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Report Writing

Many people agonise over writing reports, other people enjoy the opportunity it gives them to reflect. Many people do not look forward to reading reports because they are often too long and unclear.

Why do we write reports?

Effective reports are critical organisational documents because they:
§ Communicate information and ideas about your work, and that of your organisation.
§ Reflect and explain progress with work – and lack of progress.
§ Make it easier for your organisation to assess progress and plan anew.
§ Promote accountability.
§ Promote discussion and informed decision-making.
§ Emphasise problems and make recommendations.
§ Share information, learnings and experiences.
§ Provide analysis and offer insights into the way forward.
§ Help with effective and strategic planning.
§ Help members to participate in the democratic processes of your organisation.

Who do we write reports for?

Who you write reports for varies from organisation to organisation. Depending on the purpose of your report, your audience could include:
§ staff
§ members
§ executive committee
§ board
§ funders
§ other organisations
§ members of the public

It is important to be completely clear about why you are writing your report.

Know why you are writing

Before you start the actual formal writing, it helps to think about and identify why you are writing something, and what you are writing.
Answer some basic questions first…….
Before you start writing a draft, think and scribble around answering these questions:
o Why am I writing this?
o What do I want to achieve?
o Who am I writing for?
o What do I want people to think, feel, know or do after they have read it?
o What would be the best form for it to be written in? An article, pamphlet, poster, etc?

You can use the free writing tool included in this toolkit during your thinking time.

Answering these questions will help you to be clearer, more confident and quicker in your writing process.

How do people read reports?

Ask some people you know who read reports. Then see if you think they fit into this kind of pattern of report reading:…..

§ Skim read the report first, reading the headings and sub-headings. This way they get a sense of what the main points of the report are, and how long it will take them to read it.
§ Get a heavy heart feeling if the report is long.
§ Want to know up-front what main message the report contains.
§ Read the summary, if one is provided.
§ Read the introduction and conclusion.
§ Skim the report again, reading the headings and sub-headings and the first line or two below the sub-headings.
§ As they skim the headings, they will stop and look at graphs, or other kinds of illustrations, because these are easy to get information from quickly.
§ If the report is very long and not very interesting, they will probably put it low on their list of things to do. They may even dread the job of reading it.
§ If the report is very long they may never read the whole report.
§ If the report is short, to the point and written in an easy way, they may read the whole report straight away.

Knowing about how people read reports helps us to write more effective ones. After you have read this section, think about what you might decide to do differently next time you write a report.

Different kinds of reports

There are many different kinds of reports – we are sure you are familiar with them. They include:
§ annual reports
§ committee reports
§ financial reports
§ staff reports
§ membership reports
§ research reports
§ special reports
§ progress reports

We give some more details around annual reports, committee reports and financial reports. (Please refer separate module for Annual Report)

Committee reports

§ A committee member is usually delegated to write a committee report.
§ Committee reports are progress reports, and are written more frequently than annual reports.
§ They are short reports to explain progress of a particular task given to that committee.

For Financial reports (see a separate module of Financial Documentation)

Long reports
If your report is long, then it would be best to include a summary near the beginning. Your summary could be a paragraph or a page, depending on how long your report is. You will need a contents section.

Short reports
If your report is short, you do not need a summary. However, a contents section is always helpful for the reader.

What goes into a report?

Many people hate writing reports. This can generate stress and resistance. Report writing can end up feeling like a huge burden, a thankless task. If you feel like this it will take you longer and be harder to write. Keep reminding yourself what a crucial role reports play in the life of your organisation, helping to make sure your organisation reflects on its progress and its problems.

Planning a report
After you have brainstormed the contents of your report, draw up a plan for what you want to include. As part of this process, you will also be able to decide where you need to put lots of detail, what you can leave out, and what you can just mention. Remember – keep it short, simple and straightforward. Use headings and sub-headings for your main points, and write from there.

Structuring a report:
Your report must make sense. It needs a logical flow. You will be able to test for logical flow by asking someone to read it and give you feedback.

Your report should include:
§ A meaningful (and interesting, if possible) title.
§ The date of the report.
§ The author of the report.
§ The contents list, if it is a fairly long report.
§ A summary of the main point/s of the report, especially if it is a long report. Your report’s objective must be clearly stated.
§ A logical flow of items, with meaningful sub-headings for each. The main point of the paragraph should be at the top of it.
§ A conclusion, which could be your recommendations section. Don’t use your conclusion to restate everything already stated. Try to use it creatively.

