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9. WRITING SHORT REPORTS

 

 

Short reports communicate different types of information to a variety of people within and outside an organisation. Their main purpose is to provide objective information that justifies ideas or proposals, to give information on the progress of a project, or to present information periodically. Short reports collect and move information through the organisation.

 

A Report:

is a document containing comprehensive information on a specific subject.

provides management with information and sometimes expert opinion to check on progress, plan for the future and make decisions.

 

As a writer of short reports, your purpose may be to inform, to persuade or to encourage some action. The contents may vary from simple to complex. Organise and design the short report in a way that guides the reader to the main points and to an understanding of the content.

 

Effective planning ensures efficiency in report writing. Your document is easier to read because it provides:

 

a clear indication of your purpose

accurate and objective information

suitable headings

a suitable order of information which highlights the main points and leads logically to your conclusions.

 

 

The six STEPS in planning a short report provide a logical outline which should allow you to work swiftly to produce a complete but concise report.

 

1. Identify your purpose.

Take time to clarify your task precisely.

 

2. Consider your reader.

Their needs, knowledge level and familiarity with jargon should be identified at the beginning as these will affect both the content and language of your report.

 

3. Identify your information needs.

Create ideas by brainstorming, consulting co-workers or considering previously successful examples.

 

4. Gather information purposefully.

Research information from both primary and secondary sources.

 

 

5. Sort your information.

Organise information that is important into sections under suitable headings.

 

6. Arrange sections in a suitable sequence.

 

 

Order of information

 

Three different ways of ordering information in a short report are:

 

Problem-solving order of information for a reader unfamiliar with the content - INDIRECT. Reader is unsympathetic to or unfamiliar with the situation, content or problem.

 

Problem-solving order of information for a reader familiar with the content - DIRECT. Suited to a memorandum report which will be sent to a reader familiar with the situation or problem. Leads the reader from the solutions to the problem.

 

Decision-making or routine order of information - presented within the context of an overview. Each main idea is presented with the related secondary ideas.

 

This gives accurate information on which to base decisions or to communicate information to others in the organisation.

 

Three typical short report formats:

 

Formal short report

Minimum acceptable format includes five components:

1. a title page

2. an introduction

3. sections with headings in the body

4. conclusions

5. recommendations (when required)

 

Letter report

Minimum acceptable standard includes a subject line plus the seven basic parts of a business letter:

 

1. the writer’s address

2. the date

3. inside or reader’s address

4. salutation

5. body

6. complimentary close

7. signature block.

 

 

 

 

Memorandum report

Minimum acceptable standard includes five components:

 

1. reader’s name

2. writer’s name

3. date

4. subject line or title

5. body.

 

 

 

Three specific types of short report

 

Format the short report to suit your writing purpose and different situations. There are three widely used short reports that use the memorandum format but may, of course, be written using the letter report format or short formal report format:

 

justification reports - present an idea or proposal and then use evidence to justify the proposal; or request. Seeks approval for change and the resources to initiate the changes proposed by the writer, it is usually sent upward in the organisation. Always use facts as the basis for the justification report and emphasise these to support the request for approval or change.

 

progress reports - are part of the organisation’s management information system. They send objective factual information to management on the specific progress achieved and the intended timetable for future work and completion. Aim to maintain balance by reporting on successes and evaluating any problems encountered or anticipated problems. They are usually written on request or need rather than at regular intervals.

 

periodic reports - is the most common report prepared in business. Its purpose is to keep management informed by providing, at regular intervals, perhaps daily or monthly, objective information on some aspect of the organisation’s operation over a specified period. For example, monthly staff absenteeism, audit reports, weekly sales figures, and outstanding accounts.

 

 

Activity 9.1

 

When compiling your next short report, fill out the following checklist to ensure its success.

 

Is your report a systematic and logical statement of facts?

 

Does it supply information to someone who may need it as a basis for making a decision?

 

Does it recommend a suitable and appropriate course of action?

