Category Archives: Personal development matters
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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).
What is the purpose?
As a report is a piece of informative writing, it not only has an audience who wants to be informed, it also has a purpose – a reason for wanting the information.
- What do your readers want to find out from your report?
- How will they be reading your report?
- Why will they be reading what you are reporting?
Often, the information in reports will be acted upon by your readers in some way. The information in different reports may have the purpose of advising, persuading or recommending the readers to do something.
You are asked to analyse whether regular exercise helps people manage their depression, and present the report to an audience of counsellors and doctors.
The purpose of the report is to inform the audience about whether this potential aid in the management of depression is supported by sufficient evidence.
The counsellors and doctors will want to know whether they should be recommending more regular exercise to their clients and patients based on your analysis of the evidence.
So your report needs to give clear guidance on whether the evidence suggests there are benefits to people with depression, and to what extent counsellors and doctors should act on this information.
But part of persuading an audience is being able to anticipate any scepticism they may have about the evidence you present. For example, the doctors and counsellors may raise the objection, how do we encourage our depressed patients to start exercising? You have to take this into account – just a brief acknowledgement of their concerns may make them more receptive to your message.
You may be thinking that the concept of ‘purpose’ doesn’t apply in the same way to reports on scientific experiences, but the principles of audience and purpose still apply. As a scientist, your audience is your tutor (and fellow scientists in your field) and your purpose may be to test your hypotheses. Based on the analysis of your findings, you may make recommendations for further research to fill gaps in your findings or to make them more robust.
If your brief asks you to make recommendations based on the information in your report, it is important that you make these clearly, and that they don’t get lost in the body of your conclusion. Recommendations serve a different purpose to a conclusion: a conclusion summarises why your findings are important, and recommendations say what your readers should do about this.
Who is the audience?
A report is a piece of informative writing, which means it has an intended audience who want to find things out from reading your report. Your brief, client request or assignment description should tell you who your intended audience is, and this has an important influence on the content of your report; you need to tailor the information to suit the needs of your audience.
Reports about the same subject written for different audiences would have a very different content and tone. For instance, if you were to write a report on the business growth plan for an intended new market entry initiative, how might your report differ if you were writing it for …
- the management of the business?
- the team of workers helping to implement the plan?
- the financier / sponsor of the project?
- the shareholders’ consumption in an annual general meeting?
- the potential indigenous strategic partner in the new market?
- the examiner / business school lecturer as an academic coursework assessment?
An audience has a vested interest in the information being reported and motivations for wanting the investigation conducted. As a report writer, you need to take these needs into consideration.
This is why, as a student, even though your brief is set by your tutor, you may be asked to write for an imaginary client or a professional situation. In this scenario, you need to consider who will use the information that you are reporting and how they will use it – for example, will your recommendations be passed on to a secondary audience or used to advise clients or managers? What will be relevant and useful for these audiences? or is it purely for academic grading … requiring a logical sequence from an in-depth literature review and critical analysis from credible academic sources with specific academic writing style and formatting?
If your main audience is your tutor, they still want to know that you can report the findings of your investigation in a logical and relevant way, relating them to the overall purpose of the investigation. Academic writing requires in-depth details while business report have need of precision and brevity (straight-to-the-point).
“Planned daily action is the key to achieving your goals. Act daily in the direction of your set goal no matter what you face.”
“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”