Lesson 1, Topic 1
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Section 3: Workplace Reports

ryanrori October 13, 2020

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WORKPLACE REPORTS

Written Communication Skills in the Workplace

 

Effective workplace communication includes written reports which must be structured, accurate, relevant, and clear as well as being pitched at the appropriate level.

Good communication is essential for all forms of employment and includes being able to listen effectively, negotiate, be assertive and have an awareness of non-verbal means of expression such as facial expressions and gestures.

A key part of communicating well with colleagues involves being able to accurately put down in words clear messages which are easy to understand and unlikely to be misinterpreted.

The written word may also act as a confirmation or reinforcement of things which have been expressed verbally in the past.

Be Accurate and Relevant

In order for written communication to achieve the desired aims it must be checked before it is sent to ensure that everything that has been recorded is factually correct.

Accuracy is absolutely crucial as otherwise even facts which are correct may be ignored which then becomes a total waste of the reader’s time, possibly resulting in conflict.

Time spent in the short-term double-checking essential details such as times and figures will definitely save time in the long run.

Another key issue is to stick to information which is totally relevant to the recipient as otherwise an enormous amount of time is wasted searching to find the relevant information.

When irrelevant information is added it will usually just serve to cause confusion and is therefore counterproductive as well as an ineffective use of time.

 

Be Clear and Concise

Written information must be easy to understand in order to be truly effective in terms of communicating key ideas. It is important that any abbreviations or less well-known acronyms are in the first instance written in full to avoid confusion to the reader.

Sticking to the key facts is crucial and when putting forward arguments each point must be conveyed as clearly and logically as possible.

In order to increase clarity, it may be a good idea to put meeting times and dates in bold as this will make it easier for the reader to remember the vital points.

Remember the Reader

Unless one is writing to someone within the office or to a person who is well-known, it is important to ensure the information is presented at the appropriate level.

For example there is little point using a lot of business terminology when writing to someone who has no business experience or knowledge of the subject.

If key technical terms are essential to the written document then it is well worth taking the time to include a glossary at the beginning to avoid confusion.

In order for a written document to be effectively understood take time to think about the person one is writing to, and if English is not the person’s first language then any English sayings are best avoided.

As highlighted above, workplace communication skills include being able to write clearly, concisely and accurately.

Poor commUnication will likely result in low morale and a greater possibility of petty office politics and workplace conflict, therefore it is important to compile written documents appropriately and keep to the facts.

 

Report Writing

A report is a self-explanatory statement of facts relating to a specific subject and serves the purpose of providing information for decision making and follow up actions. It is a systematic presentation of ascertained facts about a specific event or subject.

A report is a summary of findings and recommendations regarding a particular matter or problem. A report is for the guidance of higher authorities including company executives and directors that facilitates timely decisions and follow up measures.

The purpose of a business report is to communicate information that assists in the business decision making process.

Some reports might propose solutions for business problems or might present relevant information to assist in the problem solving process.

 

A LINGUISTIC STUDY OF BUSINESS REPORT WRITING

The greatest obstacle in the workplace is simply miscommunication which is the failure of the receiver of the message to understand exactly what the sender intended to convey.

Effective communication is essential to the daily operation of any workplace, public or private.  A business cannot survive without effective communication.

As a major means of communication, the written report has been playing an increasingly important role in the workplace.

Due to the variety of purposes they can serve, written reports are crucial to the successful exchange of information and can seldom be ignored.

The written business or workplace report can be, and has been, viewed and studied from a variety of angles.

 

Workplace Reports

What is a report?

The word report itself is derived from Latin, meaning carry or bring back, since the report brings back facts from research.

Reports are commonplace in contemporary life and therefore we can define a report as follows:

A report is a communication in which the writer (speaker, if it is an oral report) gives information to an individual or organisation because it is his or her responsibility to do so.

 

The classification of reports

Since the first organised efforts to study the subject, scholars of report writing have advanced many classifications of reports. Each of these classification plans propose to divide all reports written into distinct categories.

A review of these classifications would provide an appropriate introduction to the study of report writing for two main reasons.

First, discussion of the ways of classifying reports illustrates the variation in approaches to the subject. Reports are far from standardised. Knowledge of report classification gives some insight into this complex picture.

A second benefit derived from reviewing report classification is that various classification terms are used in discussing report writing. As with most subjects, report writing has its own specialised terms; such as the technical language of the field.

The acquaintance with the vernacular of this subject will contribute to the study of Business or Workplace Report writing.

The terms used in classifying reports comprise much of this vernacular:

Classification by subject

Possibly the simplest of all report classifications used is done by subject. Obviously all reports concern some subjects; however it is equally obvious that reports can be classified on the basis of some logical grouping of subjects.

 

Classification by frequency of issue

One often-used means of classifying reports is by the frequency of issue. Some reports are written regularly:

  • daily,
  • weekly,
  • monthly, or
  • annually.

These may be referred to as periodic reports. Examples of this type are the routine weekly sales reports, the periodic summaries of progress in any large-scale operation, and the corporation’s typical annual report of operations.

Completing this classification are the special reports, reports written to help solve non-routine problems.

Classification by function

Probably the most often used classification for reports is compiled according to their functions. Reports may provide information; may provide information and interpret it; or may provide information, interpret it, and offer conclusions and recommendations based on that information.

According to function, reports may be classified as informational, interpretive, or analytical.

As the term implies, the informational reports provide information only. They offer information, often in the form of raw data, without interpretation, analysis, or recommendation. Most maintenance (periodic) reports are purely informational. Some task reports are also purely informational.

The interpretive report carries the problem one step further than the informational report. With the interpretive report, in addition to presenting the information, the writer analyses and interprets the information for the reader; however the writer’s assistance stops here.

There is no effort to follow the analysis to the point of conclusion or recommendation. Any possible conclusion or recommendation to be derived from the information must be made by the reader. Interpretive reports perform the same basic function in organisations as informational reports.

The difference between them is that without the interpretation of the details, the reader would probably fail to understand the significance of the information. Such reports are primarily useful for helping general readers cope with technical data.

Like the interpretive report, the analytical report presents and analyses information, however it goes a step further; it also draws conclusions from the information. And should the problem warrant it, it may even make recommendations.

It is the most complete of all reports, covering all phases of a particular problem. It presents a problem in its entirety. It begins with an orientation and description of the problem; it presents the information gathered; it analyses and examines the information and from these analyses, it derives a solution or conclusion to the problem.

Classification by formality

Still another area of variation that lends to classification is the formality of the report. It is easy to see that the same degree of formality is not required in all report situations. A report addressed to an august body such as the Board of Directors would logically be strictly formal in its makeup.

On the other hand, a report written by one employee for the use of another employee of equal rank might be extremely informal.

The differences between these two reports are sufficient to serve as a basis for classification.

Two groups are commonly represented in this classification:

  • Formal – applies to all those reports that are addressed upwardly and are appropriately worded to fit the requirements of a formal occasion.
  • Informal – includes all reports with the makeup and wording requirements of an informal occasion.

Classification by physical factors

The physical makeup of reports provides a simple and logical basis for grouping. It may be noted, however, that physical makeup is largely influenced by the formality of the situation and the length of the report.

At the bottom of the formality and length scale is the memorandum report. Generally it concerns a routine matter that must be transmitted within an organisation.

Short topics with some need for formal or semiformal presentation are frequently submitted in the form of a letter report. From all outward appearances, they are letters, with all the physical properties of a typical business letter. They are classified as reports principally because of the nature of their content.

Topics that are of medium or moderate length and have no great need for formal presentation usually are submitted in a form classified as a short report. Although there is no one set makeup of the short report, usually it is one that is minus much of the prefatory pages (contents pages, title fly, and such) associated with more formal works.

At the top of this classification scale in formality and length is the long report. Long reports, as the term implies, concern presentations of relatively large problems. As a rule, such topics have some need for formal presentation.

The typical long report is well supplemented with prefatory parts. Its contents are carefully organised and marked with captions. It may even require such supplementary parts as an appendix, bibliography or index.

Classification by reader-writer relationships

A commonly used classification is based on the basis of the relation between reader and writer. Although there is wide variation in the terms used in this division, possibly the most common are professional, administrative, and independent.

Professional reports are those reports submitted to an organisation by outside specialists. For example, an outside management consultant may be called in to study a particular problem within a company.

Administrative reports are officially written within a business organisation to facilitate operations.

Independent reports are written for no particular group or person. Frequently non-profit research organisations publish such reports as a service to the public.

What is a Business / Workplace Report?

The Business or Workplace Report is an orderly, objective communication of factual information that serves some business purpose.

Careful inspection of this definition reveals the identifying characteristics of the Business or Workplace Report.

As an orderly communication, a report is given some care during preparation, which distinguishes it from the casual routine exchanges of information that continually occur in business.

The objective quality of a report is its unbiased approach to the facts presented. Looking at facts in an unbiased way, deriving logical meaning from them, and presenting ideas clearly and fairly to others represents a highly sophisticated form of ethical thinking.

The word communication is broad by definition; it covers all the ways of transmitting meaning (speaking, writing, drawing, gesturing, etc.). The basic ingredient of the report is factual information events, records, and the various forms of data that are communicated in the conduct of business.

Not all reports are Business or Workplace Reports. Research scientists, medical doctors, ministers, learners, and many others write reports.

To be classified as a “Business or Workplace Report”, a report must serve some business purpose.

While this definition of a Business or Workplace Report is specific enough to be meaningful, it is broad enough to encompass the various forms that reports take.

For example, some reports do nothing more than present facts. Others go a step further by including interpretations. Still others proceed to conclusions and recommendations.

There are reports that are formally dressed both in writing style and in physical appearance and reports that are highly informal. Our definition permits all of these variations.

 

The Business or Workplace Report process

 

  • The reporter or presenter has been investigating a particular problem requiring a solution to be presented to top management for a decision.
  • He or she has gathered all the necessary facts, interpreted and analysed them, and arrived at a recommendation.
  • The sender will need to use the tools of communication – words and visual aids – for framing the message into a report for transmission to the receiver.
  • The media is the report itself and in this sense the media and message are one and the same.
  • The message is planned and put into a report in which the content is placed into an appropriate form for transmission through a channel to the receiver – for most written reports, the channel is intercompany mail. For most oral presentations, the channel is small groups according to audience concern and involvement.
  • The person receiving the report will comprehend the message only if the words used have meaning for him or her.
  • The report’s message will succeed when the recipient responds. Whether that response is favorable or unfavorable will depend on how well the receiver understands the message and is motivated or persuaded to take the desired action.
  • For the Report Writer, an understanding of the communication process and of the nature of Business or Workplace Reports has important implications.

The functions of the Business / Workplace Report

All reports serve specific functions by conveying particular information to people who require it. Yet in terms of their nature and function, reports can be as diversified as personalities within the workplace.

Business / Workplace Reports are needed to serve the following functions:

  • Analyse facts and other relevant data to provide a basis for decision making.
  • Present the results of an experiment or findings of an investigation.
  • Measure the progress or development of a project or task.
  • Describe a process or method.
  • Provide the history or background of an issue, project, procedure, or task.
  • Initiate an investigation.
  • Suggest a solution for a new or ongoing problem.
  • Recommend changes or measures for improvement of existing systems, materials, or procedures.
  • Recommend action.
  • Impart creative ideas.
  • Evaluate a proposal or idea.
  • Record information for future use.

A report can serve one or all of these needs, depending upon the nature and complexity of the topic and the amount of detail required.

A report’s purpose, therefore, largely determines its contents and format.

The characteristics of the Business / Workplace Report

The Business or Workplace Report is not just a piece of writing from one person to another, it is written for a specific purpose by a professional in an organisational system to exchange information or data needed for the system to function

The major differences between Business or Workplace Reports and others are largely the differences in audiences and purposes, and those differences affect content, organisation, style, and tone.

