Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Important and material information is easily lost in long, technical and “boring” actuarial reports. These are not only tedious to write, but cause report users - who are trying to identify and understand the key issues - to lose the will to live!
In a recent webinar, we discussed the seven-step framework that we use to write reports. This structure has improved the efficiency of our report writing and has made our reports themselves more engaging. This blog summarises this process.
1) Who and why
Understanding upfront why you are writing your report, and who you are writing it for helps to focus your writing. A part of this is understanding the key decisions that will be made off the back of the report and the questions that the report needs to answer.
Ensuring that you fully understand the owner’s and user’s needs, knowledge and expectations will reduce the need for future redrafting.
Remember that you might also need to cater for secondary audiences such as external auditors and regulators.
2) Gather and filter content
A lot of the information going into your report will likely already exist. Content gathered will include standard documentation as well as the results of any analyses.
Once collated, it is much easier to then filter and distil to the bits that will convey your key messages most effectively. These key bits of content will tend to be the areas that took the most expert time.
A clear and definitive structure makes it easier to delegate out the drafting of various sub-sections of the report. A strong structure will also make it easier for readers to navigate, and will help take your readers on a journey.
4) Initial dump
The “initial dump” is about getting the first draft of words on paper. You should not worry about writing too much and that the words aren’t perfectly crafted – it is much easier for you (or someone else) to edit things later than it is to draft them in the first place!
5) Revise and refine
Mould and craft your “initial dump” to make your report as clear and concise as possible. We have found that consciously separating these two steps makes the report writing process more efficient.
Ensure that you use effective visualisations and effective writing techniques such as the “top down approach” to improve readability of your report.
A “top down” approach simply means putting the main point first. Any supporting information then comes after the main point.
We have found proofing is most effective when:
- You leave a gap of time between finishing your draft and doing your proof read.
- You get assistance from someone who hasn’t been involved in the drafting processes, giving the document a fresh perspective.
- You read through the draft several times, with each iteration focussing on one type of issue to fix (for example, identifying spelling errors, or ensuring to use accessible language). During one read-through, you should read each section in reverse order.
7) Layout and formatting
The final step is fixing any layout and formatting issues that have arisen through the drafting process.
We leave this until the end to avoid unnecessary duplication of work. For example, there is no point in spending time adjusting the positioning of tables during the editing process if their positioning is almost certainly going to change during the review.