You hand in the technical report that you have been preparing for your boss for the last week. You were working until the early hours and just finished for the Friday morning deadline. Unfortunately these are the comments that your boss makes after lunch on Friday.
- I asked you to produce a short report for the meeting but you produced thirty pages! What’s going on?
- I can’t follow your ideas for the recommendations you’ve made because they’re all jumbled up
- Why do you keep using words like ‘above-mentioned’ and ‘at this moment in time’?
- I like your report, but you need to give us more information: you use words like ‘soon’ and ‘after a while’
but the department needs to know when this is going to happen.
- Why have you put your situation analysis at the beginning and your aim at the end?
- It’s got too much of your own opinions, and not enough hard fact.
- So, what you’re saying is that this is the problem and this is the solution.
- Always remember a report this long needs a summary at the beginning so people can get the information they need quickly.
The above comments represent all the things that can go wrong with an poorly planned and structured report. Here are some tips to make sure your writing achieves the desired effect.
a) Be direct
Use tact but don't use language to avoid an issue because it is difficult.
Instead of restructuring, re-engineering, redeploying, downsizing
Use job losses (this is usually what the above words mean!)
b) Don’t use jargon and clichéd phrases
Jargon and cliché is the enemy of clarity and hides your ideas.
Instead of zero-sum game
Write a situation where there is only one winner
Instead of at this moment in time
c) Use the active voice wherever possible
Sentences in the active voice are easier to understand. The active voice also makes it clear who is responsible.
Instead of In a week’s time the decision will be taken.
Write We will decide in a week's time.
d) Try personal pronouns
Using first and second person pronouns to make your writing clearer.
Instead of The British Council wants customers to be informed that waiting time will be reduced.
Write You will be served quicker.
e) Use verbs and try to avoid nouns ending in -ion
Clear English prefers doing words.
Instead of The realisation of cost benefit analysis should lead to a reduction in overall expenditure.
Write This will save us money.
h) When you have a choice, use the simpler word
Long words by themselves do not prove that you are smart.
Instead of to access
Write to open/use
Instead of to initiate
Write to begin/start
Instead of in close proximity to
i) Use short sentences
Short sentences help people understand new ideas and information.
Guy Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communication skills training to developing English skills. Visit our website at www.britishcouncil.org.my or email us at email@example.com.