 

 

Checklist

 

 

Writing Short Reports

 

Have I:

Very Well Successfully Unsuccessfully

 

prepared a purpose ¸ ¸ ¸

statement

 

followed the six-step ¸ ¸ ¸

approach when planning

the report

 

organised information ¸ ¸ ¸

in an order suitable for

the type of report

 

used a format suitable ¸ ¸ ¸

for the type of report

 

produced a high-quality ¸ ¸ ¸

short report?

 

 

 

 

Business reports

 

Learning to write effective reports can pay enormous dividends because reports are used to share important ideas at the middle and higher levels of management.

 

The following summary provides useful guidelines to adopt when attempting to write effective business reports:

 

easy-to-read reports are the ones most often read. The first barrier facing the report writer is reader resistance. Keep your report short and make each page attractive to the eye.

 

Writing and setting out a report is a straight forward task and surprisingly easy to master.

 

Reports are made up of more than words. They can include graphs, pictures and symbols.

 

There are four main divisions in a report. Names vary, but the most common include:

 

Introduction, which establishes the reader-writer relationship, outlines the purpose and scope of the report and stated the aim in one short sentence;

 

Findings, which presents objective information – gives the facts as a basis for discussion;

 

Analysis, which tells readers what action is proposed and why, and builds support for the recommendations, and

 

Recommendations which makes up the action ending, listing steps needed to get results.

 

In addition to these four sections, other items in even a short report include a synopsis and (often) an appendix. A contents table shows that the report has been organised logically, with a clear division of ideas into sections. This increases reader confidence.

 

When setting out the report page, number all major headings. Metric or decimal style numbering has many advantages over letter-number systems.

 

State important data in kilometres, kilograms or similar measures that have the same meaning for every reader.

 

Give a source reference for important findings. If experts supplied factual information for the report, identify them by name.

 

Sign every report personally. An unsigned report suggests that the writer is lacking in confidence and commitment.

 

If you cannot condense a long report to the required number of pages, an alternative is to write a special version known as an executive summary.

 

Keep personal views out of the report. Words such as ‘I’ or ‘me’ reduce the impersonal quality that conveys a s4nse of objectivity.

 

Source: Nutting and White, (1991, pp. 199-200).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNDERSTANDING HOW TO EDIT

A ROUGH DRAFT

 

 

Steps in writing a short/long report

 

Once you have completed planning your work you are ready for the actual writing. The task will not be too difficult if you do it in three steps:

 

Draft the main text - that is, the introduction, body, conclusions and recommendations.

 

Edit the main text.

 

Package the final product.

 

In following these steps, you will first use your outline as a guide to writing the actual text of your assignment or report. Once this is completed, you will edit the text. Finally, you will move to the packaging step, where you will add other parts to the front and back of the text material to suit your particular situation.

 

 

Three steps in writing

 

1. Drafting the text

 

Begin by writing the body, not the introduction or conclusion. As you write the body, you will often discover that your conclusions change. Once your conclusions have changed you will have to change the introduction, for it must point readers in exactly the right direction from the start. That is why it is often sensible to write the introduction last.

 

Try to write your first draft quickly. Just get stuck into it. Don’t worry too much about correctness or economy of style at this stage. Don’t even worry if ideas are in the right order. You can correct errors later and rearrange sentences and paragraphs to conform with your outline. The most important thing to achieve during your first draft is a quick and complete flow of ideas into words.

 

2. Editing

 

If you adopt this approach it becomes very important that you edit your work carefully and write a careful second draft. You should apply the characteristics of effective written communication.

 

Readability:

 

Consider the education level of the receiver.

 

Avoid unfamiliar words, and use technical jargon only if you are sure the reader will understand you.

 

Avoid trite (old-fashion) expressions, wordy phrases, unnecessary repetition and abstract words.

 

Be sure that each sentence and paragraph contains only one central idea.

 

Use signposts, linking words and enumerators to help the text flow clearly. Proper headings will help coherence.

 

Appropriateness:

 

Use the active voice as much as possible.

 

Be tactful.

 

Use a positive tone when appropriate.

 

Mechanically sound:

 

Check and re-check for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.

 

The coherence and clarity of your writing can be dramatically improved if you use headings, tables and figures.

 

 

Packaging the final product

 

Are all the necessary parts included?

 

Are the parts in proper order?

