Writing a report? What clients want…

You’re pulling together a report and, as always, you’re completely overstretched. But you have to get all the sections in and collate the report by close of business this Friday.

At that thought, vaguely hysterical laughter bubbles to the surface.

To get it ticked off, you’re using what’s been done before as a guide. There’s no time for succinct information and clear conclusions.

Repetition and inconsistency have crept in, and there seems to be a generous smattering of motherhood statements and weasel words.  

It might be time to take a breath, and work out what your clients want. But let’s start with what they really (really) don’t want.

A report that doesn’t meet their expectations

They’re expecting a financial/business approval style report, and you’ve given them an engineering report. Make sure you confirm the outcomes your client wants – and meet them.

A fragmented report

Many reports have multiple authors and can end up a mish-mash of writing styles and terminology.

To avoid a fragmented report, you’ll need to have consistent language, ‘voice’, acronym and abbreviation use, and structure.

That’s where a good technical editor is worth their weight in gold. And yes, it comes at a dollar cost, but getting that ‘one author’ feel and fresh eyes means you’ll deliver a report you can build a reputation on.

Motherhood statements and more…

There’s nothing clients hate more than motherhood statements left dangling…

Safety is our number one priority. Our people are our most important asset. We have a shared passion for delivering results. Our culture of innovation drives our success.

Google a few of these key words and you’ll find hundreds of examples.

These all sound great, but only if you back them up. For example, if safety is your number one priority, then don’t bury it somewhere at the back of your report or it will look like an after-thought. Build your taglines into the body of your report.

And those ‘clear options’ you’ve given your clients? Make sure they have all the facts readily available so they can make decisions or argue a case.  

PhD required…

You may be a subject expert, but don’t expect your reader to have the knowledge to fill in the gaps, especially in study reports which involve various disciplines.

An accountant or investor, for example, might not understand a design engineer or an environmental scientist.

You might feel like you’re dumbing down the information, but you’re really respecting your audience. Making information clear to all your readers means you’ve done your job – and done it well.

Some quick tips for giving clients what they want…

  • Understand client expectations and meet them – create a report they can use
  • Be reader-focused – have short summaries upfront in every chapter or section. It will also be easy to grab those section summaries to develop your executive summary.
  • Aim for one voice – having a single clear voice in your report requires a consistent style, language, terminology and sentence structure, and your clients will love it.
  • Create a clear, logical structure – eliminate the brain dump, focus on easy-to-follow thought sequences, and avoid repetition.
  • Explain everything – don’t assume people know your subject like you do.
  • Be consistent – as tech editors, we do a final ‘sweep’ of the entire document to pick up inconsistent use of numbers, terms and abbreviations. Even something as simple as a project or client name can have several versions or be misspelt, so it pays to check (and check again).
  • Go easy on the acronyms – overloading sentences with acronyms really pulls your reader up. Who wants to have to work out that the WTFs and GPFs will be constructed with LTI and TRFIRs. Unless you’re using the term more than five or six times in the document, it’s better to spell it out.
  • Break up long, complex sentences – short really is sweet. If someone has to read a sentence a few times to work out what you’re saying, you’ve lost them.
  • Go for short pars – be mindful of the final layout for your report. What looks like a reasonable length paragraph in a Word document can transform into a huge block of text in a column.

Simple isn’t stupid. A smart person delivers their message clearly and simply. A person who respects their reader (and their reader’s time) makes an effort to create a report that’s both informative and easy to read.

And that’s what clients want…

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2 thoughts on “Writing a report? What clients want…

  1. Zulu says:

    Of course it really helps if everyone agrees on the “message” contained in the report or sub-section thereof. Some people (those nameless individuals, you know who you are) actually think that a report should not be a story and have a story line. They think the the mere production of words on paper/screen if done in a mellifluous manner is sufficient – think again you technical writers!! If no one knows the plot maybe there isn’t one and the tale is only a tail.

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