8 Ways to Write a Report That Makes an Impact
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Regardless of what you write, you probably want the reader to feel and learn something. Or even to make a decision of some kind. As a competitive intelligence professional, it is key to write your report or newsletter in a way that influences the reader. Here is how.
- First decide on why you are writing a report
- Create a reader profile; be clear on who you write for
- Decide on a format
- Decide on distribution frequency
- Set up a collaboration team
- Write a heading that sells
- Write in a brief and focused manner
- Add quality by proof reading
1. Decide on why you are writing a report
What do you want to achieve with your report? It is quite a difference between writing to inform and writing to influence. For instance, a company that is about to virtualize its entire product portfolio, could start up an internal newsletter to help colleagues adapting to the change. Such report could include articles on needed competence development, how new business models impact traditional business models, and success stories on digital transformation.
Did you achieve what you set out to do? Establishing the right set of KPI’s is an important task and can be quite difficult. Measuring the number of clicks per article can be done of course. That measurement says something about how many readers accessed a specific article. However, it doesn’t say anything about whether or not knowledge was transferred.
In the case above, a better KPI might be to measure the number of course registrations before and after articles on competence development were published.
2. Create a reader profile to be clear on who you write for
Never forget you are writing for someone. Who is that someone? And how do you make your text interesting and relevant to that person?
I suggest you write a brief reader profile that list key aspects of your reader; work responsibilities, goals, challenges, competence areas. List any factors that may be of importance. Are you writing for an internal or external audience for example?
The reader profile determines the way you write. Try to be consequent in how you address the reader, which tone and type of words you use.
Also, as a writer you need to sell your text like a sales manager sells a solution. People in sales are familiar with the WIIFM acronym,” What’s In It For Me?”. That is a great question from any customer. It is not about what you can do, it is about what you can do for the customer. Or in this case, the reader. Answer these questions and work the answers into the reader profile. Also, it is worthwhile to look at these questions every time you are about to write an article:
- What’s in it for my reader?
- What insights will my reader take away from it?
- Why is it relevant to my reader?
- Why will my reader find it interesting?
No need to overdo this, start with a few lines of text. But write that profile! It will help you keeping the text focused and interesting. Always keep it in the back of your head when writing.
The brief is great to share with new contributors. Less time will be spent on editing texts to fit the newsletter.
With the reader brief done, decisions on distribution lists and channels are made easier.
3. Decide on a format
Create a design template for your newsletter, with set layout, fonts and colors. A consistent look and feel will help the newsletter to stand out.
Think a bit on how and when the text will be read. It will likely be read on some kind of a screen. It’s no news that we use less printed media today. According to Pew Research Center, newspaper circulation dropped 11% in the USA between 2016 and 2017 only. If most of your readers access the newsletter via their smart phones, special attention must be put on graphics and font size. If possible, send your newsletter from an intelligence platform that will make your newsletter responsive by automatically adapting the format to the device it is being read on
Visuals matters, so use pictures. Make sure to only use pictures that you have copyright to, or download from free photo-sites online, such as unsplash.com. Also make sure the picture connects to the specific article, or the reader might be confused.
Getting feedback is essential for any writer. Enabling commentary fields at the end of the article is invaluable. Not only for the feedback to the writer but as a discussion board for readers.
Write a brief guide for how to use headings, subheadings, bullets, bold/italic, pictures in the template. That will assist co-writers to help with the touch and feel of the newsletter.
”Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
The late Steve Jobs in an interview with NYT, 2013.
If one of the purposes of the newsletter is to rank high on external servers in search engines like Google, it is important to think of article length. SEO ratings increase when texts include +1500 words (Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has to do with improving website visibility in search engines). Linking to videos helps SEO ratings even more.
If you write for an internal audience, you can of course write shorter. What is key is maximizing the value to your reader.
4. Decide on distribution frequency
Also, think of with what frequency your newsletter should be published. Should it be sent out whenever something of interest occurs? Or should it be a timely deliverable, maybe with more content? Never spam your readers.
Linked to this is the question of how much preparation will be needed. Make a time plan listing the publication date and article deadlines of each issue. If the newsletter involves several writers, dates for editorial board meetings might be an idea.
Talking about the design template, add a function that offers subscription capabilities to facilitate for new readers to subscribe. Equally important is to offer the reader a way to stop the subscription.
5. Set up a collaboration team
They say collaboration is a process of pain. And it is. At least in the beginning. When the team is aligned and agree on the goal, things get done so much better. And quicker. In other words, it pays off to invest time in organizing yourself.
