How to write business reports
This is a guest article by management consultant Norman Wei
There are two main reasons you write a business report or memo: You are either asking someone to do something or you are seeking permission to do something.
The readers of your report may be your employees, your bosses, your customers or your government. These key elements will help you get your message across:
- Be concise. Say what you want to say and no more. Focus on one or two main issues at a time.
- Tell them why. “I am asking all of you to do this because …” When people understand your reason behind what you are asking, they may buy into your idea and claim ownership. Once they have ownership, they will be much more willing to help you implement your idea. No parents ever call their own babies ugly.
- Write short sentences in short paragraphs. Keep your paragraphs to no more than five or six lines. No one wants to read a 10-page memo. That’s why one-page memos and executive summaries are so common. If you can’t squeeze all your ideas in one page, distill them in an executive summary. If you are discussing a complicated program, you will, of course, need to attach the details in a separate report.
Use one-sentence paragraphs to emphasis key points.
- Keep the tone informal and style conversational. Think of your business report as a conversation with your readers.
Instead of writing the following to your line supervisors:
“Please inform all employees that in accordance with Corporate Policy 3.4.9 (b) and OSHA Standard 1910, all employees must wear safety glasses while on the job at all times.”
“Please remind your staff members that they need to wear safety glasses for their own protection when they are on the job. We don’t want them to get hurt.”
If someone wants to read your Corporate Policy 3.4.9 (b) and the OSHA standard, you can give that person a copy.
Do not use a lot of jargon unless you know all your readers are familiar with it. The most successful managers are always the ones who can translate technical (legal, engineering or financial) terms into plain English for senior management and the public. Your business memo should not read like a Ph.D. thesis.
- Be wary of PowerPoint slides. Many senior managers use PowerPoint slides to communicate complicated business proposals or ideas at meetings. The slides take the place of a written report. That is a very dangerous business practice, because it often leads to serious miscommunication.
Here is an example: An executive makes a slide presentation on some complicated business proposal to the board of directors. Even though each of his slides is jammed with terse bullet points, he is able to convey his thoughts and the nuances of his proposal to the board members in person. Questions are asked and answered.
The board approves the proposal. The problem comes when the manager passes those slides down to his managers to implement the program. No one knows what those bullet points mean, since none of his managers attended the board meeting. The bullet points in the slide report lead to misinterpretation.
Always back up your slide presentation/report with an actual report written in complete sentences.
About the author: Norman Wei is an author, public speaker and management consultant. He is well-known for conducting two-day seminars for corporations without using a single bullet point. Wei writes the Excellence in Presentations blog at http://nobullets.wordpress.com. He is available for speaking engagements and in-house seminars. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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