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.
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:
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.
3. Identify your information needs.
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:
This gives accurate information on which to base decisions or to communicate information to others in the organisation.
Three typical short report formats:
1. a title page
2. an introduction
3. sections with headings in the body
5. recommendations (when required)
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
6. complimentary close
7. signature block.
Minimum acceptable standard includes five components:
1. reader’s name
2. writer’s name
4. subject line or title
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:
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?
Writing Short Reports
Very Well Successfully Unsuccessfully
in an order suitable for
for the type of report
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:
Source: Nutting and White, (1991, pp. 199-200).
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:
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.
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.
The coherence and clarity of your writing can be dramatically improved if you use headings, tables and figures.
Parts of a long report can include:
Write a short (four to six pages) business report on a topic of your own choice.
Include the following:
11. PRESENTATION SKILLS
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:
Usually such business presentations or speeches aim to:
A number of different approaches to speaking in public are available, such as:
In planning and delivering this type of speech:
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:
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
Decide what must be done by setting work priorities and rank these activities as primary, secondary and urgent.
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:
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:
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).
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.
Figure 12.1 Weekly study planner
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
use of time
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
Source: Dwyer, 1993, pp. 121-135.