Contents Page1 Introduction 12 What is a report? 33 Preparing 84 Organising the information 245 Planning the layout 426 Using the right words 577 Drafting the final report 658 Conclusion 69NB: In the interest of simplicity, when the pronouns he or his are used she or her are implied.
1. IntroductionMost people at some time in their working lives are asked to write a report. Yet few of us areactually taught how to do it.The idea of writing a report may fill you with dread because reports seem so formal anddifficult to do, but writing reports is manageable, once you know how.This self-study workbook will help you to overcome the problems of report writing. It is oneof a series which is being developed to help with all aspects of business writing. The serieswill be as follows:Module A - Clear and correct writingModule B - Writing letters and memosModule C - Writing minutes and agendasModule D - Writing good reportsHow to use the workbookThe workbook deals with clear and concise report writing.You can work through the whole book or start with the sections that are most useful to you.However, with this topic, it is probably best to work through from start to finish. You willfind a checklist of the main points at the end of each chapter.There are exercises to help you practise the techniques covered. You should use the self-evaluation checklists to help you assess your own report writing.
Limitations of self-studyAlthough you can gain a lot from self-study, it does have limitations. The main one is thatyou cannot always tell if your answers are acceptable; the solution, where it is given, issometimes only one of various possibilities.Where to get more help• Ask colleagues who write well themselves to read your work and to give you ideas.• Personal coaching by an expert may be available. Discuss this with your Operations or Training Partner.We recommend the following books if you want to read more about business writing, inparticular report writing and organising ideas:• ‘Report Writing’ by Judith Vidal-Hall (Industrial Society)• ‘The Pyramid principle’ by Barbara Minto (Pitman Publishing)• ‘Clear writing’ by Roger Lewis (National Extension College)• ‘Successful Business writing’ by Gordon R Wainwright (Hodder & Stoughton)• ‘Communication’ by Nicki Stanton (Macmillan professional Masters)We also have a number of videos on writing skills which you can borrow if you prefer tolearn in this way. Contact Monica Sung on 63 8400.
2. What is a report?This chapter briefly describes what a report is and how it might differ from other forms ofcommunication. It also explains the different types of report and the reasons for writingthem. Lastly, it gives an overview of what is actually involved in writing a report.What is a report?There are many definitions of a report, but a simple definition might be:A communication of information or advice, from a person who has collected and studiedfacts, to a person who has asked for the report for a specific purpose.Often the ultimate function of a report is to provide a basis for decision and action. You willsee from the above definition that a report needs the following:• reader• writer• purpose• subject• structureThe most important of these things is the reader, without the reader the report does not haveany value. When you write your report, you need to make your reader feel that you have hisinterests in mind. You need to find ways of involving him in what he is reading.This is called the ‘you’ approach. Every time you write, think ‘big you, little me’. It isreally his report, not yours. But be careful not to go over the top; the reader will soon noticeif you are not genuine.
Do I write a letter or a report?Generally a letter should become a report when it is more than two pages long. You can usea more structured layout in a report, which is better for presenting a lot of information. Butyou should normally write a covering letter as well.How do I give a report?So far we have assumed that your report will be in writing. This may not always be the case.However, even if you meet the client, you should follow up these meetings in writing. Youshould agree with the client and the partner in advance what form of written record is needed.Your report may therefore be given in various ways:• You might write a report and then go along to a meeting to discuss it.• You might have a meeting to discuss an issue and then write a report afterwards.• You might give a report in the form of a presentation.
What types of report are there?Generally, at some point, you will need to formalise your findings in writing. There are twomain types of report:• routine - information given regularly eg progress report;• special - designed to help solve a particular problem or give specific facts eg audit report to management, consultancy assignment report, investigation report.Routine reports are often written to a formula with standard headings. They may be easy tocomplete and usually do not allow for any extra detail.Special reports give you far more flexibility (and therefore responsibility and difficulty).You write each one for a particular set of circumstances and it will be tailored accordingly.We are mainly concerned with writing special reports in this workbook.Why write a report?You will normally be asked to write a report to aid a decision-making process. If a decisionis needed, it is a lot easier if all the information is available in an easily understood form andin a logical order.The process of collecting information, doing research and bringing everything together in asuitable way takes a long time. If you have been through this process, it follows that you arebest placed to draw conclusions and make recommendations and then guide your readerclearly and concisely through your facts and arguments.The report you write usually has three purposes:• to record• to inform• to recommendYou need to keep a record of all the data you have collected, sort it, organise it, select from itand use it to argue logically the conclusions and recommendations. You then need to informthe reader of the subject, and give him the detail he needs. If you have been asked to makerecommendations, make sure they are based only on the facts you have included in the report.
What is involved?As with any large task, you will find writing a report (and learning how to do it!) much easierif you break it up into manageable chunks. You should follow the six stages of the reportwriting process:• preparing - understand what you are meant to do - plan your time - capture and generate ideas - collect information• organising the information - record the available information, rejecting any that is not relevant - group the information logically - order the information for the reader• planning the layout - lay out the report to fit the order, under appropriate headings and sub-headings - plan your paragraphs, diagrams and tables• writing a rough draft - complete the writing of the sections - write simply, clearly and concisely• editing, revising and writing the final draft - look at it through the eyes of the reader - use the right words - be ruthless• checking the final draft - proof-read - get approval before sending it outBe warned! If you choose to miss out any of these stages you may well regret it. The rest ofthis workbook takes you through the process, explaining what is involved.
Checklist: What is the report writing process? 3 preparing; 3 organising the information; 3 planing the layout; 3 writing a rough draft; 3 editing, revising and writing the final draft; 3 checking the final draft.
3. PreparingYou know who the writer is but you need to know something about the other four itemswhich were mentioned earlier and which are essential to a good report:• reader• purpose• subject• structureOne reason why many people feel uneasy about report writing is that they do not know whereto start.
Understand what you are meant to doThere are a lot of unanswered questions when you first find out you have got to write areport. You know who the writer is, but ...• What is the report meant to be about?• Who is going to read it?• Where do you find the necessary information?• How much should you include?• How long will it take to write?• When can you find time to write it?You need to find an answer to all these questions - and more. You need to know exactly whatthe point of the report is. This will remind you of the questions you should have in yourmind.The rule is: If in doubt ask! And ask again!
There are many things that together make good (or bad) reports. But generally, good reports(or bad reports) have the following things in common:Good reports are: Bad reports:• fit for purpose • do not serve their purpose• persuasive • leave the reader unconvinced or disagreeing• decisive • leave the reader’s questions unanswered• action-based • use the passive voice too much• easy to read and follow• clear • are hard work, boring and irritating • are foggy, muddled and illogical• correct in fact and English • need basic editing• fast in getting to the point • are more like detective stories• concise • are long-winded ie says everything that is necessary, without using any unnecessary wordsPeople (including clients, partners and managers) can often be too casual in explaining whatthey want in a report. But they will still be dissatisfied with you if they do not get what theyneed. The result will be a waste of time and money. Naturally, a good report should be wellwritten, but that is not enough. It should also prompt thought and make decisions possible.This is unlikely to occur if you do not know much about your reader or what the report is for!
Plan your timeMost of the tasks you do at work should be planned. Similarly, when you write a report,planning is a vital part of the process and the key to success. You will need to consider thetime you can set aside for the report in relation to your workload as a whole. You will findplanning especially helpful if the report is large.Time is limited! So, it is important to use your thinking and writing time wisely.Fortunately, producing a report involves several activities which you can divide up, and allottime to accordingly.Before• purpose• reader• materialDuring• structure• language and tone• layout• editing (draft)• revisionsAfter• typing• editing (typed document)• revisions• final check• approvalYou should think about each stage of the process and work out how much time you need.You can do some of the tasks at the same time; for example, while you are waiting forinformation to arrive you can be thinking out your structure and layout.Divide your total time sensibly and produce a schedule so that if you overrun with one stageyou will know you have to make up time elsewhere. Plan breaks in your work. You will thenbe able to approach each task with a fresh mind - or use the break to catch up if you have gotbehind. Breaks are particularly important when you reach the revision and editing stages.You need to be able to read the draft report as if you were reading it for the first time.
Capture and generate ideasOnce you have a rough outline of your report; the next step is to start collecting all theinformation you need. As you do this, you should keep the purpose of the report in the frontof your mind. This will help you to avoid having unnecessary and irrelevant material to wadethrough later.When you were first told about the report it is likely that some thoughts came into your mindbefore you even started to think about it properly. If the subject was completely new to youthose thoughts may well have been - why me? or help! In this case your first step would beto do some background reading around the subject or talk to the people involved to find outmore about it. You need to think broadly at this stage.
