Report for Results: Creating a Checklist

By Vassallo, Philip | et Cetera, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Report for Results: Creating a Checklist


Vassallo, Philip, et Cetera


WORDS ON THE LINE

DOCUMENTING IN-DEPTH INFORMATION requires the ability to think about a topic from multiple perspectives. Successful technical-report or proposal writers maintain awareness that every document they write serves as a management tool for someone in the organization, and that different readers have different needs. The chief executive officer may want to read just the report's executive summary, the chief operating officer the strategic plan, the chief financial officer the budget, the chief information officer the technical requirements, and the chief learning officer the impact on organizational training. Polished writers also know that the same reader may pick up the document more than once for entirely different reasons. For instance, project managers may on first reading cover only the project description so that they can arrive at the project launch meeting prepared to request clarification on any point or to express approval or disapproval of a suggested tactic; during their second reading, they may turn to the project timeline to set dates in their scheduler; and well into the project, they may turn to the project management directory to determine whom they should call concerning an implementation issue. A major challenge for report writers involves balancing completeness with efficiency while addressing all those concerns.

Numerous textbooks offer suggestions on what to include in reports or proposals; (1) however, writers in different industries have different concerns when reporting technical information. Consider the types of questions the following writers would ask themselves when composing their reports:

an accountant in the publishing industry writing an audit report of a company's accounts payable system

an airman in the US Air Force writing a causal analysis report on a malfunction of a helicopter's communication device

a biologist for the state's environmental protection commission completing an investigative report on a wastewater project

a chemist in the food industry describing the changes in chemical mixtures used to flavor potato chips

a director of human resources for a pharmaceutical company developing a cost-benefit analysis of recent training initiatives

an educational consultant for a school board composing an evaluation report on the district's proposed expansion of services

a financial services advisor in the investment banking industry studying the impact of recent legislation on her firm's tax liability

a mechanical engineer for an architectural engineering firm assessing the efficacy of a new heating and cooling system in a purified water processing plant

a physicist for an alternative energy lobbyist crafting an argument against a nuclear power plant in a suburban town

an attorney for a telecommunications company applying to the United States Patent Office for intellectual property rights to a new cell phone transmitter

a researcher in the insurance industry reporting to underwriters on economic, legislative, and commercial trends in Kansas

a social worker for a city's child welfare agency creating an analysis of unmet needs in children's programming

Having consulted to these and many other types of professionals, I often hear writers relating their struggles to condense voluminous information. For this reason, I feel surprised to discover that most companies do not publish guidelines for writing complex reports.

Writers seeking to jumpstart the writing process need not only templates and boilerplate text but also an idea design for their reports as well as a rationale for including those ideas. With this thought in mind, I offer here a report-writing checklist featuring the critical elements all on-the-job writers should consider for inclusion in their reports. The organizational pattern I describe in this article works well for long, formal, evaluative, investigative, periodic, research, or trip reports. …

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