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Too Much Information!

How to ensure your business report is concise and focused by Giulia De Cesare, Senior Trainer at Plain Words

TMI is one of those internet acronyms that are becoming increasingly mainstream these days. It's the sort of thing you'd think – or even say – if someone is regaling you with more details than you ever wanted to know about their recent dental procedures, or the digestive habits of their new baby.

Less may not be more, less is very often enough

It's also, increasingly, the cry of those forced to read a lot of business reports. While you may not need to keep up with internet acronyms, you do need to keep up with trends in business writing, and the big trend is that, while less may not be more, less is very often enough.

You may spend two weeks painstakingly crafting a detailed report, but did you know that most of your audience will spend only ten minutes reading it?

Please your decision makers

The further up the executive ladder you are, the truer it is that time is money. You don't have the time to labour over long reports and your company's decision makers certainly won't have the time to pore over them minutely.

So is there any point in long, detailed reports? There may be cases where exhaustive detail is needed, but this may only be read by a few people.

Most readers will read the executive summary – so make it informative

Most of your readers will, however, read the executive summary. You need to make this as concise and informative as possible, as it's the bit you can be confident most people will read.

What needs to go into the executive summary?

How do you decide what is TMI and essential detail? It comes down to having a clear understanding of your reader and what that person wants to get out of your report.

Then you need to look at the information you're presenting. What is your most compelling argument? If you had to sum up your report in a one-minute soundbite, what would you say?

You need to identify the strongest benefit your report is presenting, then choose the most valid arguments and recommendations to support it.

Add enough context to tell the reader what challenge was being addressed, and how you approached it, and that's enough, keeping your summary as brief and punchy as possible.

How, then, do you cater for readers who do want more?

The way to make one document usable by readers with different requirements is in structure and signposting, so it is clear to each person where they will find the information they need.

Section summaries at the beginning of each part of the document

A trend from technical writing, which is increasingly being applied to business reports generally, is to have section summaries at the beginning of each part of the document.

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