Nude superstars frolicking on a Cannes beach probably have nothing to do with your working day, but now that I have your attention, here are some tips you may find useful for writing corporate reports.
The ultimate aim of any type of structured writing is to convey your meaning clearly, without ambiguity. You want readers to be able to understand what you are saying with the minimum of effort.
If your intention becomes clear from the first few sentences, you will establish an early connection with your readers and they will continue on instead of giving up and finding other more interesting things to do, such as reading travel brochures on Cannes.
More importantly, if you make your readers work for the wisdom you are trying to impart – and that will be obvious from the first few paragraphs – you risk losing their trust in the rest of your work.
Explain without assumption
The old advice to imagine that you have to explain what you are writing about to your aunt still holds. It becomes especially important if you have to write about complex financial subjects because unless your aunt is a member of the Reserve Bank of Australia board, you will need to go easy on her.
To that end, use simple terms, explain without making any assumptions about your audience’s level of knowledge on the subject, and don’t write to the cognoscenti. In fact, it’s best to write as if your audience knows nothing about your subject because the gaps in your knowledge will appear quickly if you can’t explain things without resorting to assumptions and jargon.
As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Remember, you’re telling a story – or making a case, if you prefer – so start at the beginning. Good writing makes a point, so be bold and make it early then build your argument to support it – that way your readers know immediately where you stand.
It’s also important to structure your writing logically. The best writing takes the reader on a journey and at its conclusion, returns neatly to the point made at the very beginning. The reward for this effort should be a clear understanding of your subject.
- Be precise. You will lose your reader if what you mean is not crystal clear.
- Be concise. Don’t use three words when one will do.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram sentences with multiple concepts, as that can lead to confusion. Break complex concepts into manageable chunks so that anyone unfamiliar with the topic can follow what you are saying without having to strain.
- Use active voice. This makes your writing easier to read, simplifies the writing task and reduces the number of words you will be tempted to use. What is passive voice? Writing a sentence backwards, it is. Thanks, Yoda.
It ain’t easy
Report writing isn’t easy but following these simple rules may make your task a happier one and help your audience understand how clever you are.
One clear benefit will be an increase in your standing among your peers, which is especially important if you aim to be a thought leader.
Finally, be prepared to take advice. Listen to your peers and realise that your first draft will never be your final draft. Most importantly, make sure you have your work edited – everyone needs a good editor.
Success breeds excess, so do it right and you can slip off to Cannes to see how many superstars actually frolic nude on the beaches.