Business Writing Tips #163—Linking Words for Reports: Quick Reference

I’ve written about linking words in tips before but I thought it was worth revisiting a few of the most useful ones. No matter what kind of report you are writing, you need to tie your ideas together.

The phrases you need to:chain and leaves

Introduce a new topic

Regarding, with reference to, in relation to

Add a related point

Moreover, furthermore, in addition

Show a consequence

So, therefore, as a result, for this reason

Give an example

E.g., such as, for example, for instance, in particular, especially, above all

Explain by rephrasing

In other words, i.e.

State the real situation

In fact, actually, as a matter of fact

Sequence

Firstly, secondly, thirdly, finally

First, second, third

The first stage/step is . . ., then . . . , and after that . . .

Make a general point

In general, on the whole, in most cases

Add an unexpected, or surprising, idea

However, even so, nevertheless

Make a contrast

In contrast, on the other hand, whereas, while

State known information

Of course, obviously, clearly

Conclude

In conclusion, on balance, overall, taking everything into consideration

 

You can use most of the examples in the above list at the beginning of a sentence. Sometimes they are followed by a comma. Read your sentences aloud and think about where you would pause.

  • In general there are three major points to consider.
  • However, there are also some minor points which we should not ignore.

Many of them can be used in the middle of a sentence after the word ‘and’:

. . ., and in fact . . .

. . . , and on balance . . .

A few of these phrases are used immediately after a comma. These include: especially, such as, and whereas.

  • There is the issue of staffing, especially given that whatever we decide there will be an impact on jobs.
  • We currently have a team of five, whereas if we introduce the xyz equipment we will only need a team of three to run it.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #159—Writing Progress Reports

If you’re involved in any kind of project (a piece of work with a defined beginning and end) you may need to provide progress reports. These update people on what is happening with your project. You may prepare them for your supervisor, or for a client, and they can be written reports, letters or presentations.  In this post we’re looking at written reports. Basically, your report will summarise what has been achieved, what is currently being done and what is planned for the next time period. Depending on who you are writing it for, you can use either formal (e.g. for a client) or informal (e.g. for your team) language.

Purpose of a progress reportsisyphus

A progress report informs stakeholders about:

  • How the project is going in general
  • How much of the work has been completed
  • What part of the work is currently being undertaken
  • What work still remains to be done
  • What unexpected challenges or problems, if any, have arisen during the project

A progress report can:

  • Reassure stakeholders that the project is going smoothly and will be completed on time
  • If it’s a research report, provide stakeholders with a brief update of some the findings
  • Give your clients and supervisor a chance to evaluate your work on the project and to request changes
  • Be an opportunity to discuss problems in the project and to forewarn stakeholders that there may be delays or cost overruns.
  • Help you stick to your work schedule so you will complete the project on time

Content

Project Background

The amount of detail you provide here will depend on the size of the project and how often you are reporting. This section can include any, or all, of the following:

  • Project purpose
  • Specific project objectives
  • Project scope
  • Date the project began and the date the project is due to be finished
  • People working on the project
  • People for whom the project is being done
  • If it’s a major report, include a summary—an overview of the contents of the report’s contents

Achievements since last report

What have you completed since the last report? Link this to the tasks listed in the project schedule.

Problems

Mention any issues that have arisen since the last report. These might be problems that you can solve yourself, problems that you need technical expertise to solve, or even problems that your client needs to help with.

What next?

This is an update against the project plan, highlighting what activities you will be undertaking next. Once you’ve started a project you will have a better idea of scheduling and cost considerations, so relate this section back to your original proposal and highlight where you are against the original plan.

Assessment of achievements against schedule and budget

If this is a report for a client, this will often be the bottom line for them. Of course some projects are complex and the scope changes during the life of the project, but in other cases, failure to meet objectives on time and on budget can result in sanctions. Highlight any expected variations in this section

Alternative ways to structure your report

By task:

Task 1:

  • Work Completed
  • Current Work
  • Planned Work

Task 2:

  • Work Completed
  • Current Work
  • Planned Work

By progress

Work Completed

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Current Work

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Planned Work

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #148—Improve Your Proofreading

There was a time, not so many years ago, when our word processing programs were not as sophisticated and helpful as they are now. There was a time when we had to ask the program to run a spell check.

