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Discover the secrets to effective business writing and crafting messages that others want to read and act on. Judy Steiner-Williams, senior lecturer at Kelley School of Business, introduces you to the 10 Cs of strong business communication and provides you with before-and-after writing samples that give you the opportunity to apply each principle and sharpen your communication skills. Judy also points out common grammar and writing mistakes and shares special considerations for formats like emails and reports.
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- Long, short, technical, analytical, informational, memo, manuscript. All these are terms related to report writing, and there are even more. Deductive, inductive, formal, informal, internal, external, periodic, progress, and add to those, financial, special, recommendation, justification, research. What a list. All those terms identify different types and formats of business reports.
Even though reports can be classified in a variety of categories, they do all have commonalities. Regardless of the report you're writing, you have to consider the report's purpose, it's length, it's reader's characteristics, and the reader's expectations. Look at how each of those decisions impacts how you approach writing that business report. As we generally examine these areas, keep in mind that exceptions do exist, as many report types, formats, and terms exist, as there are companies.
This general information, along with examining the reports used in your company, will help you write that effective business report. Let's start with a report type. Reports are usually grouped into informational or analytical. Research may have to be conducted to prepare both types of reports, but just one presents that information, whereas the second actually analyzes the information and concludes your recommends. So, the report type is tied directly with the report's purpose. Is it just to present information, or does it need to persuade? In business, a careful analysis of facts and well-supported assumptions persuade, not opinions or general statements.
Using superlatives and emotional words, such as greatest ever and wonderful opportunity, should be avoided. Specific facts should do the persuading. Not, this will make lots of money, but we can mark up this item 120%. How often is the report prepared? Periodically on a regular basis, once a month or once a year, for example, or is it a special report? Maybe a month into the latest campaign, management wants to be updated on the progress of the campaign, both what is going well and what is not.
Is the reader inside or outside the company, and what formality level does that reader expect, and what jargon can be used? For example, an internal recommendation report, sometimes called a justification report, can contain technical information and technical jargon that may be understood only by those in that field. Who reads the report may also, in part, determine the formality of the report. Short, one- or two-page, internal memo reports are more likely to be informal, meaning that first person pronouns will be used.
Long manuscript type, external reports, are more likely to be formal. No first person, such as I or we, or second person, such as you or your pronouns. No contractions and more passive voice, because the focus is on the content, rather than on who wrote the report. An example of active and passive would be, I found when I researched, is active. The focus is on the writer. The research showed is passive, more focus on the actual report's content.
What parts should the report have? The longer the report, the more likely it will have a title page, a table of contents to guide the reader, a letter to the reader to transmit the report, and visual aids. Should the report use the direct deductive arrangement or the indirect inductive arrangement? That decision is also partially made based on the reader. If you think your reader will be receptive to your idea and has been involved in the entire process, then you will probably want to be direct, begin with the purpose. For example, in a recommendation report you would begin with the recommendation.
Analyze if your reader might be skeptical or hostile, however, and has little knowledge of what the report's purpose is. If that's the situation, then you are more likely to have to prepare your reader by introducing him to the report's purpose with background information and support for your recommendation before actually recommending. Regardless of the reader, the formality, the type or purpose of the report, all reports need to use lists for information that you want to be sure your reader sees. Include transition between the main ideas.
Use language your reader understands and be reader-friendly, with descriptive internal headings, such as the following. The heading previews for the reader what the section is about. Ten percent workforce reduction projected. Northwest stores will be affected most. Southeast stores will give early retirement. Reports, in one sense, are just like any other writing you do for business. You must apply all the principles of effective business writing, but, in addition, they have unique characteristics that must be considered.
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