You have written a report about your work, which you are proud of and you sent this report to your immediate supervisor for vetting. He disagreed with the way you have written your report because his boss would like to read the report in another manner. You made the changes and when the report reached the middle management level, he sent the report back to you and demanded that you
make undo some of the changes you did because his boss would like to read this differently.
With the same report going to your boss, the middle management and up to the senior management, it is hard to make the same report suit different taste and even harder to list out your contributions within that report.
However, you will still have to produce this quality report as this affects the impression you are going to give your boss, leading up to your promotion.
Sounds like a life’s playing a joke on you?
I worked in a government agency, writing a report takes up a ridiculous amount of time due to the number of edits required at different stages of the vetting at different management levels. Colloquially, we call this the “ding-dong” process. I can’t avoid this, but understanding how my boss reads my report can reduce the number of editing cycles. Over the years, I think I got the hang of this and I thought, why not share this strategy with everyone, something that’s seldom taught in school?
My strategy is to give my bosses options what to read in my report, much like an adventure game book. Of course, I’m not saying that this is going to work for everyone, but if you can save your boss some time reading through chunks and chunks of details in your report, and save your own time rewriting the report, why not.
Analysing the Audience
So how do bosses read reports? That depends on what they are in charge of in the company. For me, my bosses will be interested in the following:
- Immediate Supervisor: Everything! Including the technical details on how you got certain things done.
- Middle Management: A summarised version of your report and maybe a bit of details.
- Senior Management: An ultra summarised version of your report that talks about the bottom line of the company
Hence, the very first thing to know is at what level is this report pitching at. I ask my boss all the time where he would like to send my report to so I can craft it to the right level of details.
Zoning the Report
To effectively give readers options on what they want to read, I divided my report into four zones:
Appendices: Comprises mostly technical details and sometimes graphs and chart that might interrupt the flow of the main report. This portion of the report is meant for my immediate supervisor.
Main Paper: Comprises mainly business details, marking clearly my contributions. A small amount of technical details might also be placed here only if the details are part of my contributions. The rest are referenced to the appendices of the report. I also try to keep this portion between 2 to 7 pages long. This portion of the report is meant for the middle management and my immediate supervisor.
Executive Summary: Part of the main paper and always written last, the executive summary gives a concise explanation of what this report is for and what the subject described in the report is about. It usually has a statement about the progress made in the subject. This portion is meant for the senior management.
Conclusion: Part of the main paper and also written last, the conclusion is a highly summarised version of the main paper that talks about the accomplishments of the subject matter with a business slant. This portion is meant for the senior management.
I also noticed that by dividing my report as such, I can also allow everyone to choose how much details they want to read into, or whether they would like to read the business or technical portions of the subject.
Writing the Main Paper and the Appendices
I usually begin by writing the main paper, starting out with the objectives of the report and subject as close to what I want in the final report as possible to make sure I know what I am exactly writing about. After that, I’ll fill out major headers, points and keywords that I want to write in point form.
Next, I’ll begin filling up the details to those points, how ever my thought flows. Because of that, I tend to jump around a lot in writing my report but that is fine as I already have the outline in place.
Where I need to move into a segment that explains about a technical detail, I will shift them into a separate appendix and refer to that from my main paper. For technical details requiring only about one to two statements to explain, I’ll use footnotes instead.
I also tend to reread and edit the report after completion of major sections to make sure it flows from section to section.
Writing the Executive Summary and Conclusion
These two portions are written last and I make sure that they must not contain new information that are not found in the report written so far. It has to:
- Clearly explain the key accomplishments of the subject
- Be able to stand on its own without the other portions of the report
One Last Read, Get Someone to Read and Ready to Go
Once completed and checked for grammar, I’ll reread the entire main paper and appendices separately to make sure they flow. I’ll also get someone to read if possible and more often than not, my colleagues are able to spot mistakes within my report which I’m unable to spot them.
Once that is done, I take a deep breathe, and it is time to go through the vetting process. I’ve done all that I could~
What do you think of this strategy? Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts. I’ll be glad to learn from you too.