Approach Writing Like Engineering
Every engineer understands how important it is to carefully plan a structure before you build it. Nobody would just show up at site and start placing equipment and running pipelines without a detailed, thoroughly reviewed model and execution strategy. Yet that’s just how most of us write our reports.
Before you start to write a complex report, do some front-end planning of the document’s structure. “Structure” means the content of the different sections, and the order in which they appear. The order must present information in a logical sequence.
Start by developing a table of contents – think of it as your document’s plot plan. Like an industrial facility, most reports will roughly follow a typical structure: overview, methodology, results, conclusions and recommendations, in that order.
Let’s look at the four sections and what you should put in each one.
1) Technical report overview
The “what” and “why.” What questions does your report answer? Include crystal-clear statements of what the study investigates, for whom it is being performed (usually your client) and why it’s important. Refer directly to the client’s Scope of Work request, and repeat its language.
The “how.” Explain exactly how you performed the study and why you chose that approach. Refer to the advantages of your method and create confidence in the reader that you know what you’re talking about. State what the scope covers (and doesn’t).
Directly state the outcome of your study, including whether the results were as expected or surprising. Use the same language you did in the overview to make it easy for the reader to find the answers to the questions you set out to resolve.
4) Conclusions and recommendations
Tell your readers what the results mean (your conclusions), and if it’s appropriate, what they should do about it (your recommendations). State how your study’s findings will affect their project.
A well-written report makes sense even to someone who knows nothing about the project. It says, “We were asked to answer question A. We looked into this and that. We found these problems and these benefits. We think you should do this.”