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Weekly Reports for Breakfast

In a business writing class last week, participants described worrying that their weekly reports would bore their clients. They wanted to find ways to dress up the data. They feared that reading the same thing week after week would put their readers to sleep.

Let’s compare a weekly report with a weekly restaurant breakfast. Many people walk into their favorite cafe, maybe on Saturday morning, and order the same thing week after week. Maybe it is scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, and toast. Or the choice might be blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup. Or oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. They always get the same breakfast, the one they love to eat in this particular restaurant. If the eggs were accompanied by stewed tomatoes rather than hash browns, or if the oatmeal were to come with sliced apple rather than raisins, the customer might be perturbed or upset. He or she might wonder Why can’t I have my breakfast the way I usually do? That is the way I like it!

Before dressing up any type of writing, ask yourself what your readers need. Do readers actually need new ways of looking at data? Do they want additional information? Are they bored reading the statistics that apply to their projects, programs, and sales? Or are they perfectly satisfied getting the same information in a consistent format?

Survey or talk with your customer-readers to get their opinions. If they like your report the way it is, leave it that way. Oatmeal week after week might seem boring to you as a breakfast, but if your reader is happy, relax and be happy too.

If you have an idea for a change in your reports, something you think will make them more valuable to your customers, you can always try it and ask readers for their views. In restaurants, they call this the “chef’s special,” but the chef normally offers the usual fare as well.

All this talk about breakfast food has made me hungry for mine. I’m off for a steaming bowl of oatmeal–a weekly favorite.

To learn much more about writing reports and other documents, take my online self-study course Business Writing Tune-Up.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.