Project management header
products page

Writing reports – part 3



The body of the report

Word usage

Reports will often contain a variety of technical words, specific industry jargon and descriptive words such as, ‘analyse’, ‘contrast’, ‘criticise’, ‘justify’, ‘illustrate’ etc. The meaning of the latter phrases is not always understood by all.


A list of common terms in reports and their meaning is given in the Word document contained in the folder ‘worked example and glossary’ that accompanies the training package.

The language of reports can be very precise in project management and other areas and can affect the meaning from one person to another.
This is why it is very important to review each draft thoroughly to validate the accuracy of the data it contains and the interpretation others will derive from the words and phrases that you use. If you are unsure of a particular word check its meaning in a dictionary.

You want people to read your report with interest and understand it. So, try not to use the same phrases and words all of the time.
If you can vary your word usage you will maintain the interest of the reader. The use of Roget’s Thesaurus will be a big help in identifying synonyms. Always use good grammar.

Learn from experience

If you have written reports in the past, particularly in the same area, you may wish to review them with a view to improving subsequent reports. Did they gain favourable comments? Why not actively seek feedback [see 'The Complete Motivation package‘] for your reports? This is where a mentor may be very useful here [see 'The Complete Motivation package‘].

Planning actions

Don’t just start writing a report. Make sure you plan what you want to write.
There are a few techniques you can use:

Brainstorm

The brainstorm is a technique usually associated with groups.
There is absolutely no reason why this technique should not be used just by you.

The purpose of a brainstorm is to generate ideas.
There are formal methods you can use for groups but for yourself you can use a simplified procedure.
Take a piece of paper and write the objective of your report in the middle of the paper and circle it.
This is similar to the use of diagrams in ‘mind mapping’.

From this central hub you can radiate ideas for the report. From each of these spokes you can draw additional lines representing ideas.

Data mining

Most reports in project management require the access of information from one source or another.
Sources may be:

  • Data bases offline and online
  • Books
  • Videos
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
  • Films
  • Textbooks and encyclopaedias
  • Abstract, journals and periodicals

When ever you come across a useful piece of information, that may be useful for your report or future reports, make a note of it and reference it as necessary. The use of computer spreadsheets are ideal for collecting and sorting many forms of information.

Any report will contain information, the trick is to provide the right amount of information so, keep it clear and concise but relevant to the logical flow of your arguments and statements in the report.

The outline plan

Even if you have a template of the report layout there is little point in just beginning the report with no preparation.

  • You should gather together all of the data you have collected
  • Make sure that no data is missing
  • Check the validity of all of your data including any relevant references

In terms of the layout of your report within a template you may wish to draw up an outline based upon a checklist or perhaps using a hierarchical system similar to an organization chart.

The hierarchical structure can be very useful as it allows the points to develop easily from each of the points on the higher tier.

The writing

Attention

When a person reads a project management report (or other) they want to be drawn to the key points and find it easy to follow.
For this purpose the paragraph is very important.

Put each point you want to emphasise in its own paragraph. Link paragraphs together well so that the argument flows.
If a paragraph itself has a specific point you want to draw attention to put it in the first sentence for emphasis.

If you find that you are writing too many paragraphs you may need to break up the writing further with sub headings.
If you were to write out all of the headings and sub headings in order they should represent the natural flow of the argument and comment of the report.

The introduction and conclusion

These are both rather important. The introduction gives you the opportunity to interest the reader and indicate specific points about the report. If you use words that need definition put these in a separate appendix.

Clarify the exact nature of the report and what the subject is about. Make sure there is no ambiguity here.
Indicate the scope of the report by outlining any restrictions, data limitations, assumptions and constraints etc.

The conclusion should summarise all of the key points with any reference to additional work requirements.

The first draft of a report is always the hardest and may require further drafts before finalisation.
You will improve the layout and content with practice. If you have access to other reports or periodicals etc examine how they are presented in terms of headings etc. You may gain from the experience.

Word usage

Any report should be prepared in draft form first. When this is complete, if you have planned your time properly, you will be able to put it side for a few days to look upon it with fresh eyes. In this way you will see it in a more subjective light and modify it in new ways. If you can, you may be able to get a close friend to look at it and comment.

Stick to short and compact sentences that convey your meaning clearly. Keep the wording simple.
Use a variety of transition words to introduce a sentence to keep a good flow between your points.

When you write for formal reports it is best to avoid acronyms (for example, CD for compact disc) and abbreviations (min. for minute). Use ‘cannot’ instead of ‘can’t’ and ‘will not’ instead of ‘won’t’. Try to avoid the use of ‘he’ or ‘she’ that stand alone. Use either ‘he or she’, ‘s/he’ or convert to a plural form where you can use ‘they’ or ‘their’ instead.

Non - PRINCE2 information