Structure and Steps in Report Writing for a client

Structure and Steps in Report Writing

Confirm Exactly What the Client Wants

This is a very important initial step. Whether the client is you, or someone else, be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing in terms of final outcome and expectations. When determining this, always think specifically in terms of the final deliverable (usually the final report). What issues must it address? What direction/guidance is it expected to give? What exactly will it contain? What bottom line are they looking for?

Determine What Type of Report Is Required

This is another very important initial matter to clarify. There are a number of different types of business reports. Although there is usually overlap between the different types, there are also important differences. For example, do they want: a business plan, a business proposal, a strategic plan, a corporate information management plan, a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a financial plan, or what? Know exactly what type of final report is expected from the outset.

Conduct the Initial Research

Once you know exactly what the client (or you) wants, and the specific type of report they are looking for, you are ready to conduct your initial pre-report research. This stage may be as simple as collecting and reading a few background documents supplied by the client, or it could involve developing questionnaires and conducting detailed interviews with the appropriate people. It will vary with each situation. The Internet of course, can really simplify and shorten the research process, but don’t forget to double and triple check your sources.

Write the Table of Contents First

In my experience, drafting the Table of Contents (TOC), before you start writing the actual report is the single most important key to developing a successful business report. This document can normally be done before, or in parallel with, the first phase of project information gathering. This should be more than just a rough draft TOC. It should be a carefully thought out breakdown of exactly what you imagine the TOC will look like in the final report. Although this takes a certain amount of time and brain power up-front, it really streamlines the rest of the process. What I do is to actually visualize the final report in my mind’s eye and write the contents down. This really works! This TOC then becomes a step-by-step template for the rest of the process.

Sidebar

If you’re writing the report for an external client, it’s a good idea to present the draft Table of Contents to them at this point in the process and get their approval. This will force them to think it through and confirm what they really want at this point. Once they have agreed to a TOC you will have their “buy-in” for the rest of the process, therefore significantly reducing chances of any major changes or reversals at the final report phase.

Do Any Additional Research

After thinking through the TOC in detail, you will know if any additional research is required. If yes, do this extra information gathering before you sit down and start to actually write the report. That way, once you begin the writing process you will have all of the information needed at hand and you will not have to interrupt the writing process to conduct any further research.

Create the Skeleton Document

A trick I always use when working with MS-Word is to create a skeleton document first. That is, before you actually write any of the text, enter the entire Table of Contents that you have already developed into MS-Word (see Point4), heading by heading, including sub-headings. At this point, the document is essentially a sequential series of headings and sub-headings with blank space between them. Then, have MS-Word generate an automatic Table of Contents that exactly matches your planned TOC. You’re then ready to start filling in the blank spaces after each heading and sub-heading in the body of the document, with text.

Write the Report by Filling in the Blanks.

That’s right, by filling in the blanks. Once the TOC skeleton framework is in-place as per the previous step, writing the actual report becomes almost like filling in the blanks. Just start at the beginning and work your way sequentially through the headings and sub-headings, one at a time, until you get to the end. Really. At that point, with all of the preparation done, it should be a relatively straightforward process.

Types of Writing Styles

HYPERLINK “http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/how-to-write-narrative-writing.htm” Narrative: Narrative writing is the type of writing that tells a story. Though it’s most commonly used when your child is asked to write a personal essay (along the lines of  What I Did to Celebrate the Holidays), this type of writing can also be used for fictional stories, plays or even plot summarizations of a story your child has read or intends to write. Narrative writing typically uses the first person (“I).

HYPERLINK “http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/how-to-write-descriptive-writing.htm” Descriptive: Descriptive writing is used to create a vivid picture of an idea, place or person. It is much like painting with words. It focuses on one subject and uses specific detail to describe that upon which your child is focused. For example, if your child is asked to write about his favorite ride at an amusement park, his writing will not only tell the name of the ride and what it looks like, but also describe the sensation of being on it and what that experience reminds him of.

HYPERLINK “http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/how-to-write-expository-writing.htm” Expository: Expository writing is to-the-point and factual. This category of writing includes definitions, instructions,  directions and other basic comparisons and clarifications. Expository writing is devoid of descriptive detail and opinion.