Reports are purposeful. They all start with a need, desire, or purpose – to inform or to analyse. The accomplishment of the purpose depends on the reporter’s understanding of people and their needs, interpretation of the facts, recognition of the purpose the report is to fulfill, and ability to motivate action.

The message must be within the audience’s experience and knowledge. To have meaning, words must refer to something comprehensible to the reader or listener. The presenter must predict the audience’s frame of references and direct the message within it. The presenter should always have a specific audience in mind and assume that the reader or listener is intelligent. The language used should be simple, concrete, and familiar.

A report should be adapted to the audience’s needs and the purpose for which it is intended. From the information available, the reporter adapts the message to the audience’s interests, knowledge, peculiarities, desires, and needs.

A report requires a great deal of intellectual activity by the reporter. The reporter must have ideas and be able to express them, think of different combinations of ideas, and reason through facts to valid conclusions. The creative elements of report writing are used to help make the report functional, for in accomplishing its purpose the report will be an “instrument in carrying out a business operation”. As such, it must be persuasive and motivational.

Presenting reports is both an art and a science. It is an art because it requires a certain amount of inherent creative ability on the part of the reporter. Nevertheless, abilities can be developed, and the necessary techniques, procedures, and skills can be acquired.

To make the report creative and functional, reporters must use all their knowledge, experience, abilities, and understanding of human nature to direct their reports to a particular audience for a specific purpose.

 

Principles of Effective Business / Workplace Report Writing

1 Clarity

Clarity, the transfer of a writer’s thoughts to a reader without misunderstanding, is the most important factor in Business / Workplace Report Writing. A misunderstood message is of no use at all, because a message that is not clear to a reader cannot possibly communicate the writer’s intentions.

Almost every report writer sometimes has trouble expressing ideas clearly. But the more clearly the writer can express ideas, the more valuable he / she will be in business. That is because only after the writer is absolutely certain that the message will be clear to the intended receiver can the writer begin to analyse the reader’s probable reaction to the message and adjust the content accordingly.

Therefore, clarity is the writer’s first responsibility.

At the outset, clarity depends on careful, efficient planning. Planning the investigation, planning the organisation of the data, planning the writing of the report, all ensure a logical, easy-to-follow arrangement of text material, in which all sections are connected and ideas and thoughts flow smoothly from the beginning to the end.

One major way to achieve clarity is to arrange the material by writing from a well-planned outline.

Careful attention to layout and display, such as typing and spacing subject headings, tables, charts, and other forms of graphic presentation, can also promote clarity.

Most important of all, clarity is secured through language.

The following are some guidelines which will help the writer achieve clear writing and effective communication:

  • Choose short and familiar words. An effective communicator should know that long words do not necessarily show great intelligence.
  • Avoid unnecessary words. Nothing weakens business writing as much as phrases like each and every, or repeat again. These are doublets or redundancies—using two words when one would do as well.
  • Put action into the verbs used. By using active verbs, needless words may be cut out. For example, hurried is better than came quickly, or shouted is better than repeated loudly.
  • Relate words to the reader’s experience whenever possible. Phrases that pinpoint the exact nature of the subject help to prevent misunderstanding by the reader.
  • Keep sentences short. For clarity and easy reading, sentences should vary in structure and length. On the average, business sentences should be reasonably short.
  • Make use of variety. Different arrangements of words and sentences are necessary. However, the meaning must be clear so no misunderstanding will arise through varying word and sentence arrangement.

 

2 Completeness

Completeness means comprehensive treatment of the subject or problem at hand and results in clear, persuasive writing.

Completeness is necessary for several reasons:

  • Complete messages are more likely to bring the desired results without the expense of additional messages.
  • They generally do a better job of building goodwill.
  • They can help avert costly lawsuits that may result if important information is missing.
  • Papers that seem inconsequential can be surprisingly important if the information they contain is complete and effective.

In high-level conferences, in Dispute Resolution, and in disciplinary hearings, the battle often centres on an ordinary looking message that becomes important because of the complete information it contains.

The following guidelines are essential to the achievement of completeness:

  • Prepare an outline before commencing report writing.
  • Follow the logic as evidence must be precisely stated. The facts in relation to the problem must be shown. The analysis is a basis for the conclusions, and the conclusions are a basis for the recommendation.
  • The treatment of each section of the report must be complete. Otherwise, the reader will not have an understanding of what is to follow.
  • Completeness must be adhered to in all elements of the report : –
  • Complete title page,
  • Complete contents,
  • Complete tables,
  • Complete bibliography,
  • Complete footnote entries,
  • Complete index.

In working for completeness, the writer must consider the reader. For the reader who is familiar with the problem, few details are needed. For the uninformed reader, complete explanations and interpretations are necessary.

 

3 Conciseness

Writing concisely requires that every thought be expressed in as few words as are consistent with writing completely and clearly. It means more than brevity, because conciseness involves the omission of unnecessary points.

Conciseness is secured through economic and careful selection of words. As few words as possible should be used to give complete, clear meaning.

Whenever possible,

  • A word should be used instead of a phrase,
  • A phrase instead of a clause,
  • A clause instead of a sentence,
  • A sentence instead of a paragraph.

The process of condensing, however, should not be carried so far that the message becomes general and loses its meaning.

Words should not be wasted, irrelevant and repetitious details should be omitted, and hackneyed words and phrases should be eliminated. Definite terms should be used rather than general or abstract words. Long parenthetical and digressive remarks should be avoided.

The use of the passive-voice construction requires more words than the active voice and may obscure the meaning. Long, rambling sentences use words needlessly and should be recast. Sometimes, however, long, well-knit sentences should be used, since variety of sentence length stimulates interest.

Being concise also depends on careful revision. Checking, scrutinising and rewriting a report before final typing ensures the document will be concise, and will include all other qualities of effective writing.

 

4 Correctness

Correctness is accuracy. It is the result of competent judgment and conformity to an accepted conventional standard. It involves careful checking with the standard to find out if there is freedom from error.

Correctness is of great importance for the Business / Workplace Report which will usually provide a vivid impression of the writer, and his or her organisation as a whole. Errors in correctness may amuse or irritate the reader with resultant laughs or communication problems.

Correctness applies to both subject matter and the manner in which it is expressed. It should begin with the first step of report preparation and be continued to the final stage.

To achieve correctness, we should follow the rules listed below:

  1. Make careful selection of words and conform to rules of grammar.
  2. Include only accurate facts and figures.
  3. Maintain acceptable writing mechanics, which include correct sentence and paragraph structure, as well as correct punctuation, capitalisation, and spelling.

The following examples are cases in point:

 

5 Consideration

Consideration requires that the report writer should prepare every message with the recipient in mind, visualising their desires, problems, circumstances, emotions, and probable reactions to the message and then handling the matter from their point of view –  “You-attitude”

In a broad but true sense, consideration underlies the other principles of effective Business / Workplace Report Writing.

The language and message content of the report must be adapted to the receiver’s needs when the message is being made complete, concise, clear, correct, concrete and courteous.

 

The four specific ways to be considerate are as follows:

  • Show Reader Benefit or Interest in Reader

Whenever possible and true, show how the reader will benefit from whatever the message announces. They will be more likely to react favorably and comply with what is suggested if they see that the benefit is worth the effort and cost.

 

  • Apply Integrity and Ethics

To be truly considerate, we also need to apply integrity, high moral standards, personal honor, truthfulness, and sincerity to compile a report. Without it, business communication by reports would prove worthless, and our confidence in people would be undermined. A case in point is shading the truth in the report of published financial statements.

Ethics is concerned with what is right in human conduct. Codes of ethics provide standards enabling us to determine the fundamental distinction between right and wrong human behaviour. An honest businessperson needs a strong conscience as well as knowledge of principles and policies of writing.

In summary, “consideration” means we should be genuinely thoughtful of our message recipients and consider their probable reactions to our messages. We can indicate a “you-attitude” by focusing on “you”, the reader; by showing benefit to, or interest in the receiver; and by applying integrity and ethics, consistently fair treatment, honesty, and sincerity.

6 Concreteness

Concrete communication means being specific, definite, and vivid rather than vague and general.

The following guidelines should help compose concrete, convincing messages:

1 Use specific facts and figures – We should substitute a figure or an exact fact for a general word, whenever we can, to make our message more concrete and convincing.

In some cases it is permissible to use general expressions. For example, when it is not possible to be specific since we may not be able to obtain definite facts or figures. Also when wanting to be diplomatic allowing the person to form his or her own opinion.

2 Put action into verbs – Strong verbs can activate other words and help make the sentences definite. To compose strong sentences, we should use active rather than passive verbs and put action into verbs instead of into nouns or infinitives.

3 Choose vivid, image-building words

Among the devices to make our messages forceful, vivid, and specific are the use of comparisons, figurative language, concrete instead of abstract nouns, and well-chosen adjectives and adverbs.

Concreteness makes words, phrases and sentences easy to understand because the ideas are vividly and specifically expressed. And not only do these sharp vivid words convey our message clearly to the mind of our reader, but they also contribute to completeness and conciseness.

 

The Process Of Writing Workplace Reports

1 Planning the report

Clarify the purpose

Without doubt, a successful report requires careful planning. Before preparing a report, the writer should analyse the assignment to clarify the aim and to focus precisely on its purpose. One way to gain a clear understanding of a report’s purpose is to consider how it will be used by those who requested it or by those who will read it.

 

Two questions to ask are:

  1. Will the report provide background information so that management can obtain a thorough perspective of an issue or problem?
  2. Is the report’s purpose to analyse and solve a problem, to outline the progress of a specific project, to study the feasibility of certain actions or policies, or to supply data essential to an important decision?

 

Establishing the purpose results in greater focus on those aspects of the subject area that are truly relevant.

If the purpose appears vague or confusing, the writer should discuss the aims of the report with the person who has assigned it.

Pondering a report’s relationship to an organisation’s goals, priorities, daily operating procedures, or specific areas of interest will help the writer gain a perspective of its importance.

Clarifying a report’s purpose prevents waste of time, effort, and – invariably – a great deal of an organisation’s money.

 

Limit the topic

Limiting the topic demands an awareness of the need to proceed from a general to a specific understanding of the report’s concerns. One helpful technique is to construct a purpose statement that may be broad in scope, and then to refine it by eliminating words or expressions that do not precisely characterise the report’s purpose.

For example, suppose the writer must compile a report on recent changes in consumers’ spending attitudes and expectations toward buying new cars.

Consider other factors

Once the writer formulates a purpose statement, he or she can grasp a clearer understanding of the report’s scope by considering other important factors. One approach is to jot down any relevant factors that will pertain to the report’s goals and function.

Identify the reader

To know who will be reading the report is just as vital as to be aware of its purpose and to limit its topic. Therefore, the writer must have a considerable understanding of the reader’s background, interests, and needs.

The reader could become frustrated and confused if the content required specialised knowledge and insulted if the approach is overly simplistic or incomplete. Ideally, the report should appear custom-tailored to fit the reader’s needs and concerns.

Personality, job title, and familiarity with the report’s subject all play a part in the reader’s response to a report.

Subsequently, no report will appeal to or please everyone.

Yet whether or not the report is intended for senior level executives, its readability depends on the clarity of the writing and the fact that the writer has truly identified probable readers.

Having even a general understanding of the reader’s need and background can prove invaluable while planning a Business / Workplace Report.

 

2 Gathering the information

Once the writer has determined the purpose and scope of a report, and has identified and analysed the reader’s needs, it is essential to ask this question before proceeding: “Do I know enough about my subject?”

This question must be answered honestly if the report is to reflect the writer’s best performance. No one, however, is completely expert in any field, or knows everything about a given topic.

There will always be information to acquire about increasing technological innovations, the expanding proliferation of available information, and the complexity of many issues and subjects.

While personal expertise and understanding will often suffice when preparing a report, there will be many occasions when a report will require extensive research.