You should put your initial ideas down on paper before you forget them. Below there are sixsuggested ways of doing this. Try them all and find out which works best for you. You mayfind you need to use different methods for different circumstances:1. Questions from the reader. Imagine your reader is sitting opposite you. Think of all the questions, objections or worries he might have. Write an answer to each of his queries. You can use your answers to guide you in writing the report from the reader’s viewpoint.2. Questions from you. Write down and answer the traditional questions. Ask yourself: • What? - to find out information about events, actions or things. • Why? - to get reasons, conclusions, deductions or opinions. • When? - to find out the timing involved. • How? - to obtain information about methods or processes. • Where? - to get details of locations and places. • Who? - to discover about people.
3. Sequential notes or lists. This is probably the most familiar method of note-making but does tend to inhibit creativity. Write down single words or short phrases that will summarise your points. Put them down in any order and then move them around or combine them as the key points emerge.4. Cards. Try writing your notes on small index cards. These are easier to move around and reorganise.5. Brainstorming. This method is good for writer’s block. Put every idea you can think of down on paper in any order - order will come later. Keep thinking and writing fast. You should not stop once you have started. Try not to evaluate the ideas; quantity is what matters at this stage. If you cannot find the right word then go straight on; if you are not sure about a figure write $xxx down and check it later.6. Mind-mapping or patterned note-making. This is similar to brainstorming but it produces a mind-map as a visual technique to generate and record creative ideas. (a) Take a blank sheet of paper and print the main subject of your report in the centre. You will find a printed word gives more of an impression when you read it back. You can also use colours to make things stand out. (b) Print your ideas as you think of them, branching out from the centre. You should not worry about where something should go; the important thing is to record it before you forget it! (c) Circle or join with arrows the related ideas on your mind-map to help organise your thoughts.You may need to redraw your mind-map after an initial rough try. This will allow you tothink through the points you have noted.
An example of a mind-map about reports is shown below. Read it from the middle outwards.
Collect informationYou may find the work involved in collecting information is minimal. For example if thereport is your opinion of a computer package you have used, you may already have enoughmaterial for the report from capturing your existing ideas as we have suggested.At other times, when you are writing a lengthy report, the amount of work may be quiteconsiderable. How you collect it and where you collect it from will vary. Methods andsources may include:• acquiring your information from other written sources, such as reports, handbooks or reference books;• collecting it at meetings, or by visiting and interviewing people, as in an audit or consultancy project;• creating it yourself by doing an audit or investigation;• coming up with further thoughts and ideas of your own.Only you can decide which method is the most appropriate for each report. But you need tobe clear in your own mind what it is you are writing, for whom and why.Once you have captured the ideas and collected the information, you need to start thinkingabout organising it to suit your reader and your purpose.
Checklist: Preparing 3 understand what you are meant to do; 3 plan your time; 3 capture and generate ideas; 3 collect information.
Exercise 1Consider the following situation and jot down what the report writer did wrong.SituationA group manager asks one of his team to attend a computer exhibition for a client and “seewhat’s on offer”. The team member dutifully attends the exhibition, collects lots of leafletsand talks to the representatives from several computer manufacturers. When he returns to theoffice he starts his report. He is keen and conscientious and works long and hard. He makessure he puts in all the information (proving he went to the exhibition and spent a long timecollecting information and opinions!) and proudly presents his report a week later -20 pagesplus leaflets.Your answerThe writer did the following things wrong:
Exercise 1 - suggested solutionThe report written by the person attending the computer exhibition probably had many of the‘bad report’ characteristics listed on page 10 because he did not ask the right questionsbefore he went and before he started writing. He should have asked the client or themanager:• What will you use the report for?• Who is going to read it? Anyone else? If so, who is most important?• Are you going to buy a computer or a software package or ...?• If so, what will you use it for?• Do you want me to give recommendations? Or just the facts and conclusions?• How long (roughly) should the report be?Once he had the basic answers he could then ask for more detail if necessary. He shouldhave continued asking questions until he was sure exactly why he was writing the report, andas much as possible about the reader (who) and what he wanted.
Exercise 2Think back to good reports which you have read. What was good about them?Do the same for reports which you did not like. What was it that put you off?
Exercise 3You can start by checking the following points about a report of your own. Use a report youare working on now, or one that you have written in the past. Try to answer all of thesequestions quickly and concisely. How easy was it?Question about the report Your answer• What is the subject?• What is its purpose?• Who is it for?• What is its scope?• What is the preferred length and format?• When should it be finished by?• Should it make any recommendations?
Exercise 4Using either a report you are working on or the information you have got from the workbookso far, try using one of the idea-capturing methods to produce some notes.When you have completed your notes as fully as possible, if you have used the workbookinformation, look back through the book to see how much you have remembered. If you areworking on a real report, keep your notes carefully until we get to the next stage - organisingthe information and planning the layout.Your notes
Exercise 5Make a ‘to do’ list to collect the information you still need for your report under theseheadings:Primary sources Secondary sources(data you collect yourself) (data from other sources – reports, books etc)
4. Organising the informationOnce you have collected and recorded all your information, you need to take another look atthe questions on page 9 to select only the information you want to include and which yourreader really needs to know. You should reject the rest. This process of selection andrejection should continue while you are organising and planning your report.The next step is to organise the information to achieve your objectives and meet the reader’sneeds.In this chapter we look at the way the human brain organises information and likes to receiveit; this is the key to structuring a report which really communicates.What do we mean by structure?When we talk about the ‘structure’ of a report, we mean the pattern in which the informationhas been organised. If we have used a good pattern the reader will be able to learn andunderstand about the subject at a higher level than the bare facts themselves, and in the waythat you want him to understand.Structure is important to understanding, because we can only absorb a small amount ofinformation at a time.When we are presented with information our mind automatically tries to sort it into logicalgroups and relationships in order to make sense of it. This happens whether we are listeningto or reading ideas. We assume that if ideas appear together then they belong together. Wethen try to find (or impose) a logical relationship between them.
In order to understand something we have to remember bits of information and relate them toother bits of information. Most people cannot easily hold more than about seven items intheir short term memory at any one time. If we are given more than about seven things toremember we group them into logical categories in order to reduce the number of items wehave to remember.Imagine you visit a department store to buy the following list of items. You would groupthem together under the different department headings. You would be unlikely to dash fromone department to another buying from your list at random!TelevisionSocksSheetsTrousersDuvetsToasterTableclothPlugVests
It is not enough simply to group the nine items into three groups of three:Trousers Sheets TelevisionSocks Duvets ToasterVests Tablecloths PlugYou will still have nine items to remember. You need to reduce the number to three mainheadings (or summaries) which will remind you of the detail.If you visualise the process you will find you have grouped the items together as a set ofpyramids so that they are logically related. Each pyramid is described by a heading. Menswear Trousers Socks Vests Linen Electrical Sheets Duvets Tablecloths Toaster Television PlugYou will then find all the information a lot easier to remember and make sense of.In your mind, everything you know is organised into giant pyramids of information. Whenyou are trying to get someone to understand your ideas you need to make sure he forms thesame pyramids of logic as you. Otherwise you run the risk that he will misunderstand youand draw the wrong conclusions.When you come to communicate your thinking (this is dealt with in the next chapter), thesequence in which you eventually present your ideas will be very important. The reader willtake in one sentence at a time and will assume that ideas which appear together on the pagelogically belong together. If you do not explain what the intended relationships are, thereader will create them for himself. Since you will probably be writing for people withdifferent backgrounds and levels of knowledge of the subject they may not put the sameinterpretation on the facts as you do. Even if they do draw exactly the same conclusions asyou, you will have made them work harder than necessary.
ThinkingAll too often, we assume that others think the way we do. We do not explain the linksbetween bits of information, because we think it is obvious. We know where we are going:we assume the reader does too! But often he does not - so we need to explain our structure tohim. The best way to do this is to construct a pyramid so that each level from the bottomupwards summarises the groups below. We can then present the information to the reader,ie write, from the top downwards , so that the reader will be led down each leg of thepyramid in turn (see diagram on page 28).