”No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
If you are alone, you should try to find co-writers. At least you should know who to contact in each supporting unit. With no time or interest to write, people can still help with proof reading, suggest topics for articles etc. There are plenty of intelligence softwares on the market that will allow you to collaborate on newsletter creation, making this process pretty straight forward.
It is very different with access to dedicated writers. Discuss the purpose of the newsletter and reader profile within the team. Split the subject areas among the writers, considering interests and competences. That way you reduce the risk of missing out on interesting news that could impact your reader.
Decide on a chief editor with responsibility for the time plan. That person will make sure deadlines are kept. He or she invites writers and co-writers to editorial meetings. And is probably the person that handles the distribution.
When it comes to collaboration, don’t forget to involve the readers. Writers should always invite to dialogue. Either by actively asking for feedback at the end of the article. Or call for action of some kind. The action must be specific and feasible. Some examples of collaborative dialogue:
- ”What are your thoughts?”.
- ”For more information, contact me directly at …”.
- ”To enlist, please register at …”.
Here is a great TED Talk on how to achieve collaboration in teams, by Yves Morieux, Director of Organization at BCG. Well worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch.
6. Write a heading that sells
And now. Step 6. It is time to actually start writing! We consume text very differently today. We surf and scan websites quickly. The heading works like a neon sign (among all other neon signs out there). Therefore, it must be written so that it catches the readers interest.
The heading has to be exciting. Informative. Short. And honest! It must be honest by representing the article content. The heading is your promise to the reader. What happens if you write a heading that has nothing to do with the article? Obviously, you are not delivering on your promise. That makes you a liar. Liars are not trustworthy. And being seen as trustworthy is important when you want to write newsletters that make an impact.
Instead, add to your trustworthiness by referring to external sources, experts and reports that support what you say in your article.
7. Write in a brief and focused manner
The article itself then. How to make sure it impacts people in some way? KISS and BLUF are two great acronyms to keep in mind.
- ”Keep it simple, stupid” (KISS) implies avoiding unnecessary complexity. In writing that means being brief and focused.
- Use short sentences. But. Don’t. Over. Do. It.
- Use paragraphs to avoid heavy text blocks.
- Use subheadings.
- Use common words to not confuse the reader.
- Use bullets.
- Use bold and italic fonts to highlight key words and phrases.
- ”Bottom line, up front” (BLUF) implies stating the conclusion and recommendations at the beginning of the article. Assume readers are short on time and deal with information overload. So, let the reader know what’s important early.
Be consequent in how you write, be personal and professional. If you are a joker, put in jokes but make sure you don’t overdo it.
One key aspect of writing a report that makes an impact is to ask yourself the so-what question!
Why is the text important to read? Say you wrote a text on how digital transformation is impacting the shipping industry. So what? Why should your target reader invest time in reading it? If there is no clear answer to the so-what question you need to re-write. The so-what question often deals with adding own reflections and analysis. Instead of writing about how the shipping industry is impacted, the text could deal with the impact on specific business areas within that industry? Maybe the reader is specifically interested in air freight? Text on how the shipping industry at large will be impacted is of less interest.
8. Add quality by proof reading
The text is written! Great. But don’t publish yet. Leave the text for 24 hours if possible. When you read it again, you will read it with a fresh pair of eyes and you will find errors. I promise. Typos. Poor grammar. Strange wordings. A great way to get feedback on the text before it is published is to proof read each other’s’ texts.
Running the text through a spelling software is always good…
So, there you have it.
How to write a report that makes an impact in 8 steps. Some of them easier to implement than others. Practice makes perfect; the more you write, the easier it gets. Always remember to ask yourself ’so what?´ when you are done. Why should the reader invest time in reading your report? How is the text impacting the reader?
- First decide on why you are writing a report.
- Create a reader profile; be clear on who you write for.
- Decide on a format.
- Decide on distribution frequency.
- Set up a collaboration team.
- Write a heading that sells.
- Write in a brief and focused manner.
- Add quality by proof reading.
Please let me know your thoughts on writing newsletters. Feel free to share your experiences from writing newsletters with me.
Also, if you’re interested in this topic I will do a live demonstration on how this ‘report creation process’ might look like for an intelligence professional using an intelligence software to collect the information to include in my newsletter, design it and share it!
This webinar will be held on November 7th and Is free of charge. Read more and register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8946630851858354187?source=Blog
Saludos / Ingemar
This blog post was written by Ingemar Svensson, Senior Advisor at Comintelli. You can read more about Ingemar and his services here!