HYPERLINK “http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/how-to-write-persuasive-writing.htm” Persuasive: Persuasive writing is a more sophisticated type of writing to which your child will introduced around fourth grade. It can be thought of as a debate in writing. The idea is to express an opinion or to take a stance about something and then to support that opinion in a way that convinces the reader to see it the same way. HYPERLINK “http://kidsactivities.about.com/od/ReadingandWriting/a/Convince-Me-A-Persuasive-Writing-Activity.htm” Persuasive writing is often in essay form, contains an explanation of the other point of view and uses facts and/or statistics to disprove that view and support your child’s opinion.

Difference between oral and written communication

Words are tools. They provide the power source necessary for human interaction. Every word begins with a thought. A combination of thoughts creates a plan. A plan is then formulated into either oral or written speech. Herein is the birth of effective oral and written communication.It is a fact that 75% percent or more of our actual exchange of words is found in oral communication. It comes naturally without prompting, as anyone who has been around a demanding baby can attest. There is a continual barrage of words that are communicated on a daily basis. It is estimated that the average two year old already owns a vocabulary of sixty words or more. By the time the child’s age doubles, his vocabulary has grown to 1,500 words. Imagine a child trying to formulate sentences with pen and paper at that age. Effective written communication would be impossible.Oral communication is not concerned with the proper spelling of words. There is no need to deliberate over the use of capital letters. Nor do we bother ourselves with which punctuation mark to use at the end of a sentence. Words just fall from our lips, as quickly as they are formulated with our thoughts, unless we have learned the art of thinking before we speak. Oral communication is more personal and informal, with contractions and slang acceptable.Written communication, on the other hand, does not come easily. It requires years of training and the development of basic writing skills. Over time and with much practice one can attain confidence in a writing style that is clear and easy to understand. Written communication is a slower process than just speaking what comes to our mind. It is more professional. Psychology has proven that our human tendency is to believe what is written more than the spoken word. The first steps to learning written communication begin with the first, creative scribbles of a toddler. The deliberate and not so well-formed letters of a kindergartener when he writes his name are often awkward and not so legible. As the child grows his writing skills grow also. Over time, techniques are developed to select a topic, with specific information in mind. A target audience is determined. Keywords are carefully chosen. Sentence structure is evaluated. The first draft can be tested and tried with a trusted loved one or trained instructor to review and edit. Final touches are made to assure the message is successfully conveyed. The written word is then effectively launched.Different reasons for written communication can be varied. The business world operates on written legal documents, contracts, agreements, procedures, and policies. Today’s varied media devices make written communication more popular than ever before with the use of emails, texting and social media. Regardless of the delivery of the writ, the focus must always be upon clarity and effective delivery. Words are the powerful tools in oral and written communication, used to effectively convey a message. So as the old saying goes, choose your words carefully.

Advantages and disadvantages of written communication

What is written communication? As the name implies, a written communication is a means of communication in which transfer of information from one party to another is done in a written form. There are so many forms of written communications some of these forms include the following: newsletters, memos, books, articles, circulars, reports, posters, notices, etc.

The written communication is one of the most significant means of communication in any organization in the business world. Let us now take a look at some of the advantages of written communication.

Advantages of written communication

One of the biggest advantages of written communication is the fact that it allows for permanent records, which is something other means of communication such as oral communication do not have.

Written communication strengthens and clarifies a verbal message.

Because it allows for permanent records, it is good for making references.

Written communication can be very useful as a defense during legal issues.

Written communication is more reliable than oral communication. A written and signed document carries more weight and validity than spoken words.

Written communication is more precise than other means of communication.

Written communication, because of its form can be stored for analysis to be made in order for one to get a better understanding of the message it contains.

The last but not least advantage of written communication is the fact that it can be easily disseminated to recipients that are in different locations.

Disadvantages of written communication

Below are some of the disadvantages associated with the written communication:

Unlike other forms of communication, written communication can take a considerable amount of time to produce.

Written communication is sometimes limited to people who have sight. Blind people or the visually impaired, for instance cannot receive certain types of written communication. For example, a blind man cannot receive information from a poster or notice.

Written communications are also not flexible. It is a very rigid means of communication.

With written communication feedback is not immediate. Feedback is a very important thing in every organization, which is why a delay in receiving feedback can result in certain unfavorable issues such as slowing down the decision making process.