The author’s plan Pyramid of ideas (topics) Top ReadingLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4 Bottom Thinking
Our aim when thinking about our material is therefore first to construct the pyramid structurefrom the bottom up.Grouping the informationYou have seen how the mind works by linking together ideas. What you now need to do is toput the information you have into suitable groupings for your reader. Your groups will helpthe reader find his way through the report. The summary labels for each group will probablyform the headings you will use and will act as signposts to the reader.To make the process of grouping the ideas easier you can follow these rules:• Make sure all ideas at any level in the pyramid are summaries of the ideas below them.• Only include in each group ideas with characteristics in common.• Make sure the ideas in each group are in logical order.• Give each group a heading (or signpost).If you have a group of points under a level of the pyramid, then they must all fit under theheading. To do this, they need to be similar. For example, if you are explaining about VATrefunds and corporation tax to a client, these can be put under a general heading oftaxation. Similarly, you could explain about depreciation rates and additions in a groupingabout fixed assets. But you would find it more difficult to try to talk about depreciation ratesand VAT refunds without moving to a much higher level, for example to accountancyissues. But this would be too broad to indicate the nature of the relationship of the ideas tothe reader.To help group together ideas, test to see whether they can be described by a plural noun. Forexample, if you were writing about newspapers, magazines and books, they could all bedescribed as reading matter. But again here, information sources might be too broad tohelp the reader sufficiently.
Ordering the groups (and the ideas within groups)You need to have some basis for putting one idea first and the next second, and so on.Logical thinking is simply the use of one set of statements to support another set ofstatements. There are really only four ways of ordering ideas:1. Ranking. Ideas are compared with each other and organised in order of importance; descending or ascending.2. Spatial or structure. Ideas follow the order you see if you visualise the structure of something, like a diagram, a map or an organisation chart.3. Time or chronological. Your ideas follow the order in which they take place over time, eg steps in a process.4. Argument. Ideas follow one another because of the ‘logic’, ie one idea may be inferred from others.Your choice of order will depend on the process you went through when you made yourgroup of ideas.You should use:• ranking order if you have categorised your ideas. Your ideas may be about the improvements which a company could make to its internal controls. To put the ideas into categories you have to identify a particular characteristic, eg maybe all the improvements concern poor delegation of duties. It will then follow that some improvements will probably be more important than others. You will then be able to produce a prioritised ranking order;• spatial or structural order if you are commenting on an existing physical structure. For example, if you are describing the problems which occurred at a recent audit you could structure your points to match the place where they occurred. You could follow the structure of the accounts, or perhaps of the accounts department, or the different departments in the organisation;• time or chronological order if the points obviously take place over a period of time, or one after the other. If you are telling your reader how to achieve a particular effect or result, you would describe the necessary steps in the order that they need to be carried out;• argument order when your ideas were sorted by reasoning. Reasoning provides a line of argument that results in a ‘therefore’ conclusion. Here the word ‘conclusion’ means a reasoned judgement or an inference from the facts, not simply ‘the end’. This distinction is important because, as we shall see later, the reader may want to read the ‘conclusion’ first.
Reasoning is perhaps the most difficult ‘thinking’ skill and could fill a whole book on itsown. We will look at it only briefly in this workbook.ReasoningYou will hear the word ‘logical’ used in everyday conversation to describe a thinking processwith which people generally agree. When you present a report to someone you want them toaccept your argument, so you present your facts logically. Here we are really using the word‘logically’ to describe the structure of our thought process.A logical structure follows the reasoning process in three parts:• Facts – the evidence or information collected.• Argument – the way in which we put the facts together.• Conclusion – the result we arrive at by applying the argument to the facts.In a report you should be as sure of your facts as it is possible to be. If your facts are reallyonly assumptions, say so. Bear in mind that the reader may not assume the same as you.Your argument will only seem reasonable to the reader if it is supported by enough facts.The conclusion needs to follow on from the argument.A common complaint about reports is that the arguments do not seem to be based on the factsgiven and the conclusions are not drawn from the argument. This gives the impression thatthe writer has tried to ‘fit’ the conclusion he wanted to the facts he had.Deduction and inductionTwo other features of logical arguments are important in this brief discussion of reasoning:• A deductive argument proceeds from a broad set of facts to arrive at a specific conclusion: To practice law legitimately in this country one General must have passed the law exams. This person practises law here. This person has passed his law exams. So, this person is practising law legitimately. Specific
In the strictest sense, the term deductive describes those arguments in which the conclusionnecessarily follows from the facts. The argument above does not necessarily follow (it isonly probable). Most of the arguments you use are also likely to be about probabilities ratherthan certainties. To make it a certainty you would have to add to the last sentence ...unless hehas been disbarred.• An inductive argument starts from specific facts to arrive at a broad conclusion: I have seen many more fat people in America than Specific in most of the other countries I have visited. Therefore, Americans must eat more than people of most other countries GeneralIn an inductive argument the conclusion only possibly follows from the facts. For thisreason, it is often seen as requiring rather more of an intuitive leap. You may find it moredifficult to persuade others about it. Listen to your hunches and follow them up with moreresearch for evidence to support your conclusions.You can tell the difference between deductive and inductive arguments by recognising that inthe inductive argument we go beyond the information given in the facts. In the deductiveargument, all the information necessary to the conclusion should exist in the facts themselves.You have seen above, either a deductive or an inductive argument may give a soundconclusion, providing that we have taken as much care as possible with our facts andour reasoning.Most people use deductive reasoning to help solve problems. But, while it can be a usefulway to think, it can be a laboured way to write. If you try to write a report using deductivereasoning you can end up with a boring result. Primarily this is because the method takes along time coming to the point.Logical dodges and fallaciesOf course there are a variety of ways in which people misuse logical arguments.Understanding illogical thought processes can help you enormously in thinking morelogically. It will also help you spot the trickery other people sometimes use and the logictraps they can fall into.
We can divide logical tricks into two broad categories: logical dodges and logical fallacies.• A logical dodge is any attempt to get a person to accept a conclusion without actually giving logical arguments of any kind to support it, eg most people hate writing reports.• A logical fallacy consists of a logical argument that does not stand up to inspection and which the user hopes you will not test, eg everyone hates report writing because they find it difficult.Good thinking habitsTo help you sort out the facts and the relationships between them, you should get into goodthinking habits. Try the following tips to do this:• Break the problem into parts or a sequence of sub-problems; do not try to solve it in one giant leap.• Use a pen and paper to make a diagram of your thoughts to help make the problem hold still while you work your way through it.• Get all known facts together in one place• Look for important relationships between the facts.• Identify any missing pieces. What fact, relationship or characteristic do you have to find out to make sense of the situation?• Think about the conclusion to be reached. What might the solution look like when you find it? How will you recognise it?• Systematically and patiently investigate the key relationships, keeping the question to be answered clearly in mind. Work out the problem in steps.• Always test your reasoning for logical dodges and fallacies.• Listen and try to understand when other people find faults in your reasoning.• Be prepared to search for more evidence to support your argument and convince others.
Checklist: Organising the information 3 Put your ideas into groups. 3 Only include similar or related ideas in each group. 3 Put the ideas within each group into a logical order. 3 Put your groups into logical order. 3 Use headings which will act as ‘signposts’ for the reader. 3 Draw your conclusions from the data you have actually used. 3 Only present conclusions which are justified by the evidence. 3 Identify any assumptions which you have made. 3 Do not be guilty of any logical dodges and fallacies.
Exercise 6See if you can recognise the logical errors in the following arguments:1. All generalisations are dangerous.2. Three out of the dentists we surveyed recommended XYZ toothpaste.3. You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.4. We should appoint new judges. We have a high crime rate because our judges are too lenient in sentencing convicted criminals.
Exercise 6 - suggested solution1. Generalisation!2. Irrelevant data. It sounds authoritative, but it offers no particular reason why you should or should not use the product. It does not provide facts and a valid argument to prove the value of the toothpaste. It is also suspect data; you are not told how big the sample of dentists surveyed was, how the sample was selected, how the question was asked nor if they recommended any other brands.3. Either/or. This fallacy operates by expressing an argument in terms of only two mutually exclusive choices and by arguing for one of them as the conclusion. This eliminates other alternatives which might offer acceptable courses of action.4. Oversimplification. The fallacy of oversimplification involves too narrow a definition of the facts. Here one single factor is claimed as the only cause of the state of affairs. The cause which is given in the argument may play a part in the situation. But it would be very unlikely that one single factor could be the only reason.
