Report Writing

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Good report writing won't read as densely as a financial study on the intricacies of foreign currency exchange or a specialty treatise on geology in Penobscot Bay. The etymological origin of the word "report," after all, is Latin and means "to carry again." Good reports are not technical studies, academic analysis, or engineering specifications. Good report writing is a process of taking technical information and summarizing and simplifying it. Ideally the flow of sentences will be graceful.

Understanding Report Writing

Classical examples of report writing include financial reports for quarterly board of directors' meetings or an annual company prospectus. These do not follow the example of a social sciences study I was exposed to recently. It boasted 15 pages of dense tables detailing statistical crime variables reflecting victim, offender, and incident characteristics and 15,000 words explaining each cell of each column and row of each table.

Reports are explaining what all these numbers or all this analysis reveals and why they, or it, are, or is, important. Readers--that is, the CEO, the stockholder, the board of directors, and the funding organization project lead--don't care about the technical details. They want and need to be confident that the numbers and facts are complete and accurate. This is why reports have appendices.

Often enough, let's be realistic here, a report isn't necessarily even read from start to finish. The introduction is and the conclusions are. Numbers are looked at. The report gets discussed. Its contents are critically important, make no mistake. Decisions are made on the basis of reports. Every paragraph needs to stand to some degree on its own merit. Only when the prose is elegantly simple and the report concise will it likely be read closely, cover to cover, by most members of the audience.


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