How to ensure that your report gets read
When a report lands on someone's desk, the most common
reaction is 'Do I really have to read this?' Many reports don't get read
because they are too long and the main point is hidden at the back.
Often they are also written in technical language which isn't user
friendly. Here are some hints, inspired by writing expert, Robert
Gentle, to help you write reports that are both read and understood.
Hint no.1: Have a meaningful title
A good title tells your audience instantly what
your report is about. The title 'Report' merely states the nature of
the document, which is pretty apparent anyway, but doesn't highlight the
content which is what people are interested in. A good title clearly
describes what the report is about and contains a complete message.
Don't just present the subject of the report, but your conclusions as
Hint no.2: Have a logical table of contents
The purpose of the table of contents
is to break the report down into logical, digestible sections for the
reader. Right away the reader should be able to see the logical flow of
the document which makes it more digestible. If the report is short,
only one or two pages, forget about the table of contents but make sure
that headlines are used so the reader can see the same logical flow
through the report.
Hint no.3: Make your point right away
The reader is after your main point, so
don't hide it in the back of the report. Putting your conclusion up
front allows the reader to understand the report quickly and so he or
she can act on it quickly. It also allows the reader to read the entire
report with more productivity instead of spending time wondering where
your arguments are headed. For long reports include a summary where the
main point is highlighted and for a short report your point should be
apparent in the main headline.
Hint no.4: Use lots of headlines
Your reader should be nodding their head all the
way through your report. Not necessarily because they agree with you,
but because there is a logical flow. Headlines help pull your reader
through the report and allow them to catch your key points at a glance.
They are particularly useful in unscrambling long or complex paragraphs
to ensure your key point is seen and understood. The heading should be
descriptive and let the reader know what is about to come.
Hint no.5: Use a clean, airy layout
White space is important in making a report
inviting and user-friendly. It makes headlines and graphics stand out
and enables you to draw attention to key paragraphs. Really, it just
makes your document 'readable' and that is what is most important. You
aren't wasting paper if you are improving the readability of your
document. A few extra pages won't increase the price of printing all
that much, but it will certainly help to achieve your reports aim. Using
simple language is also important to ensure that the report is inviting
and user-friendly as well.