Using the Writing and Editing Process with Reports - Fast Forward MBA in Business communication

Using the writing and editing process can help you and your team create effective reports and understand where the process steps come into play when you are addressing specific report characteristics.

Prewriting
Prewriting helps you clarify your thinking before you start writing. Your drafting and editing will be easier and more effective because prewriting helps you:

  1. Identify your readers or users
  2. Determine the goals and requirements to be met
  3. Identify the sequential subtasks to be completed
  4. Establish individual responsibilities and identify potential conflicts (e.g., work, family, social)

Your Company's Report Standards

In some companies, report-specific or company-specific style requirements vary from department to department. In other companies, company-specific styles and standards may be poorly defined. When they do exist, they may consist of nothing more than vague instructions and generic templates: "Use two columns on a page and use a table here. That's our style," or "Here, make your report look like this one. The boss liked that report." We recommend developing consistent, clear styles and standards for reports.

Report CharactersticsCompany's Report StandardsCompany's Report Standards

The relationship between effective reports and the writing and editing Process.

THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF A PERSUASIVE REPORT OR PROPOSAL

  1. Establish timeline(s) and decide how to track progress on the project
  2. Establish document layout and design standards for all your group's reports
  3. Decide how reports are okayed for distribution.

Gantt and/or PERT Charts

  1. Good reports have clear structures. A useful general report structure includes:
    • Executive summary. A stand-alone document that helps your readers understand information and/or make decisions
    • Introduction. A paragraph or two on what's coming, where, and its importance
    • Conclusion/recommendation. Up front, so your readers aren't left guessing
    • Body with clear supporting information (shorter is better)
    • Coherently organized. Use organizational patterns (problem/solution, fiscal periods, time sequences, etc.) that reinforce your objective and meet readers' needs.
    • Supporting data. Include the necessary data in your text or append it (preferred).
    • Figures/tables/graphics. Use visuals that advance your argument, make key points easy to understand, and have labels and visual cues that make points clear at a glance.
    • Documented sources. Include citations to help readers judge and validate information.
    • Summary. One or two paragraphs to close the report and reinforce conclusions
    • Collected references/footnotes. To help readers locate key information sources
    • Appendixes. With secondary information in stand-alone, well-introduced sections
  2. Good reports are easy to use. After reading an executive summary, a reader should know your goal/objectives, conclusion, results or recommendations, and the report's structure (organization). The body of the report is as short as practical. Extra information is appended.
  3. Good reports use visual cues. Your visual cues reinforce the logic and structure of the report. Your layout/ design make your logic/structure visually clear. To help guide your reader and allow the reader to skim the report quickly, use
    • Consistent fonts
    • Concise, meaningful heads and subheads
    • Page headers or footers (author, title, date, page numbers, and computer file name)
  4. Good reports are well written and edited. If your readers can't easily understand what you have written, your recommendations will have low credibility. When you edit, first edit for logic/ organization, then layout, and last for grammar. Remember that good reports have
    • Executive summaries that help readers make decisions
    • Clear organization (problem/solution, sequence of events, concern/recommendation/next steps)
    • Figures/tables that advance/support your argument and link to your presentation
    • Sufficient information/supporting data so your readers can make unbiased decisions
  5. Good reports are short. Save yourself, your staff, and your readers time by editing your content so that it meets your reader's needs. If you don't know what your readers need, ask them!

To facilitate prewriting tasks, we have found that it is helpful to use simple Gantt or PERT charts to show the relationships among tasks, people, resources, costs, and timelines, as well as to sequence the sub steps of a specific project.

Another tool that can help increase the effectiveness of your prewriting step is to create simple visual sketches or networks of ideas. This will help you visualize and analyze the relationships among your ideas and to best sequence they (Figure). Some people quickly sketch a flowchart with a few identifying words; others create simple or very complex outlines. Simply list your key points and subordinate ideas using bulleted points.

Or, if you want to stress the conceptual relationships among ideas, sketch a relational map (networking, mapping) that uses labeled links among your ideas to show key points and relationships.