Exercise 7Group the following complaints about air travel:1. Information telephone always engaged.2. No porters to help with luggage.3. Plane delayed.4. No leg room in economy class.5. Long delay in claiming luggage on arrival.6. Fog at original destination - diversion necessary.7. No place to park near ‘Departures’.8. Bus to the airport very dirty.9. Long term parking area difficult to find.10 Slow check-in counter.11. Telephone boxes at air terminal not working.12. Money changing rate very poor at foreign destination.13. Customs wanted everything unpacked.14. Long queues at ticket counter.15. Long wait after check-in time.16. Girl on ticket counter unhelpful.17. Connecting flight information difficult to obtain.18. Could not reserve a place near the window.19. Shop crowded so no room for browsing.20. Airport journey through rush hour traffic.21. Long walk from plane to arrival lounge.22. Long wait for take-off.23. Taxis overcharge on airport route.24. Meals at airport expensive and of poor quality.25. Directed to wrong bus for airport.26. No room for hand luggage on airport bus.27. Ran out of newspapers on flight.28. Very bumpy flight - no reason given by pilot.29. Small range of products on duty-free buying service.30. Stewardess would not serve drinks before meal was served.
Exercise 7 - suggested solution The complaints seem to fall into groups which represent the different parts of a journey, although perhaps not the same journey. So one way of grouping the information is to use location: the characteristic that links all the ideas in any one group is that they all took place in the same location. (You may well have used a different classification system or you might rightly argue that some ideas could go into different groups.) Air travel complaints The flight Arrival • No leg room (4) • Luggage claim slow (5) • Long wait (22) • Diversion (6) • No newspapers (27) • Telephone boxes not working (1) • Bumpy flight (28) • Exchange rates poor (12) • Poor duty-free (29) • Customs (13) • No drinks before meal (30) • Connecting flight difficult (17) • Long walk (21) Getting to theAt the airport Booking in airport • No porters (2) • Information telephone • Cannot park near (7) • Plane delayed (3) engaged (1) • Bus dirty (8) • Long wait (15) • Slow check-in (10) • Parking difficult to find • Shop crowded (19) • Long queues at ticket (9) • Meals expensive (24) counter (14) • Rush hour journey (20) • No room for hand • Girl unhelpful (16) • Directed to wrong bus luggage on bus (26) • No seat near window (18) (25) • Taxis overcharge (23)
Exercise 8Now group the information in exercise 7 in time order.
Exercise 8 – suggested solution If we use time order we use the same groupings of information but order them as follows: 1. Getting to the airport 2. Booking in 3. At the airport 4. The flight 5. Arrival Under the group headings the information can then be put in the order as well. Air travel complaints Booking in The flight • Information telephone engaged (1) (COMFORT) (BUYING TICKET) • Long wait (22) • Long queues (14) • No leg room (4) • Girl unhelpful (16) • Bumpy flight (28) (CHECK-IN) (CABIN SERVICE) • Slow check-in (10) • No newspapers (27) • No seat near window (18) • No drinks before meal (30) • Poor duty-free (29) • Long walk (21)Getting to At the airport Arrivalthe airport (TAXI) (ON ARRIVAL) (IN TRANSIT) • Taxis overcharge (23) • No porters (2) • Diversion (6) • Rush hour journey (20) (WAITING) • Connecting flight • Parking difficult to find • Plane delayed (3) difficult (17) (9) • Shop crowded (19) • Telephone boxes not • Cannot park near (7) (TRANSFER TO PLANE) working (11) (BUS) • Long wait (15) (FINAL ARRIVAL) • Directed to wrong bus • Meals expensive (24) • Long walk (21) (25) • No room for hand • Luggage claim slow (5) • Bus dirty (8) luggage on bus (26) • Customs (13) • Exchange rates poor (12)
Self-evaluation: Organising the information s Are similar ideas in the same group? s Are the ideas in the groups in a logical order? s Are the groups in a logical order? s Have you used the right number and kind of headings?
5. Planning the layoutNow that you have organised the information for your report, you need to turn it into aplanned report structure.You can use two ways to present your information to the reader. They are known as: v Bottom-up v Top-downTop-downIf you use the ‘top-down’ approach you state:• your conclusion;• the reasons for your conclusion;• the facts underlying your reasoning.Here you communicate down your pyramid giving the reader first what he wants to know –the answer to his question - at the top and working down the pyramid to the detail (the facts). Top Conclusion Reason Reason Reason Fact Fact Fact Fact Fact Fact Bottom
Bottom-upHere you work up the pyramid presenting first the detail (facts) at the bottom and endingwith the main point at the top of the pyramid. If you use the ‘bottom-up approach’ you state:• the material facts;• the reasons;• a summary of them;• the conclusion that follows from the facts.Which one do I use?Both methods of presenting the material to the reader can work. In many ways the ‘bottom-up’ approach seems to be the more natural way to do it. But, in practice, ‘top-down’ is themore effective. As we saw in the section about organising information, the reader normallyprefers to get the overview first and the detail later.
When you write ‘bottom-up’, you start with the detail at the bottom of your pyramid in muchthe way that you thought it through at the thinking stage. You present facts to your reader,group them together into reasons and end with the conclusion that they led you to. In thisway you lead your reader through the story. The problem is that the reader has to wait untilthe end to find where all this is taking him.Here is an example of what happens when the argument is presented ‘bottom-up’.Consider the following bit of conversation. “Thank goodness I am able to work part-time in my business. I’m very lucky, three days a week is fine. It’s great, the money isnt much less when you consider the tax I was paying!”You have been given some information about which you will have already drawn someconclusions. You will have seen this statement as part of a group of ideas not yet expressed.To prepare your mind for what is yet to come you will have assumed a purpose behind thestatement.You may have thought that the person is lazy and can only face three days a week at work orthat they cannot see the point of working to pay the taxman. Regardless of your reaction tothe statement you will now be waiting for more information.Another bit of conversation will send you through exactly the same process: “My children get to see more of mum as well. That’s especially important to Christopher, who’s rather insecure”.You might now be thinking that she wanted to work part-time to see more of her children, orthat she has to work at least part-time for the money but really would rather be a full-timemother.However, what she really was trying to say was: “Although I’ve got children, I can still have a career because the business I work in allows me to do part-time work.”How much more easily you would have followed her argument if she had started with this,statement - that is, ‘top-down’.
‘Top-down’ is bestA survey showed that the top-down approach is preferred by managers and clients. In ourbusiness environment, senior people tend to pay more attention to the introduction, summaryand conclusions, than they do to the main body of the report. This does not mean that thedetails of the report are unimportant, but that they will probably be read selectively bydifferent people.In other words, it is often a good idea to give the reader the end of the story at the beginning!In reports this can usually be done by bringing the conclusions and recommendations up tothe front of the report and placing them in some form of ‘summary’ (top-down). On the otherhand, you cannot just throw this at him without an introduction which sets the context of thesubject of the report.You can use a mixture of the two methods. The summary gives the ‘answer’ and the rest ofthe report goes through the bottom-up approach.A report should usually have the following parts: v Introduction v Executive summary v Body of the report v Conclusion(s) and recommendation(s)IntroductionThe introduction should prepare the reader for the report itself. You can use the introductionto tell him what he already knows. You will have then reminded him of the question that thereport answers.Psychologically, this lets you tell him something he will agree with before things he maydispute. You also need to get the reader’s attention in the introduction, so that he will want tocontinue reading. If you think about it for a moment, you can accept that nobody reallywants to read what you have written in the way he wants to read a gripping novel or acolourful magazine. To read your report he may have to push aside his thoughts on moreinteresting topics and concentrate on what you have written. We have all had the experiencewhere we have read a page of text and then realised we have not taken in a word of it.
You need to build on your reader’s interest in the subject in your introduction. You can dothis by following the plan below:• Make the subject of the report clear.• State the purpose of the report.• Mention the methods used to get the information.• Give a simple summary of the conclusions, findings and recommendations (unless this is in an executive summary).The introduction needs to be long enough to make sure the reader will be able to read the restof the report in the way you want him to. The actual length and content will also depend onwho your reader is. If, for example, you are writing to someone who knows all about thesubject, the introduction may be one sentence, “In your letter of 12 January, you asked…….”.
Executive summaryYou may want to include an executive summary if the report is long.The advantage of doing this is that senior people will read it even if they do not have time toread anything else. It will also help those who do intend to read everything but would like tosee a summary first.The main risk is that everyone reads the summary and no one reads the whole report.You should ensure that the executive summary is complete in itself. It should include:• what the report is about;• what the problems are;• the conclusions(s) you came to;• what the recommendation(s) are.You need to include just enough in the executive summary to give an overall picture withoutputting in too much detail. You will probably find that writing the summary will be useful tocheck whether you have made the report itself logical.
