How to dramatically reduce the time you spend writing reports

1 November 2017

There’s nothing like the pressure of a deadline at work to galvanise you into action. If you were one of those uni students who stayed up all night drinking copious cups of espresso the night before your essay was due, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It may be possible theoretically to dash off a report at the last minute, but the quality will suffer and the content is likely to be unclear and incomplete. While you may save your own time in your last-minute sprint, a sub-standard report can waste your reader’s time and is unlikely to get results. It may even damage your personal credibility or your organisation’s reputation.

The good news it there are three quick and easy things you can do to become more efficient with your writing while still producing quality work.

1.    Clearly define the purpose of the report. Much time is wasted at work due to misunderstanding the context of the report. Always check with your manager what outcome she or he expects the report to achieve. Learn as much as you can about the reader, their needs and how they will be using the report. Especially important is finding out how much your reader knows already and how they are likely to feel about your topic.

2.    Set interim deadlines. Working backwards from the due date, set yourself critical milestones. Typical milestones could be:

  • Gather all data and background
  • Write the first draft
  • Revise the draft
  • Prepare graphs and tables
  • Proofread the report.

Always give yourself an earlier deadline than the actual deadline. This will give you a buffer when the inevitable happens and you are interrupted by phone calls and meetings, or need to prepare another, more urgent communication.

3.    Block out small chunks of time. For most people, it would be impossible to block out one large slab of time to complete a report. Pace yourself and chip away at your report in several smaller chunks rather than procrastinating and doing a last-minute brain dump. Ideally, block out time in your calendar.

If you work in an open plan office and are frequently interrupted or distracted, try and find an alternative place to work, such as a meeting room or quiet area. I had a colleague once who used to escape to the roof garden to write. Even half an hour of uninterrupted time early in the morning will be more productive than trying to write your report in a noisy or distracting environment.

If you are still struggling to meet your deadline, it could be that the deadline is unrealistic. Being asked on Tuesday to research and write a 20-page procedure manual by the following afternoon is not achievable. As a guide, it’s likely to take two to three hours to write, revise and proofread a two to three-page report. Longer and more complex reports can take up to seven hours per 1,000 words, excluding preparing graphs and tables.

If a deadline can’t be re-negotiated, you could consider contracting an external editor or proofreader to complete the final stages. Not only will a professional editor save you hours of time, you will have a highly polished and professional report.

For more time-saving tips, read our blog Writing on the run: 3 time-saving tips.

Need help preparing reports and other written communications? Contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638.

 

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