Poor writing skills can hamper the effectiveness of the written communication. If the writer cannot write effectively then there is a high likelihood that a lot of people are going to misunderstand the message being sent. This can be a very negative thing for any organization and can come with a great deal of severe ramifications.

Another disadvantage of the written communication is that it is time consuming and can be very expensive to produce and to disseminate.

Some illiterates or people who cannot read and write very well will have it pretty difficult getting and understanding the information or message contained within a written means of communication.

Compare and contrast email, memo and business letters

Business letters and e-mail are the two most common types of business communication. There is, however, difference between business letters and business e-mail. From what perspectives do they differ? Application, conservativeness, tone and style, confidentiality, cost, acknowledgment, and environmental impact are the primary features that distinguish the dual modes of correspondence.

Application: In the pre-internet era, business letters were the extensive carriers of business information. Such letters were the standard mode of a company’s internal and external communication. Today, there is a steep decline in the use of letters for business matters, thanks to e-mail as a powerful tool to send and receive messages.

From memos to project discussions to HTML messages, e-mail is a strong conduit to exchange information in the modern world. Business e-mail lets you accomplish the same that you would with business letters. The advent of electronic signature technology makes e-mail the most convenient choice – even from a legal view – for various company-related communications. As laws differ from country-to-country, grey areas remain on whether e-mail contracts are legally binding globally. Such matters are a main exception for the continued use of business letters in the digital world.

Conservativeness: Business letters by default have a rigid outlook. They have to adhere to formalities like HYPERLINK “http://www.brighthub.com/computing/windows-platform/articles/11454.aspx” t “_self” letter protocols and styles. You’ve to follow standards, for example, for salutation, address, and the complimentary close. Further, to create a positive company image in the recipient’s mind, you’ve to print business letters on a quality paper and use superior-grade envelopes. E-mail communication is independent of these traits.

Although the above are some of the features that create the difference between business letters and business e-mail, you still have to write the content, in either mode, in a professional way. And, it doesn’t hurt to follow the relevant standards of business letters in business e-mail.

Tone and Style: Business letters follow more or less a formal style and reserved voice. Some exceptions are documents like sales letters. In these, you find content that’s less formal and that uses an interactive tone. What about business communication through e-mail? It typically takes the informal route and uses a less stringent style.

Cost: Business letters cost much money, especially for small enterprises. Here are the cost-components of a business letter: paper, envelope, postage, gum, tape, toner, computer, and printer electricity charges, and the content typing cost. Business e-mail has only the last two elements in the previous list and the modem electricity charges and internet cost. Then, in both types of communication, you’ve got to include the depreciation for the systems.

E-mail is a hands-down winner from the cost angle. You’ll find more depth in the e-mail cost advantage if you bring attachments into the picture. When you send an attachment of several pages with the business letter, your expenses head north. In contrast, e-mail attachments are almost free. The exception is when you attach multimedia files. Such cases dent your budget and the internet time. Still, the charges for e-mail will remain lower than for business letters. Further, these can’t beat the convenience and speed of e-mail.

Confidentiality: Business letters, while in transit, maintain the confidentiality of their content better than business e-mail. In the latter case, the scope for someone to snoop on it is larger. Why? It’s because the message travels to its destination via the internet – the public network. With advancements in e-mail security technology like secure protocols and encryption, however, the potential for the wrong eyes to read a business e-mail is lowest.

Acknowledgement: If you need the proof of receipt of your communication, the business letter route serves you the best. True, today’s many desktop e-mail clients have the Return Receipts feature. If it will deliver an acknowledgement depends on whether your customer uses one of such e-mail software and if he has enabled the feature.

Environmental Impact: When the phrase “global warming” has become a house-hold name, it’s prudent to use business e-mail, as much as possible, to HYPERLINK “http://www.brighthub.com/environment/green-living/articles/68657.aspx” t “_self” save the earth. The lesser the business letters you use for communication, the lower the number of trees that will go under the axe. Make your business greener with e-mail, e-documents, and digital information.

Memos

A memo (or memorandum, meaning “reminder”) is normally used for communicating policies, procedures, or related official business within an organization. It is often written from a one-to-all perspective (like mass communication), broadcasting a message to an audience, rather than a one-on-one, interpersonal communication. It may also be used to update a team on activities for a given project, or to inform a specific group within a company of an event, action, or observance.

