While CE writing instructor Christine DuBois looks forward to teaching her upcoming class Report Writing and Document Design, she agreed to make time in her schedule to share with us some details about how class came about, the advantages of mastering the material, and what students can look forward to learning in her class.
How do you define report writing?
Report writing covers a wide variety of documents—from environmental impact statements to accident investigations to updates on PTA fundraising. Some are brief; others are hundreds of pages long.
What do you feel sets business writing skills (like report writing) apart from any other sort of expository writing?
The biggest difference between report writing and other writing projects is that report writing requires a lot of planning and organizing before you start writing. Some people write entire novels without an outline; the story unfolds in their imagination as they write. But that won’t work with reports.
You need to start by identifying the purpose of the report and your audience. What type of report are you writing and who will read it? Is your purpose to inform your audience, analyze a situation, or recommend a solution? Are you writing for managers, scientists, or the general public?
Then you need to plan the structure of your report and determine what will be covered in each section. And in some cases, you may need to gather the information.
The time you spend planning and organizing before you start writing will pay off in a better report, and will save time in the long run.
That said, you still need basic business writing skills: the ability to write clear, concise sentences; cite concrete examples; and use correct grammar and punctuation. My Business Writing Essentials class (coming up at NSC on Oct. 30) covers those skills. I see report writing as a specific form of business writing.
What are some elements you most look forward to teaching in Report Writing and Document Design?
We cover the entire report writing process: planning, researching, writing, and design. I help students write a one-sentence summary of their report to guide their writing. We talk about how to divide the report into various sections—executive summary, introduction, findings, analysis, conclusion, recommendations, for example—and how to gather the information for each section.
Document design is important, too. How can you make your report look inviting? What are the best choices of font type and size? Do you need photos or other illustrations? We talk about best practices and look at examples—both good and bad.
Using meaningful headers and subheads can help get your message across. About 80 percent of readers will read the headers and subheads. But only 20 percent will read everything.
I also share tips that will helps student save time. For example, if you often write the same type of report, like membership updates, you can save time by using a template.
What are some advantages to mastering report writing skills?
Mastering report writing skills not only dials down your stress level when the deadline’s approaching, it gives you a tool to build support for projects you care about. It also can help advance your career.
Some companies hire freelance writers to write or edit reports, so if you’re a freelancer, mastering those skills can lead to new job opportunities.
Who are the different types of audiences students can look forward to writing for in your class? How are they distinct? Can you give us some examples?
You always need to consider your audience. If you’re sending a monthly progress report to the Roadway Improvements Committee, you don’t need to go into all the background. Just give the latest developments. But if you’re writing for the general public, you’ll need to provide more context. What road projects are being done and why? Another consideration is whether you’re writing for experts or laypeople.
The challenge is to present your information and recommendations in a compelling way that makes your reader understand the problem and want to take action. To do that, you need to understand your reader.
It always comes down to how do I get my reader to care about this? Maybe I’m writing about an effort to reduce crime in the neighborhood, or why our office should invest in a new computer system, or ways to get more women into STEM jobs. I need to present the current situation/problem and what we propose to do or are already doing about it.
What will the learning environment for Report Writing and Document Design be like?
The class is a mixture of lecture, discussion, and hands-on writing exercises.
Students in the class come from a variety of businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. I encourage students to share what’s working at their workplace. The chance to share ideas and learn from one another is so valuable.
What do you look forward to students taking away from your class?
Many people who come to the class have been assigned to write a report and haven’t done one before. They’re not always given clear direction. When they walk out of class, they’ll have a road map and a clear idea of the next step.
Learn more about Report Writing and Document Design.
Photo credit #2: Sean Bacon_cc_2.0