Generally, there are two kinds of research:

  • Primary research information is obtained first-hand or directly through personal observations, company files, experiments, field trips, interviews, and the use of questionnaires.
  • Secondary research involves the gathering of information from published sources such as books, professional journals, popular magazines, trade newsletters, past reports on a related or similar subject, and newspapers.

 

3 Arranging the information

After the report writer has gathered the information needed, it is necessary to arrange the information before it can be applied.

The most logical and simple approach is to divide the information into primary and secondary categories according to its relationship to the subject and purpose of the report. The writer has to distinguish between material that will support, explain, illustrate, or highlight major ideas and findings and that which is secondary or peripheral.

Information can be further evaluated by analysing it according to its content and function.

It is helpful to consider material in terms of its nature and role in presenting various ideas that include the following:

  • chronological development or time order,
  • cause and effect,
  • problem and solution,
  • comparison,
  • description,
  • definition,
  • ideas and examples.

A person who is writing a progress or status report on a project would consider which information best indicates development according to time and tasks accomplished. By contrast, someone preparing a feasibility study would select information that describes as well as indicates possible causes and effects (or the advantages and disadvantages of ideas and actions). Also, this writer may recommend a variety of alternative actions or solutions.

Determining which information would serve in an introduction, the main discussion of findings, conclusion, summary, or recommendation is also helpful. Fact and opinion might also be separated. As each item is evaluated and analysed according to its content and function, the writer will feel in control of, rather than overwhelmed by, the material.

The evaluated information should then be grouped logically, thereby aiding the mental process of interpretation.

 

4 Interpreting the information

When writers have arranged the information, they are ready to begin the task of interpreting the information.

Interpretation is largely a mental process; therefore, it is affected by limitations of the mind. It is common knowledge that the mind is subject to quirks of peculiarity, irrationality, and inconsistency.

Certainly it would be impractical to review all such quirks, for such a review would encompass the field of psychology. It is possible, however, to list the major limitations to interpretation.

The following review of the major limitations is presented to facilitate and guard against human frailties.

  • Desire for the spectacular
  • Belief that conclusions are essential
  • Acceptance of lack of evidence as proof to contrary
  • Bias in interpretation
  • Cause-effect confusion
  • Unreliable data
  • Unrepresentative data
  • Neglect of important factors
  • Interpreting for the reader

 

5 Writing the draft

It is apparent that the first or rough draft is the testing ground for transforming the writer’s initial ideas and observations into written form. Therefore the writer’s primary objective is to put into words and sentences the myriad of facts, opinions, statistics, and other findings that will constitute the heart of the report.

While consideration is given to word choice, sentence structure, the logical development of ideas and paragraphs, tone, and style, the rough draft is not a finished product. Rather, it is a means through which the writer finds his or her way to a well-written report. Only through careful editing and revision can the finished report truly represent an example of fine architecture built by words.

 

6 Revising the report

The purpose of revision is to prepare the report for final typing and distribution. Revision gives the writer an opportunity to correct or rewrite portions and in general to improve and polish the report, all of which may assure its acceptance, increase readership, and result in action.

 

The revising of the report concludes the following parts:

  • Checking content – Since the first draft of a report is written to set down facts and ideas, and since it is written rapidly, one of the first checks is to determine whether or not it is accurate and complete, and whether or not the purpose of the report has been accomplished.
  • Checking organisation – Closely related to the process of checking the subject matter is that of checking the organisation of the report. The organisation should be logical and provide general coherence. The report should hang together as a whole, and every part should be related and make sense.
  • Checking for expression, mechanics of style, and form – Having checked the subject matter and organisation, the writer can examine in detail each paragraph, sentence, and word in the report to be sure that everything is clearly expressed, and mechanically correct.

 

4 Elements of the Business / Workplace Report

Once the report writer has gathered, evaluated and organised the information for the report, the material must then be presented to the reader in a suitable format.

Although there is no one standardised format due to the great variety of Business / Workplace Reports, the majority share some common elements that convey the findings in either an informal or formal manner.

The difference between an informal report and a formal report rests neither in the depth nor quality of the content and writing, but in the distinction between their physical make-up and the writer’s tone of voice.

In general, informal reports are expressed in a familiar and conversational tone of voice, while formal reports always reflect seriousness between the writer and the reader.

In terms of format, informal reports tend to be less complicated than formal ones. A typical informal report has no letter of transmittal, no title page, no table of contents, and no list of illustrations.

If there is a summary, it appears on page one, preceded by the title and the author’s name and followed by the text. The text is usually single-spaced.

However, with the exceptions of elements just noted, the format of a formal report also applies to an informal one. The formally-constructed report usually contains the following parts;

Preliminary sections

  • Title page
  • Letter of authorisation
  • Letter of transmittal
  • Contents page
  • List of illustrations
  • Summary

Body Sections

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations

Supplementary Sections

  • Bibliography
  • Appendixes
  • Glossary

1 Preliminary sections

The first part of a formal report is devoted to preliminary sections. They dress up the report and offer much incidental information such as to who authorised the report, its title, who prepared it, the date, the job number, a list of its divisions and subdivisions, a list of its visual aids, and even a condensed version of its contents.

Whether the writer includes some or all of these preliminary parts will depend on the audience, purpose and occasion.

Title page

The title page is necessary for long reports and those that are retained for future use.

Most title pages contain the following items:

  • The title of the report.
  • The name and title of the individual for whom the report is prepared.
  • The name and title of the individual who prepared the report.
  • The company, city and state, and date of preparation.

The title page may also include other optional elements, such as subtitle, library identification number and project number.

Report titles should be accurate, composed of key words that clearly describe the content and focus of the study. Otherwise, the reader will be confused or misled by vague, inappropriate or inexact titles.

For example, the title “Training” is too broad and general. One better alternative may be “Management Training Objectives and Procedure”, for it provides the reader with accurate information.

Report titles should also be concise. Such unnecessary words or phrases as “a report on” “an investigation of” “a survey of” and the like should be omitted.

Sometimes subtitles are used to explain and give details of the subject.

The following is a case in point:

  • Title
  • Subtitle

Letter of authorisation

The letter of authorisation is used to establish authority and to state the terms under which an investigation and a report are made. It precedes the investigation and is written by the person requesting the study to the person who is to do the research and report.

The letter of authorisation typically includes the following sections:

  • An authorisation for the report writer to begin preparation of the report.
  • The areas to be included in the report.
  • Pertinent background information regarding the report topic.
  • Conditions for preparing the report, including the due date, budgetary allowance, and if appropriate, the amount of compensation the report writer is to receive.
  • A courteous closing with an offer to be of assistance if needed.

Letter of transmittal

The letter of transmittal is the letter that accompanies the report and is addressed to the person or group for whom the report has been prepared. The composition of the letter of transmittal varies from report to report.

It may contain any of the following elements:

  • History and background.
  • Need for the report.
  • Use of the report.
  • Conclusions and recommendations.
  • Personal attitude of the writer.

The elements of the letter of transmittal are determined by the type of report, the relation between writer and reader, and the existing situation. It should increase the reader’s interest and confidence in the report.

Contents page

The contents page is an analytical outline, modified in form for the sake of appearance. It serves as an accurate and complete guide to the contents of the report. Because the entries in this outline also appear in the text of the report as headings, a reader may easily refer to a particular section or subsection of the report.

The contents page usually includes the following elements:

  • The prefatory material such as letter of transmittal, abstract and introduction.
  • The major topic, the primary topic subdivision and the secondary topic subdivision.
  • The supplemental material, appendix, bibliography and index.

Although the writer can select any of the standard notation systems, the headings must be worded exactly as their corresponding sections in the text to avoid confusing the reader.

In addition, to achieve effectiveness, it is better to use no more than three degrees of headings, for this number is sufficient to give the reader a clear idea of the extent and content of the material in the report.

List of illustrations

To assist the reader in rapid locating of the graphic aids contained in the report, a list of illustrations is quite useful. It is usually located at the beginning of the report, following the contents page. Because illustrations include graphs, charts, drawings, tables and photographs, each graphic aid must be numbered and titled. They should also include specific page reference numbers

The following is a standard format of the list of illustrations:

Figures Page

Unemployment Rates ………………………………..15

Disputes in CCMA………………..…………………….. 25

Tables

  1. Unresolved Disputes……………………………….. 80
  2. Resolved Disputes……………………..…………… 90

Summary

Often called an abstract, synopsis, or epitome, the summary is a miniature report, a condensation of the introduction, text, conclusions, and recommendation. In other words, the summary should be complete in itself so that the reader can obtain an overview of the entire report.

It is often placed in an information retrieval system, such as a card catalog or microfiche index.

The summary should preserve the organisation of the report, indicate the relative importance of its ideas, but not repeat its exact words.

Report writers often find it difficult to write effective summaries because they fail to distinguish between descriptive and informative statements.

Descriptive statements explain the outline. This statement tells the reader what the report deals with but fails to provide information.

The writer should remember the purpose of the summary to enable the reader to learn the important points of the report without having to read it. The function of a summary is that it must serve as a condensed report

2 Body sections

Following the preliminaries are the body sections, the most important part of the report. Besides introducing the subject, the body sections present the research findings and, if appropriate, state the judgments and propose action.

There are usually four separate parts in the body sections:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations.

Introduction

The introduction is important for several reasons.

  • It helps determine whether the reader will continue to read the report. Clear writing, a positive tone, and logical order help convince the individual that the report is worth reading.
  • The introduction establishes the writing style of the writer. No matter how the introduction is written, the rest of the report should follow the same style.

The introduction may contain the following sections:

Background

The introduction may contain a concise statement or history of the problem to be investigated and mention how the report was initiated, by whom, and when, for the benefit of people who may be unfamiliar with the background of the situation.

This section explains why the report was written.

Purpose

As clearly and precisely as possible, the introduction should announce the purpose of the report. This is often to propose a solution to a problem or present the findings of a study.

In other words, this section states what the report is about.

Method

Unless readers are convinced that the research procedure is sound, they may doubt the facts and conclusions of the report. The writer should clearly explain the method or methods used for securing the data. That is to inform the reader how the information is obtained.

Scope and Limitations

The scope is a positive statement about what is within the report. It clarifies for readers what they can expect from the report by explaining how dependable, thorough, and far-reaching it is.

Limitations are negative statements about what is not within the report. Usually reports are restricted in several ways:

  • In the purpose for conducting the investigation
  • In the resources supporting the investigation
  • In the area of investigation
  • In the period covered by the investigation
  • In the research methods employed.

These limitations should be explicitly stated to show the boundaries of the report, or the writer may be held responsible for matters beyond the limits of the report.

Definitions

One of the most important sections of the introduction is the definition of key terms. The writer should be careful to examine all the key terms to determine whether any are ambiguous, for ambiguity can damage the clarity of the writing. It is always safer to define a term than to assume it is understood.

Body

The essence of the report is the body, which activates all other aspects or elements of the report. In the body of the report, the writer discusses in detail the findings, analyses, problems, solutions, procedures, costs and all other observations that relate to the subject and purpose. Any detail that can explain, illustrate, prove, or otherwise elaborate on major ideas and points should be included in this section.

For the body of the report to be complete and comprehensive, the writer must distinguish between major and minor thoughts and findings. Ideas should be presented in order of importance and relevance to the central theme of the report.

Applying the questions

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

….. to any problem, analysis, situation, or issue will further enable the writer to produce a thorough, clearly written Business / Workplace Report.

Conclusions

A valid conclusion reflects the writer’s judgment drawn from facts, opinions, analyses, and other observations discussed in the report.

A conclusion should bear a logic relationship to the data that precedes it. This outcome should seem natural and should be stated directly and often without comment or discussion.

If the conclusions are listed either in order of importance or in the order that they appear in the text, and if they are supported by a summary of the evidence that led to them, the reader will clearly understand how the writer arrived at them.

