So far we have explored the skill of report writing in relation to the need for reading the brief, who the audience is and what is the purpose of the report. Now we are looking at
What does your audience know already
Not only do you need to consider the needs of your audience and what they want to find out from your report, you also have to take into account their background- what information do they already have? You don’t want to repeat unnecessary information since a report has to be as concise and as relevant to your readers as possible (and in most cases, you also have a word count to stick to!)
In a work situation, including information that your readers already know will undermine your authority and make your readers less receptive to your message. On your university course, your tutors want to see that you can be selective and make judgements about what is relevant. Your marking criteria will probably include something about relevance or suitability of the information.
Interview from some lecturers reveals the following:
- A main problem with most students’ surveying reports is they spend too long describing the client’s house – but the client already knows what colour their own door is … get to the interesting information more quickly. (Real Estate and Planning Lecturer)
- The introduction to a lab report shouldn’t be a long historical summary of all the experiments done in the field. The methods and findings of most older expeeriments have now been surpassed. (Food Science and Nutrition Lecturer)
- Demonstrating an understanding of the client’s problem is important. It shows the students know what they are talking about, but I always ask: What is new about this? What insights are you giving me? How does your interpretation of my problem give me confidence that you’re going to provide me with solutions? (International Marketing Lecturer)
The above findings all suggest only one thing and it is the fact that you do not have to dwell so much on what is already known; instead of describing what is known already, analyse the known to lead us to the unknown and explain your findings (new information).