#SorryNotSorry but there’s no such thing as how to write a report.
Like there is one kind of report and there’s one right way to write one.
Meeehhh! Wrong. But thanks for playing.
There are endless kinds of reports
- status reports
- research reports
- analysis reports
- financial reports (hundreds of kinds)
- investigation reports
- incident reports
- audit reports
See what I mean? You’re not asking the right question.
How to write a report isn’t the right question.
You need to be asking how to write THIS report.
Every single report needs to be written in a way that’s fit for its own purpose. So there’s a set of questions to ask so you can build a report that will achieve what it needs to.
- How’s this report going to be used?
- Who’s going to use it?
- Therefore, what sections does the report need?
- And lastly, what level of detail do those people need in each of those sections, so they can use the report for their purposes?
Now you’re on the right track
If you can answer those questions, you have a plan. Once you have a plan, you can write the pieces that are easiest first, and work your way from there. Lots of reports should have an executive summary (pretty much any report that’s 2 pages or longer needs one), and you can write that last.
They can be big beasties, but they are certainly manageable. And there’s definitely NOT one right way to write a report. Please stop asking!
Well, that’s not how you want to stand out!
Let’s talk about your CV. Résumé. Whatever you call it. It’s the thing you rely on to show a prospective employer that you’re shit hot. It needs to yell, I’M THE ONE FOR YOU!! It’s often your first chance to make an impression.
What intrigues me is how much boring, run of the mill advice is out there. If you follow it, you’ll get your CV aaaall the way to the… middle of the heap. Yay.
If we do what’s always been done, what’s expected, what’s conventional, you’ll fit right in with everyone else. That’s lovely and safe if you want to blend in.
BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO BLEND IN, DUH!
The entire point of a CV is to get noticed. In a good way.
I’ve seen a few good articles around lately:
And guess what? As a writer (who gets asked to develop CVs for some amazing people), I have thoughts on this, too. Surprise, surprise.
I talk a lot on social media about how I love enhancv.com. If you read no further, just go check them out. If you want more convincing, here are some reasons why I love it!
Words are important but first impressions last
Yes, word choice in your CV is important. But words only have impact once someone decides to start reading. I believe we write our CVs based on an incorrect presupposition: that people are going to read them, word for word. Like a novel. For fun.
But that’s not what happens at first glance.
At first glance, people scan. They skim. And they make instant judgements about you, based on whatever jumps out at them, and especially on the layout – Does it look polished? Does it look professional?
The next question then, is: what does professional look like? A page full of black and white text with very little differentiation that requires you to read it word for word? That isn’t appealing to the eye, and it doesn’t invite engagement.
But if you use a more graphically designed layout, something where the headings and key words jump out, that’s gonna get attention. In fact, the reader would have to consciously try NOT to notice a word here and there.
So, use a layout that’s different from the traditional black and white sections and paragraphs. Instead, add a little pop of colour – nothing over-the-top. Make sure there’s a visual element, that’s going to make your CV stand out in the pile.
We hire people not qualifications or experience
Yes, there are minimum qualifications and ideal experience that recruiters are looking for. But ultimately, your CV is going to be placed alongside someone else’s, or 5 or 10 someone elses’. And they might all meet those same criteria perfectly.
At that point, what’s going to give you the edge? YOU! Your personality, your character, your authentic self. So I truly believe your CV needs to give clear insight into what kind of person you are.
I absolutely detest words in CVs that are the same words everyone else is using:
- I’m a people person! (Yay! Anyone on the planet can say they’re a people person!)
- Highly motivated (Sounds great. Where’s the evidence?)
- Integrity (You get the picture…)
- Work autonomously
- Work well in a team
Anyone can say those things. How can you illustrate them?
Let’s not pretend that a CV is anything other than a selling document.
It’s your opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective employer. And if there’s anything that you wanna be in that position – it’s confident.
When you’re willing to step a little outside of the norm of convention, just a little, that comes across as confident. I’m not talking about pushing the boundaries hugely. There is such a thing as being overly confident, arrogant, borderline ridiculous. That’s completely up to you whether you think that’s going to sell or not.
But you know what? That’s what I choose to do with mine. Over-the-top Rockstar Writer, check me out! It fits my brand. It sends the message that I want to send. In some situations you might wanna do that. In others it might alienate a prospective employer. But the point is, don’t be exactly the same as everyone else.
Don’t toe the line. BE YOU.
Check out my CV here.
Or download my infographic: How to write a RockStar CV!
People are always asking me for templates. Have you got a report template, Shelly? A business case template, Shelly? A template that will save all the woes of the world, Shelly?
I’ll spare you the clichés about length of string and teaching men how to fish: I DON’T DO TEMPLATES.
Templates are only good if they’re designed for a specific purpose. There is no such thing as ONE magical template for any kind of document.
But we do have some really clear insights into reader behaviour. And from that, we can build a strong, successful, fit-for-purpose document structure.
What readers want
As humans, when we interact with text, we’re subconsciously looking for 3 things.
- What’s this about?
- Is it relevant to me?
- What’s the bottom line?
The importance of the executive summary or up-front framing
If you can answer those 3 questions before you do anything else in a business document, you’ve got your reader in the palm of your hand. They’re hooked. They’re engaged. And they’ll keep reading (or at least scanning through). It’s like mad-genius-evil-mastermind-writing-ninja material – so use your powers for good.
Answering those 3 questions is the basic formula for an executive summary. Of course, you can add more – but those are the bare minimum. If you don’t want to use an executive summary, make sure those 3 questions are answered in your introduction (or background, or scope, or whatever heading your douchebag template tells you is the starting point for saving the planet).
Let’s test this concept – what do you want as a reader?
Picture yourself going to your car and finding a piece of paper under the windscreen wiper.
(Note: Your version may contain less profanity. Whatever floats your boat.)
- What the f*ck is this? You wonder.
(You pick it up and see a company logo – it’s a flyer, not a ticket, thank f*ck)
- What are they selling? You wonder.
(There are pictures of food. It’s a restaurant. You’ve been known to eat occasionally. There’s potential here.)
- So are the prices any good? You wonder.
(That’s the bottom line – now that I know what they have to offer and that I’m interested, this is the deciding factor. Let’s say they’re cheap AF and sound worth trying so we have a happy ending to our scenario. You’re welcome.)
The rest of the document structure depends on content and purpose.
In a nutshell: the rest of your document needs to be structured in terms of what is most relevant to your reader, and then what they need to know so that you can achieve your purpose. Note the difference here – it’s not about what you want them to know – it’s about what they need to know from where they sit. Those can be vastly different things.
In fact, that warrants more discussion. Here’s Part 2!