The body of the reportYour layout should tell the reader where to go next, ie you need to put in ‘signposts’. You cando this by using: v Headings v Paragraphs v NumberingHeadingsYou should use headings and sub-headings to:• get and keep the reader’s interest;• show that the report is well planned;• keep to a logical order;• ensure that information is not duplicated or left out;• make the report easier to read;• make it easier for the reader to find sections he wants to return to later.Headings will help the reader find the most interesting or relevant paragraphs and understandwhat is being said with minimum effort.Your headings should be self-explanatory and descriptive. You will not always find thiseasy, but it is important to make headings imaginative.Headings should represent divisions of thought. You can use them to reflect different ideasall of which are needed to understand the overall thought. You would not normally need aheading if you are only making one point to the reader.
You should also show all the ideas in the same group in a parallel form. You want to maketheir sameness obvious by using the same grammatical form for the wording of each heading.This is known as parallelism.If you use a verb to begin a major section, for example:• Rearrange data processing department.Then, ideally, all the other major headings should do the same.• Rearrange data processing department.• Coordinate accounting department.• Establish communication channels between branches.When you write sub-headings they should also be in a parallel form:• Rearrange data processing department - to schedule new workload; - to ensure update of master files; - to produce user manuals.• Coordinate accounting department - regrouping the existing departments; - establishing new invoicing procedures.You can see that it is not necessary to make all the sub-headings parallel only those under thesame main heading.You should make the headings as concise as possible. They are meant to remind the readernot inform them of the main point. Often, headings are not read very carefully and youcannot depend on them to carry your message. Headings should: v be self-explanatory and descriptive; v be imaginative; v divide up your ideas; v be written in a parallel form to each other; v be concise; v remind the reader where he is in the report.
ParagraphsMost readers will be daunted by a huge mass of words. Paragraphs divide the message youwant the reader to consider into separate units. The first sentence (the topic sentence) shouldstate the main point and then the idea can be expanded in the rest of the paragraph. Aparagraph should only contain one main idea.Often you can use bullet points to get your message across simply. Try to keep them shortand leave a couple of spaces between them so they really stand out.NumberingNumbering should start from ‘1’ onwards, unless you have divided your report into sections.In this case you should number the sections I, II, III etc and the paragraphs 101, 102, 103 etc.Where individual paragraphs have a list of points they can be sub-paragraphed (a), (b), (c)etc, and should be indented. If you need to break them down further you can do this by using(i), (ii), (iii) etc. Sub-paragraphs may be either:• complete sentences, in which case they each begin with a capital letter and end with a full-stop; or• parts of a sentence, in which case they each begin with a lower case letter and end with a semi-colon until the paragraph is finished.
Conclusions and recommendationsYou need to ensure that the conclusion and/or recommendations follow logically from therest of the report. Follow these rules to ensure you get it right:• The conclusion must follow from what you said.• Draw out the main point or points of the report and present a considered judgement of them. Only draw conclusions which are justified by the evidence and the facts contained in the body of the report.• Make recommendations based only on your discussion and conclusions.• Do not introduce a new line of argument or material.• Check the conclusions and recommendations against the original purpose of the report.• Make sure you have answered the readers question.• End with the final impression you want to make.
How do I lay out my report?The presentation you use will depend on: v How long the report is? v Who the reader is?You can use:• Title page• Table of contents• List of tables and figures Before the main report• Foreword/preface• Acknowledgements• References and bibliography• Appendices After the main report• IndexTitle pageYour title page should help the reader and filing clerks find the report at a later date. You caninclude:• the title• the subtitle• who wrote the report (except on external reports)• the firm’s name (except on internal reports)• reference numbers• degree of confidentiality• date
The title should distinguish the report so that it is easily identifiable from others. A subtitlewill help if it is impossible for the main title to be both short enough for reference andspecific enough to avoid confusion. For example: TAKEOVER LIMITED Management buyout strategy and plan 31 August 1998Imagine you are looking for a particular report. The questions you would probably have onyour mind will be: v What is the subject of the report? v Who wrote it? v What date was it written?Table of contentsYour table of contents should be in the same order as the sections that occur in the report. Itwill usually be unnecessary in a short report, but in a long report it will help the reader see itsscope and find quickly the bits he wants to read.A table of contents is different from an index. The index lists all the major topics discussedin alphabetical order, not in the order in which they occur. Indices come at the back and arerelatively rare in commercial reports. They may be useful in certain circumstances,particularly where the report is long and complicated and likely to be used for reference forsome time.Foreword/prefaceYou can use this to explain briefly why you are writing the report and how it was written.You only need this in a general report which might be issued to a large number of people, ega report on competence-led assessment given to all firms of chartered accountants.
AcknowledgementsYou should thank those who have helped write the report. Your client or his staff may havegiven you a lot of assistance, so it will be appropriate to state this in the report.References and bibliographyIf you have used other people’s work to compile the report you need to say so. There are fiverules for reference which you should follow:• Show clearly all the items which are not your own work. This will prevent you from being accused of plagiarism.• Put quotations into quotation marks. Use inverted commas (‘’) unless it is actual speech, in which case double quotation marks should be used (“”).• Remember to include in your list of references any work you refer to in the text and vice- versa.• Every diagram used must have a reference in the text.• Your list of references should normally be given in the order that they appear in the report.You can also provide a bibliography to help the reader find suitable background reading.Tables and diagramsYou should use tables and diagrams whenever you can. Imaginative use of diagrams, barcharts, pie charts etc can make a difficult subject easier to understand. They are certainlymore fun than acres of prose and can be used to break up a long report.Illustrations will take longer to prepare than an equivalent explanation in the text, but theycause the reader much less intellectual strain. If the report is a mixture of pictures and prose,it is the picture that first attracts attention.
AppendicesYou should put into separate appendices at the back of the report anything that the reader cando without in order to make sense of the main body of the report: calculations, sourcedocuments, examples, questionnaires and actual results etc. Appendices are in effect the verybottom level of detail of the pyramid. They should therefore be:• non-essential for understanding the main arguments;• included only if necessary;• always referred to in the body of the text;• included in the Table of contents.An alternative might be to suggest that the reader contacts you if they want a copy of thedetail. This avoids copying material which people might not read.
Checklist: Planning the layout 3 Always use an introduction and conclusion. 3 Use an executive summary to help a busy reader. 3 Split up your report by using headings, paragraphs, sections and numbered points. 3 Make your headings, and points on a list, grammatically parallel. 3 Use tables and diagrams to make the report more interesting. 3 Do not forget to include appendices if you refer to them in the body of the report.
6 Using the right wordsYour report needs to be kept simple to make it understandable and easy to read. Many peopledo not pay enough attention to this part of the writing process. The result is that your readermay not make the effort to read a confusing report or may read it and misunderstand it.You should bear in mind the following rules of businesslike reporting: v Relevance v Clarity v Impact v Timeliness v Cost effectiveness
RelevanceYou should make sure you include in the report what is important to the reader. Leave outunnecessary information and only put in what is vital. If you are unsure, ask yourself if theinformation passes the test:• Need to have rather than nice to have.A common complaint about reports is that they are far too long. If you only includeinformation which is important, it will be a lot easier to keep the report to a manageablelength.ClarityYour reader needs to understand what you are writing. A beautifully laid out report loadedwith information will be useless if it is written in confusing and elaborate language.Every time you write for business, use the following checklist to make sure your message isclear to the reader:• Use short words.• Leave out unnecessary words.• Use short sentences.• Use short paragraphs.• Write concisely.• Be definite, give facts,• Use active, rather than passive sentences,• Avoid jargon.• Avoid cliches.• Use the right tone.• Punctuate to make the meaning clear and unambiguous.
You can find more detail on these points in ‘Module A - Clear and correct writing’ whichgives guidance on best practice for business writing. But everyone has their own individualstyle, particularly when writing to someone they know well. You need to bear this in mindwhen drafting a report for someone else.ImpactYou should aim to create an impact with your report. Your message should be writtenconstructively and clearly when you are giving an opinion or advice. The firm is continuallyat risk from clients and third parties who attempt to hold the firm responsonsible when thingsgo wrong. To minimise at least part of this risk our reports should:• identify the problem, purpose and audience.• give the information.• discuss the issue.• make sure the report has a ‘use by’ date.• conclude with the advice.• be written clearly.TimelinessYour report must be available to the reader when he needs it. Often reports appear weeks oreven months after they were first thought of. You should give the impression that you areletting your reader know as soon as something important happens.You can overcome the problem of reporting quickly by speaking to the people concerneddirectly or giving an oral presentation. But if you follow it up with a written report this mustbe done as soon as possible.Cost effectivenessYour reader will want to feel that his time was well spent in reading the report. And that yourtime was well spent in preparing it. In other words, you should aim for quality not quantity;reports are not usually judged by weight!
