How to write a report people will actually read

Wow, is the month over already? It must be – "write monthly report" just popped up in your calendar. That dreaded time, when you have to spend your precious time talking about what's already happened, instead of attending to the ever-growing pile of work yet to be done.

Take a breath. It's going to be okay. Today we're going to walk you through exactly why these monthly reports are important for you and your clients/employer, and how to write them so that they don't consume your entire workday AND the client will actually read them, and get value from them.

Why are monthly reports important?

Monthly reports are an important tool for monitoring progress and communicating your achievements to the reader. Monthly reports serve a number of purposes, including:

- Evidence of work delivered & milestones achieved

- Monitoring the project status, in a consistent format comparable across time

- Creating accountability for you and your team

- Helping maintain focus on current & future goals

- A source of reflection for lessons learned

- Justification for changes required

Establish your report's goals

Let's start really high level. You shouldn't be writing a single word of your report before you know *why* you're writing it. Sit down, think about who your reader is, what they're hoping to learn by reading your report, and then backtrack to which information you need to present for them to get there.

Be clear and brief

If you think you're getting a raw deal having to write the monthly report, you can imagine that the reader might feel similar – into their inbox trots this massive, long document full of figures and stats and graphs, totally derailing their morning. At the end of it they’re no wiser and have to come and ask you what half the stuff meant anyway.

The purpose of your report is to communicate the highlights of your past month's work. Respect your reader's time – and your own – and spare them the details.

Don't write paragraphs of text in your reports – use bullet points and checklists to get your message across quickly and succinctly. If your report is quite long, or has a number of sections, you can prepare a (short) Executive Summary either for the whole document or for each section, where you touch on the major milestones achieved.

Use a template

If your reports look different month-to-month, you're doing it wrong. A huge value component of reporting is that you are reporting on the same (or at least similar) data each time, so you can establish trends for insight and analysis. Using a template will save you time in collecting data and writing, make it more digestible/navigable for readers, and deliver more value due to higher trackability.

Restate your project goals

It's easy to lose sight of why things are being done. Briefly reiterate the overarching goals for the project, and if applicable include a high-level break down of the related milestones and their statuses. This puts the reader into familiar territory and also helps shape the anatomy of your report – each section will be related to a goal or milestone.

This is also a great opportunity to show which milestones have been achieved. When writing this page, because of its position in the report (the front) and its high-level view, try to write it so that if the reader doesn't turn the page then they will still have a comprehensive view of everything that has happened in the project that month. Use concise language, and colour coding for statuses. At this stage, less is much, much more.

Break down major accomplishments

This is your chance to fluff your feathers a little and showcase the achievements from the reported period. Try to follow a structure or a narrative that is consistent throughout your document; if you presented your goals in a certain order, try to follow that order. This improves the readability by adding logic to the report's flow.

Use tables, graphics and diagrams to convey your message quickly

We already touched on the use of bullet points to concisely deliver information. Using tables for text is an even better method, particularly when it comes to presenting financial information, or data across a time period. Graphics and diagrams are also invaluable assets in conveying data – the human brain processes images 60,000 faster than text. Check out our infographics for some examples of how to convey information using images.

Raise flags, with recommendations

The reader of the report – whether it's your client, manager or employer – is not going to be pleased if your report is full of problems without solutions. We are certainly not advising sweeping issues under the carpet and pretending they don't exist. What we think is imperative though is when a red flag has been identified, to demonstrate that you're already investigating (or even better, implementing) solutions. This not only shows you are being vigilant in monitoring the progress of your project, but being proactive in risk mitigation too.

Describe goals for the coming month

A report should not be just about the past; it should also be forward-looking. This is as much for you as it is for the client – it keeps you focused, helps you deliver instructions to your team, and shows the reader of the report a snapshot of what to expect next month.

 

Reporting is an indispensable part of any company's processes, regarding of their size, industry or activity. At King Kongtent we place great value in the insights delivered by monthly reports, and provide them as part of our content marketing strategy and social media management services to all our clients.

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