Tag Archive | job

How to Know What Belongs in Your Reports

Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Imagine that someone asks you for a report. If the person who asks is your manager, you may know what he or she wants in the document. But if the individual is from the executive team or another department or even a client company, you may not know what or how much to include. Here are tips that will help you recognize the best content.  

1. Imagine that instead of a report, the individual asked to interview you on the topic. What do you think he or she would ask? For example, imagine that you just returned from a trip to another country to visit a division of your company, a client’s office, or a factory. What would the other person ask you?
Here are some ideas:
  1. What was the purpose of your trip?
  2. Where did you go? 
  3. When did you travel? 
  4. Who traveled with you? 
  5. With whom did you meet there? At what facilities?
    (The questions above are the basics, which you can cover briefly.)
  6. What did you accomplish on the trip?
  7. What did you learn
  8. What do you recommend based on your trip? 
  9. Overall, how useful was the trip?
  10. Does anyone need to follow up on the trip? If so, who? How? 
You can use this question method to recognize what belongs in any report. Here are sample questions for an update: 
  1. What is this report about?
  2. What time period does this report cover?
  3. Are things on track?
  4. What has been accomplished since the last report?
  5. Have any important events taken place?
  6. Have there been any problems or obstacles? If so, how have they been managed?
  7. Is there anything I need to worry about?
  8. Where can I get more information
If you are writing a very important report, such as one to the president of your organization, you may want to have someone else review your list of questions to see whether you are on target before you write the report.  

When you feel you have a good list of questions, you are ready to write a draft. Just answer the questions. You can even use parts of the questions for headings, for example, “Purpose of the Trip” and “Trip Dates.” 

2. Recognize the purpose of the report. Will your director use the report to make a decision about financing a project? Will another team use your report to design software tests? Will your peers read the report to incorporate information into a proposal? Will the report go into a file to document a current situation? Write a sentence that states the purpose of the report, and use that statement to help you recognize what must be included (and what should be left out) to support that purpose. 

3. Consider your larger purpose for writing the report. Think beyond the fact that you are writing the report to satisfy someone’s request or a job requirement. What would you like the report to do for you or others? For example, for the trip report: 
  • Is your purpose to help build a better relationship with the overseas office? 
  • Is your purpose to illustrate the critical need for more involvement with the factory? 
  • Do you want to show the monetary value of the trip to get approval for travel in your 2015 budget?
  • Do you want to impress your new manager with the clarity of your thinking and writing
As you think about what to include, keep your larger purpose in mind so that you can be sure your report supports that goal. 

4. Ask for a sample report if you are unsure what your reader wants. Especially if you are new in a job or have never written the kind of report requested, ask whether sample reports are available. Review those samples and notice what works for you as a reader. Pay special attention to the kind of information that is included and its relevance. 

5. Recognize that your readers have asked for a report–not a book. They want the essential information–not all the details. To restrain yourself from including too much, try these approaches: 
  • Leave out any information that does not answer a reader’s question. For instance, if your reader would not ask what hotel you stayed at or whether you had any great meals, do not include those details. 
  • Avoid using chronological order to report. Chronological order may cause you to include irrelevant details just because they happened.
  • Use headings, preferably descriptive headings such as “Recommendation: Send a Team to the 2015 Conference” and “Budget Required: $85,000.” Headings will stop you from including information that does not belong in that section.  
  • Summarize. For example, in a report on a client meeting, do not include he said-I said details. Instead, report agreements and outcomes. In a financial or technical report, do not include raw data in the body of the report. If it’s essential, put it in an appendix. 
  • Include links to more information and offers to provide more. For instance, in a report on a conference, link to the conference program or offer to provide certain conference handouts. 
  • Use fewer examples. One or two powerful examples can achieve your goal. Additional examples provide length–not strength. 
  • Use tables and charts rather than sentences to capture numerical information. Graphical illustrations help you leave out extraneous information. Be sure to label each graphic so its relevance is clear to you and your reader. 
When you succeed with a report, keep it in an electronic folder of model reports. Its success will give you confidence, and its strengths will inspire you the next time someone asks for a report. 
Business Writing With Heart won two Silver Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association last month. You can order the paperback book from Syntax Training or your favorite bookseller, and you can get the e-book and paperback from Amazon and  Barnes & Noble
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How to say “No”