The finishing touches

The key to an effective report is that it is easy and interesting to read. Many of us pass our work onto someone else to edit when we feel we have finished writing it. But editing is something a writer should do for him or herself before handing over to someone else. This way, you have more control over your writing. This section looks at the writer becoming an editor of his or her own work, and at simple techniques for editing to make your work more powerful.

Design and layout of a report:

Ask yourself what you like in a report. Do you like to read lots of heavy text? Do you appreciate a report that has some illustration – even a cartoon, maybe? Jot down a few ideas for yourself as to what you do and don’t like when you have to read another person’s report.

Here are some guidelines:
§ Typeface. It does matter what kind of lettering you write in. Some lettering is easier on the eye than others. Here are some tips, especially for people who type their reports:

Use a serif typeface (like this one, with the little feet at the bottom) for the main
o Use a sans serif typeface (like this one, without the little feet at the bottom) for your headings and sub-headings only as it is harder on the eye to read.
o Avoid THE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS EXCEPT FOR PROPER NOUNS. Capital letters are harder to read and tend to “shout”.
§ Try not to use italics like this too much as it takes more effort to read.
§ Use underlining as little as possible as it dazzles the reader.
§ Use bold to a minimum as it is also rather dazzling.
§ Keep the size of the print comfortable to read – not too big and not too small.
§ Use lots of headings and subheadings.
§ Use uncomplicated numbering.
§ Number your pages.
§ Allow for uncluttered space, have wide margins, let the text breathe.
§ Use photos, graphics, cartoons where appropriate.

Tips on writing an effective report
Have you ever had someone give you a thirty-page report to read that is pages and pages of typing? Doesn’t your heart drop? How will you ever plough through all the words, let alone remember key points?

There is an idea around that if your report is not long then it must be. This is not true. If you want to write an effective report then:
§ Plan ahead – don’t leave it to the last minute!
§ Plan time in for reflecting and revising your report.
§ Ask yourself what you want your reader to know, think, feel and do after they have read your report. This helps to keep you on track.
§ Write it in a short, simple and straightforward style.
§ Use appropriate language, style and tone.
§ Give it a title that tells the reader what to expect.
§ Give it a contents section for the reader to skim and know what to expect.
§ Be logical.
§ Be informative.
§ Be clear.
§ Be accurate.
§ Be analytical.
§ Offer insights.
§ Make sure you have not left any information gaps.
§ Make your point up-front – don’t keep the reader guessing by leaving it to the conclusion. You can do that with a novel but not a report.
§ Use lots of sub-headings.
§ Use the first sentence under each sub-heading to make the paragraph’s main point. This helps the busy reader.
§ Present it in an airy way, with lots of spaces to help keep the reader going.
§ Collect information, newspaper clippings, graphs, cartoons – any information that will be useful for your next report along the way. You can keep a file especially for this so that when it is time to write, you are already prepared.

Presenting your report
Here are some tips for preparing a report presentation:

§ Keep it short and clear.
§ Use everyday language. Lots of jargon and fancy words can make people feel left out or undermined.
§ If your presentation needs to be translated as you speak, then make it as easy as possible by not saying a lot before giving the translator their turn.
§ Have eye contact with your audience.
§ Talk loudly and clearly – make sure everyone can hear you.
§ Try to talk in an interesting, varied tone of voice.
§ Know your report well enough so that you only refer to notes, and do not have to read it out word-for-word.
§ Knowing your report well will help to make you feel confident.
§ Use examples where appropriate.
§ Write up your notes in big lettering so you can refer to them easily.
§ Give your audience a handout if it will help them follow and remember.
§ Offer your audience an opportunity to ask you questions about your report. You can refer some of the questions to other people present, if appropriate.
§ Highlight the most important points that your audience needs.
§ If you are reporting on an issue where there are differences of opinion within your organisation, then make sure that you give a balanced report. You may have to report putting forward a position that you do not personally agree with.

