Your reports are chock-full of data, have a positive, personable voice, and you made sure to use extra industry jargon so everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. And it’s not like this is high school - no maximum word count means extra room to explore the topic. So… they’re perfect, right?

Wrong! Your reports are very hard to read. They are bloated, and the person reading it doesn’t have time for jokes and jargon. There’s no point to a report if it can’t be understood and subsequently acted on. So here’s three ways to trim down your reports and get your findings into the hands of the people who can use them for good.

1. Cut Down Your Writing Style

It’s probably been a while since you took a grammar course, right? That’s ok, nobody expects you to do one. But if your role regularly involves writing, it might be a good idea to brush up on a few concepts. These will help you stay on topic, look professional, and be engaging.

i. The Active Voice

Active voice tells the reader what a person or thing does. Passive voice tells them what is done to someone or something. For example: “Tom will finish his report by tomorrow” is active - Tom is getting things done. It’s punchy and gets the message across. The passive construction is “The report will be finished by Tom tomorrow.” Read that aloud. Feels sluggish, right? Stick to the active voice and you’ll notice your word count drop and your feedback skyrocket.

ii. Jargon

Jargon is a set of special words or expressions used as a kind of shorthand - for example, the terms “solutioneering” or “synergy”. If you were to ask five people what these words actually mean, you’d get five different answers. Jargon turns a sentence from direct to vague in one word. Look for common-use synonyms to simply and directly explain what you mean.

iii. Superlatives

Excellent. Magnificent. Unsurpassed. Formidable. First-rate. Unique. Superlatives are the adjectives that make your topic sound important or impressive. Of course it’s important, you’re writing a report about it! Cut them out completely and you’ll have a much more frank and professional document.

2. Organise Your Body

The body of your report is where you go into detail about your research and findings. Keeping to a strict structure and using only direct language will help keep your word count in check.

That structure covers five steps:

  1. State the problem - clearly overview the reason for the report.
  2. Identify the background/context - how did this problem arise?
  3. Literature Review - explore any research around the problem, and conduct some of your own if needed.
  4. Analysis & Evaluation - what findings from the research are relevant to you and why?
  5. Discuss the findings - explore your options going forward.

Keeping a clear and logical flow is key to an effective report body. Stick only to what is 100% relevant and communicate that efficiently.

3. The Executive Summary

This report will be read and acted upon by a decision-maker within your organisation. That decision maker is probably incredibly busy trying to guide the organisation in an effective direction. The truth is that they don’t have the time to read your whole report, no matter how quick and logical it is.

That’s where the executive summary comes in - it’s a brief but effective overview of your findings placed at the beginning, so the reader can get a solid understanding of the report at a glance. It is not just a long-winded introduction. Treating it as such will have your report straight in the bin, and you’ll have wasted a lot of time.

There are a lot of bad reports out there, and if you get used to reading them you’ll start writing them too. Check your habits, focus on brevity, and your readers will love you.