If you are like many people, you find it difficult to say no, especially when you need to commit words to paper or the screen. Some people find the task so challenging that they avoid responding. In a survey I conducted of 686 people (many were readers of this newsletter), I found that 22 percent occasionally avoid responding; 3 percent frequently avoid responding rather than say no.

Read More…

Better Writing at Work: Write Mighty Thank-Yous

In a survey on business writing and relationships, 81 percent of respondents said that a thank-you note they received had a definite positive influence on their decision to do business with a company or an individual again. 

Beyond the professional rewards of thank-yous, sending thank-yous makes everyone smile: you, the writer, for having expressed your gratitude, and the recipient for being remembered and appreciated. 

Here are reminders to help you write mighty thank-yous that bring smiles to all: 

1. Recognize opportunities to say thank you. You have a chance to say thank you anytime someone has:

  • Delivered particularly good service.
  • Gone beyond the job requirements for you.

Read More…

5 Things That Really Smart People Do

Don’t get in the way of your own learning. Here are five ways to step aside and continue to increase your smarts.

By Kevin Daum @ http://www.inc.com

Most people don’t really think much about how they learn. Generally you assume learning comes naturally. You listen to someone speak either in conversation or in a lecture and you simply absorb what they are saying, right? Not really. In fact, I find as I get older that real learning takes more work. The more I fill my brain with facts, figures, and experience, the less room I have for new ideas and new thoughts. Plus, now I have all sorts of opinions that may refute the ideas being pushed at me. Like many people I consider myself a lifelong learner, but more and more I have to work hard to stay open minded.

But the need for learning never ends, so your desire to do so should always outweigh your desire to be right. The world is changing and new ideas pop up everyday; incorporating them into your life will keep you engaged and relevant. The following are the methods I use to stay open and impressionable. They’ll work for you too. No matter how old you get.

1. Quiet Your Inner Voice

You know the one I am talking about. It’s the little voice that offers a running commentary when you are listening to someone. It’s the voice that brings up your own opinion about the information being provided. It is too easy to pay more attention to the inner voice than the actual speaker. That voice often keeps you from listening openly for good information and can often make you shut down before you have heard the entire premise. Focus less on what your brain has to say and more on the speaker. You may be surprised at what you hear.

2. Argue With Yourself

If you can’t quiet the inner voice, then at least use it to your advantage. Every time you hear yourself contradicting the speaker, stop and take the other point of view. Suggest to your brain all the reasons why the speaker may be correct and you may be wrong. In the best case you may open yourself to the information being provided. Failing that, you will at least strengthen your own argument.

3. Act Like You Are Curious

Some people are naturally curious and others are not. No matter which category you are in you can benefit from behaving like a curious person. Next time you are listening to information, make up and write down three to five relevant questions. If you are in a lecture, Google them after for answers. If you are in a conversation you can ask the other person. Either way you’ll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help encode the concepts in your brain. As long as you’re not a cat you should benefit from these actions of curiosity.

4. Find the Kernel of Truth

No concept or theory comes out of thin air. Somewhere in the elaborate concept that sounds like complete malarkey there is some aspect that is based upon fact. Even if you don’t buy into the idea, you should at least identify the little bit of truth from whence it came. Play like a detective and build your own extrapolation. You’ll enhance your skills of deduction and may even improve the concept beyond the speaker’s original idea.