 

Are all pages numbered properly? and,

 

The layout and appearance up to company standards.

 

Parts of a long report can include:

 

A cover page;

Title page;

Transmittal document;

Table of contents;

Abstract or Synopsis or Executive Summary;

Endnotes or Notes or Footnotes;

Reference;

Bibliography;

Appendix, and

Index.

 

 

 

 

Activity 10.1

 

 

Write a short (four to six pages) business report on a topic of your own choice.

Include the following:

 

Cover page;

Synopsis page (100-120 words only);

Contents page (including page numbers);

Introduction with standard format – half to three-quarters of a page;

Findings set out in business style with numbered headings and including objective information on the topic;

An analysis which discusses the findings, makes proposals or predictions, and explains and supports the recommendations that will follow;

Recommendations – each item numbered, with no discussion or reasons;

At least one diagram, photograph or other form of non-verbal, graphic or visual data, and

An appendix (optional), and

EDIT your work prior to final presentation, i.e. staple your pages together.

 

 

 

 

11. PRESENTATION SKILLS

 

Introduction

 

The art of preparation begins with you. It is normal to be nervous in front of an audience, but you can turn anxiety to anticipation if you plan properly. If you haven’t prepared yourself, if you haven’t set goals that mean something to you personally – your presentation stands only a slim chance of success.

 

You have to prepare yourself. You have to see yourself as "someone worth listening to." You can’t approach the presentation with hesitation and doubt. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities, because if you don’t, no audience will either.

 

Within business organisations, there are a number of occasions, which call for a speech or presentation. Some examples of the talk or speech you may be asked to make are:

 

Introductions

Speeches of welcome

Instructions

Training presentations

Brief oral reports, or

Long formal presentations.

 

Usually such business presentations or speeches aim to:

Inform

Persuade, or

Entertain the audience.

 

 

A number of different approaches to speaking in public are available, such as:

 

Prepared speeches – plan well ahead. Useful aids include overhead transparencies and palm or cue cards.

 

Impromptu speeches – think quickly to order your information. A useful formula used by many speakers is the PREP formula:

P stands for main point

R stands for the reason

E stands for the example

P stands for restating the main point

 

Manuscript speeches – are researched and structured and is usually read.

 

Memorised speeches – is suited to short talks and is learnt and recalled.

 

 

 

Oral briefings- is a short, accurate summary of the details of a plan or operation.

 

In planning and delivering this type of speech:

 

Prepare the briefing to achieve its specific purpose;

Present background information;

Discuss the different available options or alternatives;

Analyse the advantages and disadvantages of a particular course of action;

Encourage participation, questions and suggestions, and

Show interest in the responses.

 

Team briefings – the members of the team consider as a group the purpose of the team presentation and the nature of the audience. The team aims for a unified and logical message rather than a series of presentations from individual speakers. Hence, it is important to decide which member of the team will:

 

Present the introduction and beginning of the body;

Develop the body and provide the supporting details, and

Reinforce the ideas in the body and present the conclusion.

 

 

Preparing the presentation

 

In this stage your aim is to order the information logically and to use clear, concise language. While your primary aim is to prepare a presentation suited to the needs of your audience, you will also prepare the material in a way that suits your own needs as a speaker.

 

There are four steps to complete in this stage:

 

1. Write the presentation – an oral presentation has three main parts to consider:

 

An introduction – usually brief and prepares your audience for what you are going to say and should create interest. Strategies you can use include, pose a question, use humour relevant to the topic, give a short anecdote, present an interesting fact.

 

A body – develops the main theme and is the central part of the presentation. Inform, persuade or entertain the audience. Emphasise the main points and expand on these with supporting material, such as, personal experiences, examples, illustrations, facts, statistics.

 

A conclusion – is a short overview of the main points. To let the audience know you are about to finish, use signalling words such as, in conclusion, to summarise, in closing. To make an impression use, a relevant anecdote, a quotation, an example, or a recommendation.

 

 

2. Rewrite for the ear – writing for the ear you prepare the speech as a spoken rather than a written channel of communication.