A memo’s purpose is often to inform, but it occasionally includes an element of persuasion or a call to action. All organizations have informal and formal communication networks. The unofficial, informal communication network within an organization is often called the grapevine, and it is often characterized by rumor, gossip, and innuendo. On the grapevine, one person may hear that someone else is going to be laid off and start passing the news around. Rumors change and transform as they are passed from person to person, and before you know it, the word is that they are shutting down your entire department.

One effective way to address informal, unofficial speculation is to spell out clearly for all employees what is going on with a particular issue. If budget cuts are a concern, then it may be wise to send a memo explaining the changes that are imminent. If a company wants employees to take action, they may also issue a memorandum. For example, on February 13, 2009, upper management at the Panasonic Corporation issued a declaration that all employees should buy at least $1,600 worth of Panasonic products. The company president noted that if everyone supported the company with purchases, it would benefit all. HYPERLINK “http://writingcommons.org/open-text/genres/business-professional-writing/business-writing-in-action/report/798-memorandums-and-letters” l “ftn.fn-1” [1]

While memos do not normally include a call to action that requires personal spending, they often represent the business or organization’s interests. They may also include statements that align business and employee interest, and underscore common ground and benefit. A memo has a header that clearly indicates who sent it and who the intended recipients are. Pay particular attention to the title of the individual(s) in this section. Date and subject lines are also present, followed by a message that contains a declaration, a discussion, and a summary.

In a standard writing format, we might expect to see an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. All these are present in a memo, and each part has a clear purpose. The declaration in the opening uses a declarative sentence to announce the main topic. The discussion elaborates or lists major points associated with the topic, and the conclusion serves as a summary.

Short Notes

Memorandum

A memorandum (abbrev.: memo) was from the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin” o “Latin” Latin verbal phrase memorandum est, the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerundive” o “Gerundive” gerundive form of the verb memoro, “to mention, call to mind, recount, relate”, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorandum” l “cite_note-1” [1] which means “It must be remembered (that)…”. It is therefore a note, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document” o “Document” document or other HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication” o “Communication” communication that helps the memory by recording events or observations on a topic, such as may be used in a business HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office” o “Office” office. The plural form of the Latin noun memorandum so derived is properly memoranda, but if the word is deemed to have become a word of the English language, the plural memorandums, abbreviated to memos, may be used. (See also Agenda, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrigenda” o “Corrigenda” Corrigenda, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addenda” o “Addenda” Addenda)

A memorandum can have only a certain number of formats; it may have a format specific to an office or institution. In law specifically, a memorandum is a record of the terms of a transaction or contract, such as a policy memo, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorandum_of_understanding” o “Memorandum of understanding” memorandum of understanding, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorandum_of_agreement” o “Memorandum of agreement” memorandum of agreement, or HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorandum_of_association” o “Memorandum of association” memorandum of association. Alternative formats include memos, briefing notes, reports, letters or binders. They could be one page long or many. They may be considered as HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_literature” o “Grey literature” grey literature. If the user is a HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minister_%28government%29” o “Minister (government)” cabinet minister or a senior executive, the format might be rigidly defined and limited to one or two pages. If the user is a colleague, the format is usually much more flexible. At its most basic level, a memorandum can be a handwritten note to one’s supervisor. In business, a memo is typically used by firms for internal communication, as opposed to HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_%28message%29” o “Letter (message)” letters which are typically for external communication. HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorandum” l “cite_note-2” [2] Hence, we can consider memoranda as an upward communication process through which any complaint, issues, opinion, views and suggestion are put forward to the authorized level.

HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Acheson” o “Dean Acheson” Dean Acheson famously quipped that “A memorandum is not written to inform the reader but HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_your_ass” o “Cover your ass” to protect the writer”. Charles Peters wrote that “bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy

Press Release

Press release, news release, media release, press statement or video release is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy. Typically, they are mailed, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fax” o “Fax” faxed, or e-mailed to assignment HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copy_editing” o “Copy editing” editors and journalists at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, online media, television stations or television networks.