Then the software boffins decided to enhance the programs so that a squiggly red line would appear under words we had misspelt.

Great. That will save us time and effort proofreading, won’t it?

Maybe not.

Our subconscious brains are clever. They know what we meant to write. They string our words together for us without us having to think too hard. The problem occurs when we want to make sure that we have typed what we wanted to type.

Have you ever read, and re-read, something only to find that days later you spot an error which you had completely missed? Your brain will often read what it thinks you wrote.

Add in the effect of the helpful red squiggles and we are even more likely to miss some errors. Our subconscious knows we need to look at these words. They’ve been flagged for us. But when we proofread in MSWord, or another program that provides helpful squiggles, our brains automatically seem to focus on the highlighted errors, and may miss others.

We all know that spell checks don’t pick up all of the errors that people make when typing. If I type ‘peace’ when I mean ‘piece’, or ‘form’ when I mean ‘from’, the spell check doesn’t know to include a red squiggle.

I start proofreading, carefully looking at each word, but the more I do, the more my brain tunes in to the squiggles, and the more likely it is that I won’t notice some errors.

So, what’s the solution?

One solution is to print the document and proofread the paper version. Our eyes seem to see mistakes more easily on paper than they do on a screen.

But Kirsty Stuart of Freelancer Writers Online has another tip. She suggests you create a adobe-27964_1280 pdf icon imagepdf version of the document. It will look more like a printed document and, somehow, mistakes will be easier to find. Ms Stuart isn’t quite sure why this works, and I’m not sure either, but it does. My best guess is that our brains aren’t led astray because there aren’t any red squiggly lines.

Go on, give it a try. I’d love to hear if it works for you.

Happy writing.

 

Business Writing Tip #144—Four Fixes to Increase Clarity

In past tips I’ve mentioned clarity. You want your business writing to be clear and easily understandable. You don’t want to make your reader work hard to interpret what it is that you are trying to say. Past posts in this series suggest that you can improve clarity by:

  • Selecting the right words4 Fixes for CLARITY
  • Writing short to medium length sentences
  • Making sure that your subjects and verbs are close together
  • Checking that it is clear who or what pronouns are referring to

But there are other ways to communicate your meaning.

 

 

Here are my top Four Fixes to Increase Clarity

  1. Use images
Use graphs and charts to describe trends, pictures to highlight or illustrate aspects of your text. For example, if you’re referring to a particular component in a technical document, include an image of the component rather than just naming it.
  1. Use tables
Tables help organise the information and highlight important points. They help the reader choose what they want to read. For example, in the table, the title in the left column gives basic information. The reader can then choose if they want further information and read or ignore the right column.
  1. Use lists
I’ve covered this in a previous tip. To write a list you need to focus on the main points, and then your list helps people quickly skim through information.
  1. Use examples
Illustrate your point with a concrete example. Often people find it easier to understand an example, rather than an abstract concept.

Business Writing Tip #141—Report Writing: Understanding Common Directions

When we write essays in an academic setting we are usually answering a question that has been set for us. At work, when it comes to business reports, we may also be given a question to answer, or directions to follow.

For example:

We are planning to buy a new photocopier. Here are the details that three companies have provided us about their models. Can you put together a report comparing them on the photocopier_mediumbasis of the features, initial costs and lifecycle costs (including consumables and maintenance) and make a recommendation?

The vocabulary used for giving directions is fairly standard, but sometimes we may not understand exactly what we are being asked for.

To help you interpret such directions, here’s a list of common words used in questions and simple definitions.

