Writing management reports Engineers must be able to write reports which managers can understand and act on. This is not easy. It requires a structured approach which can be tailored to the needs of particular readers and situations. Tlus article offers such an approach.
by David J. Silk
riting a technical report for someone within the same specialism is one thing. Writing a report for a manager who is not familiar with technical detail is another. Yet it becomes increasingly important for engineers to get their message across effectively to general managers.
If you find this difficult, don’t despair.
Engineers are no worse than other professionals in this respect. Indeed, engineers have a potential advantage: they have been trained in a logical discipline which requires attention to detail. This article builds on those skills. The aim is to help you to write more effective management reports. We shall look in turn at the context, principles and practice of writing such reports.
of communication between people. Fig. 2 illustrates a more developed model which does that better.
There are two features to mention. First, there is always the likelihood of feedback from the recipient(s) to the sender, sooner or later.
Second, there needs to be some shared context for the sender and the recipient(s). The shared context may include culture, working for the same firm, a shared language and a concern about a particular management problem.
We can see this model at work in everyday examples of human communication. When we enter a room, non-verbal communication Starts at once. Our dress, deportment and gestures all
~ i1 Simple
~ . model of the communication process
The context of management reports
A report is a method of communication between people. To make it effective you must consider the wider aspects of the communication process. Fig. 1 shows a model which will be familiar to many engineers.
This model emphasises the one-way transmission of information, along a channel which may be perturbed by noise. It is a useful model when designing electrical communication systems. It can also be applied to the detailed task of writing and submitting a report. But it is not really adequate as a general model
ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT JOURNAL JUNE 1994
Fig. 2 Broader model of the communication process
convey a message. Other people may react with various kinds of body language before we even start to speak. Thus there is communication and feedback without a word being said.
If we have come into the room to give a formal presentation to the group (one-tomany) we have to make some assumptions about the shared context for our audience. We assume they are aware of the title of our talk, have some interest in it, and probably have some background knowledge also. We do not start a talk on application specific integrated circuits by telling the audience the basic principles of semiconductors. We make assumptions about the shared context at the outset. The feedback comes later, when the audience goes to sleep (or not), applauds at the end (or not), and people come and speak to you afterwards (or not).
If we now engage one or two people in conversation (one-to-one/few), the situation is different. Feedback is more immediate, and the communication becomes two-way. We have social conventions for changing the turn for speaking; they include tone of voice, raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. During the conversation the shared context becomes clearer, as we learn more about our conversation partners. The conversation can then converge sharply on an area of mutual interest and knowledge.
These examples of speaking have a parallel in our use of writing. If we write an article or book
(one-to-many) we must also make assumptions about the shared context. We can then suggest a relevant topic, by choosing the title of the