Write An Analytical Report That Readers Will Actually Read

You’ve been given an assignment that requires you to write an analytical report and make recommendations to management. There’s a problem. The last person to complete such an assignment turned in a report that was almost unreadable. Or rather management had a hard time getting through it, understanding the ramifications, and then deciding how to act.
Language Issues
I remember attempting to make sense of a report delivered to a major city council about the state of the social services in the city and how they could be improved. There were two things wrong with the language. The first and more obvious point was that a report destined primarily for laymen was written with too much psychological terminology and was therefore a tough read. The second point was that it was written in a manner that suggested, because they were professionals, that they knew the answers better than anyone else. The tone was one of superiority.
The lessons here may seem obvious. First, use language with which your audience is comfortable so from that perspective it’s an easy read. The second point is a little more complex. The objective of an analytical report is to come up with an independent, unbiased assessment of a situation so that those who requested it are in a position to make a decision. They may ask you to make recommendations based on your findings. They do not want to be told, or have it implied in your report, by tone or manner, that X is the course they must take. To summarize, they want an independent assessment. Give that to them clearly and succinctly. If they ask for recommendations, do so, but never imply that they must take a particular course of action.
Content Issues
As the reader of an analytical report, the last thing you want is to be bogged down by the content. If a report is short – four or five pages – it’s not usually an issue. But if a report is several pages, it’s important to make sure that the information in the body of the report is pertinent to the reader. The reader needs it to make an accurate assessment of what the report contains. The danger is that everything the writer comes up with is recorded in the body of the report.
Readers want to know the key information. They usually don’t need every single thing you’ve found out. As the writer, you have to determine what is essential in the body of your report, and what should go into an Appendix. If the reader desires further information, it’s available in the Appendix. It’s the difference between knowing what’s essential and what is discretionary. When this is clear, the reader is less likely to get lost in a mass of details.
It’s important to be clear about language and content issues before you sit down to write your analytical report. When you are, you serve your readers and help them come to a decision.

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