Placement of conclusions depends on the readers’ interests, needs, and background. If the writer knows that most readers will be too busy to absorb every detail of a report’s findings, the conclusions should be placed at the beginning of the body.

If the report requires a careful understanding of bases for arriving at the conclusion, they should be placed at the end of the discussion. Wherever they are listed in a report, the conclusions should clearly express the writer’s ideas, and emphasise their importance.

Recommendations

Recommendations suggest a course of action based on previous observations and conclusions. Sometimes conclusions and recommendations can be combined, though each serves a distinct purpose.

Recommendations should be clearly worded and presented in the same order as the conclusions that lead to them. Recommendations should also be direct and emphatic; otherwise, the reader may feel confused about the best course of action.

On some occasions, due to insufficient evidence or contradictory findings, the writer may recommend further investigation before urging a specific course of action.

3 Supplementary sections

Various kinds of back-up materials may be needed for the report. They support, or back up, the body; they are placed at the end of the report and are available to the reader if they are needed.

The three basic supplements are the bibliography, the appendix and the glossary.

Bibliography

A bibliography is a comprehensive list of all sources directly cited in the report as well as any other sources consulted for general background information. Bibliographic entries include books, magazine articles, documents, newspaper articles, pamphlets, dictionaries, dissertations and previous studies and reports.

Appendixes

Appendixes come right after the bibliography and include any material to which the writer wants to refer but that is not necessary to understanding the report.

Common examples include the questionnaire used for a research survey discussed in the report, copies of letters or memos referred to in the report, and statistical tables that support the analysis in the report.

Glossary

A glossary is a list of definitions of words, phrases, and terms used in the report. Glossaries are appropriate when the report contains many technical or unusual terms. When there are only a few such terms, they should be defined in the introduction of the report or when they are first used.

5 The Linguistic Character of Effective Business / Workplace Report Writing

The primary goal of report writers is to communicate the messages of their reports. Ideally they should communicate these messages as quickly, as easily, and as precisely as language will permit.

Specifically they should understand that good report writing is adapted to the readers. They should know that good report writing is readable.

Knowledge of all these characteristics, however, gives only a general appreciation of good report writing. The application of this general knowledge to the task of report writing requires specific knowledge of techniques.

They are grouped by the three basic units of writing— the word, the sentence, and the paragraph. Style and tone are also necessary to discuss.

1 Words

The basic understanding of words

As a means of communicating thought, language consists of a set of symbols used uniformly in ways agreed upon by a group of people who are thus able to communicate with each other.

Words are symbols, and clear thinking itself requires words. Words are names given to objects and actions to convey meaning to others.

Developing the ability to analyse thoughts and to select the right words for transmitting them improves communication.

One basis for understanding language and communication is derived from the psychology of perception. This is the concept that a person does not “see” the real world but only his or her image of it.

The brain, in receiving nerve impulses from the sensory organs of the body, constructs an image of reality, which is what appears to be; what we see is not what is really there, but our image of it.

  1. A word is only a symbol.
  2. A word has no fixed or universal meaning.
  3. A word’s meaning is in the mind of its user.
  4. A word’s meaning may be derived from its context.

  1. A word is only a symbol

That a word is a symbol is obvious. The word report is not an actual report. Words are merely marks on paper with no inherent meaning.

Words have different meanings to different people.

  1. A word has no fixed or universal meaning

If a word is only a symbol with no inherent meaning, then can a word mean anything the encoder chooses? Theoretically, it can. But for practical purposes, both an encoder and a decoder would have to understand this private meaning.

The symbol has no universal meaning. Nor is any meaning fixed.

 

  1. A word’s meaning is in the mind of its user

Humor is usually based on double meanings in words. We laugh because we are pleasantly surprised when we discover that the meaning in our mind is not the same as the meaning in the other person’s mind.

  1. A word’s meaning is derived from its context

If words are only symbols whose meanings are in the minds of their users, how can we ever understand one another? A word’s context usually helps. The context of the preceding or following sentences will usually indicate the precise meaning.

The careful choice of words

Words should be selected for their denotations and connotations.

The denotation is the idea the word expresses, and the connotation is the idea the word suggests.

The denotation is the recognised, standardised meaning of the word as given in the dictionary; it has been agreed upon by usage. Connotation however gives the impression, feeling, or emotional overtone a word calls forth.

It is the effect the word has because of the reader’s experience and association with it.

The connotative meaning may vary greatly from person to person.

The purpose of a report must be considered in order to determine when words should be used to express meaning or to impress the reader. Definite, exact words express clear, exact meanings.

Abstract nouns tend to be vague and general, for they are less direct and less forceful than concrete nouns. When abstract terms are used, they should be qualified by illustrations pointing out their characteristics.

  • Selecting words the reader will understand – use simplified words in writing

In most business situations, adaptation means simplification for two reasons:

  • When you write at a too difficult level, the resulting words are unlikely to create sharp, clear meanings in the reader’s mind.
  • The writer usually knows the subject of the message better than the reader does. Thus, the two minds are not equally equipped to communicate on the subject. The writer has no choice but to present the message in the more elementary words and concepts that will create meaning in the reader’s mind.

  • Use familiar words

The first rule of word selection is to use familiar words. Of course, the definition of familiar words varies among people. What is familiar usage to some people is likely to appear as high-level speech to others.

Thus, the suggestion to use familiar language is in a sense a specific suggestion to apply the principle of adapting the writing to the reader.

Unfortunately, many Business / Workplace Report writers do not use familiar language enough. Instead, they tend to change character when they begin to put their thoughts on paper.

Rather than writing naturally, they become stiff and stilted in their expression.

For example, instead of using an everyday word such as try, they use the more unfamiliar word endeavour. They do not find out; they ascertain. They terminate rather than end, demonstrate rather than show, and utilise rather than use.

Now there really is nothing wrong with the hard words – if they are used intelligently. They are intelligently used when they are clearly understood by the reader, when they best convey the intended meaning, and when they are used with moderation.

The best suggestion is to use the simplest words that will carry the thought without demeaning the reader’s intelligence.

The communication advantages of familiar words over far more complex ones are obvious in the following contrasts:

 

 

 

 

  • Choose the short over the long word
Short Words

That decision was based on the belief that there would be more money.

They agreed to quit business.

Last year the company lost money.

Short words tend to communicate better than long ones. Normally the longer a word is the more difficult it is. Therefore, a heavy proportion of long words will confuse the reader.

  • Use technical words with caution

Every business field will have its own jargon. In time, this jargon will become a part of our everyday working vocabulary. In writing to those outside this field, we may use these words and the result will be miscommunication.

Certainly, it is logical to use the language of a field in writing to those in the field.

But even in those instances we can overdo it, for excessive use of technical words can be hard reading even for technical people. Frequently, technical words are long and hard sounding.

As we noted in the preceding rule, such words tend to dull the writing and make it hard to understand. Also, the difficulty tends to increase as the proportion of technical words increases.

For example, an accountant writing to a non-accountant might need to avoid professional jargon. Even though terms such as accounts receivable, liabilities, and surplus are elementary to an accountant, they may be meaningless to laypersons. So in writing to such people, the accountant would be wise to use non-technical descriptions, such as how much is owed to the company, how much the company owes, and how much is left over. We can draw similar examples from any specialised field.

  • Bringing writing to life with words

Strong and vigorous symbols are more likely to gain and hold the reader’s interest.

Subject matter, of course, is a major determinant of the interest quality of communication; but even interesting topics can be presented in writing so dull that an interested reader cannot keep his or her mind on the subject. If we wish to avoid this possibility, we will need to bring our writing to life with words.

Bringing our writing to life with words is no simple undertaking. In fact, it involves techniques that practically defy description – techniques that even the most accomplished writers never completely master.

Despite the difficulty of this undertaking, however, we can bring our writing to life by following four simple but important suggestions:

  • Select strong and vigorous words
  • Use concrete words
  • Favor active verbs
  • Avoid overuse of camouflaged verbs

  • Selecting words for precise communication

If we want to be good report writers, we will need to study words carefully. We will need to be especially aware of the shades of differences in meanings of similar words. For example, fired, dismissed, canned, and discharged refer to the same action, but they also have different shades of meaning.

In our effort to be precise writers, we need to use the correct idiom.

For example, it is correct idiomatic usage to say “independent of” and incorrect to say “independent from.” Similarly, we “agree to” a proposal, but we “agree with” a person. We are “careful about” an affair, but we are “careful with” our money. So it is with these additional illustrations:

  • Avoiding sexist words

Although sexist words are not directly related to writing clarity, our review of word selection would be incomplete without some mention of them. As we know, the English language developed in a male-dominated society, and this dominance produced some sexist words. For reasons of fair play as well as courtesy, we would do well to avoid these words.

  • Masculine pronouns for both sexes

Perhaps the most troublesome sexist usage of all is the one of the masculine pronoun (he, his, him) to refer to both sexes for example,

Avoid the use of masculine pronouns in such cases in one of three ways.

  1. Reword the sentence to eliminate the offending word with a non-sexist word. For example, the preceding example could be reworded thus: “The typical student”, “customer”.
  2. Make the reference plural (Their, Them, They) that refer to both sexes.
  3. Substitute with a neutral expressions. Most common of these are he or she, he/she, you, one, and person.

We should use these words with caution, however. They tend to be somewhat awkward, particularly if used often. For this reason, many skilled writers avoid some of them. If we use them, we should pay attention to their effect on the flow of our words.

Avoid sentences such as: “To make an employee feel he/she is doing well by complimenting her/him insincerely confuses her/him later when he/she sees his/her co-workers promoted ahead of him/her.”

  • Words derived from masculine words

As we have noted, many English words are masculine even though they do not refer exclusively to men. Take chairman for example. It can refer to both sexes, yet it does not sound that way. More correct and less offensive substitutes are chair, presiding officer, moderator, and chairperson.

Similarly, salesman suggests a man, but nowadays many women work in sales. We would improve the reference by using salesperson, sales clerk, or sales representative.

Other sexist words and suggested substitutes are as follows:

2 Sentences

Choosing the right words is one essential step in Business / Workplace Report writing. Arranging words into sentences that communicate clearly and easily is equally important.

This task is largely a mental one, for the sentence is the form we human beings devised to express our thought units.

Thus, clear and orderly sentences are the products of clear and orderly thinking, and vague and disorderly sentences represent vague and disorderly thinking.

The technique of good thinking cannot be reduced to routine steps, procedures, formulas, or the like, for the process is too little understood. But sentences that are the products of good thinking have clearly discernible characteristics. These characteristics suggest the general guidelines for good sentence construction.

More than any other sentence characteristic, length is clearly related to sentence difficulty. The longer a sentence the harder it is to understand. The explanation of this relationship is simple.

Our human mind is capable of holding only a limited amount of subject matter at one time. When an excess of information or excessive relationships are presented in a single package, our mind cannot grasp it all on a single reading. Thus, like food, written material is best consumed in bite-sized portions.

What is bite-size for the mind, however, depends on the reader’s mental capacity. For more advanced readers, it can be higher. For those of lesser reading abilities, it must be lower.

Writing in simple, short sentences involves two basic techniques.

  • The technique of limiting sentence content.
  • The technique of expressing thoughts in fewer words.

Limiting sentence content

Limiting sentence content is largely a matter of mentally selecting the thought units and making separate sentences out of most of them. Sometimes, of course, we should combine thoughts into one sentence. But we should do this only when we have good reason to do so.

We have good reason, for example, when thoughts are closely related or when we want to de-emphasis content.

As with all writing suggestions, however, we can carry short sentences to excess. A succession of short sentences can give the impression of elementary writing as well as draw attention from the content to the sentences’ choppy effect. We should work to avoid these effects by varying the length and ordering of the parts of our sentences.

It would be wise to keep our sentence length within easy grasp of our readers.