Tom Kelleher states in his book, Public Relations Online: Lasting Concepts for Changing Media, that “given that your news-driven publics include bona fide journalists as well as others who read and report news online, the term news release seems to work better online than press release”. HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraser_Seitel” o “Fraser Seitel” Fraser Seitel also refers to press releases as being, “the granddaddy of public relations writing vehicles.” HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_release” l “cite_note-1” [1]

Websites have changed the way press releases are submitted. Commercial, fee-based press release distribution services, such as news wire services, or free website services co-exist, making news distribution more affordable and leveling the playing field for smaller businesses. Such websites hold a repository of press releases and claim to make a company’s news more prominent on the web and searchable via major search engines.

The use of press releases is common in the field of HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations” o “Public relations” public relations (PR). Typically, the aim is to attract favorable media attention to the PR professional’s client and/or provide publicity for HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_%28business%29” o “Product (business)” products or HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_event” o “Media event” events marketed by those clients. A press release provides reporters with an HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_subsidy” o “Information subsidy” information subsidy containing the basics needed to develop a news story. Press releases can announce a range of news items, such as scheduled events, personal promotions, awards, new products and services, sales and other financial data, accomplishments, etc. They are often used in generating a HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feature_story” o “Feature story” feature story or are sent for the purpose of announcing HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_conference” o “News conference” news conferences, upcoming events or a change in corporation. Uncritical use or overuse of press releases by journalists has been dubbed HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churnalism” o “Churnalism” churnalism.

A press statement is information supplied to reporters. This is an official announcement or account of a news story that is specially prepared and issued to newspapers and other news media for them to make known to the public.

Origins

The first modern press releases HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_release” l “cite_note-2” [2] were created by HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_Lee” o “Ivy Lee” Ivy Lee. HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_release” l “cite_note-3” [3] Lee’s agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1906_Atlantic_City_train_wreck” o “1906 Atlantic City train wreck” 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Ivy Lee and the company collaborated to issue the first press release directly to journalists, before other versions of the story, or suppositions, could be spread among them and reported. He used a press release, in addition to inviting journalists and photographers to the scene as a means of fostering open communication with the media.

HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations” o “Public relations” Public relations pioneer HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays” o “Edward Bernays” Edward Bernays later refined the creation and use of press releases.

Elements

Technically, anything deliberately sent to a reporter or media source is considered a press release: it is information released by the act of being sent to the media. However, public relations professionals often follow a standard format that they believe is efficient and increases their odds of getting the publicity they desire. The format is supposed to help journalists separate press releases from other PR communication methods, such as pitch letters or media advisories. Generally, a PR body consists of 4 to 5 paragraphs with word limit ranging from 400 to 500.

Some of these common structural elements include:

HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headline” o “Headline” Headline – used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarize the news.

HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dateline” o “Dateline” Dateline – contains the release date and usually the originating city of the press release. If the date listed is after the date that the information was actually sent to the media, then the sender is requesting a HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_embargo” o “News embargo” news embargo, which journalists are under no obligation to honor.

Introduction – first paragraph in a press release, that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.

Body – further explanation, statistics, background, or other details relevant to the news.

Boilerplate – generally a short “about” section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organization, or individual.

Close – in North America, traditionally the symbol “-30-” appears after the boilerplate or body and before the media contact information, indicating to media that the release has ended. A more modern equivalent has been the “###” symbol. In other countries, other means of indicating the end of the release may be used, such as the text “ends”.

Media contact information – name, phone number, email address, mailing address, or other contact information for the PR or other media relations contact person.

As the Internet has assumed growing prominence in the news cycle, press release writing styles have necessarily evolved. Editors of online newsletters, for instance, often lack the staff to convert traditional press release prose into more readable, print-ready copy. Today’s press releases are therefore often written as finished articles which deliver more than just bare facts. A stylish, journalistic format along with perhaps a provocative story line and quotes from principals can help ensure wider distribution among Internet-only publications looking for suitable material.

Business Letter

While business letters still serve as an important form of professional communication, newer ways of corresponding with clients are available to the business owner. These methods, such as email or video conferencing, illustrate both the advantages and disadvantages of the traditional written letter. A well-rounded business operation takes advantage of every useful communication tool.Proof of Communication

Written letters provide a physical record of business correspondence; they can be filed, pulled out for reference and kept for years. No matter what kind of technology comes along, printed words on paper is a medium that anyone can understand. This is an advantage over email; although email can be printed out, the receipt of a business letter requires no further steps than to open it, read it and file it. Printing emails as written confirmation must include a working printer plus adequate ink and paper. Even with those essentials covered, paper jams, software glitch

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