AnalyseDivide the issue into its main parts and discuss each part. Consider how the parts interact and how they work together to form the whole.
ArgueExpress your opinion about the subject, and support it with evidence, examples, and details.
AssessSee evaluate.
ClassifyOrganise the subject into groups and explain why the groupings make sense.
ComparePoint out similarities.
ContrastPoint out differences.
DefineGive the meaning of the subject.
DescribeShow readers what the subject is like; give an account of the subject.
DiscussPoint out the main issues or characteristics of the subject and elaborate.
EvaluateMake a judgment about the effectiveness and success of the subject. What is good and bad about it? Why? Describe your criteria for your judgment.
ExplainMake your position, issue, process, etc. clear by analysing, defining, comparing, contrasting, or illustrating.
IdentifyName and describe.
IllustrateProvide examples of the subject.
IndicateExplain what you think the subject means and how you came to that interpretation (what makes you conclude that it means X).
RelatePoint out and discuss any connections.
SummariseDescribe the main ideas or points

 

Photocopier image credit: capl@washjeff.edu  – Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 US License  Creative Commons License

Business Writing Tip #140—Report Writing—Some Useful Verbs

In last week’s post we looked at some nouns you can use when writing reports. As promised, here are some verbs.report template image

Again, this list is not exhaustive. There are many more options. But it is a starting point, and might save you some time.

Happy writing.

acceleratespeed up
achievereach
alterchange
analyseexamine
assisthelp
attachjoin
challengequestion
claimsuggest
clarifyexplain
concentrate onfocus on
confinelimit
developevolve
eliminateremove
evaluatetake apart
findestablish
maintaininsist
predictforecast
prohibitban
quotecite
riseincrease
reducedecrease
respondreply
retainkeep
showdemonstrate
strengthenreinforce

Business Writing Tip #139—Report Writing—Some Useful Nouns

English is a rich language with many different ways to express the same thing. One of the main reasons we use different words at different times is because it makes our writing more interesting.

Here’s a not very interesting example:

  • Even though our sales figures increased, our costs increased too. Our headcount during the period increased, and we had an increase in payroll costs. We also had to pay a rent increase and the cost of electricity increased.

It’s rather dull to read, isn’t it?

  • Even though our sales figures increased, our costs went up too. During the period we employed some additional staff, which led to a rise in our payroll costs. The landlord also hiked up our rent and the electricity company revised their fees upwards.

Now, I’m not saying that this second version is perfect, but it’s definitely more interesting to read.

The problem is, we’re often busy at work and can’t find the time to look up alternative report template imagewords. In this post, and the next one, I’m going to give you some options so, when you are looking for a word to use, you can check the charts and quickly find an alternative.

These lists are not exhaustive. There are many more options. But they are a starting point, and might save you some time. In the next post we’ll look at some verbs.

areafield
authoritysource
behaviourconduct
beliefsethics
benefitadvantage
categorytype
componentpart
conceptidea
controversyargument
drawbackdisadvantage
expansionincrease
feelingemotion
frameworkstructure
goaltarget
hypothesistheory
interpretationexplanation
issuetopic
methodsystem
optionpossibility
quotationcitation
resultsfindings
statisticsfigures
studyresearch
trendtendency
outputproduction

 

 

Business Writing Tip #135—Are You Still Putting Off Writing?

pomodoroIn my last post I promised you another tip to help you overcome procrastination.

Sometimes it helps to think again about why we might be putting off starting something that we have to write. It could be that the task is quite large and its very size makes it difficult to face.

Does this sound familiar?

“I have to write that report, but it’s going to take me a few hours, and I just don’t have the time to spend on it now. I need to make sure I have enough time to get it done, and I’ve got meetings today, and my boss wants those figures this afternoon. The report will have to wait.”

I’ve often had words like these running around in my head. The idea of the report is so huge that I can’t face it, and the result of this thinking is that I end up doing it under pressure and not doing it as well as I would like.

What to Do

I’m going to refer to Barbara Oakley again and her book A Mind for Numbers. She suggest that rather than focusing on the product (the report), we focus on the process. Sure we might not have time right now to spend 6 to 8 uninterrupted hours writing and finalising the report. But we might have 20 minutes. What can we do with 20 minutes? Well, we can start. Oakley refers to a time and workload management technique known as the ‘pomodoro’ (it gets its name from red, tomato shaped timers). You can find out more about the technique here.  In brief, the technique involves setting aside a block of time, removing all distractions (yes, that includes your email and your phone), and focusing on the task for that period of time. Oakley suggests 25 minutes. You can focus on something for 25 minutes, can’t you? And it’s much easier to say I’m going to work on this for 25 minutes than to say I’m going to work on the report indefinitely. Twenty-five minutes is manageable. It doesn’t terrify us.

