By Lorna Barrow
Do you know the difference between Professional Writing and Academic Writing? Give up? In Academic Writing, you are writing to convince an expert (usually a professor in a college) how much you know. In Professional Writing, you are the expert, you have done the research, made the analysis and you will make the recommendations. By now you realize that report writing is part of professional writing.
In this article, I want to discuss the important step in the report writing process of collecting the data. Let me remind you that you need to collect data that:
a. supports the purpose of the report (decision-making/problem-solving)
b. expands the understanding of the user
c. helps to clarify your findings
d. adds to the existing information about the topic
You will realize that whoever the readers or users of your report are, whatever the purpose it will be used for, you are likely to use any one of the following 6 broad methods as appropriate to collect your data:
1. Survey – A survey is a data collection tool that is used to gather data about individuals, in which a sample of the entire group that is being studied is selected to provide that data.
The most popular methods used are the structured interview in which the researcher asks each participant the questions and records the answers, or the questionnaire, where the participant answers the questions on his or her own.
Surveys are relatively non-threatening and inexpensive and if done properly the data should be easy to analyze.
2. Interviews – According to Wikipedia, an interview is a conversation between two or more people (the interviewer and the interviewee) where questions are asked by the interviewer to obtain information from the interviewee.
Interviews allow you to gain some more depth and insight than say, a survey. It helps you to really understand how something is affecting someone and how they feel about it.
3. Desk Study – A desk study is the collation and review of information already available about your report topic and is carried out at an early stage of your report process. Reviewing secondary documentation is a good way to find out background information about the issue, problem, event, etc that you are reporting on.
4. Observation – This involves recording the behavioral patterns of people, objects and events in a systematic manner. It allows you to get verifiable, first-hand information about how things are actually done and is very useful for observing processes as they happen.
You can use several methods: structured or unstructured, undisguised or disguised. Whatever the method, be as practical as you can. Can you see yourself disguised in a bright yellow shirt, tropical flowered short pants, sunglasses and a straw hat, observing the migration habits of homeless people in the winter? Neither can I.
5. Focus Group Discussion (FGD) – Originally developed as a quality tool in marketing, the Focus Group Discussion (FGD) is useful for in-depth exploring of a group’s perceptions on a particular topic. These could be reactions and feelings or group concerns. FGD can also help us to resolve emerging conflicts and reach participatory decisions
The FGD is efficient in that you can get both range and depth of information in a short time. It also serves to communicate key information about activities, products, markets, etc, to your end users.
6. Case Study – If you want only depth of information then the Case Study is the method to be used since it focuses on depth, and aims to fully understand a particular end-user’s experience of a product, project, etc.
Using a project for example, it gives a full picture of the end-user’s experience of the project inputs, processes and results, providing a powerful way to demonstrate the benefits of the project to those who are thinking of being a part of it.
When you are writing your next report, just decide which of the methods is right for your users and then use it to collect the data.
So there you have it! Another step in the report writing process. Before you write your next report, go on over to My Purchase Zone at http://www.itds-training.com and download all 7 steps in full details. While you’re there, don’t forget to grab all the wonderful free stuff that’s waiting for you as well.