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Advice and resources to help you plan and write professional reports that do the job
For those answers that don't need a full article
Executive summaries are almost always a good idea – to give busy readers an efficient and accessible overview of your full report.
You may not need to include one if your report is very short (like a one- or two-pager). If you’re not sure, you can double-check with the person who requested the report whether they would like you to include the summary or not.
But any report over four pages will definitely benefit from an executive summary. A well-written summary can draw readers into the rest of your document.
The executive summary should ideally be one or two pages, and no more than 10% of the whole report’s length. Although they’re often treated as an afterthought, executive summaries are very important documents in their own right. They need to be able to act as a gateway into the full document – or even a replacement for it, for the very busy reader.
Indeed, they are tough to write exactly because they need to be short! They should contain only the most crucial information (and nothing that doesn’t also feature in the full report).
Writer’s block can have a few different causes, but it’s often a case of not being confident we know what’s required of us. If your brief isn’t clear, the best thing to do is to go back to the person who requested the report and ask them to fill in the blanks.
Knowing why they need the report is key: what purpose does it need to serve? Is it to inform, to recommend, to update? What level of detail do they need? Who will be the final audience(s) for the report? (And know that there is nothing wrong with asking these questions! It will allow you to write a report that can do the job it needs to.)
A mind map can help you unlock the information that’s already in your mind – and it can be a great way to get unstuck too. The process will also highlight gaps in your current knowledge to ask for more information on or to research.
Watch our short video on creating mind maps here.
We know that this is a concern, as we hear it from delegates on our courses. But the answer is (probably) yes – as long as you plan and structure it carefully. Make sure you use mind mapping to plan the report. As part of this process, classify the information so that elements appear in a logical place depending on whether it’s essential for all or only some of your readers.
Different readers are likely to want different things from the document. Some will be ‘helicopter’ readers who want to swoop in, grab the key messages and swoop out again. Others will be detail-focused people who’ll want to know everything they possibly can about the subject. So having clear signposting (like descriptive subheadings) will be especially important in documents with multiple audiences.
Learn more about mind mapping in this short video.
More on writing effective subheadings here.
Think tanks and policy research / Healthcare
Think tanks and policy research
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