There are several advantages to creating these visual sketches during your prewriting step:

Prewriting technique visual representations

Prewriting technique visual representations
(Using labeled relationships* to analyze and link concepts).

  1. They help you see and analyze the interrelationships among your potential topics.
  2. They help you take a user's perspective and make certain that your assumptions and ''private" knowledge are shared.
  3. They help you analyze your assumptions and content, just as your users and critics will be doing.
  4. They create a set of reference points so that you don't forget key points in your report or during your presentation. In addition to sketches of concepts in a document, outlines (Table) and bulleted lists (Table) can also be effective ways to visualize the actual relationships among ideas.

Research and Drafting

After completing your prewriting step, focus on two key ideas as you begin to draft your report:

  • Identify your research process and the information or data you need.
  • Start writing, shaping your materials to fit your goals, your users, and their requirements.

Research Processes and Techniques

We do not cover research processes or techniques here because of the complexity of the topics. If you haven't been trained in research design, measurement, and statistical analysis, add someone to your team who is knowledgeable in these areas, or hire a consultant. It is

PREWRITING TECHNIQUE: AN OUTLINE

Potential U.S. Warehouse Locations

  1. Three options
    1. California
    2. NYS
    3. Atlanta
  2. Capital and Annual Operating Costs
    1. Capital
      1. California = unknown
      2. NYS = unknown
      3. Atlanta = $100M
    2. Annual Operating Costs
      1. California = $250K
      2. NYS = $400K
      3. Atlanta = $150K
    3. Recommendation: Lowest cost = Atlanta

PREWRITING TECHNIQUE: A BULLETED LIST

U.S. Warehouse Options

  • California
  • NYS
  • Atlanta

Capital and Operating Costs

  • California (?? & $250K/yr.)
  • NYS (?? & $400K/yr.)
  • Atlanta ($100M & $150K/yr.0

Recommendation

  • Atlanta (lowest cost)

Critical that you understand the assumptions you are making during your research design, measurement, and analysis tasks. If you don't have good data, and if you don't analyze it correctly, you are likely to write a report that is rejected or, worse, leads to bad decisions.

Drafting Processes and Techniques

After completing any preliminary research and organizing your material, you need to start drafting (writing) your material.

Start writing by reviewing the goals and requirements that you identified in your prewriting step. Start writing on any of your topics or subtopics. Don't force yourself to start at the beginning and write linearly. Start with the topic you know best one that will flow quickly and easily. Then, build other pieces of your report, using the structure of your outline, flowchart, or visual (relational) map.

Remember, when you are drafting, your goal is to get your ideas down. Worry later about having perfect phrasing and grammar. Don't stop to punctuate your citations or footnotes. Note that you need a figure or a table, but don't stop to create them with painstaking precision. Those are editing tasks, not part of your drafting step. Get your ideas down. Fix them later.

Editing

As we explained in Chapter, the editing process can be simple or time-consuming depending upon how well you have completed your prewriting and drafting steps.

As you start editing a complex report:

  • Refer to the flowchart, outline, or relational map that you sketched during your prewriting step. That diagram will remind you how to sequence your ideas and build the relationships among them.
  • Notice where you stumble or have to reread your own report. Make a note at those places to remind yourself to edit that specific material later for grammar or logic.
  • Locate places where you can simplify your material by using charts, tables, figures, or diagrams to better show the relationships among complex points. Reducing several paragraphs or pages of text to a useful table, figure, or chart will make your readers very happy.

As you will recall from Chapter, we recommend editing for logic, organization/layout, and then grammar. You'll be wasting time later if you don't edit your materials logically and sequentially.

Post writing

The post writing steps are fundamentally the same for all documents. For reports, make certain that you validate the adequacy of any figures and tables, the accuracy of your citations and references, and the adequacy of your executive summary. Remember that most people do not want to write reports. Even fewer want to read them. Executive summaries that allow the report user to make decisions and locate critical sections quickly will greatly increase the effectiveness of your reports.


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