Economising on words

A technique of shortening sentences is to use words economically. Anything we write can be expressed in many ways, some shorter than others. In general, shorter wordings save the reader time, are clearer, and make more interesting reading.

Learning to use words economically is a matter of ongoing effort. We should be continuously aware of the need for word economy.

We should carefully explore and appraise the many ways of expressing each thought. We should know that the possibility of word economy depends on the subject matter in each case. We should also know that there are certain forms of expression that simply are not economical.

The more common uneconomical forms of expression are discussed in the following paragraphs.

  • Unnecessary repetition – Avoid unnecessary repetition of words or thoughts.
  • Cluttering phrases – There are numerous phrases that are best replaced by shorter expressions. Besides, the longer forms are often stiff and stilted.
  • Redundancy – Eliminate words that add nothing to the meaning of the sentence

Determining emphasis in sentence design

Writing sentences involves giving the right emphasis to content. Any written business communication contains a number of items of information, not all of which are equally important. Some are very important, such as a conclusion in a report or the objective in a letter. Some are relatively unimportant.

Our task as a writer is to determine the importance of each item and then form our sentences to communicate it.

Sentence length affects emphasis. Short, simple sentences carry more emphasis than long, involved ones. Short ones stand out and call attention to their contents. Thus, the reader gets one message without the interference of related or supporting information.

Long sentences give less emphasis to their contents. When two or more ideas are in one sentence, they share emphasis. How they share it depends on how the sentence is constructed. If the two ideas are presented equally for example, in independent clauses, they achieve equal emphasis.

But if they are presented unequally such as in an independent and a dependent clause; the former gets more emphasis than the latter.

The following example illustrates the varying emphasis we can give information. Suppose we have two items of information to write about.

One is that the company lost money last year.

The other is that its sales reached a record high volume. We could present the information in at least three ways.

 

First, we could give both facts equal emphasis by placing them in separate short sentences:

The company lost money last year. The loss occurred in spite of record sales.

 

Second, we could present the two facts in the same sentence with emphasis on the lost money:

Although the company enjoyed record sales last year, it lost money.

 

Third, we could present the ideas in one sentence with emphasis on the sales increase:

The company enjoyed record sales last year, although it lost money.

 

Which form to use depends on how much emphasis each deserves in different cases.

Giving the sentences unity

Good sentences must have unity, that is, all of its parts must combine to form one clear thought. In other words, everything that is put together as a sentence should have a good reason for being there.

Violations of unity in sentence construction fall into three categories:

  • Unrelated Ideas

Placing unrelated ideas in a sentence is the most obvious violation of unity. Of course, putting two or more ideas in a sentence is not grammatically wrong. But the ideas must have a reason for being together.

They must combine to complete the single goal of the sentence. It is not enough that the ideas are on the same subject.

There are three basic ways to give unity to sentences that contain seemingly unrelated ideas:

  1. We can put the ideas in separate sentences.
  2. We can make one idea subordinate to the other.
  3. We can add words that show how the ideas are related.

  • Excessive Detail

Putting too much detail into one sentence tends to hide the central thought. If the detail is important, it is better to put it in a separate sentence.

  • Illogical Constructions

Illogical constructions destroy sentence unity. They result primarily from illogical thinking.

Although illogical thinking is too complex for meaningful study here, a few typical examples of this violation will illustrate the possibilities involved.

Arranging sentences for clarity

Words alone do not make a message, for their arrangement also plays a role in the meanings our minds give.

All languages have certain rules of arrangement (grammar) that help determine meaning. Thus, to violate them is to invite miscommunication.

For example, modifying words have a definite sequence in English, and to alter the sequence changes meaning.

Scholars of the past have thoroughly catalogued the rules of English. However, these rules of language are not merely arbitrary requirements set by detail-minded scholars; rather they are statements of logical relationships among words. They are also based on custom.

Dangling modifiers are most often participial phrases or infinitive phrases that do not refer clearly to a specific word or group of words in a sentence – thus, because the modifiers are not tied to something in the sentence, they dangle.

On the surface, this sentence appears correct:

Other rules of grammar support the point. As we know, personal, demonstrative, and relative pronouns are used to replace words we do not want to keep repeating.

The noun that the pronoun replaces is called the antecedent. We must make sure that the antecedent is always clear to our reader and that the pronoun agrees with the antecedent. Otherwise, the sentence will lack definitive meaning.

3 Paragraphs

In writing, we do not communicate by words and sentences alone. Paragraphs also play an important role. As we shall see, a paragraph’s design helps to organise its information as the information enters our mental filters.

How to go about designing paragraphs is difficult to put into words. Much of paragraph writing depends on the writer’s mental ability to organise and relate facts logically. Thus, it is a mental process about which we know little. There are, however, some general suggestions; these are summarised in the following paragraphs.

Giving the paragraph unity

A first suggestion in paragraph design is to give the paragraph unity. Unity, of course, means oneness. When applied to paragraph construction, it means that we should build the paragraph around a single topic or idea; that is, we should include only the major topic or idea and the supporting details that help develop it.

Exceptions to the rule of unity are transitional paragraphs, whose objectives are to relate preceding and succeeding topics.

Just what constitutes unity is not always easy to determine. An entire report, for example, may deal with a single topic and therefore have unity. The same could be said for each major division of the report as well as the lesser subdivisions.

Paragraph unity, however, concerns smaller units than these – usually the lowest level of a detailed outline. Generally, it concerns the largest unit of thought above a sentence.

In other words, in reports written from detailed outlines, each paragraph might well cover one of the lowest outline headings. In any event, one good test of a paragraph is to reduce its content to a single topic statement. If this statement does not cover the paragraph content, unity is unlikely to exist.

Keeping the paragraph short

In most forms of business writing, we will be wise to keep our paragraphs short. Short paragraphs help our reader to follow the paper’s organisational plan. Specifically, they emphasise the beginning and ending of each item covered, and they give added emphasis to the facts presented. In addition, short paragraphs are more inviting to the eye. People simply prefer to read material that gives them frequent breaks.

However, the breaks should not be too frequent. A series of very short paragraphs give an unpleasantly choppy effect.

Just how long a paragraph should be, of course, depends on the topic. Some topics are short; others are long; still others are in between. Even so, a general rule for paragraph length can be given. Most well-organised and well-paragraphed business papers have paragraphs averaging around eight or nine lines. Yet there are exceptions. Some good paragraphs may be quite short – even a single sentence – and some may be well over the eight-to-nine-line average.

One good rule of thumb to follow is to question the unity of all long paragraphs – say, those exceeding 12 lines. If inspection shows that only one topic is present, we should make no change. But if the paragraph covers more than one topic, we should create additional paragraphs.

Putting topic sentences to good use

In organising our paragraphs, we will need to make effective use of the topic sentence. A topic sentence, obviously, is the sentence that expresses the main idea in the paragraph. Around this topic sentence, the details that support or elaborate on the main idea build in some logical way.

Exactly how a given paragraph should build from the topic sentence depends on the information to be covered and on the writer’s plan in presenting it.

Obviously, much of paragraph design must come from our mental effort. We will profit, however, from being generally acquainted with the most commonly used paragraph plans.

  • Topic sentence first

The most widely used paragraph plan begins with the topic sentence. The supporting material follows in logical order. Because this arrangement gives good emphasis to the major point, it will be the most useful to us as a business writer

  • Topic sentence last

Another logical paragraph arrangement places the topic sentence at the end, usually as a conclusion. The supporting details come first and build in logical order toward the topic sentence. Frequently, such a paragraph uses an introductory sentence to set up or introduce the subject, as in the following illustration. Such a sentence serves as a form of topic sentence, but the final sentence covers the real meat of the paragraph.

  • Topic sentence within the paragraph

Some paragraphs are logically arranged with the topic sentence somewhere in the middle. Such a paragraph arrangement is infrequently used, and usually for good reason. In general, it fails to give proper emphasis to the key points in the paragraph. Nevertheless, it can sometimes be used with good effect, as in this example:

 

 

Omitting unnecessary detail

We should include in our paragraphs only the information needed. The chances are that we have more information than the reader needs. Thus, part of our communication task involves selecting what we need and discarding what we do not need.

What we need, of course, is a matter of judgment. We can best judge by putting ourselves in our reader’s place. We can ask ourselves questions such as these: How will the information be used? What will be used? What will not be used? If we follow this procedure, we will probably leave out much that we originally intended to use.

 

Making the paragraph move forward

Each paragraph we write should clearly move an additional step toward our objective. Such forward movement is a desirable quality of paragraph design. Individual sentences have little movement, for they cover only a single thought. An orderly succession of single thoughts, however, does produce movement. In addition, good movement is helped by skillful use of transition, smoothness in writing style, and general proficiency in word choice and sentence design.

A Word of Caution

Like most elements of writing, the foregoing principles must be tempered with good judgment. If followed blindly to an extreme, they can produce writing that appears mechanical or that in some way calls attention to writing style rather than content. For example, slavish application of the rules for short sentences could produce a primmer writing style.

So could the rules stressing simple language. Such writing could offend the more sophisticated reader. Our solution is to use the rules as general guides, but clear and logical thinking must guide us in applying them.

4 Tone

Tone as attitude toward the reader

Because a report is read and acted upon by a person just as human as the report writer, the writer needs to understand the reader as an individual. This requirement involves an understanding of the psychology of everyday life, an abiding interest in people, and an understanding of human behaviour.

Much of the time we look upon communication as a one-way process from sender to receiver. We become concerned with ourselves instead of being aware of the way the reader reacts to us and our words. We tend to be self-centered and subject-centered instead of writing within the framework of the reader’s interest, needs, and understanding.

We give the impression that we are an authority giving the answers, instead of involving the reader in the discussion. Prejudices may exist at both ends and need to be reconciled. The reader is interested in the effect our recommendations will have on him or her, and ideas can be presented from the reader’s point of view. Even arguments and disagreements can be avoided by concentrating on facts, ideas, and reasoning.

Courtesy and tact should be remembered, for a positive, helpful, friendly tone toward the reader is always conducive to understanding.

Characteristics of good tone

Tone reveals the writer’s attitude toward the subject and reader, their frame of mind in writing the report, their way of thinking, and the method of gathering data. The writer, who is thorough in investigation, attends to details, and thinks logically will naturally have a complete report. It will include pertinent details and facts arranged in logical sequence. The unbiased writer presents the message impartially.

An effective tone must be objective, impartial, tolerant, sincere, fair and honest.

The writer strives to exhibit these characteristics at all times. Emphasis should be on the facts and what they indicate. Tone is adapted to the reader’s point of view and to the purpose and type of report. In informal, short reports, when reader and writer are personal friends, an informal, personal tone may be used.

In formal long reports or in cases when reader and writer are not close friends, a formal, impersonal tone is used.

Writers must always exercise keen judgment in evaluation and interpretation. They should present a definite, positive, impersonal treatment of facts, make clear distinctions between facts, opinions, and assumptions, and be thorough, accurate, and dependable.

An inquiring mind, the ability to see a job through to completion, the skill of writing correctly and persuasively, and the ability to reason clearly are personal characteristics that contribute to an effective tone.

Techniques for developing good tone

(i) Objectivity

A basic quality of good report writing is objectivity. It is the basis of the believability of the report. Perhaps biased writing can be in language that is artfully deceptive and may at first glance be believable. But such writing is risky. If at any spot in the report the reader detects bias, they will be suspicious of the whole work. Objectivity is the only sure way to believable report writing.

Writers maintain an objective attitude by divorcing their prejudices and emotions from their work and by fairly reviewing and interpreting the information they have uncovered. Further objectivity is achieved by recognising relationships between facts and ideas and exercising sound judgment in reaching conclusions.

Writers’ roles are much like a judge presiding over a court of law. They are not moved by personal feelings. They make their decisions only after carefully weighing all of the evidence uncovered.

