Do you collaboratively write reports with colleagues? Do you find it hard to keep a sense of coherence across the report and unity in the work team?
Group writing is a logical and wise report writing practice because it captures the expertise of the right people on a project team. However, writing by group can often result in a report that feels patched together with no coherent tone. It can often require revision after revision as multiple writers interject their comments. Worse, resentments can simmer when the writers see the writing they labored over changed and egos clash.
Let's make this process easier and ensure a better outcome.
There is an easy to implement approach for collaborative report writing that will ensure expertise and content is captured. And, the report will present a unified tone to the reader.
This technique requires three steps.
Step #1: Group works together to 1) analyze the purpose and audience of the report and 2) develop the content that audience needs. Create a concept map of the report organization and content.
Also, decide on the best tool to convey the report. (A report is typically written in MS Word, PowerPoint, or Excel.)
By far, the best technique to capture this is a content map. A content map is simply a visual representation of the substance of a report, with the inter-related components delineated. By creating a visual map, each contributor understands the report whole and can easily draft his or her section because the thinking and analysis work is done.
Most importantly, it allows the group to agree on the substance of the report at the start of the report writing process. This is critical for two reasons:
- If you can't map the structure of a report, it will never be more clear when the structure is longer and written out. The group must complete the planning before diving into the writing.
- The editing process is often a bit contentious in collaborative writing. Every writer clings to words they labored over. Egos come into play. If changes are requested later on in the editing portion of writing the business report, you will be able to separate changes of substance from changes in language by reviewing the concept map. It will allow you to fine tune the actual edits needed. It is much easier to verify the substance of the report when it is front and center in a concept map.
Here is an example of a concept map for a report summarizing the outcomes of a training course:
Step #2 Each person writes his or her appropriate section of the report.
In this example, if applied here at Instructional Solutions, I would ask our client care manager to write the section on course data since she would know it best. I would ask the instructor most involved in the course to write the section on course evaluations and participant writing since she worked directly with the training group. I would write the course summary section since I typically manage training projects and work directly with our client project manager. This writing strategy ensures that the most qualified person is writing their area of expertise.
Additionally, it will be easy for the writers to draft their respective sections because they have a plan and visual map to tether them to that plan. They simply need to unfold the map, and write it out in the right tool (MS Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, as determined by the group discussion.)
Step #3 One person combines the sections following the content map structure, and edits the report.
This ensures the report has unified style and tone. I see so many "Frankenstein reports" that feel like it was patched together, instead of developed strategically.
One person must own the report and have final approval on language and substance. That said, the final editor/writer has two responsibilities:
- He or she has final say on the language choices.
I have seen so many conflicts when too many people are allowed to edit a report. Truly, I've seen resentment between co-workers erupt over a simple word choice. When this happens, the conflict usually isn't about the word choice. It's really about control. Don't open this Pandora's box. Assign editorial control to one person. Choose a strong writer.
- However, the final writer/editor must discuss any changes in substance with the section writer. At this point, if the group planned the report appropriately in Step #1, substance should not change during an edit. Therefore, any substance changes here are a danger sign that content was not well planned from the start or the editor is making strategic changes.
The key to successful collaborative report writing is planning content as a group and capturing it in a concept map, letting the right staff write appropriate sections, and giving one person the task of editing the report.
A group can write a very strong report, and stay happy!
Learn how to master all aspects of report writing in our Report Writing Course.