Some people write
the same way as I learned to cook spaghetti.
When I was at university,
I was taught a surefire way of cooking "perfect" spaghetti:
Add noodles to a large pot of rapidly boiling water. When you think
the pasta is about ready, use a fork to remove a strand from the pot.
Flick the strand at the wall. If the noodle falls behind the stove,
the spaghetti is not fully cooked. If it sticks to the wall, get ready
This is the same
method some people use to write a report. They have a vast number of
facts boiling in their minds, and they believe if they throw out enough
of them, some will eventually stick in the reader's mind.
Bonnie Stern, the
gourmet guru, claims the "throw the spaghetti at the wall"
trick is useless-spaghetti will stick just before and just after it
is "a le dente." (She claims tasting is the only way to determine
if pasta is perfect.)
And, I believe throwing
ideas into a report for the sake of covering off any potentiality is
just as bad. All you end up with is a lengthy report filled with irrelevant
information-and frustrated readers. People are busy; they don't have
time to wade through an unwieldy mass of details searching for what
interests them and for what they need to know.
Good writers take
time to analyze their readers before they begin to write. They take
into account the following details:
- the information
the reader already has
- the information
the reader needs to make a decision
- the technical
information the reader understands
- the step you
want the reader to take after reading your message
- the reader's
reaction toward the message
- the sort of reports
the reader likes to read
If you don't know
this information, you are not ready to begin writing. Not only will
you waste your reader's time in providing irrelevant or incomplete information,
but you will waste your own time and weaken your professional image.
What If Your
Reports Are Too Short?
Some people have
a problem with writing too concisely. They are told their reports don't
have enough detail. The reason for this is that they are starting their
reports in the wrong place. They are starting from what they know about
the topic and from what they feel.
I once made cookies
using only 1/8 cup of butter instead of the 3/4 cup required (It was
all the butter I had.) I rationalized this decision well: it would cut
back on cholesterol. Despite my reasoning, the cookies were dry and
You can't cut corners
with writing either. If your reports are too short and lack necessary
details, you must go back to the questions mentioned earlier. Always
ensure the reader has enough information so he or she can comfortably
If You Write
for Multiple Readers
Be alert to secondary
audiences. These are the people the primary reader may send your report
on to. This audience usually has less background information and technical
knowledge than your primary reader does.
If you write for
multiple audiences, I recommend you chunk the information in sections
according to needs. For example, you might explain the benefits of a
new type of widget to all the readers. In the next section, you could
explain why you need a widget and how it works for the less knowledgeable
Then write informative
sub-heads for each of these sections so the reader can determine the
sections he needs to read. Organize your reports so busy readers can
"jump-skip" through the information to get the details they
need to make a decision.
Remember, good writers
can be compared to good cooks. They both have to end up with products
that meet their audience's needs and tastes.