Four Tips to Help You Write a Better Report NOW

Four Tips to Help You Write a Better Report NOWIf you want to be successful in just about any line of work, solid written communication skills will help you immensely. Yesterday I talked about report writing as it pertains to audits. I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful with DEL and FIN if I had not been a good writer.

One of my favorite writing-oriented blogs, Copyblogger, has predicted that content creators will be the next generation of in-demand workers.

Think about it: how many blogs do you follow? I follow at least 10, if not more, and a blogger who sticks around for any length of time gets better ranking in search, and a lot more credibility. After all, how many scam artists stick around for five years generating great content that you want to read? Not many.

I am working on an ebook that will be filled with tips on how to write a great report. In the meantime, here are four tips to help you write a better report NOW, regardless of the type of report.

1.    Organization is Key!

Organize your thoughts BEFORE you begin writing. A solid report is key to being taken seriously when it comes to loan audits, and perhaps every other type of report needed in the workplace. How do you do this? Well….

2.     Start by Creating an Outline

Remember that English teacher who told you to sketch an outline? Yes, it still works. And it’s OK if you don’t go with your initial ideas on how to organize the information. The point is to get something down on paper, and refine it as you go along.

Consider the most important points. If you have one or more very important points to make, put them first. Refine further by priority.

Are there points that you MUST make? If so, consider placing them first in your outline.

Also, think about how the information will flow for the reader. Is the information choppy and out of logical order? If it’s not well organized, the reader could be confused.

3.    Group Similar Points Together Under Headings

To illustrate my point on this tip, I will use an example from my own materials.

If you’ve read my DIY Mortgage Review for Borrowers, you know that I have different types of audits. To make things flow for the reader, I break up the information in the book by audit type.

Here are some of the headings/sections that might make sense in an audit report and an appropriate order:

Introduction
Discussion of limitations of report
Disclaimer
Snapshot of details
TILA
RESPA
Chain of Ownership/Recorded Documents
The Note
The Deed of Trust/Mortgage
Bankruptcy Proceedings
Public Sources of Information
Conclusion
Appendix

This is almost exactly the order my reports follow, with some variation when it makes sense.

3.    Is Your Final Conclusion Supported by the Evidence You Uncovered?

This is a BIG one. If all of your research points in one direction, and you reach a conclusion that is going in the opposite conclusion, there’s a problem.

In coaching people in report writing, I’ve found that this is the single biggest problem, aside from grammar and punctuation. Your conclusion must be supported by the evidence.

If your conclusion is NOT supported by the evidence, people will wonder about your motivation.

I talk about incentives all the time – whenever I see a report that does not make sense, I immediately think that someone is being paid to reach a particular conclusion. This happens frequently with some large studies, for example, medial studies underwritten by pharmaceutical companies. And yes, you are being paid to dig around for your client, but that does NOT mean you should make up or modify your conclusion because your client wants it to turn out in their favor.

Another reason this is bad juju is because anyone with critical thinking skills (like an attorney) will pick your report apart in minutes. And then you’ll be dealing with a very angry client who will want to blame you for telling them what they want to hear.

Sometimes, homeowners and even attorneys are not logical – they are angry and will do things that could come back to haunt you. Be brutally honest with your client about your findings so that they don’t do something they, or you, will regret later, and be sure to document that.

4. Use Proper Grammar and Punctuation, and a Consistent Font and Margins Throughout the Report

This is all about attention to details. People do make judgments about you when you don’t use proper English. If you don’t know how to spell something, look it up!

And make sure your margins and fonts are the same throughout the report.

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