 

Read your speech aloud and listen for:

 

A simple structure that is easy to follow;

Active voice with simple tense;

Words that are easy to hear and understand;

Concise words with a clear meaning;

Words that sound right together;

Breathing spaces that add impact to the message, and

Words that help to move the listener through the introduction, body and conclusion.

 

3. Practise and revise the content – prepare some questions and be ready to answer questions. Before you begin the speech, indicate when you will handle questions. This may be throughout the talk, at breaks between the main ideas, or at the end of the presentation.

 

4. Organise the visual aids – the decisions on the kind of visual aids are influenced by the size of the audience, the layout of the room and the content and purpose of the presentation.

 

 

Planning the presentation

 

The preparation stage of your presentation has six steps:

 

1. Define the purpose

2. Analyse the audience

Consider the context and setting

Identify the main ideas

Research and find supporting material for the message

6. Plan and organise material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delivering the presentation

 

Dwyer (1993) states that when you speak in public, you send one continuous message to the audience. As there is no opportunity for the two-way communication offered in conversations and group discussions, it is harder for you to establish and maintain a relationship with the audience and to engage their attention.

 

To be effective a presenter must combine the content, explanation, supporting information, visual aids, choice of words, vocal qualities and body movement or nonverbal communication in away that catches the audience's attention. You can establish and maintain a relationship with the audience throughout the delivery.

 

Visual aids in presentations

 

Visual material is an important signal to people, therefore use it to improve any presentation. The term ‘multi-sense’ recognises that people receive messages in a number of different ways. This means that a delivery with a variety of communication channels will have a stronger effect than a delivery depending only on voice and body movement.

 

Each visual aid should be simple with only one idea presented because too much detail can distract from the main point. Visual and audiovisual aids include:

 

Chalkboards and whiteboards;

Overhead projectors;

Flip charts;

Slides or carousel projectors;

Television and video;

Handouts;

Objects and physical examples;

Electronic technology, and

Computer software.

 

Prepare the visual aids to add to the message rather than to distract the audience. Visual aids keep the listener and presenter active as well as heightening the learning and understanding process through variety.

 

An effective visual aid:

 

Gains attention;

Increases interest;

Supports your point;

Emphasises relationships;

Clarifies the content;

Helps the listeners’ memory;

Helps the presenter to arrange the content in an orderly manner, and

Removes the focus from the presenter.

 

Nonverbal communication

 

To speak well you need to carefully plan and prepare your work, choosing an approach that suits your natural communication style and matching your verbal and nonverbal behaviour to the presentation.

 

Aim to establish and maintain a confident well-paced delivery that looks natural and comfortable. The first few times you give a business presentation or speech, you may feel nervous or suffer stage fright.

 

Anxiety is a normal response to any situation that involves risk. Nervousness can be positive if it provides the extra emotional or physical energy necessary to successfully deliver the presentation. Careful preparation and a practiced delivery reduce anxiety.

 

A range of nonverbal behaviours modify or change the spoken words in your presentation by repeating, contradicting, substituting, complementing and accenting the words. Some behaviours that affect the presentation are:

 

Posture

Facial expressions

Appearance and dress

Gestures or movements of the hands, arms, shoulders and head

Voice quality

Volume

Articulation, and

Variation in the rate of speech.

 

Check the equipment to make sure the overhead projector, video cassette recorder, electrical outlets, seating arrangements, pens, paper and anything else you might need are available and in working order (Dwyer, 1993, p. 656).

 

 

 

12. TIME MANAGEMENT

 

 

Time management is a self-management tool

and is a valuable but limited resource.

It enables you to use time well so that you complete the tasks

and achieve the goals that you decide are important.

Time is finite and irreplaceable and cannot be stored.

It is always there; you cannot stop it!

 

 

 

In developing effective time management, it is useful to be aware of the different sorts of time, the different levels of priorities and the different strategies available for scheduling time and priorities, such as:

 

Discretionary time – the time available to you to think, plan and create ideas. Discretionary time is under your control and is only available for about 25% of the time, therefore, use it to complete your key tasks.

 

Response time – is when you are available to others for problems, enquiries or complaints and is that part of your time driven by others.

