One of the great benefits this web site provides members is the short articles M&M include in their newsletters. I recently read with great interest their article titled “Reporting” in newsletter March 2, 2011. M&M correctly pinpoint a problem that many written reports seem “off,” but they could not initially figure out the problem.
Then they found out the problem was that the manager’s reports were designed to report on what happened and add, “Reports aren’t supposed to just announce what already happened. They’re supposed to support making decisions about the future.”
This is where I think some clarification will be necessary because many people fall into the all too frequent confusion between the two genres of “Reporting” and “Proposing.” By “proposing” here I mean it can be a request from your boss for an “internal proposal” on how to solve a particular problem. The source of confusion is several linguistic subtleties in writing and persuading:
The language tense of a report is in the past while that of a proposal is in the future. When I say, “I propose X,” it means I have not done any work yet, and I do not know the answer to your question yet. The structure of persuasive writing in this case is that of “how?” (See, The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving by Barbara Pinto in Book Reviews on this web site)
On the other hand, when I say “I recommend X,” it means I have already done work on your question and now I am reporting it, even proposing that you should choose option X. The language tense is in the past and the persuasive structure is that of “Why?” (See: The Pyramid Principle) notwithstanding that it supports a future decision.
The reason many “Reports” seem off is because they do not use the logical and persuasive structure of “Why?” But rather they use slots such as “Findings,” “Conclusions,” and “Benefits,” forcing readers to figure out on their own the reasons and connections among data dumps in Findings with various Conclusions and Benefits.
Mixing “proposals” with “reports” is all too common and a main cause of many writings to seem “off.”