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…

Stop press! New dragonfly website takes off

Brisbane copywriting, editing and communicationI’m very excited to (at last) be launching our new-look dragonfly website. I’d love you to visit and let me know what you think. http://dragonflyink.com.au.

It’s an interesting exercise to completely change the look and feel of a website you’re happy with. I made the choice because I wanted content management capability, and there were also technical issues messing with my SEO (search engine optimisation).

But I’ve had it parked for a whole year while I’ve been flat out with work – and, I’ll admit, procrastinating (just a bit). I’ve finally put it out there and I feel so much better – and not just because it was one more thing ticked off my to-do list.

It’s a bit like buying a new car. You loved the old one, but the new one just goes better.

So I’m well aware of how daunting it is to create a brand new website or update an old one – no matter what size organisation you are. It’s something that ends up in the too-hard basket. It sits on our to-do list, sticking its tongue out at us, daring us to ‘just do it’.

My advice to you is if you need help, get it. With the words, the structure, the SEO, getting the URL, the right service provider. Most importantly, decide who your audience is and why they’re coming to your website – and give them what they want.

Not only will you feel better about getting it done – but you’ll reap the benefits of an effective business tool. Trust me, you’ll wonder why you kept putting it off…

More jazz… outsourcing design

images[27]You’ve found a great copywriter and it’s time to call in a graphic designer – but you feel like you’re about to land in a foreign country (without a map). In our last blog we talked about outsourcing writing and editing. Now here’s some useful design-land travel tips…

‘We need some marketing material. Maybe a brochure?’ you squeak out in your best approximation of graphic design speak. But then come all the questions full of words you just don’t comprehend…

DL? A3 folded to D5? Gateflaps? Will it be available online? And images…JPEG? GIF? PNG? (Isn’t that one of our Pacific neighbours?) There are different images for a website? Four-colour or spot? Do you want it to bleed off? Got a bromide? What about bmps, eps and wmfs? STOP!

It’s time to read our (Hitch Hiker’s) guide to graphic design, and most of all – don’t panic.

First of all, remember that your role is to communicate what you want from the final product, not provide the technical know-how to get there.

Knowing the language designers speak can be helpful, but the right graphic designer will provide a better design than you ever imagined. They’ll also let you know exactly what they need from you.

“What we want them to come to us with is an open mind,” says Adrienne Williams, graphic designer and owner of See Saw Illustration and Design. “They can come with a degree of detail about what they want, but during that first meeting they might discover the product they wanted might not be the right one.”

So before you meet with your graphic designer, think about designs you’ve seen and liked. Collect samples. Are there any colours you prefer? Do you want the colours to be warm, bold or neutral? Are there corporate identity requirements for colour, logo, or wording? Simple but effective descriptions can help a graphic designer choose, or create, the right colour and ultimately the right look for you.

Adrienne also suggests clients bring examples of what they don’t like, especially with logos. “It really gives us an idea of where their tastes lie and how they want to be portrayed.”

Entering design-land can have plenty of oo-ah moments. We hope this helps you enjoy the trip.

cheers

Lou & Sandra

Dragonfly team

All that jazz…outsourcing writing jobs with confidence

buzz-saxSome time ago, I was asked to jazz up an existing short profile for a client’s upcoming television appearance.

Imagine my surprise when a pile of clippings, notes and pages as thick as a best seller arrived in the post. What my client wanted wasn’t editing, it was content creation.

Yes, I delivered the va-voom, but it highlights how important it is that we are all, um, reading from the same page (did I really say that?). So what’s the difference?

Proofreading is really a quality control exercise. We make sure all amendments have been included, the document is complete (lines or words haven’t ‘dropped off’ the page, etc), links work, there are no spelling or punctuation errors, the document conforms with the client’s style guide, the index is correct, and page, line and word breaks are suitable.

Copy editing focuses on style and consistency. We make sure the meaning is clear and correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are used. We check for consistency, such as capitalisation and numbering.

For online work, we check links, pop-ups, and metadata, and make sure files download or open properly, with ‘user-friendly’ speed.

Full editing, referred to as substantative editing, involves all of the above, with the added task of reviewing structure, language, style and clarity or usability. A full edit focuses on making a document easy to read and consistent.

Content creation is a term our Dragonfly team uses to describe developing content from information we’ve gathered or our client has supplied.

Content creation can involve all or a mixture of writing styles including storytelling (narrative), information or explanation (expository), and influencing behaviour or opinion (persuasive).

Content creation involves, in varying degrees, the following process:

  • Briefing, including establishing audience, message, and method of delivery
  • Gathering and reviewing information, often including conducting interviews
  • Brainstorming ideas and developing concepts or themes
  • Developing text through various draft/approval phases
  • Delivering final edited content, often including design suggestions

So next time you’re thinking about outsourcing your writing or editing work, you can relax because you’ll know what you’re asking for – and what to expect. I could say something here about us all singing from the same… but, no. I think it’s home-time.

cheers

the dragonfly