An objective tone is also expressed by weighing and discussing both sides of an issue. Considering advantages and disadvantages of a solution to a problem assists in deciding whether to recommend it.

Being tolerant of all viewpoints and letting the facts speak for themselves also indicate objectivity in a report. Inspiring confidence that the material presented is accurate and valid goes a long way toward convincing the reader of the writer’s objectivity.

(ii) Impersonal writing versus personal writing

Writing in the third person keeps the writer apart, emphasises the results, and gives the report an impersonal tone. Some companies and organisations have adopted a policy requiring use of the third person, which enables the writer to present a detached attitude.

In an informal short report, however, when reader and writer are personal friends, an informal, personal tone may be adopted and the first person used. For long or formal reports, and especially if reader and writer are unacquainted, it is best to use the third person consistently.

Of course, a good principle to follow is to adapt the report to the reader and purpose. The report writers’ decisions should be based on the circumstances of each report situation. Firstly, they should consider the expectations or desires of those for whom they are preparing the report.

Next, the writers should consider the formality of each report situation. If the situation is informal, as when the report is really a personal communication of information between business associates, personal writing is appropriate. But if the situation is formal, as is so with most major reports, the conventional impersonal style is better.

Perhaps the distinction between impersonal and personal writing is best made by illustration.

(iii) PersonalHaving studied the various advantages and disadvantages of using trading stamps, I conclude that your company should not adopt this practice. If you use the stamps, you would have to pay out money for them. Also you would have to hire additional employees to take care of the increase in sales volume.

(iv) ImpersonalA study of the advantages and disadvantages of using trading stamps supports the conclusion that the Mill Company should not adopt this practice. The stamps themselves would cost extra money. Also, use of stamps would require additional personnel to take care of the increase in sales volume.

5 Style

Application of style

Applied to factual writing, style consists of the communication and rhetorical principles and the techniques the writer uses in writing a report. It is the expression of the writer’s ideas, as well as his or her manner of perceiving and thinking, and it may reflect a sense of humor and a degree of self-confidence.

It should inspire confidence and respect for what has been written. Some of the techniques applicable to achieving good tone are also used to accomplish an effective style.

The third person, for example, creates not only an impartial tone, but also an impersonal, matter-of-fact style, whereas the first person produces a personal, intimate style. Deciding which to use is based on writer-reader relationships and the report message.

Principles of unity, coherence, and emphasis

To achieve understanding, the report writer uses an effective style which should be direct, straightforward, interesting, persuasive, and readable.

This requires careful application of the principles of unity, coherence, and emphasis, along with the skilful use of language and the essentials of understanding.

Unity denotes the state of being one. An orderly arrangement of ideas flowing into other facts or ideas and progressing to conclusions helps achieve unity and is an aid to coherence. The elements of sequence and motion make the report move forward in a definite direction toward accomplishing its purpose.

There are two aspects of coherence

  1. Relatedness
  2. Clarity

To be coherent, a report must hang together. Careful planning and outlining lend coherence to the report as a whole. Emphasis gives importance to particular ideas and facts and indicates their relative value.

The following suggestions should prove helpful to the writer in applying principles of unity, coherence, and emphasis to reports:

For unity:

  • Apply unity to sentences, paragraphs, sections, divisions, and the entire report.
  • Have each unit of thought express a single idea.
  • Include everything pertinent to one clearly defined purpose, giving consideration to what the reader already knows and to what he or she needs or wants to know about the subject
  • Lead the reader in a definite direction from one thought to the next toward the single purpose.
  • Indicate in the title and in the summary the unifying theme or main idea of the whole report.

For coherence:

  • Construct sentences, paragraphs, sections, divisions, and the entire report to reflect coherence.
  • Make relationships readily apparent.
  • Show subordinate relationships by using because, since (cause), as, more than, rather than (comparison), although, even if, though (concession), if, in case, except (condition), where, whence, wherever (place), to, so that, in order that (purpose), so that, so . . . as, such . . . that (result), after, when, ever since, until (time)
  • Link sentences so thoughts flow smoothly.
  • Arrange sentences in clear, logical order and relate them through use of pronouns, transitional words, repetition of ideas, and parallel structure; also link paragraphs and use topic sentences and topic paragraphs for controlling central ideas.

For emphasis:

  • Arrange important points in important positions—the beginning and end of a paragraph, section, or division of a report.
  • Arrange for emphasis by considering the relative value of the idea for the reader and the purpose of the report.
  • Place main ideas in main clauses of a sentence.
  • Place the main point in a short, direct sentence.
  • Develop a main idea fully. The more details used, the more illustrations given, and the fuller development of the point, the more emphasis is given.
  • Repeat important ideas and use parallel construction for a series of items in a list.
  • Arrange text spatially for visual clarity and emphasis:
    • Indent
    • Leave white space.
    • Use capitals.
    • Underscore or use italics.
    • Set off items.
    • List points.
    • Use spot tables.
    • Use topic headings.

2 Data Gathering Techniques

Introduction

Data collection is a term used to describe a process of preparing and collecting data, for example, as part of a report or similar project. The purpose of data collection is to obtain information to keep on record, to make decisions about important issues, to pass information on to others.

Primarily, data is collected to provide information regarding a specific topic.

Data collection usually takes place early on in the writing of any business / workplace reports, and is often formalised through a data collection plan which often contains the following activity.

  • Pre collection activity — agree on goals, target data, definitions, methods
  • Collection — data collection
  • Present Findings — usually involves some form of sorting analysis and/or presentation.

Prior to any data collection, pre-collection activity is one of the most crucial steps in the process. It is often discovered so late that the value of interview information is discounted as a consequence of poor sampling of both questions and informants and poor elicitation techniques.

After pre-collection activity is fully completed, data collection in the field, whether by interviewing or other methods, can be carried out in a structured, systematic and scientific way.

A formal data collection process is necessary as it ensures that data gathered is both defined and accurate and that subsequent decisions based on arguments embodied in the findings are valid.

The process provides both a baseline from which to measure and in certain cases a target as to what to improve.

Other main types of collection include census, sample survey, and administrative by-product – each with its respective advantages and disadvantages.

A census refers to data collection about everyone or everything in a group or population and has advantages such as accuracy and detail, and disadvantages such as cost and time.

A sample survey is a data collection method that includes only part of the total population and has advantages such as cost and time, and disadvantages such as accuracy and detail.

Administrative by-product data are collected as a byproduct of an organisation’s day-to-day operations and has advantages such as accuracy, time and simplicity, and disadvantages such as no flexibility and lack of control.

Data Gathering / Research Methods

Overview

Once a Report Topic or a Research Question has been formulated or determined, the next step is to identify which method will be appropriate and effective.

The table below describes the basic characteristics of different methodologies:

Data Collection Methods
Documents

Historical
Literature review
Meta-analysis
Diaries
Content Analysis
Secondary Data (data mining)
Observations

Interpretive
Ethnographic
Participant observer
Case study
Survey

Questionnaire
Interview
Standardised Scales/Instruments
Experimental

True designs
Quasi designs
Other Field Methods

Nominal Group Technique
Delphi
Multi-methods Approach

Combination of methods shown

 

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methodologies

Quantitative research methods include:

  • Experiments: Random treatment assignments and quasi experiments using non-randomised treatments.
  • Surveys: Which are cross-sectional or longitudinal

 

 

Qualitative research methods include:

  • Ethnographies which are observations of groups
  • Grounded theory which uses multi-staged data collection
  • Phenomenological studies which involves studying subjects over a period of time through developing relationships with them and reporting findings based on research “experiences.”
  • Case studies which use various data to investigate the subject over time and by activity.

Each research method has its strengths and weaknesses. When designing a research study it is important to decide what outcome (data) the study will produce then select the best methodology to produce the desired information.

Data Collection Techniques

There are two sources of data:

  • Primary data collection uses surveys, experiments or direct observations.
  • Secondary data collection may be conducted by collecting information from a diverse source of documents or electronically stored information.

Key Data Collection Techniques

  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires
  • Panel Questionnaire Designs
  • Interviews
  • Experimental Treatments

Writing An Introduction

In any research proposal the researcher should avoid the word “investigation.” This word is perceived in a negative sense.

The key components of a good introduction include:

  • a description of the purpose of the study,
  • identification of any sponsoring agency,
  • a statement regarding confidentiality,
  • a description of how sample or respondents were selected, and
  • an explanation of the results and their applications.

Experimental Treatments

Experimental designs are the basis of statistical significance. An example of the fundamentals of an experimental design is shown below.

Experimental Control

Experimental control is associated with four primary factors (Huck, Cormier, & Bounds, 1974).

  1. The random assignment of individual subjects to comparison groups;
  2. The extent to which the independent variable can be manipulated by the researcher;
  3. The time when the observations or measurements of the dependent variable occur; and
  4. Which groups are measured and how.

Treatment Group: The portion of a sample or population that is exposed to a manipulation of the independent variable is known as the treatment group.

Validity Issues

There are two primary criteria for evaluating the validity of an experimental design.

Internal validity. Determines whether the independent variable made a difference in the study. Can a cause-and-effect relationship be observed? To achieve internal validity, the researcher must design and conduct the study so that only the independent variable can be the cause of the results.
External validity refers to the extent to which findings can be generalised or be considered representative of the population.

Confounding Errors

Errors: are conditions that may confuse the effect of the independent variable with that of some other variable(s).

  1. Pre-measurement and interaction errors
  2. Maturation errors
  3. History errors
  4. Instrumentation errors
  5. Selection bias errors
  6. Mortality errors

Experimental Designs

  • True Designs
  • Quasi Designs
  • Ex Post Facto Designs

True Designs – Five Basic Steps to Experimental Research Design

  1. Survey the literature for current research related to your study.
  2. Define the problem, formulate a hypothesis, define basic terms and variables, and operationalise variables.
  3. Develop a research plan:
    • Identify confounding/mediating variables that may contaminate the experiment, and develop methods to control or minimise them.
    • Select a research design
    • Randomly select subjects and randomly assign them to groups.
      Validate all instruments used.
    • Develop data collection procedures, conduct a pilot study, and refine the instrument.
      State the null and alternative hypotheses and set the statistical significance level of the study.
  1. Conduct the research experiment(s).
  2. Analyse all data, conduct appropriate statistical tests and report results.

 

Quasi Designs

The primary difference between true designs and quasi designs is that quasi designs do not include random assignments into treatment or control groups since this design is used in existing, naturally-occurring settings.

Groups are given pre-tests, then one group is given a treatment, and then both groups are given a post-test. This creates a continuous question of internal and external validity since the subjects are self-selected. The steps used in a quasi-design are the same as true designs.

Ex Post Facto Designs

An ex post facto design will determine which variables discriminate between subject groups.

Steps in an Ex Post Facto Design

  1. Formulate the research problem including identification of factors that may influence dependent variable(s).
  2. Identify alternate hypotheses that may explain the relationships.
  3. Identify and select subject groups.
  4. Collect and analyse data

Ex post facto studies cannot prove causation, but may provide insight into understanding of phenomenon.

Other Field Methods / Group Techniques

Nominal Group Technique (NGT)

The NGT is a group discussion structuring technique. It is useful for providing a focused effort on topics. The NGT provides a method to identify issues of concern to special interest groups or the public at large. The NGT is a collective decision-making technique. The NGT is used to obtain insight into group issues, behaviours and future research needs.

Five Steps of the NGT

  1. Members of the group identify their individual ideas in writing, without any group discussion;
  2. Each member lists his / her own ideas and then rank-orders them, again without any group discussion;
  3. A facilitator gives each participant an opportunity to state their ideas ( one item per person at a time, in round-robin fashion) until all ideas are exhausted;
  4. As a group, participants discuss and consolidate ideas into a list;
  5. Finally, members vote to select priority ideas. The final list of ideas becomes the focus of further research and discussion. These ideas can also be used to generate a work plan for a formal strategic planning process, a basis for a survey or interview, or the development of a scale.

