This is the first of a two-part essay. The second part, "Getting Started with Evaluation Reports: Creating the Structure," will appear in this column in the next issue of ETC.
ONE OF THE GREATEST challenges of writing evaluation reports occurs during the planning stage. Many writers who efficiently and precisely compose lengthier work-related documents, such as meeting minutes, proposals, and justification reports, often falter when writing a project or program evaluation report because they might not have begun the writing process fully aware of their scope of work. This issue extends far beyond writing with a purpose, which has become almost clich[iota] to educated business writers. Most auditors assigned to writing an evaluation report have the requisite job knowledge to tackle the assignment and to understand the point, or purpose, of the project as a whole. They may even have sufficient data to begin drafting. Still, they may struggle when deciding what to include in the report.
Knowing that more than half the battle of rendering an effective evaluation report lies in the content selection, writers often seek standards to jump start the writing process. To help meet this goal, this essay describes some of those standards and provides useful tips in grounding the writer during the planning phase of the evaluation report. The main focus here is to define critical terms and issues before tackling the writing assignment. A good way to start is by answering seven basic questions.
1. What is an evaluation report?
For the purpose of this discussion, let's call an evaluation report a management Instrument for understanding, monitoring, or improving the performance of a project. Those in the private or public sector who are responsible for evaluating projects, as well as those who manage them, should rely on the evaluation report to review what works well, determine what does not, and implement the proposed corrective actions.
2. Why write an evaluation report?
The possibilities are limitless. Any department in any enterprise might call for an evaluation report. I have worked with diverse professionals in numerous situations to manage, write, edit, assess, review, or respond to evaluation reports. A fraction of those situations appears in the list below.
1. An environmental engineer considers the impact of a capital improvement drainage project on the community landscape.
2. A civil engineer studies how the installation of a countywide incinerator in a densely populated town will affect local health and traffic.
3. An Air Force logistical squadron decides whether a newly manufactured part for air tankers would operate efficiently in battle conditions.
4. An Army contractor reports on the reliability of night vision equipment during recent desert warfare.
5. A public school administrator evaluates a pilot foreign language project in her district's elementary schools.
6. A policy think tank examines the academic achievement of students enrolled in recent school choice initiatives.
7. A warden assigns an evaluation project to learn whether emergency evacuation procedures adhere to security regulations.
8. An investigator hired by a police department examines whether new officer admissions criteria meet standards to assure public safety.
9. An internal scientific audit team reviews the quality of a new medical software program for a pharmaceutical company.
10. An investigator evaluates whether a telecommunications company's wireless network in a Middle Eastern nation meets that government's intelligence requirements.
11. A director of a residential program for developmentally disabled adults tests the quality of a new psychosocial service.
12. A state agency monitors the success of a newly launched exit strategy for its youth employment program. …