 

Organisational time

 

In the workplace environment, organisational time is that time taken up with doing what the organisation expects you to do. When you allocate time to the tasks and responsibilities on your job description, you are on the way to meeting the organisation’s expectations of you.

 

Dwyer (1993) states once you identify the nature of tasks, aim to complete them in a way that matches the organisation’s needs and objectives, and your needs and objectives. The tasks are completed within the organisation’s time. There are three kinds of organisational time within any organisation:

 

Boss-imposed time – is hard to minimise or disregard. The boss makes the rules and accepts responsibility for the actions of others in their team, therefore, they need to know what is happening.

 

System-imposed time – is time spent on tasks such as administrative paper work, meetings and requests from others in the organisation. It involves working and interaction with others who are not your boss, for example, your peers or staff from other units.

 

Self-imposed time – is that part of time over which you have control. A person who is unable to delegate because they do not know how or because they are afraid co-workers will be unable to do the task will use this time to carry out tasks that others might do.

 

 

Identifying time wasters

 

Time wasters are common to most of the population but the causes and solutions lie with each individual. The most effective way to solve the causes of time wasting is to create solutions that suit you. Identifying the cause and finding a solution is easier when you are able to recognise the three main categories of time waters:

 

Human nature – these are personal in nature, for example, disorganisation, an inability to say ‘no’ to requests, a tendency to procrastinate, and an inclination to socialise at the expense of work.

 

Environmental factors – time is wasted in ways such as telephone interruptions, drop-in visitors, unnecessary mail and paperwork, inefficient meetings and poor workplace procedures.

 

Poor management skills - an inability to set priorities and goals and delegate; a tendency to leave work unfinished and a failure to communicate clearly all waste time.

 

 

Strategies for dealing with time wasters

 

Time wasters reduce your efficiency and effectiveness and prevent you from reaching your goals. Strategies for removing the more common time wasters experienced at work are:

 

Create blocks of discretionary time;

Work from a clear desk;

Control the telephone;

Prepare for meetings;

Reduce disruptions, interruptions and crises;

Delegate effectively, and

Avoid procrastination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time management skills

 

Time management improves the way you use time. A number of strategies can be used to manage your time. Developing practical strategies to set priorities requires skills in:

 

Making lists;

Sorting tasks into categories;

Ordering by degree of importance;

Critically evaluating ways of doing things;

Questioning the reasons for doing things;

Preparing diaries;

Using a journal;

Creating action plans;

Using response time well, and

Using discretionary time to think and plan.

 

Dwyer (1993) suggests that you choose from among these strategies to help you get more done and to complete important activities before you do the less important activities. The benefit to you is increased satisfaction and achievement.

 

 

Setting priorities

 

Decide what must be done by setting work priorities and rank these activities as primary, secondary and urgent.

 

Primary activities – are those that produce the most in results and should be done. They have high priority and are the most important elements in your time management and personal planning.

 

Secondary activities – are the less important items that could be done and receive lower priority than those that should be done. Some of these activities may even be put aside until later.

 

Urgent activities - are not part of your time management plan. They are the interruptions that must be done and cannot be avoided. When you bunch urgent tasks together and do them in one time slot, you save time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting goals

 

Goals are set to achieve the intended outcome. When you are involved in the planning process you can see the reason for the plan, its goals and sub-goals, and can recognise your contribution to it. Personal or team goals give a focus, purpose and direction to activities at work. In setting goals, whether personal and team, it is useful to keep in mind the SMART formula.

 

SMART states that effective goals have five characteristics:

 

Specific – goals created in specific, concrete terms. It is possible to see what is to be done, when it is to be done, how and where it is to be done.

 

Measurable – measurable goals are those that can be checked and measured and set the performance standards.

 

Achievable – goals that can be attained. They can be accomplished effectively with the allocated time and are neither too hard nor too easy. They are challenging and reasonable in that you can implement and complete them to the desired standard.

 

Relevant – when achieved, they offer you the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing that the work is purposeful, relevant and necessary to the successful completion of the task.

 

Time related – time referencing the goals lets you check progress against the time deadlines. If the steps to accomplish the completed task fall behind schedule it may be necessary to plan again.

