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With all the wonderful tools that the IT industry has brought to the business world, you would think that the level of written communication would increase. But documentation has become a lost art, especially when it comes to reporting to team members and leaders. Unless your company has an outlined process with strict reporting procedures, your productivity is probably not as high as it could be. Why? Everything falls under one of two reasons: Not knowing that you should have more reporting, or not knowing how to create a good report. Submitting good reports when will do a lot of great things for you and your team, including the following: increasing the awareness of tasks, making sure that important details are not missed, keeping your boss informed to avoid misconceptions & increase confidence, protecting you when thereís a discrepancy, and demonstrating your leadership (in other words Ė it makes you look good!)
Whether you use a document or an e-mail message, a well organized and timely report to your team members or your boss will always be received with appreciated and will always communicate to others that youíre serious about doing your job. By using the guidelines below, youíll be on your way to improving your image and your productivity (even if youíre already doing company reports).
When To Create a Report Reports are excellent for recapping a meeting or important conversation. Once the details are agreed upon by all attending, it is much easier to move forward with confidence. If youíre attending a meeting where youíre expected to give a status of your activity, you should always have your update written to make it easy for you to give your report and for your audience to use as a reference during the meeting and afterwards. Other appropriate moments for a good report are the following: when delivering a project (or milestone), to summarize analyses or research findings, or to assign or hand over a task or project to someone else.
Donít Be Afraid to Take Notes There is nothing more frustrating than trying to remember an important point that you doní have written down. The best way to make sure that your report has all of the important details is to make sure that you have all of the details available to you. Taking meticulous notes from start to finish (even if they donít seem important at the time) will ensure that you get your report right the first time. It may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, but as my mom always said, "A stitch in time saves nine."
Make Your Heading the Eye Catcher When your audience looks at your report, the emotion that you want them to have in the first 5 seconds is that your document is important and should be read. To accomplish this task: 1) The heading should always be first; 2) The heading text should be bold, not italicized and have the largest font size of any other text in your document; 3) Is is preferred that the heading be center-aligned, having it left-aligned is acceptable, but it should never be right-aligned; and 4) the title heading should be simple, short (no more than 6 words), but clear.
Donít Leave Out the Small Details Have you ever held a document in your hand and wondered if it was the latest copy that existed? Have you ever wrecked your brain to figure out what date a meeting was held? These type of details are small, but may become crucial well after youíve submitted the report. They also make your report a complete document. Here are some other small details to consider: Meeting Attendees List, Location, Print Date & Time (always at the bottom), Filename (bottom), Page Numbers (except on the first page), company logo (if itís for a client), Minutes From Last Meeting (if itís for a meeting that repeats on a recurring basis).
Organize Your Information into Sections Remember that youíre not writing for entertainment, but to provide your workgroup or company with information that they need to make business decisions. A good report will make sure that this information is easy to find, and thatís where sections come into play. Make sure that each section has a subheading that is bold and/or underlined; it can also have a slightly larger font size (maybe 2 pts larger). A good place to begin is by dividing your notes into discussion topics; after that, you may want to add sections like Objective, Purpose of the Meeting, Conclusion, Action Items, or Next Steps.
Make It Look Good and Keep It That Way Youíve gone this far to provide for your team, so why not go the extra mile to make sure that your report doesnít get lost amongst other bland documents. Consider the following techniques: 1) Do everything you can to have the fewest amount of pages possible by slightly changing margins, font sizes and even the font face; 2) You donít have to use Times New Roman or Arial, but make sure that the font is clear and very readable - changing the font face on just the headings is another way to give it a change of pace; 3) A simple divider line after the heading or in your footer can bring elagance to a document; 4) Take the extra time to set your copy machine to make good copies - you donít want to spent time making your document look good and have your copy machine ruin it; and 5) Save your document with a filename that makes sense and use this exact copy to make the report like (people respond well to consistency) - learn how to make it into a template to use for new documents later.
Rafael Van Dyke is the site owner of BETTERDOCUMENTS.COM and the editor of its articles & newsletters. Go to http://www.betterdocuments.com to subscribe to newsletters and to download FREE DOCUMENT TEMPLATES.