Guidelines for putting together a good report

We live in a society that gravitates around information, so there is no doubt about the importance of communication skills and abilities today. Regardless of the type of project, service or activities, knowing how to transmit information effectively and efficiently to those responsible and interested agents is undoubtedly a critical aspect.

Undoubtedly, communication is an essential process of any organization, capable of propelling and revaluing other strategic or primary processes. In the professional field, an important part of this communication is materialized in the reports, due to their more formal nature and element of transmission of information both vertically and horizontally. For this reason, they must respond to the usual principles of communication: transparency and accessibility according to the information classification model, so that they are available to all interested parties; suitability, so that their contents are relevant to the recipients; credibility, providing true, exact and appropriate information; and clarity, being understandable and avoiding all ambiguity. Beyond these variables, it should never be forgotten that reports are often used as decision support tools.

Source: Jesús Gómez

Preparation of reports

Generally, the report will serve as a container for the information obtained after the analysis and evaluation of a data set. Although the reports are often linked to tasks of measurement, evaluation, control and continuous improvement of a project or a service, a common denominator of any type of report is its future orientation, as a trigger for some decision.

At the same time, however, feedback from recipients should not be neglected in order to improve future reports, thus increasing their level of satisfaction. It should not be forgotten, either, that in the case of a service report, it is highly recommended that the report requirements be agreed with the client. 

These are some of the most common types of reports:

  • Status reports: describe where a project or service stands in relation to a previously defined baseline.
  • Progress reports: describe what has been achieved, how much has been done, how much has been delivered, how much has been consumed,…
  • Trend reports: Examine results over time to assess whether performance is improving or deteriorating.
  • Projection reports: predict future status and performance.
  • Variation Reports: Compare actual results with a predefined baseline.
  • Risk monitoring reports: analyze the different events that could impact the performance of a project or a service.
  • Resource reports: develop the tasks assigned to a team and the time of their completion.
  • Audit reports: include the conclusions drawn by an auditor about the evidence obtained in the framework of an audit.
  • Quality review reports: provide an overview of the status of all quality management activities of the project or service, presenting the main results of quality assurance and control, non-conformities, opportunities for improvement, recommendations and remedial actions.
  • Supplier status reports: periodically prepared by the contractor of a project or a service to present the situation corresponding to a certain deadline, also providing forecasts, possible risks and problems for future periods.

When preparing a report, these are some of the basic guidelines that should be followed:

  1. The first element that determines the preparation of the report is the group of recipients for which it is written. Obviously, sometimes this audience will not be uniform in nature, but it will always be necessary to try to adapt the records of the report to the knowledge, needs and interests of these recipients.
  2. Once the target audience has been defined, the next step will be to define a script that addresses all the issues that are of interest to the recipient of the report. Typically, organizations will have developed templates for each of the common report types.
  3. The next step will be to develop the content of the report and, in this task, certain rules must be observed:
    • On the one hand, it is essential to contextualize the report, either in a specific period of time, in a specific project or service, in a specific event or incident, etc.
    • An especially critical part of a report is the section commonly referred to as the “Executive Summary”. Although it is written in the last stages of its preparation, it must occupy one of the first sections of the document. Everyone knows that the recipient of the report, depending on their level of responsibility, will devote more or less time to its analysis and consideration, so a section that summarizes the main evidence and conclusions of the report is crucial, providing the necessary data for decision making; frequently, they will already have staff to assign the task of full and detailed analysis of the document.
    • The end of the “Executive Summary” section is the starting point for the development of the plotted script, the body of the report. This task will be preceded by an effort to collect and analyze the data and information that make up the epicenter of the report. The person responsible for preparing the report must provide their skills and abilities in interpreting them. Of course, it is not usually necessary for the aforementioned data to be integrated raw into the report. Only in those circumstances in which the starting data constitute an added value for the recipients, should they form part of one of the annexes of the report. As a general rule, it should be ensured that the body of the report does not contain more information than is necessary, relegating to the annexes anything that is complementary to the understanding of the document and to decision-making. The writer should always avoid the recipients being “prevented from seeing the forest for the trees”, as too much data could be counterproductive.
    • In the last sections of the report, according to the defined script, it is important that the conclusions of the document are clearly presented. In addition, sometimes, depending on its nature and purpose, as well as on the role of the writer, a “Recommendations” section will also be convenient.
  4. Finally, a review task by one of the editor’s collaborators is advisable to ensure that the report is written correctly, both from a purely spelling and formal perspective or in relation to adequate presentation and ease of understanding of the contents.

Corollary

Ultimately, reports, due to their relevance in decision-making processes, constitute a powerful tool and, therefore, must be carefully prepared. Although the use of corporate templates can facilitate its preparation, any report must be subjected to the sieve of an established methodology that prevents leaving out any key element of its structure and contents.

See also in:

Speak Your Mind

*