The frustrations of report writing

Some might say that this is the ultimate act of procrastination – writing about report writing when I should be writing a report.  This is in some ways true and I have been sitting in the office all morning with a pile of papers on my desk, google scholar (and I must say, wikipedia) on an open tab, google earth open for map creation and a pile of still unopened Easter eggs for fulfilling sugar requirements. This has been interjected by hourly trips to the kettle to refill my mug of tea. Motivation is an odd thing which seems to rise and fall depending on mood, time of day, energy, working conditions, who else is around you and procrastination opportunity. A trip to the self help section of a book shop or a browse through amazon books (other retailers available) reveals the extent to which we are obsessed with getting motivated and, perhaps more importantly, staying motivated. Generally speaking I am usually able to gather the motivation to start and complete a task but the nature of the activity tends to govern the success rate. Outdoor practical activities tend to be fairly good motivators, especially when you can ‘see the end’ of the task in hand. Planting a hedge might be a good example. Indoor tasks such as cleaning or tidying a space also seem to be quite worthwhile once one gets round to doing it. Personally I am also usually motivated for writing  tasks (depending on the subject…). Money also tends to influence motivation. I would not generally describe myself as a mercenary person but it is certainly often easier to complete tasks when one is being paid to do so!

From a presentation by Samuel Maniraj. Available here.

Finally, I come around to report writing (and thank you for sticking with this article as I realise it is different to my usual posts!) and my frustrations surrounding it as a process both in terms of writing and reading. I find the conventional structure of report writing generally dull as, although it provides specificity and precision, it prevents a good deal of creativity which all good writing should allow for. The process of research I have no issue with. I enjoy planning, collecting and organising information and putting it down on the page in a ‘suitable’ format. However, my major frustration with reports is that they become a dry analysis of the subject in hand, lacking creativity and therefore, readability. I would much rather be writing a blog post such as this or indeed a piece of non-fiction in essay or book format than in report format. Whether it is association or conventional practice that puts me off I am not sure but it would not be beyond truth if I were to say it is perhaps my least favourite forms of writing.

A photograph of a cormorant I took a couple of years ago. Perhaps not entirely relevant to this post but I feel like there should be some wildlife involvement somewhere!

Generally I would describe myself as a non-fiction writer. As much as I would love to imagine myself as a novelist (and I occasionally do) I struggle to find identity around its form and character. Nonetheless, there are many desirable facets of the art of novel writing, especially use of language. Wouldn’t reports be so much more intriguing and generally readable if we used more alliteration, allusion, analogy or anastrophe? Wouldn’t they be more enjoyable to put together? I realise that if people wrote reports like novels they would cease to be reports but it doesn’t stop me from venting frustration at the expectations of their literary identity. When I read a report I ideally want it to be a page turner as well as an information source. After all, good non fiction books achieve this so why can’t non-fiction reports have the same heady aims in mind? How often have you read a report, knowing that it contains the information you seek but you find the whole process of reading it to find that information intensely dull? I find conventional practice of report writing a dull process and unfortunately, if the writer gets this feeling, then the reader will inevitably feel the same way. The challenge for the writer is to shift away from this way of thinking and engage in a style of report creation that in engaging, uses colour, imagery and, vital in my mind, innovative use of language.

So, when we write reports let’s think about the reader and not only give them the information they are looking for but also make their reading experience an enjoyable one. After all, you have gone to the effort of putting the report together so why not make its future worthwhile both in terms of content but also readability and form?

And now, back to the report I should be putting together…

Will I achieve what I have outlined above? Unfortunately convention probably says no.

2 thoughts on “The frustrations of report writing

  1. Unfortunately, checking in to see what other bloggers are writing about can have the same ‘task avoidance’ outcome. But I must admit, as task avoidance goes, this piece is quite effective. Oh, and the cormorant photo… perfect.

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