Delphi Method

The Delphi method was developed to structure discussions and summarise options from a selected group to:

  • Avoid meetings,
  • Collect information and expertise from individuals spread out over a large geographic area,
  • Save time through the elimination of direct contact.

Although the data may prove to be valuable, the collection process is very time consuming. When time is available and respondents are willing to be queried over a period of time, the technique can be very powerful in identifying trends and predicting future events.

The technique requires a series of questionnaires and feedback reports to a group of individuals.

Each series is analysed and the instrument or statements are revised to reflect the responses of the group. A new questionnaire is prepared that includes the new material, and the process is repeated until a consensus is reached.

The reading below is a research study that used the Delphi technique and content analysis to develop a national professional certification program.

Focus Groups

Richard Krueger (1988) described the focus group as a special type of group in terms of purpose, size, composition, and procedures. A focus group is typically composed of seven to twelve participants who are unfamiliar with each other and conducted by a trained interviewer. These participants are selected because they have certain characteristics in common that relate to the topic of the focus group.

The researcher creates a permissive environment in the focus group that nurtures different perceptions and points of view, without pressuring participants to vote, plan, or reach consensus.

The group discussion is conducted several times with similar types of participants to identify trends and patterns in perceptions. Careful and systematic analysis of the discussions provides clues and insights as to how a product, service, or opportunity is perceived.

A focus group can be defined as a carefully planned discussion group designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment. It is conducted with approximately seven to twelve people by a skilled interviewer.

The discussion is relaxed, comfortable, and often enjoyable for participants as they share their ideas and perceptions. Group members influence each other by responding to ideas and comments in the discussion.

CHARACTERISTICS OF FOCUS GROUPS

Focus group interviews typically have four characteristics:

  1. Identify the target market (people who possess certain characteristics);
  2. Provide a short introduction and background on the issue to be discussed;
  3. Have focus group members write their responses to the issue(s);
  4. Facilitate group discussion;
  5. Provide a summary of the focus group issues at the end of the meeting.

Other types of group processes used in human services (Delphic, nominal, planning, therapeutic, sensitivity, or advisory) may have one or more of these features, but not in the same combination as those of focus group interviews.

Behaviour/Cognitive Mapping

Cognitive and spatial mapping information provides a spatial map of:

Current recreation use
The most significant recreation resources
The approximate number of visitors to the recreation areas.

All types of recreation activities and travel involve some level of environmental cognition because people must identify and locate recreation destinations and attractions.

Cognitive mapping allows recreation resource managers the opportunity to identify where users and visitors perceive the best recreation areas are located. It is important to understand user perceptions in order to manage intensive use areas in terms of maintenance, supervision, budgeting, policy development and planning.

Observations

Observational research is used for studying non-verbal behaviours (gestures, activities, social groupings, etc.).

Sommer & Sommer (1986) developed the list shown below to assist in observation research.

  1. Specify the question(s) of interest (reason for doing the study).
  2. Are the observational categories clearly described? What is being observed and why?
  3. Design the measurement instruments (checklists, categories, coding systems, etc.).
  4. Is the study designed so that it will be ‘Valid (i.e., does it measure what it is supposed to measure, and does it have some generalisability)?
  5. Train observers in the use of the instruments and how to conduct observational research.
  6. Do a pilot test to (a) test the actual observation procedure and (b) check the reliability of the categories of observation using at least two independent observers.
  7. Revise the procedure and instruments in light of the pilot test results. If substantial changes are made to the instrument, run another pilot test to make sure changes will work under the field conditions.
  8. Collect, compile, and analyse the data and interpret results.

Casual observation is normally done in the same way as unstructured interviews. During the early stages of a research project, casual observation allows the researcher(s) to observe subjects prior to designing questionnaires and/or interview formats.

Types of Observation Studies:

  • Participant observer
  • Windshield surveys
  • Case study

Documents (also called Secondary Data or Data Mining)

Data mining is commonly used in both qualitative and quantitative research. Secondary data provides data which provides a framework for the research project, development of research question(s), and validation of study findings.

Content Analysis

Content analysis systematically describes the form or content of written and/or spoken material. It is used to quantitatively studying mass media. The technique uses secondary data and is considered unobtrusive research.

The first step is to select the media to be studied and the research topic. Then develop a classification system to record the information. The techniques can use trained judges or a computer program can be used to sort the data to increase the reliability of the process.

Content analysis is a tedious process due to the requirement that each data source be analysed along a number of dimensions. It may also be inductive (identifies themes and patterns) or deductive (quantifies frequencies of data). The results are descriptive, but will also indicate trends or issues of interest.

Meta-Analysis

Meta-analysis combines the results of studies being reviewed. It utilises statistical techniques to estimate the strength of a given set of findings across many different studies. This allows the creation of a context from which future research can emerge and determine the reliability of a finding by examining results from many different studies.

Researchers analyse the methods used in previous studies, and collectively quantify the findings of the studies. Meta-analysis findings form a basis for establishing new theories, models and concepts.

Thomas and Nelson (1990) detail the steps to meta-analysis:

  1. Identification of the research problem.
  2. Conduct of a literature review of identified studies to determine inclusion or exclusion.
  3. A careful reading and evaluation to identify and code important study characteristics.
  4. Calculation of effect size. Effect size is the mean of the experimental group minus the mean of the control group, divided by the standard deviation of the control group. The notion is to calculate the effect size across a number of studies to determine the relevance of the test, treatment, or method.
  5. Reporting of the findings and conclusions.

Historical Research

Historical research in leisure studies may focus on:

  • Biographies
  • Public, non-profit and private institutions
  • Professional movements
  • Related concepts

Historical research is also referred to as analytical research. Common methodological characteristics include a research topic that addresses past events, review of primary and secondary data, techniques of criticism for historical searches and evaluation of the information, and synthesis and explanation of findings. Historical studies attempt to provide information and understanding of past historical, legal, and policy events.

Five basic procedures common to the conduct of historical research based on a systematic approach:

Step 1 – Define the problem, asking pertinent questions such as: Is the historical method appropriate? Is pertinent data available? Will the findings be accurate?

Step 2: Develop the research hypothesis (if necessary) and research objectives to provide a framework for the conduct of the research. Research questions focus on events (who, what, when, where), how an event occurred (descriptive), and why the event happened (interpretive). This contrasts with quantitative studies, in which the researcher is testing hypotheses and trying to determine the significance between scores for experimental and control groups or the relationships between variable x and variable y.

Step 3: Collect the data, which consists of taking copious notes and organising the data. The researcher should code topics and subtopics in order to arrange and file the data. The kinds of data analysis employed in historical research include:

  1. Analysis of concepts. Concepts are clarified by describing the essential and core concepts beginning from the early developmental stages. Clarification allows other researchers to explore the topic in other fashions.
  2. Editing or compilation of documents, to preserve documents in chronological order to explain events.
  3. Descriptive narration tells the story from beginning to end in chronological order, utilising limited generalisations and synthesised facts.
  4. Interpretive analysis relates one event to another event. The event is studied and described within a broader context to add meaning and credibility to the data.
  5. Comparative analysis examines similarities and differences in events during different time periods.
  6. Theoretical and philosophical analysis utilises historical parallels, past trends, and sequences of events to suggest the past, present, and future of the topic being researched. Findings would be used to develop a theory or philosophy of leisure.

Step 4: Utilising external and internal criticism, the research should evaluate the data. Sources of data include documents (letters, diaries, bills, receipts, newspapers, journals or magazines, films, pictures, recordings, personal and institutional records, and budgets), oral testimonies of participants in the events, and relics (textbooks, buildings, maps, equipment, furniture, and other objects).

Step 5: Reporting of the findings, which include a statement of the problem, review of source material, assumptions, research questions and methods used to obtain findings, the interpretations and conclusions, and a thorough bibliographic referencing system.

Multi-method Approach

The multi-method approach encourages collecting, analysing and integrating data from several sources and the use of a variety of different types of research methods.

Primary-Data Gathering

Data Collection Methods

  • Data collected specifically for a research project
  • Collect when secondary data is
    • Unavailable
    • Inappropriate
    • Can be collected through a number of different methods
    • Sometimes more than one method can apply to a single problem

Two Broad Approaches
  • Same basic data collection methods can be used under each
    • Although the formality or flexibility of the data collection process varies
    • Nature of sample varies
    • Conditions under which data is collected vary.

Questioning Approach

Observation Approach

  • Respondents play an active role
  • Interview or a formal questionnaire
  • Question design
  • Can use either for exploratory, descriptive, or experimental
  • Not all questioning or interviewing situations use formal questionnaires
  • Questionnaire is a tool that is used in many, but not all, research projects
  • Passive
  • In-person or mechanical devices
  • Time consuming
  • Can use either for exploratory, descriptive, or experimental

Observational Approaches

Covert observational research
  • Researchers do not identify themselves.
  • Either they:
    • Mix in with the subjects undetected
    • Observe from a distance
  • The advantages of this approach are:
    • It is not necessary to get the subjects’ cooperation
    • Subjects’ behaviour will not be contaminated by the presence of the researcher.
  • Some researchers have ethical misgivings with this approach
Overt observational research
  • Researchers identify themselves as researchers
  • Researchers explain the purpose of their observations.
  • Subjects tend to modify their behaviour when they know they are being watched.
  • They portray their “ideal self” rather than their true self
Researcher Participation
  • The researcher participates in what they are observing
  • They get a finer appreciation of the phenomena.
  • Researchers that participate tend to lose their objectivity.
Observational Approaches
Covert observational research
  • Researchers do not identify themselves.
  • Either they
    • Mix in with the subjects undetected
    • Observe from a distance.
  • The advantages of this approach are:
    • It is not necessary to get the subjects’ cooperation
    • Subjects’ behaviour will not be contaminated by the presence of the researcher.
  • Some researchers have ethical misgivings with this approach
Overt observational research
  • Researchers identify themselves as researchers
  • Researchers explain the purpose of their observations.
  • Subjects tend to modify their behaviour when they know they are being watched.
  • They portray their “ideal self” rather than their true self
Researcher Participation
  • The researcher participates in what they are observing
  • They get a finer appreciation of the phenomena.
  • Researchers that participate tend to lose their objectivity.

II. Questioning Versus Observation

  • Not interchangeable
  • Each has certain unique capabilities.
  • Advantages may not hold true in every situation calling for primary-data collection.
  • Neither approach is likely to always be better than the other along each of the following dimensions.
 

A. Versatility

B. Time and Cost

Observation Observation
  • Limited to collecting data about visible characteristics or variables
  • May be inconclusive
  • How does a customer feel?
  • Can involve large amount of inactivity
Questioning Questioning
  • May not be possible.
  • Difficult to get answers from children
  • Is versatile in the types of data it generates.
  • Usually less expensive
  • Usually less time consuming
  • A variety of avenues are available
  • Can search for the most rich data source
  • More flexibility in the collection process.

C. Data Accuracy

D. Respondent Convenience

Questioning Questioning
  • Unable to recall reaction/purchase–Chrysler Minivan
  • Unwilling or unable to reveal the truth
  • Erroneous answers
  • Survey research did not support the introduction of minivan
  • Answers specific questions
  • Inaccurate
  • Participation problems
Observing Observing
  • Observation is more accurate for behaviour
  • Lack of interaction minimises data distortion
  • Pre-release observation of “Junior”(the movie) showed support, but the movie was a box office failure
  • Subjectivity of questioner
  • Carelessness of an observer.
  • Respondents’ inability or unwillingness to provide accurate data
  • Respondents do not participate
  • Inability to account for all variables
  • Waiting for events to take place
III. Questionnaire Format
  • Format is a function of
    • The level of structure desired
    • The degree of disguise desired during data collection.

