My latest group of students on the CIPD Learning and Development programme are writing their first assignments for me. This particular one is to be presented as a reflective statement. However for many of the students this assignment is written as if it were a report and their writers seem unable to separate ‘you should’ from ‘I did’. And yet being able to reflect back on your written work is a vital learning tool.
Although my students are not marked on their grammar construction or poor grasp of punctuation I do despair for their future business writing experiences. Being able to produce simple reports and persuasive reports requires clarity, bevity and above all accuracy. A key reason why so many documents end up in the waste bin or discarded in a forgotten filing cabinet is that they are simply unreadable.
So let’s look at some of the traps:
For reasons best known to themselves some writers think it sounds more important or formal if they use big words instead of everyday language. Nothing can be further from the truth. Why should a business document be harder to read and subsequently to understand simply because it is labelled a ‘Report’? Look out for phrases like ‘without considerable trouble when you mean ‘trouble’. Avoid ‘fullest possible extent’ when ‘fully’ covers it. How about ‘in close proximity’ when ‘near’ will suffice.
When you are preparing any business documentation remind yourself who you are writing for and how much you want it to be read and understood, may be even acted on if you have a call for action. Avoid the overdone statements or over long words too often found in hard to follow reports.
You also need to avoid the use of excessive words in your report. Part of your editing process should be to remove excess words. For example is there anything other than a ‘terrible’ disaster; an ‘armed’ gunman; ‘multiple’ choice; ‘forward’ planning? This often happens because you want to make your points too well. Question every word and remove repetitions and excessive emphasis. Look for words ending in ‘ly’ and check if you ‘really’ need them ‘currently’ or are they ‘simply’ padding out your writing. If someone expressed a view or point then there is no need to add ‘personally’ to it – as in they personally thought the report was too long.
Then there is the dreaded ‘management speak’ What do we really mean by forward planning, or better, ‘proactive forward planning’ which was in a document sent to me by a client! I expect you have seen examples like ‘cutting edge’, ‘grassroots level’, ‘high visibility’ and ‘fundamentally flawed’. I won’t go on. And finally let’s stop ‘engaging’ with people and start talking, or involving or consulting with them instead?
Well worn expressions
Clichés are lazy. Using others’ well used expressions in your report reduces trust in what you have to say. Expressions like ‘at the end of the day’, ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘tip of the iceberg’, ‘in this day and age’ and ‘to all intents and purposes’ are all meaningless and turn your carefully crafted report into a woolly and often impenetrable diatribe. Mixed metaphors particularly when written in ‘management speak’ will lose you your audience too. I loved reading in one proposal ‘when the chips are down we must step up to the plate……..’
The right word for the occasion
As you can see our wonderful language can be challenging. The most difficult part is probably the fact that we have a huge number of words which sound the same but mean different things. Words such as complimentary and complementary and principle and principal which are pronounced in exactly the same way can lead to misunderstandings if the wrong word is selected in your document.
The aim should always be for simplicity. A simple report in simple language is far more effective than one stuffed full of outdated words and ideas.
Most of us muddle through by copying reports we have seen around the organization or downloaded from the internet. But no longer….
This workbook is designed to take you through the basic principles of report writing using a logical, easy to follow approach. It will also show you how to select the words you need to bring clarity and avoid ambiguity in all your communications.
It will never be difficult again.
This is a weekly blog published every Tuesday and covers all aspects of communication.