What Do You Do After 25 Minutes?

After you’ve completed your ‘pomodoro’ (25 minutes of timed, focused work on a task), give yourself a reward. It might be that you grab a cup of coffee, check your personal emails, take a 5 minute stretching break—whatever makes you feel good. You can then work on something else, knowing you’ve made a start on the report, or you can do another ‘pomodoro’ straight away.

Try it next time you’re putting off an important writing task (or any other time you’re putting off doing something). Let me know if it works for you.

 Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #132—Structure Matters

I’ve talked about structure before but I thought it would be a useful topic to revisit. Structure matters. Structure helps your reader find their way through your document. It also helps you make sure you have covered everything you need to cover. Take a look at the email structure in the graphic. Include all these items and you will have email structure canva graphican effective business email. For example:

Something old Re your phone call yesterday about the annual report input …

Something new I’ve discussed it with the team and we will have the consolidated input ready for you by Thursday.

What to do Please let me know if you need any further information from my team.

I love you Kind regards

Simple, isn’t it? When it comes to a report you might include the following components:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Analysis of current situation
  • Analysis of options
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • Conclusion and recommendation

Of course, your report might look different. Include the sections that you need. Just remember, by planning it first and deciding on a structure, you are giving yourself a useful checklist to make sure everything’s included. And by using the section names as headings, you are providing useful signposts for your reader. Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #130—Determiners

the pile of books on my desk

the pile of books on my desk

In my last post I talked about noun phrases. This post is about determiners—the words that come at the beginning of a noun phrase. Determiners indicate whether the noun phrase is general or specific. When the determiner is specific it indicates exactly which particular noun we are talking about.

Determiners are always used in front of a noun.

Common Determiners

Perhaps the English language’s most common determiners are the definite and indefinite articles. These are:

Definite article = the

Indefinite article = a/an

Articles are easy for native English speakers. We just know which ones to use. For non-native speakers, particularly those whose own language doesn’t use articles, life is a little more difficult. The good thing is that in most cases people will still understand you if you get them wrong.

When we aren’t referring to a specific person or thing, we use the indefinite article. When we are referring to a specific item, one that we know about, then it’s the definite article.

  • I’ve got a car. (There are many cars and I have one.)
  • I’m taking the car for a drive tomorrow. (This time I’m talking about my car.)
  • Can I ask a question? (There are many different questions to choose from and you want to ask one.)
  • Could you repeat the question please? (This time it’s the question that you asked. You know which question you want the person to repeat.)
  • A car drove by. (It doesn’t matter which car; it was just some random car.)
  • The car drove by. (This sentence is about a car we know about; a specific car.)

Some other common determiners include words that we call possessives, demonstratives and quantifiers.

Possessive determiners include my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose. These modify the noun that follows to show possession or ownership: my book, his cat, whose car?

Demonstrative determiners include this, that, these, those (there are a couple more which we rarely use—yon and yonder). They demonstrate which one you are talking about.

  • This book is really great. (The book that is right here.)
  • That book is really great. (The one over there, or the one we are talking about which isn’t physically here.)
  • These books belong to the school. (These books are here.)
  • Those books belong to the school. (This is referring to the books that are over there, or that we are talking about which aren’t physically here.)

Quantitative determiners include all, many, both, either, every, much, more, most, little, less, least, few, fewer, fewest, three, four etc. They say how many of something you are talking about.

Pages have been written on determiners. Pages have been written about when we use different ones. Pages have been written about when we should and shouldn’t use one or the other. For such tiny words they are ridiculously complex and regularly cause confusion, especially with non-native speakers. I suggest that you don’t get too hung up about them unless you’re writing an important document (for example, letter to customer, annual report, etc.). If you are writing an important or formal document, ask someone to read through it before you submit it. If you’re writing an email to your best mate, they’ll most probably understand what you mean even if you use the wrong word. If not, they’ll usually check.

Happy writing.