STILL TRYING TO FINISH THAT REPORT?
Of course, reporting is an important part of any MELS / accountability system. And while for many of us collecting and analysing the data isn't such an issue, communicating is - especially if English isn't our first language.
And are we supposed to write like those fancy UN reports we see when we are telling stories from the field?
And What Is Professional Writing Anyway?
SO WHAT IS PROFESSIONAL WRITING?
It’s about change, getting results: making something happen. Recommendations followed, proposals accepted: these are just two examples.
Every time we write we are trying to make a change in the 'real world'.
Professional Writing is not about ‘informing’ or ‘sharing’.
While sharing information may lead to results, this only happens when the information is relevant to the action we want to make happen. Giving information may be enough in academic writing - after all, in most academic writing we are trying to ‘show how much we know’ and are writing to experts to demonstrate our knowledge.
In Professional Writing, however, you are the expert. You are the one who has first-hand knowledge of the project, who has conducted the research, or who has links with the community / end users.
You know more than the reader.
You are the one who has gathered and analysed the data, and your conclusions and opinions matter.
Let's think about reporting for a moment.
It’s a lot more than presenting data. The reporter has to use various methods to gather information and come up with solid conclusions based on hard facts. You have more responsibilities than to just ‘inform’ your reader. Your job is to:
- Draw conclusions
- Help your reader decide on action
So remember that we are writing for action.
How we organise our writing, how clear our ideas are, the language we use, our style, and the correctness of our writing all certainly do matter: but only because they contribute to the results we want.
WHAT MAKES WRITING EFFECTIVE?
I've trained 1000s of development professionals to write better reports, proposals and case studies, and there are some key features of good writing that mean whatever you write gets the results you want.
MAKE YOUR OBJECTIVE CLEAR
Most important, of course, is whether the writing has a clear objective. The purpose in writing - and this applies not just to documents but also to every single paragraph you write - must be 100% clear. If not, your reader cannot take action.
START WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
Well-organised writing starts with its conclusion or action to be taken. Documents are usually arranged in Order of Importance. Paragraphs should always start with their conclusion: the supporting data / explanations should come after the main point.
KEEP IT CLEAR AND BRIEF
Writing should be concise. The amount of information should not be too much, so we avoid unnecessary details and background wherever we can. Sentences should be short (average 15 words) so as not to strain the reader, and, typically, we should try to use shorter, more familiar words wherever possible and appropriate.
KEEP YOUR LANGUAGE SIMPLE
Appropriate Language means choosing words appropriate to your reader; avoiding unnecessary terminology; and using simple, modern and brief words wherever possible.
SHARPEN YOUR STYLE
Style is something personal. It’s ‘how’ you express your ideas rather than what you say. Your style should aim to be persuasive and interesting.
EDIT LIKE A PRO
And, of course, accuracy is important. However it is for good reason at the bottom of our list. A successful report or proposal does not depend on our spelling, grammar and punctuation; it depends on our ideas and ability to persuade others. Even so, being accurate is important to give the right impression.