
  • number ideas
  • bullet points
Then, work on the fine details
  • remove unnecessary words
  • remove clich├ęs
  • polish your sentences
  • make sure your paragraphs follow one another
Step 4: Proofread
Unlike editing and revising, proofreading is looking for mistakes that crept in during the other stages but escaped your attentions, I mean, your attention. 
  • proofread two or three days after completing your final draft
  • have a colleague proofread your draft
  • do "sweeps" for particular errors
  • cover the text and read a line at a time

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