 

Structured Question Non-structured question
  • Presented verbatim to every respondent
  • Fixed response categories.
  • Not necessarily presented in exactly the same wording to every respondent
  • Does not have fixed responses.
Non-disguised Question Disguised Question
  • Direct question
  • Purpose is obvious to respondents.
  • Indirect question whose true purpose is not
    • obvious to respondents – used to examine issues
    • Used to examine issues for which direct questions    may not elicit truthful answers
Types of Questionnaires
Structured – Non Disguised Non – Structured – Non Disguised
  • Clear and direct
  • Appropriate for large samples and descriptive research
  • Flexible and direct
  • Appropriate when looking for in depth answers and exploratory research
Structured – Disguised Non – Structured – Disguised
  • Clear and investigative
  • Used to uncover people’s attitudes towards sensitive issues
  • Flexible and investigative
  • Appropriate in motivation research
Determinants of Questionnaire Format

IV. Questionnaire Administration Methods

A. Personal Interview Method B. Telephone Surveys
  • Face-to-face between interviewers and respondents.
  • Traditionally door to door or in-home.
  • Very flexible
  • Greatest variety of data.
  • Declined due to difficulties
    • Finding adults at home
    • Getting cooperation if they are home.
    • Time consuming set up
  • Mall intercept interviews
    • conducted in shopping centres or malls
    • Most common personal interviews
  • More common in the (B2B) environment.
  • Involve only voice contact between interviewers and respondents.
  • The most common method for reaching customers without an Internet connection.
  • Central locations with DSL
 

C. Mail Surveys

 

D. Web-based Surveys

  • No interviewers
  • Survey is sent to the respondent through the mail.
  • Popular for reaching a well-targeted customer base.
  • No interviewers
  • Survey is conducted over the web.
  • Often supplement other methods of collecting data.
  • Quick feedback
  • Technological advances are improving the versatility of web-based surveys.
Ranking the methods
o    Each method has advantages and limitations

o    Advantages and limitations vary with the specifics of the situation.

Criteria 1 2 3 4
Best Worst
Versatility
Number of Questions Personal Mail Web Phone
Amount/variety of information Personal Phone Web Mail
Presentation Stimuli Personal Web Phone Mail
Time Web Phone Personal Mail
Cost Web Mail Phone Personal
Accuracy
Sampling Control Personal Phone Mail Web
Supervisory Control Web Mail Phone Personal
Opportunity for Clarification Personal Phone Web Mail
Respondent Convenience Web Mail Phone Personal

V. Types of Observation Techniques

A.             Natural versus Contrived Observation

Natural Observation
  • Reactions and behaviour observed as they occur naturally in real-life situations
  • A wide variety of companies are sending researchers to the field to observe consumers in their natural environment.
  • Natural observation (ethnographic research) is more suited than traditional qualitative research for studying cultures.
Contrived Observation
  • Contrived setting
  • Environment artificially set up by the researcher.
  • Researchers are increasingly relying on computers to conduct simulated market testing.
  • Offers a greater degree of control
    • Speedy
    • Efficient
    • Less expensive
  • Would this data have resulted from a real-life setting??

B.              Disguised versus Non-disguised Observation

Disguised Observation
  • Respondents are unaware they are being observed
  • Respondents do change their behaviour as a function of the observational technique.
  • Allows for monitoring of the true reactions of individuals.
  • Unethical if disguised observation monitors
  • Normally private behaviours
  • Behaviours that may not be voluntarily revealed to researchers.
  • Mystery shopping
    • popular disguised observational technique
  • Mystery shopper
  • Unknown to the retail establishment
  • Visits the store
  • Uses a structured script
  • Observes and records the shopping experience.
Non-disguised observation
  • Data may be contaminated by respondent-induced errors.
  • Data gathered through using disguised observation might not be as rich as those from non-disguised observation.

C.              Human versus Mechanical Observation

Human observation
  • people taking observations
  • observing products in use to detect usage patterns and problems
  • observing license plates in store parking lots
  • determining the socio-economic status of shoppers
  • determining the level of package scrutiny
  • determining the time it takes to make a purchase decision
Eye-Tracking
  • Tracks eye movements
  • Measures which sections:
    • attract customers’ attention
    • how much time they spend looking at those sections
  • Used for:
    • ads
    • product packaging
    • promotional displays
    • websites
  • Oculometers – what the subject is looking at
  • Pupilometers – how interested is the viewer
Response Latency
  • The speed with which a respondent provides an answer
  • Measured to determine the ad effectiveness on brand preferences.
  • Assumes that a quick expression of brand preference indicates a stronger preference.
Voice Pitch Analysis (VOPAN) –
  • Used to determine
    • how strongly a respondent feels about an answer
    • how much emotional commitment is attached to an answer.
  • Variations from normal voice pitch are considered a measure of emotional commitment to the question’s answer.
People Meter
  • Electronic device to monitor television viewing behaviour
    • who is watching
    • what shows are being watched.
Psych galvanometer
  • measures galvanic skin response

D.             Web-Based Observational Techniques

HTTP cookie
  • Well-known mechanism for storing information about Internet users on their own computers
  • Often stores identification for subsequent recognition of a website visitor
  • Cookies and their use is generally not hidden from users
  • Considered ethical if the user gives permission
Spyware
  • Computer software that gathers and reports information about a computer user without the user’s knowledge or consent.
  • Considered unethical

E.        Direct versus Indirect Observation

Direct observation
  • Captures actual behaviour or phenomenon of interest
Indirect observation
  • Consists of examining the results or consequences of the phenomenon.
  • Can give only relatively crude or imprecise indications of a phenomenon
  • More efficient use of time
  • More efficient fund usage
  • May be the only way to get data from situations impractical to observe directly.

F.          Structured versus Non-structured Observation

Structured observation
  • Study’s data requirements are
    • well established and
    • can be broken into a set of discrete, clearly defined categories
  • Generally easier to record and analyse
  • Limited in the depth and richness of data.
  • More suitable for conclusive research projects
Non-structured observation
  • Study’s data requirements
    • not well established
    • cannot be broken into a set of discrete, clearly defined categories
  • More suitable for exploratory research projects.

G      Other Types of Observational Techniques

Audits
  • retail audits to determine the quality of service in stores
  • inventory audits to determine product acceptance
  • shelf space audits
Trace Analysis
  • credit card records
  • computer cookie records
  • garbology – looking for traces of purchase patterns in garbage
  • detecting store traffic patterns by observing the wear in the floor (long term) or the dirt on the floor (short term)
  • exposure to advertisements
Content Analysis
  • observe either articles, programs, or advertising content of:
    • magazines
    • television broadcasts
    • radio broadcasts
    • newspapers

 

Secondary-Data Gathering

Description of the technique

‘Secondary’ is used to refer to data that the researcher was not responsible for directly collecting (as opposed to primary data which is generated by the researcher himself).

Usually, the use of previously collected data to compile reports is not the intended purpose of the data.

In the context of data libraries and archives, ‘data’ usually means computer-readable information, since data held in this form is more easily made available for additional research and more easily interrogated.

Examples include censuses and large surveys carried out by governments, and administrative data.

However, in the current context, ‘data’ is taken to include the whole range of information, since for evaluation purposes it is generally advisable to use as much existing information as possible.

Information sources could also include reports and studies of the area under consideration, documents related to the life and management of the programme, information on similar programmes, and so on

The three main sources of secondary information are:

  1. Existing Material;
  2. Statistical sources;
  3. Past evaluations and research.

Legal Data-gathering / Research

One of the aims of a Human Resource Practitioner  with research is to find the existing law and solve either the Employer or the Employee’s immediate problem.

Finding an effective remedy for the legal problem on hand will often require in-depth research and a creative application of the Law.

Finding the law

There are two practical ways to begin searching for the applicable law :

  • Keyword search: Using LAWSA or any other legal encyclopaedia to conduct a keyword search
  • Known authority: Based on prior knowledge where you can proceed directly to a statute or case report as a standing point.

Suggested research method

  • Identify the relevant facts
  • Formulate a legal question
  • Identify the subject areas – Substantive and Objective Law
  • Identify the primary sources applicable to the subject area – Legislation Case Law
  • Identify secondary sources of law applicable to the subject area – text books

–           South African Law Journals

–           Law Commission reports

–           Foreign law journals, statutes and cases

–           Internet

  • Synthesise and apply the rules to the facts using the F.I.R.A.C. format for problem solving

F.I.R.A.C. Technique

Within Labour Relations, it will be required THAT you Find solutions to disputes.

The FIRAC format will enable you to advise your client or staff member successfully after you have worked through the facts of the applicable case in an organised and systematic way.

F – Facts and evidence

It is important to get all the relevant information or to read the whole scenario carefully through, in order to get a sense of the event being described.

During the first consultation with your client, staff member or colleague it is important to establish the nature and extent of their legal problem. It is helpful to decide which facts are essential or key facts.

Often the facts are not as straightforward as they might initially appear to be because the facts may be confused, the sequence of events may be jumbled, and important details may be omitted by the person relating the facts. Emotions can also cause the facts to be confused and jumbled.

After identifying the legal problem you should identify the areas of law that may play a role in solving your client, staff member or colleague’s problem.

By applying the law to the situation, you can formulate a conclusion and advise them effectively.

Read through your notes and make notes of any questions arising out of your interview with them.

Identify all the essential facts (or key facts) of their legal problem.

Classify these essential facts according to:

  • Who is involved in their case (the parties)} (the basis)?
  • Where did the incident take place (the place of the case)?
  • What objects were involved (the objects)?
  • What was the relationship between the parties and the objects?
  • Any legal issues arising from the facts
  • Is there a defence to legal action for any of the parties (defence)?
  • What relief do they ask for (relief)?

These categories will not all apply to every set of facts, but they form a basic outline to help you analyse relevant or key facts, and point you to the legal issues. They may also indicate that more facts need to be ascertained, which you need to identify and obtain.

I – Identify the Issue

After all the essential facts were identified you need to analyse what the legal issue is or the question of law is.

The difficulty with this step is that you are initially expected to look beneath the factual details and  work out what body of law is involved; the classification. You need to identify the branches or areas of the law and what is relevant to the factual problem.

Ask yourself what specific question of law needs to be asked and answered to furnish an answer to the factual problem.

It is vital that the phrasing of the legal issue is done correctly, since – should it be inaccurate – it will lead to researching the incorrect area of law.

Once that question has been identified you will need to find the answer by law and by applying the rule of law to the legal question. It will have to be answered by legislation, a principle of law, or a ratio decidendi from a previous case or series of cases which can be applied to the problem. This will then provide the answer to the problem at hand.

It is vital that the phrasing of the legal issue is done correctly, since – should it be inaccurate – it will lead to researching the incorrect area of law.

R – Rule of Law

Research is key in obtaining the rule of law.  Legislation and case law is constantly changing and it is therefore imperative that you ensure you apply the correct rule to the legal question.

To locate the rule of law on a point, the applicability of law sources should be considered in the following order:

  • The Constituation
  • Legislation
  • Case Law and Common Law
  • Legal research

The best starting point for legal research, will be to start by using key words or the facts or classifications of law to get an explanation of the area of law in LAWSA (Encyclopeadia on the Law of South Africa), which will lead you to the relevant cases and statutes.

A – Application of law to the facts

Apply the rule of law to each of the essential facts of your client / staff member / colleague’s problem.

This means that each one of the facts has to be considered, step by step, in the light of the rule of law. This must form the longest and most significant part of your answers, as it is where every detail of the problem is carefully weighed up against the law.

Make use of the sources as identified in Rule of Law to see how all the facts fall and fit within the rule of law.  Write down all the sources used and make a note of the conclusion reached.

You will use all of these notes in preparation for trial or the writing of an opinion.

C – Conclusion and Comment

Draw a conclusion based on the application of law on the facts of your client / staff member / colleagues legal problem.

This conclusion will be the basis for your advice to them and written or verbal legal opinion.

The conclusion is the solution to their question and the foundation of your case plan.