Checklist: Using the right words 3 Be relevant, clear, timely and effective. 3 Make an impact. 3 Use short words. 3 Leave out unnecessary words. 3 Use short sentences. 3 Use short paragraphs. 3 Write briefly. 3 Be definite, give facts. 3 Use active, rather than passive sentences. 3 Avoid jargon. 3 Avoid cliches. 3 Use the right tone. 3 Punctuate to make the meaning clear and unambiguous.
Exercise 9Organise and re-write the following report: 27 July 1998From: Phil Ip (London)Subject:Client entertainment – day’s shooting in the countryOur ref: pigh42.docTo: Den Niss (Manchester)With reference to your memorandum dated 9 June 1998. I think that you now need tourgently organise some entertainment for the visiting board of directors from Panic StationsPLC for January next year before it gets booked up. There are a number of options you cantake to entertain senior client staff at a country shoot. We could meet to discuss thealternatives once you have read through the basics laid out in this report. They could betaken for a days grouse shooting at the country estate of the Earl of Blackton. The estate is inBerkshire in 600 acres of beautiful countryside, with rolling hills and streams and lakesnearby. The Earl runs the shoot as a business making a large profit and it is a very popularcorporate entertainment venue. His present clients include all the large corporations wehave all heard of such as Marks & Spencers, IBM, Panasonic etc. All the equipment neededwill be provided by the estate and suitable clothing may be hired, Barbour coats, wellies etc,for no charge. This sort of day out will probably suit those who prefer to keep warm and dry,as the food and drink provided is always superb and you can opt out of the shooting. Thecost of a day’s shooting all inclusive is £1700 per head. A night’s accommodation inBlackton Hall is part of the deal. The Earl is a charming English gentleman who is theperfect host. A day in his company is well worth the money. However, the Blackton Estatemay work out too expensive as Panic Stations PLC has a rather large board. You could gofor a cheaper option which is a day’s duck shooting and fishing at Caxton Grange inShropshire. This is a similar style of entertainment but on a smaller scale at a cost of £700per head including a night’s hospitality in the converted stables near the manor. You have tobring your own clothes and equipment but we can arrange to hire these for you at £100 perhead. The Grange shoot is held near a 17th century manor house forming part of a corporateentertainment complex. This includes other features such as a casino and sports facilitieswhich participants can use if they like. The only problem is that the owner, an AmericanBernie Weinstinger, is rather overbearing and has a very odd sense of humour. As long asyour directors have thick skins they should be fine. Bernie’s wife, Adele, usually keeps himunder control and is a lovely person. Another shoot we have used recently is held atBiffington Abbey. This is another country house setting but has the added attraction of beingnear the sea in Devon. Peacocks, geese and goats roam the grounds, but the shooting will beclay pigeons as the owner is a staunch vegetarian and animal rights campaigner. Fortunately,the food provided is suitable for meat eaters and the accommodation is excellent. The shootat Biffington Abbey is on offer at the moments as there have been a few accidents recently. Iam assured that this has been sorted out now but the price is still low at £50 head inclusive offood accommodation and clothing. Whichever alternative you pick you are sure of a fullday’s fun for your clients. Please let me know if you want to discuss the day more fully orhave any queries.
Exercise 9 – suggested solution 27 July 1998From: Phil Ip (London)Subject: Client entertainment – day’s shooting in the countryOur ref: pigh42.docTo: Den Niss (Manchester)Introduction1. Thank you for sending me a copy of your memorandum dated 9 June 1998. We should act quickly to organise entertainment for the visiting board of directors from Panic Stations PLC in January as these venues are often fully booked closer to the event.2. You have a number of options available to entertain senior client staff. I have summarised these below. I will be happy to meet you to discuss these options when you have looked through this information.Alternative locations for a day’s shooting Blackton Estate3. Grouse shooting on a 600 acre estate in Berkshire belonging to the Earl of Blackton. The shoot is in beautiful countryside and is run as a business. The Earl’s clients include Marks & Spencer, IBM and Panasonic. Caxton Grange4. Duck shooting near a 17th century manor house forming part of a corporate entertainment complex. Biffington Abbey5. Clay pigeon shooting by the sea in Devon. Peacocks, geese and goats roam the grounds.
Cost and equipment Blackton Estate6. The total cost of a day’s shooting is £1700 per head including a night’s accommodation in Blackton Hall. All the equipment needed will be provided by the estate and you can hire suitable clothing from them for no charge. Caxton Grange7. The cost is £700 per head including a night’s hospitality in the converted stables near the manor house. You have to provide your own clothes and equipment but we can hire them for you at £100 per head. Biffington Abbey8. The cost is £50 a head inclusive of food, accommodation and clothing.Advantages and disadvantages Blackton Estate9. The Earl is a perfect host. The food and drink provided is always superb. The day will also suit those who would rather keep warm and dry as it is possible to opt out of the shooting if guests want to. Caxton Grange10. The owner Bernie Weinstinger, an American, is the only disadvantage. He is rather overbearing and has a very odd sense of humour. However, his wife Adele is usually on hand to deal with any difficulties. Biffington Abbey11. Although the owner is a staunch vegetarian the food offered is suitable for meat eaters and always excellent. The cost is very low at £50 because there have been a few accidents lately. I am assured that these have now been sorted out.12. If you would like to discuss the above or want further details please call me.
Self-evaluation: Using the right words s Is the report relevant, clear, timely and cost effective? s Have you used any unnecessary words? s Are the sentences and paragraphs short? s Have you been brief? s Have you been definite and given the facts? s Are the sentences active rather than passive? s Have you used any jargon or cliches? s Is the tone appropriate? s Does the punctuation make the report clear?
7. Drafting the final reportOnce you have collected and organised your information and planned the layout, at last youcan start writing the rough draft of the report. What you do next can make a huge differenceto the end result. You should follow the process below:• Write a rough draft.• Get it typed.• Put it aside for an ‘incubation period’.• Read it through and edit it yourself.• Give it to a colleague to read (comments and corrections).• Write the final draft• Proof-read it.• Get someone else to give it a final check.• Get approval before sending it outThe rough draft - starting to writeYou should begin with the parts of the report you find easiest. It does not matter which youdo first; the important thing is to get going.
Lots of people suffer from writer’s block. If you have properly planned out what you aregoing to say, it will be much easier than if you try to write without having done the necessarypreparation and planning. If you still find it hard to get started, try one of the followingsuggestions to help you:• Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or style at this stage. This can come later – at the editing stage. Just write naturally to express your ideas, not to impress the reader.• Imagine the reader is in the room - what do you want to say to him?• Read another report (but make sure it is a good one) to get your mind used to seeing something in writing.• Ask colleagues for ideas about how they get started, eg find somewhere peaceful where you will not be interrupted by telephones and colleagues, write with a comfortable pen or pencil, write into a word processor (it is easy to change things and so gives you confidence) ... just start!• Do not worry about editing and re-writing until you have the first draft of the report.Always get your rough draft typed before you start to edit it. You will get a better idea ofhow the finished article will look and you can make any general layout adjustmentsimmediately.EditingIf you can give the report to a colleague to read, they are more likely to see it from thereader’s point of view. Ideally you should ask one of your peers, as they are likely to be lessinhibited about giving criticism than a manager. But, if a manager has to edit the reportanyway because it is his final responsibility, he will provide another angle on the ambiguitiestoo.Editors are essential and useful to the report writing process. If the editing is poor, thefinished report will be poor.
What to look forBefore you start to edit a document, you need to know what you are looking for. Thefollowing list will help you focus your efforts:• Look at the draft as a whole: - Is the layout appropriate? - Are your headings written in a parallel form? - Is it well presented?• Consider the title, introduction and conclusion. Do they: - agree with each other? - emphasise the correct points?• Look at the text. Have you: - used short words, sentences and paragraphs? - left out unnecessary words? - been definite and given facts? - avoided jargon? - avoided cliches? - used the right tone? - punctuated to make the meaning clear and unambiguous?• Read the text aloud to yourself: - Does it read well? - Have you repeated words and phrases unnecessarily? - Does all the information pass the test need to have rather than nice to have’?When you are happy with the draft, pass it on to your editor.Proof- readingA perfect report will give an excellent impression of you. A report with even one spellingmistake gives the reader the idea you do not care about standards in general. It is veryimportant to check your writing before sending it out. You should try to do the followingevery time you send out a report.• Use the spell-checker in Word. Watch out for the words which you have used incorrectly but not misspelled; the spell-checker will not correct these eg there/their, affect/effect.• Read the report after taking a break from it.• Get someone else to give it a final check.