Following are various formats of day to day recordings of the various activities of NGO.
1. Supervisor Register: Project Supervisor is the key person who is responsible for monitoring the project or any particular task in NGO. He / she should record all the important things which are relevant to the impact of actual work being done by organization. He / she should mention the qualitative and quantitative achievements and some difficulties if he comes across. These recordings are very useful when we need to take some reference for some decision. This category of documentation can be applied to any organization. This register can be more helpful when we undertake the analysis of our work.
2. Community Register: It includes demographic details of community with whom organization works. Such demographic details are very useful to measure our impact. It gives us the base thought to take the decisions to run any kind of activity in community. It also explains whether there is any improvement in the demographic features of community after our intervention. These details can be rechecked after every six or four months. And we can record the changes which have happened because of our intervention.
3. Programme register: If any NGO organizes a specific programme frequently in the community, then organization should maintain a register of programme stating the details of number of people who attended the same, content of programme, outcome of programme etc. Date, timing and other technical details are also filled up in this register. E.g. NGO working on health issues conducts the Medical Check up Camp
4. Work Plan Register: It directly relates with our daily planning to execute our intervention. It is made with the reference of WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). This register can be very useful to keep a check whether we are going as per our planning or not. We can also write the name of responsible person for specific activity. This can be useful to present to our funders. So that, they can have understanding about our work.
5. Visitors Note: It is very useful to get new ideas from people. We should ask each and every visitor of our organization to write their opinions about the NGO. It highlights the appreciable efforts and also addresses the issues which need improvisation.
6. Assembly Register: We need to keep records of all type of gatherings of our organization. It will give us details about the people who attended the gathering so that we can keep in touch with these people. Many of them might become our prospective funder. We also need to write the details about the programme which was planned in get-together.
7. Stock Register: In this, register, we need to keep records of our assets and properties right from a single pensile to land of our ownership. This register helps us to describe the various things which are physically available with us. It will also keep a check on the usage of our stock and help us to control the usage of all these things.
8. Community Contact Register: This is most important register for any NGO. We record the contacts from our beneficiaries and the communities with whom we are working. Even if the person of NGO changes, then new person can get easily familiar to the people with whom we are working.
Inputs given by Deepti Ameta, Sevamandir on Documentation

Reports to Corporates:

Whenever there is corporate funding for the project, NGO should submit 3 to 4 reports in the entire year. Each report should have some developmental content which should be different than earlier one. Report for each month is really not necessary. Three reports can contain the progress in each quarter and fourth report should give final picture and outcome of the programme.

In order to write a progress report, NGO should first decide the format of reporting and documentation in consultation with funder. Afterwards, it becomes very easy for funders to assess the programme run by any organization

Updates to our donors:

NGO should send annual report, interim report, publications, research reports, e-newsletters etc in order to update well-wishers of the organization. NGOs can invite we-wishers at various functions organized throughout the year. It ensures easy communication about the achievements of organization with general people. It may contain the tables showing the time period of implementation of programme, total number of beneficiaries and household

Documentation – Inputs given by Vandana, HSBC

o There should be figures, graphical presentations of the activities done and its outcome. Case studies having the same essence are not much useful. NGO should give something which can be understood at a single glance. Proper tables should be constructed.
o Reporting differs as per the donor. The same report which is given to corporate is also given to individual donor also which is not acceptable. Everybody should be given a statement of fund utilization through constructive projects which may differ
o NGOs should have certain standard areas of reporting.
o Reports especially annual report should be written on the basis of some benchmarks and standards. Report should also include what is achieved and what is not achieved as per benchmarks decided
o Annual report should also include about networking and advocacy.
o Any activity report should be not more than two pages because nobody has time to read a big success stories. These two pages should also include financial statement also.

Importance of Documentation in fund raising – Ravi Puranik, ACC Foundation

ACC more emphasizes on sitting together with community and NGO as well in order to see what has been done, in which period, where it has been done. NGOs are asked to map and record these meetings and to convert in a simple documentation and records about achievements and outcomes. It serves two purposes. One is Corporate / funder can get an idea about what is happening on actual field. It also gives us community insights about the programme which has been implemented.

Organization should also do an audio-visuals at-least once in every six months. This is very helpful while showing an impact of our work. People of community have direct opportunity to speak out about the programme.

Form a community advisory group which includes representatives from community, local bank, local self government, corporate, NGO etc. This audit committee can keep continuous check on the activities going on under specific project.

ACC also tries to take community meetings in villages. ACC ensures that NGO write the proper minutes of these meetings. It prevents any communication gap which might resulted in to problems for everybody involved in the project. All these methods of documentation are exercised at community level.

At the level of corporate communication, certain milestones should be set up collectively by organization and the company. Documentation and reporting of organization should flow from the framework which has been decided as milestones. These reports should be submitted to corporate at the end of every quarter. Such reporting should include what has been achieved and by when and about the utilization of resources.

These reports should demonstrate the performance in terms of physical efforts and achievements and expenditure of the project. This helps corporates to verify if you have under-performed physically and it also helps them to understand whether NGO has done physically well but have spent more money in programme implementation. Corporates also verify the physical to financial ratio of success of the project or programme.

Another or final form of reporting should be in the framework of some case studies which also can be inserted in Annual report of organization. ACC asks NGOs to gather the stories from the community on how people have actually been benefited. These stories should cover the socio-economic condition of beneficiary before implementing the project in his / her area and after the completion of project. It should show certain valuable impact in the life of beneficiary.