5. Focus on the Message Not the Messenger

Often people shut out learning due to the person delivering the material. Whether it’s a boring lecturer, someone physically unappealing, or a member of the opposite political party, the communicator can impact your learning. Even friends can disrupt the learning process since there may be too much history and familiarity to see them as an authority on a topic. Separate the material from the provider. Pretend you don’t know the person or their beliefs so you can hear the information objectively. As for the boring person, focus on tip two, three, or four as if it were a game, thereby creating your own entertainment.

Photo credit: http://financialpostbusiness.files.wordpress.com

Do you speak ‘Project’?

Project management is a specialty, and it has its own language. Resistance is futile.

  • Scope – It’s what has to be done. Always too general for some and too specific for others. Never right.
  • Resources – Funding and people authorized for the project. Never enough and always in the wrong denominations.
  • Schedule – How much time you have to get it all done. Never enough.
  • Project Manager – You. The person responsible for everything, and in control of nothing.
  • Sponsor – The one that wanted it in the first place. The one that shudders when you walk in because you always bring a problem, and give them way too many details.
  • Customer – The group that want things their way.
  • Vendor – The other group that wants things their way.
  • Users – People addicted to the old way.
  • Escalation – A process that defies gravity, and moves problems uphill.
  • Documentation – The last task in a project, or later.
  • Flowcharts – Cubicle art.
  • Team – Your best friends. The group that, when asked who caused a problem, forms a circle and each person points to the left.
  • Work Group – An oxymoron.
  • Oxymorons – People that take more than their share of oxygen from a project.
  • Project Plan – A deliverable assigned to the most annoying person on the project, who doesn’t recognize his or her work is done after the project has started and is going according to plan.
  • Almost Done – Where you are after Day 1 of the project. What you say when the “80% done” answer quits working.
  • RFI – Request for Information. A request for a customized marketing document.
  • RFP – Request for Proposal. A request to take a monkey off a customer’s back.
  • RFQ – Request for Qualifications. A request for a customized marketing document. A good source of boilerplate information for the RFP.
  • RFQQ – Adds a price quote to the RFQ. Generally from a vendor that has too little information from a customer that has too little understanding. Binding.
  • RFK – An important reminder that even the best project managers can find themselves in a bay of pigs.
  • Proposal – A document of sweeping generalizations.
  • Testing – What development is called after the development schedule has passed.
  • Testing – What the end-users do when the testing schedule has passed. Sometimes called Post-implementation Support.
  • Process Reengineering – Today’s processes, turned sideways.
  • KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. Objective measures of failure, most often advocated by opponents. Never tracked.
  • CSFs – Critical Success Factors. An early view of the blunders you will certainly make. Always tracked, but never called CSFs.

If this sounds familiar, you are an experienced project manager, undoubtedly overworked, underpaid and not appreciated. Get a dog.

Via http://www.pmhut.com

Photo credit: http://www.study-habits.com

FREE business textbooks

Last week I came across a compelling online business library  consisting of (almost) everything I need for the business writing, economics and related studies, including loads of wonderfully written textbooks.

And when I say “wonderfully written”, I mean that an earth, mortal human without previous phd degree could easily understand the essentials, then roll sleeves and get to work.

Over 800 textbooks written by professors

We currently offer over 800 textbooks. The books are in average around 200 pages long, and are being used as both primary and secondary literature.

All our books are written by highly respected professors from some of the best universities in the world and exclusively for bookboon.com.

There we have it, welcome:

Why is it free?

There is an excerpt of BookBoon.com mission and concept:

Bookboon.com publishes free and openly available eBooks for students and business professionals. The Books can be downloaded in PDF without registration. Our mission is that students should be able to go through university without having to pay for textbooks.

If you had a look, please share your experience in the comments below. Do you find it useful the way I did (I already finished two of the books on communication).

Have a magnificent Wednesday,

Quote of the day: mission

We’re not born with unlimited choices.  We cannot be anything we want to be.  We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.   Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.   If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.   If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.   If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne

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