Technical Report Writing Course Lessons Learned

by Mary Cullen on Mon, May 16, 2016

"Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this."
     ~ Anne Lamott

After leading technical report writing courses with large and small companies for nearly 20 years, I have seen a common challenge present repeatedly. Telling the truth can be hard. Conveying findings or recommendations that we know aren't welcome can be daunting because no one wants to disappoint people, especially a boss.

But, truth in business reports is absolutely essential. There is no way around it. We must be 100% truthful in business reports. If we aren't, the results can be disastrous.

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A Technical Report Writing Course Story from the Trenches

A plastic-producing company client told me they lost their largest customer when the polymers the company produced broke down at a particular temperature.  This shouldn't have happened because extensive testing had been conducted on the polymers, which reportedly had withstood temperatures far in excess of the breakdown point encountered.

When we deconstructed the information path backwards from the customer proposal that specified the polymer performance --> to production reports --> to testing reports, we noticed some ambiguity in testing reports. The testing reports didn't overtly state the temperature breakdown point. Instead, it simply stated "acceptable heat tolerance." That vagueness shouldn't have been allowed into production. It did move to production, though, because various readers of the testing reports had different understanding about the meaning of "acceptable heat tolerance."

That was mistake # 1, and was more about accuracy (also critical) than truth. We discovered a bigger truth mistake as we continued to excavate the information path to its source. 

The person who wrote the testing report confided in me that he felt a lot of pressure to "...approve the testing because we needed to move into production fast to meet order demand. My boss would have been very unhappy with me if I had been the one to identify that this major product really had limited heat application. Our bonuses were tied to our innovation and production." 

Ugh. A "small" sweep-it-under-the-rug-move-it-along choice eventually cost the company its largest customer and opportunity. The fallout in publicity and liability was far worse than any delay and resolution would have been. The testing engineer rightly lost his job. Nothing good happened by not reporting truthfully.

I could tell you story after story I've heard in training sessions and client meetings about the harm of sidestepping difficult issues in reports. Nothing. Let me repeat, nothing, matters more in reports than truth and accuracy. 

Decisions are made based on reports. If the information is not accurate and truthful, the decisions are based on faulty data or information. 

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Don't be Afraid to Convey Bad News in Business Reports

Never apologize for delivering "bad news" at work in any circumstance. If it's a good business decision, just state the truthful facts. Apologizing just undermines the good decision. Omitting information is more dangerous than truth.

Remember, technical business reports and business reports are used for decision making. If the information in the report is not truthful, the report is dangerous to the company's profit and reputation. It can also cause potentially dangerous implications when implemented. 

Another client contacted us after for technical report writing training when metal triggers they manufactured for law enforcement weapons failed to work. The cause was the same. A testing engineer was afraid of being blamed for a production delay and disappointing his boss. (He also reported "there was no place in the report template for the information," but that is a separate report writing issue to address in another article.)

A police officer was injured when a weapon he needed defensively failed to work. 

Truth matters in report writing.

"Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this."
     ~ Anne Lamott

 Download Technical Report Writing Course Outline

Learn to avoid pitfalls like this. Enroll in our report writing course. You will write an actual work report incrementally, with instructor guidance and coaching.

Topics: Business Report Writing

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Rhode Island, a M.A in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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