The Reporting Process
- From: Neil <reportingskills@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2007 11:30:02 -0700
The Reporting Process
Always start with clear objectives about the purpose of the report. If
it's a regular report, you may need to deconstruct the format to see
how it fits together and how your report will lead to action / change.
If you are a consultant, clarify the Terms of Reference with your
client. If there is a specific issue to be investigated, make sure you
know what it is. This is going give you a starting point for all the
Taking into account your objectives, select a range of data gathering
methods that will give you the right amount and depth of information
to answer your questions. Make sure the methods you select are
acceptable to your donors, and that the target group can conform to
your methods. Don't forget it's you who will have to analyse the
results, so keep it simple. Choose your mix from case study, focus
group, interview, survey, observation and desk study methods.
Data analysis has three main steps. First, read through everything -
think, ask questions, guess / make assumptions where you have to and
verify what you can. Compare what you learn with what you expected to
see. Next, break it down. Try to identify topics, themes and clusters
of ideas / responses, see if you can bring a structure to your ideas.
Finally, synthesise these ideas together. Be visual, use a method like
Mind Mapping to help you draw conclusions, generalise and identify
linkages and themes. Be alert to the causes and effects of problems
and issues uncovered - you will need to explain these when you write
What Makes Writing Effective?
Good writing isn't about having a great vocabulary or in-depth
knowledge of grammar. Effective writing gets results - it leads to
action. Therefore, it needs a clear objective, needs to be organised
well and written clearly and simply. The language should be language
your reader can understand without opening a dictionary or guessing:
and your style should aim to be as relaxed and direct as possible
(bearing in mind your relationship with your reader). Don't forget to
proofread like a professional, too.
Responsibilities of the Reporter
Good reporters have a lot of responsibilities. Your job isn't 'to
present the facts' - in fact, the facts, unless explained, will mean
different things to different people. Your job, then, is to
investigate, analyse, understand, describe, explain and recommend
Forget any ideas you have of impressing your reader with terminology.
Writing tells others who we are, and you should aim to come across as
focused, efficient and transparent - by organising your writing well,
keeping to the point and expressing your ideas in clear and plain
Clarity of writing is a big headache for readers. You can measure your
writing clarity using the Fog Index (FI). This is a tool that counts
the number of 'hard' words (words with three or more syllables) and
ASL (Average Sentence Length) to give a calculation of the number of
years' formal education your reader needs to understand the text first
time. We should aim for a range that centres on an FI of 12. It's easy
to achieve this if you follow the 'Rule of 15': 15% hard words and 15
words per sentence. Keep passive voice to around 15% also and your
readability will be fine.
Short sentences help readers to understand and better concentrate, are
going to be more accurate and have more impact. You can reduce
sentence length by reducing unnecessary words and getting rid of
meaningless phrases. Watch out for emphasising language like
'important', 'essential', etc. - those words shout for attention and
should be used with the same respect you would treat a very hot
chilli. Try to avoid abstract nouns like 'implementation',
'discussion', etc. - changing these to verbs will make it sound like
something is actually happening. Finally, watch out for overuse of
passive voice. Only put a sentence in the passive voice if you have a
Organising your Ideas
Organise your writing 'main point first'. That's the deductive
approach, sometimes called the Inverted Pyramid, used by news
reporters. Whatever you write, give your conclusions first, then your
main points, and, finally, support these with examples, ideas and
After your main point, use a logical sequence - time, place, order of
importance or deductive / inductive approach. The inductive
(scientific) approach gives the data first and conclusions last. It
works, but it's not very persuasive and it's time consuming.
The deductive approach gives the conclusions first, usually in a Topic
Sentence. This sentence can give the shape / structure of the
argument, but more usually offers a conclusion, interpretation,
reaction or feeling.
Before drafting, profile the reader. Make sure you know who you are
writing to, what your reader knows / doesn't know and what is likely
to be important to her. Clarify your purpose and make a plan.
When you draft, follow the plan. Just turn your ideas into words -
organise your ideas well, keep your sentences short and don't worry
about style, language and grammar too much.
Editing and Design
Next, edit your document. Check that the objectives are clear, that
it's organised effectively and it's written clearly and simply. Make
sure the language is appropriate and tweak the style if you want.
Check it thoroughly, both with a spell checker as well as manually.
Finally, design your document - consider fonts and font sizes,
alignments, text boxes and images. (Always caption your images.) Make
sure that it isn't too crowded, and there is enough white space so the
reader can rest her eyes from time to time.
Summarised from The Reporting Skills and Professional Writing
Handbook: a self study programme for development professionals
© Neil Kendrick 2007
Downloadable PDF package (8 modules, 226pp)
Published by Education, Language and Development Training Programmes
(UK Charity no. 1083385)
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