Business Writing Tip 35—The Essentials of a Good Report

In this post I want to give you some tips about the kinds of things to think about when you’re writing a report.

1.  Have a clear purpose

  • Are you writing to inform people of your ideas or to give them some information or facts?
  • Are you presenting the results of some research; drawing conclusions from information that you have found?
  • Are you making a recommendation—making improvements, suggesting changes?
  • Are you recording information for other people to have easy access to and use?

2.  Have a clear idea of your audience

Asking yourself some key questions will help you to decide on the language to use, how much information to include and how to present it.

  • Are they experts? If they are use appropriate technical terms
  • Are they familiar with the topic? If not, it’s best not to overload them with too much information
  • Are they busy? Think about the length of your report, and including an executive summary, summary of recommendations or lists of key points
3.  Make a road map

Before you start writing, develop a clear road map of the contents of your report. Put together a plan—write down some headings and subheadings. You can always change it as you go. Having a plan will help you:

  • Decide what order to put the information in
  • Remember all the things that you want to include

Business Writing Tip 34—Minute Taking

I often hear people say they have trouble taking the minutes of meetings. They want to get everything down so the minutes are a complete record of the meeting, but people talk too quickly, often more than one of the attendees is speaking at a time, and things just go too fast.

Here are some tips which might help you out:

  • Don’t attempt to write down every word—meeting minutes are used to record outcomes, so focus on recording decisions, who’s responsible, and timeframes
  • Use attendees’ initials to save time—it’s much quicker to write down one or two letters rather than a full name. If you don’t know everyone before the meeting, get a list of their names and decide on an abbreviation (or even a symbol) to use to indicate each person. If you can get photos of the people you haven’t met before, take a look at them and become familiar with which face goes with which name
  • Abbreviate words that you use regularly—again use initials for company names, and shortcuts like b4 (before), org (organization) and the like. Use the abbreviations you already know from texting. Remember, you are the only one who needs to be able to read your notes so write them in a way that you’re comfortable with and that you can transcribe easily
  • Listen for and write down key words and phrases—make sure you’re familiar with the agenda before the meeting and read through any position papers so that you know the vocabulary—before the meeting
  • Accurately record motions or decisions—these are the most important part of a meeting. The general discussion might go on for longer but the motions and the decisions are what people need to refer to later
  • Note who is responsible for the action motions and decisions—the minutes record what was decided, but also who has to do something. Miss this out and attendees at your meeting might take the opportunity to ‘pass the buck’
  • Number each page of your notes—a simple thing but it will make it easier when you are finalising the minutes. If it’s a busy meeting, why not number the pages before the meeting? Then they’re ready for you.
  • Ask for clarification if you miss something. Some minute takers worry about speaking in meetings. It’s better to ask for clarification than to get things wrong
  • Attempt to capture the essence of what people say—practice your paraphrasing skills. The good thing is that most people repeat themselves a lot when they’re talking. Listen carefully and capture what they’re saying in simple, concise language
  • Circle key statements and decisions—this will help you find the most important sections of your notes when you are typing up the final minutes.
  • Underline important information or meeting highlights—again it will help you find them easily
  • Use stars, arrows and other symbols to draw attention to different ideas—but when you use symbols, make sure you’re clear on why you’re using them. You need to remember what they mean