Checklist: Drafting the final report 3 Write a rough draft. 3 Get it typed. 3 Read it through and edit it yourself. 3 Give it to a colleague to read. 3 Write the final draft. 3 Proof-read it. 3 Get someone else to give it a final check. 3 Get approval before sending it out.
8. ConclusionWe have now looked at the basics you need to write good reports. The best way to improve isto look carefully at each report you either write or have sent to you. Ask yourself, is it:• fit for the purpose;• persuasive;• decisive;• action-based;• easy to read and follow;• clear;• correct in fact and English;• concise.Whether you are reviewing your own work or someone else’s, it is easier if you have achecklist. The Writing weakness analysis overleaf can be used to identify problem areas inwritten work. You should relate the weaknesses to specific examples in the other person’swork to ensure he is clear what you mean.
Writing weakness analysisIs it right for the reader? Does it project a professional image?Is it pitched at the right level? Is it free of errors? Assumes too great a knowledge of subject for Faulty punctuation the reader Incorrect spelling Too basic for the reader Shaky grammar Too much detail for a busy reader Does it look professional?Does the reader know what to expect andwhere he is going? Careless layout Failure to tell the reader why you are writing Will it build rapport with the reader? and what about Failure to develop a logical flow of ideas Impolite or offensive tone Lack of ‘signposting’ (headings, numbering Overbearing attitude towards reader etc) Too defensive No interim summaries in long document Insulting and/or personal references Too many of your opinionsDoes it pass the reader’s ‘so what’ test? Presence of unsolicited recommendations Reader not sure what is wanted/action Will it gain the respect of the reader? required Subject of communication unclear Failure to consider that messages are representative of the firmAre the words clear and precise? Too obvious a desire to please the reader Inadequate support for statements made Inappropriate jargon Too many long words Does it fairly represent our views and Meaningless phrases or cliches conclusions? Too colloquial or chatty Limited vocabulary Is there evidence of planning and research? Includes slang expressions Unnecessary qualifiers (eg a few, some) Structure inappropriate for purpose and audienceIt is easy to read and understand? Inadequate preparation or use of data known to be available Sentences too long Sentences contain more than one idea Can we justify what we say? Sentences seem awkward and illogical Sentences passive rather than active (ie Failure to draw obvious conclusions from ‘doer’ first, then active verb) data presented Choppy, overly simple style Presentation of conclusions unjustified by Paragraphs too long evidence Subject of paragraph not in either first or Failure to identify and justify assumptions last sentence Failure to qualify tenuous assertions Ideas in paragraph not linked to those in previous paragraph
Exercise 10The writer of the following report, Harold Miller of AC Partnership (UK), was asked to dothree things by the client, a pharmaceutical company called Pharmachemic PLC:(a) Review their product development decisions from a business viewpoint. (Two promising new products to help treat osteo-arthritis have been put forward for funding).(b) Suggest a framework of criteria which the board can use to review and assess product development proposals in the future.(c) Provide informatio n on the two new products against these criteria.Using the ‘Writing weaknesses analysis’, review the report.Draft reportI Background101 Pharmachemic PLC (henceforth known as Pharmachemic) is a major Europeanhealthcare company whose principal activities include the discovery, manufacture andmarketing of both human and animal pharmaceutical products.102 The company was established in 1965 with the development of a series of anti-inflammatory products. Consolidated success in this market allowed for rapid companygrowth. Further product successes consolidated and enhanced their position as a leadingpharmaceutical company. Pharmachemic became a listed company in 1971.103 To address effectively its chosen markets, Pharmachemic is organised into two majorDivisions. The Pharmaceuticals Division has its focus in terms of the provision of productswith medical applications; the Animal Health Division focuses upon the provision ofproducts with veterinary applications. The two Divisions operate as discrete entities withtheir own facilities and staff complements.104 Fiscal, environmental and commercial factors have impacted adversely upon the tradingposition of Pharmachemic Pharmaceutical Division over the last five years. While existingproducts remain popular within the marketplace, competitor action has reduced margins andmarket share has shrunk in a number of key product sectors. In response, the Board increasedresearch and development investment to focus on “commercially attractive product areas inwhich clear competitive advantage can be demonstrated” (1997 Annual Report).
105 In recent months, the research activity has brought to light two potential products toaddress the medical conditions of osteo-arthritis (OA). Following scientific evaluation of thecurrently available information, both products have been presented to the Board with requestsfor priority research and development funding. Given current commitments and the generalfinancial position of Pharmachemic, the Board considers that priority development fundingcan only be granted to one of the proposed products in this area but opinion is divided as towhich should receive Board support.106 A C Partnership (UK) has been requested to determine a range of business criteria toassist the Board in assessing the viability of product development proposals. Furthermore, ithas been requested that, in report form, A C Partnership (UK) present a review of the twoproduct development proposals currently under consideration by the Board of Pharmachemic.II Major Considerations201 It is clear that the assessment of product development proposals is complex and involvesthe consideration of a large number of inter-related factors.202 However, from a strategic business standpoint, it would seem appropriate to group thesefactors and view them under four major headings viz. company image, product marketpotential, product development viability and potential product value. Each of these will beconsidered in the following paragraphs.III Company Image301 Under the heading of “Company Image”, consideration must be given to the internallyderived strategy for Pharmachemic combined with the external perceptions of the viability ofthat strategy. Major influences upon the formulation of these external perceptions are thecurrent and anticipated financial performance indicators.302 The increased investment in R&D since 1996 was given clear purpose in the statement ofmission contained within the 1998 Annual Report. The continuity of investment has addedsubstance and shape to the strategic focus of Pharmachemic and it is clear that, within itschosen markets, the company wants to retain leading-edge involvement in the discovery ofnew products. Proportional allocation of R&D investment between its two divisionsindicates the intention to develop the company primarily within the Pharmaceutical market.
303 Over the last few years, the reductions in profitability and return to shareholders willhave inevitably cast doubts upon the management of the company and its market strategy.While actions are in place to increase marketing activity and decrease operationalinefficiencies, products coming out of patent combined with increased competitor action arelikely to continue the pressures upon market share and margins. Assuming total sales remainstatic but with a continued reduction in trading profit of 1% per annum, margins wouldreduce from 18.28% (1999) to 17.56% after five years and 16.52% after ten years.304 Our researches suggest that any product portfolio enhancements arising out of R&D islikely to have a positive effect upon the external perception of the company as reflected in theshare price. However, in the current situation, decisions relating to product developmentproposals may need to find a balance between the ultimate strategic aims of Pharmachemicand the tactical requirements of company profitability. This would suggest thatPharmachemic should pursue a product development strategy which provides a tangiblereturn at the required level as soon as possible.IV Product Market Potential401 Under “Product Market Potential”, it is important to consider market size, marketdurability and Competitor action. Market size relates to physical size (in this case, numbersaffected by the condition), and estimates of its monetary value; market durability refers to theability to sustain the market over time, and competitor action is self explanatory.402 Our research indicate a huge market size for osteo-arthritis. There is broad agreement asto the current size of the market (£2-3 billion worldwide). Other research information alsoindicates that only 9% of the population of sufferers are undergoing treatment while muchlarger percentages could benefit from the introduction of more effective treatment products.As such, it would be reasonable to suggest that market estimates in monetary terms areconservative at best.403 In terms of market durability, our research would suggest that it is a sustainable andindeed growing market in the foreseeable future. There are no indications of a preventativeapproach being available and the onset of the condition is such that different percentages ofthe population are affected at different ages (40% at 40 years and 80% at between 80-90years of age).404 Competitor action in this market is significant with much research investment being putinto development of compounds to address the conditions of osteo-arthritis. Currently, mostof the products available within this market are aimed at pain reduction and there isconsiderable price competition between products with similar therapeutic effects.
