When I ask people how they feel about writing, most people tend to share feelings that range from ambivalent to negative:
I’m not really a writer
It needs to get done, but it’s not a delightful task.
I’m not good with words.
I just don’t know how to get started.
I’m not really confident
These feelings are understandable and the challenges of writing can sometimes lead us to believe that it’s better done by people who enjoy it. After all, people who enjoy writing are probably better at writing…right?
Honestly…not really! It helps to enjoy writing. But the truth is that writing is difficult even for people who do enjoy it. When I was doing research for this course, I came across this quote by William Zinsser, a writer whose principles I used as basis for this course:
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find writing hard, it’s because it is hard.William Zinsser
This quote has helped alleviate a lot of anxiety that I have about struggling with writing. Pretending that writing is easy is actually a disservice to the labor that goes into the task! What can help us overcome this challenge is remembering that our goal as writers (particularly as report writers!) is actually quite simple:
The kinds of questions we answer tend to change depending on the kind of report we’re writing (more on that later!) but in general, we try to answer five:
When I think about my experience writing reports (as a student and as an employee of other companies), I realize that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the person reading what I’ve written. Sure, I wanted to impress them with what I know but I didn’t really start thinking about their reading experience until I joined Habi. When we write reports, the goal isn’t just to think like writers – we want to think like writer-designers who can look at something as ordinary as a report as a learning experience that we can design for the reader.
To find writing principles that we can follow, I looked to non-fiction and fiction writers like Zinsser and Stephen King, who said things like simplicity, style, avoiding clutter – tips that can be easily incorporated into our own Design Principles for easy reference:
Principles for Well-Designed and Well-Written Reports
|Malinaw / Clear|
The report has a logical structure and is written in clear, simple language that is free from jargon or errors.
|Kasya Lahat / Inclusive|
The report uses gender-neutral language (unless relevant) and person-first language to refer to people with disabilities. The report also includes partner, learner, or participant perspectives where applicable.
|Makatao / Human|
The report contains an Executive Summary that will allow busy readers to understand the gist of the report in 1-2 pages. The report is honest about the challenges encountered during the implementation.
|Kasya Lahat / Inspiring|
The report contains recommendations and next steps that the partners can take to achieve the intended or related outcomes — with or without Habi.
The indicators above are based on what writers generally agree as well as characteristics of our own reports but there may be more. Contribute to our shared understanding of what a well-written and well-designed report looks like, add your thoughts to the Padlet below!
Part of becoming a better writer involves reading different writers. This is where you can learn things like style, rhythm — even how to use words and punctuation marks! Here are two that I recommend: