31 August 2018 07:42:07 IST

Eleven tips to write a stellar report

Read, do research, check for grammar, redraft and keep writing until you arrive at a good report

Consider this: You are the new intern at your dream company. Or you have finally landed that coveted job after a gruelling placement interview. Some weeks into the corporate grind you hit a new obstacle. You have to write a reasonably lengthy report which will be read by potential customers and a few higher-ups. It is a make or break situation. How does one ace the ‘test’ and make a favourable impression? Here are a few tips to writing a good report:

Think it through

Before you start writing, try to answer the following questions: ‘Why am I writing this?’, ‘Who is the intended reader?’, and ‘What do I plan to achieve/convey?’. For example, the contents of a document explaining the features of a new product will differ from one conveying the firm’s quarterly results. If it is to be circulated among the rank and file of the organisation, it will need to be tailored accordingly. The clearer your thoughts are about the report’s intended purpose and audience, the better your writing will be.

Create an outline

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee extolls the importance of working with structure in his book Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process . There should be a skeleton supporting your piece — this helps ensure that your writing flows with natural logic and order. It could be a list of bullet points or a mind map, but having an outline not only brings more clarity to your writing but also helps you iron out glitches.

Gather information

Once you have a broad outline, do your research. Rely on well-known, well-established sources of information. Do not randomly copy-paste content from websites; instead, note down important points. Save your references in a Word document or spreadsheet so that you don’t have to go looking for the source/s again. Time yourself so that you don’t mindlessly wander into social media sites.

Switch off the inner critic

Rarely does any author start off with a masterpiece. Author Anne Lamott said that “almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere”. Accept that there will be hopeless first drafts before you manage to churn out an acceptable piece or write that “perfect” sentence. Most often the desire to be perfect can get in the way of writing.

Check for grammar mistakes

Carefully check your report for spelling mistakes, punctuation errors and the like. As they say, the devil is in the detail. A content-packed document may not be well-received if it contains grammatical mistakes. Do not let sloppiness destroy a good first impression.

Cross-check your facts

Once your report is fairly ready, cross-check the facts. Examine, once again, if the data you are providing is authentic and from trusted, well-established sources. Cite your sources. Plagiarism not only damages one’s reputation, it kills creativity and originality. You may need to expend more time and effort, but remember that it will be worth it. If there is a prescribed format for submission, including preferred mode of citation, ensure that the report adheres to such guidelines.

Read and redraft

Once your first draft is ready, read through it, preferably aloud. Listening to oneself read can help weed out inconsistencies, high-sounding statements and incoherent ideas. If any part of the report sounds odd to you, it is likely to be the same for the reader. If you can read the report to a friend or colleague and get their feedback, great. Once the problems have been identified, be willing to redraft. Rewriting is an inevitable part of creating a good report, painful though it may be.

Take writing seriously

If your piece is relatively small it can be tempting to just get it over with. Do not make this mistake, for small things add up to something larger. Look at each piece as perfecting your craft. A small, well-written report will be better received than a large, shabbily written piece. By turning in good work at every instance, you build consistency into your writing and demonstrate respect for the reader’s time. This imbues confidence in your supervisors to entrust you with bigger responsibilities in the future.

Keep reading

The oft neglected but easiest way to improve one’s writing is to read more. Particularly books from diverse genres. Be actively involved in the reading process. As Francine Prose notes in her famous book Reading Like a Writer , read like someone who is about to write on the subject. Ask yourself: ‘Why is the story this way?’, ‘How could the author have changed what she/he wrote?’, ‘How has the argument been constructed?’, ‘What supporting points have been used to bolster the case?’, and ‘How are dissenting views dealt with?’.

Understand your industry

New things happen in one’s industry every day. Being abreast of the most significant changes can add flavour and perspective to one’s writing. Take the time to study your industry and peer firms. Learn new terminology and use it in your conversations and writing.

Write more

Practise your craft as much as you can. Volunteer. Utilise every avenue to write more. Expect greater clarity of thought, better presentation of ideas, and more lucid writing from yourself and work for it. Remember that whether online or offline, writing continues to be an important means of communication. A well-written piece can make the reader respond positively, buy your product, try out a new feature, provide a facility, and even build life-long relationships.

Now, go ahead and write a stellar report!

(The author is a Deputy  Manager, State Bank of India.)