Both products under consideration for priority development funding within Pharmachemicare differentiated in their therapeutic effects from those which currently exist and thereforehave the potential to secure the projected market share percentages envisaged.405 In summary, the product market potential is clearly demonstrable. The considerablecompetitor research activity in this market would suggest that entry as early as possible witha differentiated product would be advisable.V Product Development Viability501 Under “Product Development Viability”, consideration needs to be given to the sourcesof risk associated with the research and development activity. While it is not possible for AC Partnership to assess risks from a scientific standpoint, it is clear that this is an essentialconsideration. Combined with that however, other sources of risk from a businessperspective merit incorporation and these would include the ability to sustain the research anddevelopment spend, research staff capability, production capability and potential for theemergence of an “enhanced” competitor product.502 At the stage of presentation for priority research and development funding from thecompany, the assessment of product development success from a scientific standpoint mustbe at or exceed 30%. This condition applied for both of the products currently underconsideration. It is clear that estimates of product development success change at each stageof experimentation and that these estimates can go both up and down depending upon theresults obtained. It would appear that Product A has greater potential for developmentsuccess than Product B based upon the estimates given to date.503 A further consideration is the risk of emergence of side-effects which limit or precludethe possibility of using the product therapeutically. It is fair to assume that, at each stage ofresearch trials, the risk of the emergence of side-effects diminishes. As Product A hasundergone more trials without contra-indications, it may be reasonable to consider it as alower-risk product for development.504 As noted in paragraph 3.5, there is pressure upon Pharmachemic to find a means ofimproving its financial performance quickly within the parameters of its mission. Estimatesof time to launch for Product A are 4 years while Product B will take 8 years. Given theprojections made previously concerning decline in margins over time and the anticipatedreaction of shareholders, it would seem more likely that the Board can better sustain the R&Dinvestment for Product A during its development cycle than for Product B. Therefore, from abusiness perspective, Product A is a lower risk option for Pharmachemic.
505 In terms of staffing, the research and development capability in this application area hasbeen built up carefully and with considerable expertise over the last few years. Assessmentswould indicate that current staffing provides for all of the research and developmentrequirements of either product. There is some concern that, should Product A be adoptedwithin the product strategy as opposed to Product B, some senior and highly expert researchand development staff would decide to leave (22-27% of existing team). The probability ofthis envisaged staff turnover is estimated as being greater than 50% but, in terms of ProductA, the short-terms negative effect would be relatively small as the remaining staff would havethe capability to carry out the required research and development phases.506 Having discovered an effective pharmaceutical product, it is clearly important to ensurethat the production capability exists. An assessment of production capability must includeboth volumetric capability and unit production costs. Information gathered as part of theinvestigation would suggest that production capability is available for both prospectiveproducts.507 Summarising the section on product development viability, it would appear that ProductA bears less risk overall than Product B.VI Potential Product Value601 Under “Potential Product Value”, attention must be given to a number of critical successfactors. These include estimates of ease of market entry, projected market share gain,product life expectancy, and pay-back time.602 Currently available treatments for the condition of osteo-arthritis are largely restricted tothe relief of bone pain. As such, there are many products within this market, and pricecompetition is strong. Both of the products under consideration by Pharmachemic aredifferentiated from their competitors in terms of their therapeutic effect but to differingdegrees. As a curative product, Product B is highly differentiated while Product A, with itscondition remitting capabilities, is less so. Information gathered indicates that both productshave potential for achieving entry into the market with their putative therapeutic benefits.603 Value of a product is directly related to the market share that it is able to capture.Internal assessment of market share gains indicate a forecasted linear progression over thefirst 5 years following the launch of a successful product. Market share tends to peak at thistime. In calculating the figures that follow, I have assumed the midpoint of the marketpotential estimates given.
604 With respect to Product A, it would be anticipated that “best case” peak returns in termsof worldwide sales would be £360 million per annum with “worst case” being £200 millionper annum. For Product B, “best case” would be £1500 million and “worst case” would be£1000 million. From a value of market share perspective, Product B shows considerable anddistinct advantage over Product A.605 Product life expectancy relates to the product life cycle and is defined as the length oftime following patent application and registration that it is able to command peak marketshare and maximum margin.With Product A, it is estimated that the life expectancy will be 7 years. With Product B, lifeexpectancy is estimated to be between 3 years.606 Calculations of pay-back must cater for the extent of initial investment, the rate ofcapture of market share and the achievement of projected margins during the life of theproduct. In making these calculations, market size estimates have been accepted and treatedas static over the period.607 In the case of Product A, pay-back of R&D investment cost and initial launch costs overthe first two years would be achieved within three years. Subsequent sales with increasingmarket share gain in years 4 and 5 following the launch would generate £119.25 million andprofit contribution during the life expectancy period is estimated at £68.75 million perannum.608 For Product B, pay-back of R&D investment cost and initial launch costs over the firsttwo years would be achieved within one and a half years. Subsequent sales with increasingmarket share in years 3, 4 and 5 would generate £1000 million and profit contribution duringthe life expectancy period is estimated at £375 million per annum.VII Discussion of Priority Development Funding Requests701 In the preceding paragraphs, A C Partnership has presented and described the pertinentcriteria for consideration of product development decisions from a strategic businessperspective. Discussion of the two products under consideration for priority developmentfunding has been included within each section covered.702 This section of the report focuses upon particular considerations which influence thepriority development funding decision in the current situation. These are the requirements forimproved financial performance of the company, the risks surrounding product developmentfailure and the product life expectancy.
703 As previously discussed under “Company Image”, there is a need to balance strategicaims with the tactical requirements of company profitability. While the envisaged marketshare gain and ultimate profit contribution for Product B is considerable, profit contributionwould come on stream from Product A significantly before contribution would be made fromProduct B. Given the mounting pressures on Pharmachemic to improve the financialperformance of the company, support for the development of Product A would seem prudentand would put less strain upon the sustainability of R&D investment.704 Assessment of the chances of success for the two products under consideration wouldclearly support the development of Product A. Research on Product A has already includedthe use of animal subjects and some human trials results have been obtained. Results havebeen positive and yet, with all of this evidence, assessments of likely success are still onlyrated slightly above 50%. For Product B to reach the same stage with possibly the sameassessment of product development success potential would require five years researchactivity (ie one year after proposed launch of Product A).705 Given projected market shares and margins, the profit contribution for Product B on ayear-for-year basis during the product life expectancy far out weighs that for product A (year-on-year profit contribution for Product B is over six times that for Product A). Taking intoconsideration the product life expectancy estimates for each product, it can be seen that totalprofit contribution for Product A is between £419 minion and £819 million and, for ProductB, it is between £1678 million and £2578 million. Therefore, despite the shorter product lifeexpectancy for Product B, it is significant and makes it a clear winner in comparison toProduct A.706 Taken together, while the potential profit contribution for Product B clearly makes it anattractive proposition, the high risk factor surrounding success of development and theconsiderable time delay before profit contribution comes on stream make it a more doubtfulproposition from a strategic business perspective. A C Partnership would suggest thatselection of Product A for Priority development funding would be a more prudent businessdecision in the current climate.VIII Summary801 Within the short timescale available, A C Partnership has reviewed and presented themajor factors pertaining to the assessment of product development proposals. In addition, thetwo product development proposals have been considered against these criteria and threeparticular aspects of critical importance have been drawn out for priority attention.
Exercise 10 - suggested solutionSummary of the main issues arising from criticism of the report• Structure and headings - Introduction is too long. - There is no description of the two products until late in the report. - Phrasing/style of text is generally unclear. - Insufficient use of headings. - No reference is given to the source of the data/opinions in the report. - No executive summary. - Minor errors - paragraph numbering errors (para 504 refers to para 3.5 which does not exist).• The report does not address the requirement stipulated by the client. The client requested: (a) Review their product development decisions from a business viewpoint. (b) Suggest a framework of criteria which the board can use to review and assess product development proposals in the future. (c) Provide information on the two new products against these criteria. The report rolls (b) and (c) together.• Criteria These should be drawn out separately (possibly in tabular form) and the two products then compared against each.• Figures - All figures are embedded. These should be tabulated (possibly in an appendix). - No reference is made to costs (purchase, development, launch, patent registration or renewal fees) for each product.• Use of words - Old fashioned words like ‘henceforth’. - Jargon words eg ‘internally derived strategy’, ‘best-case peak returns’. - Long sentences. - Long words eg evaluation, differentiated. - Passive sentences eg ‘A C Partnership (UK) has been requested’. - Lots of unnecessary words.• The writer has insufficient evidence to reach many of the conclusions stated eg: - In paragraph 503 it would appear Product A is a lower risk option than product B. - The final conclusion recommending the company opt for Product B is based on one criterion only, speed of payback.
- The recommendation of one product over the other is not requested by the client. It is thus an inappropriate and unnecessary risk for the writer.