The Key to Clear, Effective Report Writing
In business report writing, words represent concepts. For example, this is the opening sentence for a block of information in a business report: “Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office.” These are the key words: training sessions, several remote sites, bringing people in from the field, and home office. Once you open a concept using a word, you must not change the word because the reader may assume that a new word means a new concept. That will create confusion. This business report writing training focuses on using key words to make the business report clear.
Business Report Writing Tip 1:
Use key words in reports consistently without changing them.
You learned in high school English that, to make the writing sound good, you should avoid repeating words. That is true with words that carry no essential meaning. However, don’t use alternative words for the key words in business report writing. Use them over and over again without changing them. In business writing, your objective is to communicate clearly, not write the great American novel.
In the following example sentence, “remote sites” are key words. See the confusion that results when the writer changes the term in the next sentences:
|Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office. A distance learning location would have facilities that could enhance the training. One way to ensure that our training is consistent is to have regional training locations with the same instructors going from region to region to do the training.|
The reader is left wondering whether “remote sites,” “distance learning location,” and “regional training locations” are the same thing. Is the writer introducing two or three different options? Each seems to be opening a new concept. Once the writer settled on “remote sites,” she should have locked in that term, as in this example:
|Holding training sessions in several remote sites would be better than bringing people in from the field to the home office. These sites would have facilities that could enhance the training. One way to ensure that our training is consistent is to have a remote site in each region with the same instructors going from region to region to do the training.|
Business Report Writing Tip 2:
Identify the statement of contents key words in your business report writing.
The primary key words are in the statement of contents at the beginning of the report.
Business Report Example:
Business Report Writing Tip 3:
Identify the main point key words in your business reports.
The main points in a business report have their own sets of key words. In the example that follows, the main points are listed in the statement of contents after the colon. In this example, the key words for the first main point of the business report are in red, for the second main point are in green, for the third main point are in blue, and for the last main point are in magenta.
Business Report Example:
Business Report Writing Tip 4:
Identify question or guideline key words.
If you are answering questions contained in the request for a proposal, audit guidelines, or other instructions for your responses, the words in the questions or guidelines should become key words. Usually, begin your response by repeating the question or guideline. If you do not repeat the entire question or guideline, repeat as much of the question or guideline as necessary. In any event, always use the requester’s words in your responses. They become the key words.
“Answer: We spent 74 hours completing the project design.”
Choose key words that are meaningful to the reader. Always use the reader’s words. Never change them to a set of synonyms.
Business Report Writing Tip 5:
Use key words to identify problems in unity and clarity.
The key words unify and clarify your writing. They unify your writing by letting the reader know how the information fits together. Each time you repeat a key word, the reader is able to fit the contents into the overall picture that has the key word as its focus. That clarifies the writing because the reader is able to fit the pieces of your puzzle together as you present them.
You can use the key words to identify problems in unity and clarity. If the key words don’t appear consistently throughout the explanation, that is a signal that the writing is not unified, making it unclear.
This is a sample of writing that is not written well. You’ll recognize it from the explanation of how to build to a conclusion elsewhere in these materials. It was presented there to illustrate what writing looks like when it doesn’t build to the conclusion presented at the end. Using the explanation of key words in this lesson, you now can discover where the problems lie.
In this example, the writer has not prepared the reader for the conclusion that comes at the end of the text. The writer has been asked to review a book to see whether employees in the company should be asked to read it. The report is a review of Chaleff’s The Courageous Follower. We would expect that the writer would provide a compelling, rational explanation to support the stated conclusion.
The conclusion, stated in the last paragraph, is “Chaleff creates this book to enable courageous followers to deal with the challenges they come across and meet them head on.” That seems to be her rationale for recommending that employees read the book.
See whether you can identify the changes in concepts the writer presents by finding the key words. The writer goes from one set of key words to another, none of which lead to the conclusion.
| The book, The Courageous Follower: Standing up to and for Our Leaders, by Ira Chaleff, explores the dynamics of the leader-follower relationship and presents a model of how courageous followers can improve the relationship, benefiting themselves, their leaders, and the organization. The term “courageous follower” can best be described as an individual who shares a common purpose with his or her leader, believes in the overall goals of their organization, and wants both the leader and the organization to achieve. Ira Chaleff goes on to say that to attain empowerment, the follower must accept responsibility for both himself or herself and the leader. To do so, the courageous follower must understand three things: (1) the follower’s power and how to use it; (2) the seductiveness and pitfalls of leadership; and (3) the value of leaders and the critical contributions they make to a follower’s endeavors.
The author insists that the challenges that face a follower are great. I recommend that our employees read the book because Chaleff creates this book to enable courageous followers to deal with the challenges they come across and meet them head on.
An example of how to repair the key words problem follows in Tip 6 that follows.
Business Report Writing Tip 6:
Use key words to unify and clarify business report writing.
This is the same business report writing sample, written to give it unity and clarity. You will be able to see the unity and clarity by following the key words through the writing. This writer has placed the conclusion first, changing it to reflect what the writer really meant to say. The key words in the conclusion then guide the rest of the report. Watching the key words has alerted the writer to the fact that some of the concepts should not have been included in the report, so they were deleted. The writer has also improved the style and shortened the text. The key words are bolded.
| In The Courageous Follower: Standing up to and for Our Leaders, Ira Chaleff explains how courageous followers can improve their relationships with leaders to face business challenges together. The courageous followers are able to face these challenges with their leaders when they share a belief in the overall goals of their organization and want the leaders and organization to achieve. When they share these goals and desire to achieve, courageous followers can improve their relationships with leaders by being willing to take responsibility, understanding the follower’s power and how to use it, realizing the seductiveness and pitfalls of leadership, and appreciating the critical contributions leaders make to efforts to face business challenges with the follower. Such courageous followers can then face business challenges side-by-side with their leaders.
I recommend that our employees read the book because it will help them learn to improve their relationships with leaders so they can face business challenges together.