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A Simple Guide to Writing Great Reports

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

I think that it is much more difficult to write a short report that captures the attention of the reader than a lengthy detailed report with endless appendices. But it doesn’t need to be.

How often do lengthy reports lack purpose, clarity and fail to focus on the main issue? How much time is wasted on reports which are either not read or rejected? Being clear on what needs to be achieved at the outset can lead to greater success.

When I was an NHS Chief Executive our non-executives were frequently frustrated by long, repetitive reports with executive summaries that were simply a repeat of the contents from the main body of the report. What they wanted was a succinct analysis of the issue and decisions to be made.

In the early days of NHS England my colleagues were a fantastic blend of leaders from the service and very experienced civil servants from the Department of Health. This combination of service specialists & policy briefing maestros was a real strength. We worked together and learnt from each other.

My report writing skills improved significantly during this time.

Before a report got started we prepared something our Director called an “essay plan”. By doing this at the outset of a piece of work the final report was much clearer, addressed the important issues and was far better received.

1. Purpose of the paper so what problem are you trying to solve?

2. What will be different once this project or programme is complete?

3. Fit with strategic priority, policy or political context, why should this proposal get heard

4. Timescales – what needs to happen by when?

5. Decision/s required?

All written on no more than one page

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