 

 

 

Benefits gained from time management

 

When you use your time effectively, you know what you want to accomplish. By eliminating time wasters, you have more time to do the important tasks well. This helps you to meet new challenges in a way that is less rushed and helps you stay effective and productive. The best time managers select from a range of time management tools that are portable, adaptable and comfortable to use. Effective time managers organise, plan and communicate well.

 

Time management is a tool that lets you engage in a process of:

 

Improving the quality and quantity of your work

Making better decisions

Being as organised as you want to be, and

Increasing your performance and job satisfaction.

 

Time is a resource just as money or office space is a resource. Find out how you use it. A log of activities timetable or daily plan or diary help you manage your time. As you plan and manage your time, these tools give you the facts and information on how you use your time (Dwyer, 1993, p. 128).

 

 

Prepare timetables

 

Planners like those suggested in Figure 12.1 help you to see where you are heading. Nutting and White, (1991) suggests not to buy expensive wall charts; a small one that you draw up yourself and which fits in a folder is better. Use a similar type of planner to work out daily schedules or to keep track of any tasks where you need to follow a routine pattern.

 

Stay flexible in your approach to time. Do not overorganise; leave some spare slots for unforeseen interruptions. Remember that most human beings underestimate the time it will take to perform any task. Allow for this, and your plan will be more effective.

 

 

Monday

18

Tuesday

19

Wednesday

20

Thursday

21

Friday

22

Saturday

23

Sunday

24

Economics assignment due in 5.00pm

 

Maths test 11.00am

Oral presentation in class

Start work on report plan

Visit State library

-research

1pm-5pm

 

Monday

25

Tuesday

26

Wednesday

27

Thursday

28

Friday

29

Saturday

30

Sunday

31

Study for letter writing test

Letter test 2pm

Borrow books from library – Business communication

No classes study at home

Complete headings for report

   

 

Figure 12.1 Weekly study planner

 

 

Activity 12.1

 

Draw up a study timetable for this subject, using the model presented in the above figure or one of your own design. It is also a good idea to provide yourself with an incentive when you reach your deadlines. Always have a day off and reward yourself with some small pleasure, e.g. going to the movies, a walk with friends, going dancing or a box of chocolates. Whatever you like!

 

 

Activity 12.2 Time Management - Checklist

 

Aim to be successful in all your time management endeavours. With practice you will improve your performance.

 

How well do you manage your time?

 

Tick the appropriate boxes with your response.

I am able to:

 

Very Successfully Unsuccessfully

successfully

 

 

Achieve my goals

 

Share time between

work, leisure and

other activities

 

Control the telephone

 

Work from a tidy desk

or work space

 

Prepare for meetings

 

Handle disruptions and

interruptions

 

Delegate to others

 

Have some uninterrupted

time every day

 

Say ‘no’

 

Combine tasks

 

Use a diary

 

Set priorities

 

Use a daily work plan

 

Audit my own

use of time

 

Activity 12.3

 

Follow the Ten-Step plan once again to improve your skills and you should have little difficulty in reaching assignment deadlines.

 

 

 

Ten-step plan to effective time management

 

 

List your goals for the day in the morning or on the afternoon of the pervious day.

 

List the activities you will need to complete to achieve each of these goals.

 

Classify the list of activities into primary activities, secondary activities, those that can be delegated and things to do later. Focus on the primary, that is, most important activities.

 

Rank the primary activities from high to low priority; list the activities necessary to achieve these; rank the list of activities by order of importance and allocate time to each of these.

 

Create a set of priorities for the less important tasks, that is, your secondary set of priorities and list the activities necessary to achieve these tasks in order of importance.

 

Analyse the importance and urgency of the second set of priorities to identify what you must do, should do and will do later.

 

Allocate time on the basis of this analysis and delegate to others, tasks that do not need your attention. Check priorities and time allocations against your deadlines.

 

Place your time management plan on a desk or wall planner and display in a prominent position. This is your time log.

 

Tick or mark off on your time log each completed step. This acknowledges and recognises your success in achieving your time management goals.

 

Present your completed project on or before time.

 

 

 

Source: Dwyer, 1993, pp. 121-135.

 

RESOURCES