Writing Different Types of Business Reports

The following is an article written by Robin Fritz for eHow.com’s Money feature:

In the business world, good writing can get you noticed, hired and promoted.  And, much like a Super Bowl commercial, a well written report is an opportunity to highlight your skills.  But as a busy manager, how do you write a business report?  The following tips will help you tackle a variety of reports:

Know your purpose.  What have you been asked to do?  Are you providing information only?  Then, you’re writing an informational report.  Are you analyzing a problem and making recommendations to solve it?  If so, you’re writing an analytical report.  Are you describing a conference, meeting, or monthly progress on a project?  Then, you’re writing a standard report.  Knowing your purpose keeps you on target.  It gives you focus.

Identify your audience.  Who are you writing to – a client?  Your supervisor?  That individual is your primary audience.  But what if your supervisor shows it to her supervisor?  Then, you have a secondary audience.  Knowing potential audiences will help you identify the proper tone, whether formal or informal.

Analyze your audiences.  What do your audiences know about this topic?  Do you need to educate them?  Can you use industry jargon?  Analyzing your audience helps you avoid leaving out key information.  It saves you – and your audience – time.

Research your topic.  Brainstorm ideas.  What information already exists and what’s missing?  What sources are trusted by your audience?  Asking key questions gives you a research plan for your business report and gets you moving in the right direction.

Organize your research.  Look for relationships.  Ignore irrelevant information. Identify your strongest ideas and start your business report with them.  Good organization builds an outline and – most importantly – helps avoid writer’s block.

Compose your report.  Adopt a conversational tone.  Avoid trite business phrases like “per your request.”  Use vivid, precise language.  Focus on being clear and concise.  Use transitional expressions.

Revise and proofread your work.  Edit with “fresh eyes” only.  Review your content – are you satisfied?  If not, re-write.  Proofread for spelling, grammar and formatting.  Use your spell checker, but DON’T rely on it.  Verify noun/verb/pronoun agreement.  Check for page numbers.  Error free work is an advertisement for your skills.  Take the time to proofread carefully.

Evaluate the final product.  Did you achieve your purpose?  Does your tone match your audience?  Did you do justice to the topic?  Is it free from errors?  If you can say yes, congratulations!  You have a business report of which you can be proud.


When to Sign a Memo

The following is an article written by X204 Business Communication Adjunct Lecturer Robin Fritz for eHow.com’s Money section:

To sign or not to sign?  That is the question that often arises when busy managers set out to write a memo.  Unlike business letters – which clearly require a signature – memos are a different animal altogether, and whether or not to sign them isn’t clear to many young managers just starting out in the business world.  The following tips, however, will help shed some light on whether to sign or not to sign. 

Know the difference between a memo and a letter.  Letters written on company letterhead are external documents – they tend to go to smaller outside audiences, such as clients, suppliers, industry regulators, etc. – making a signature a required element.  Memos, however, are internal and usually go to a company’s employees – which may include hundreds of people.  In practice, memos DON’T include a signature.  But sometimes managers are wise to include their initials next to their name in the header.  The real trick is knowing when and if to do so.

Know the purpose of a memo.  Second to email, memos are a primary tool used by managers to share information with employees, whether it be simple announcements or key information regarding changes in policies.  In short, some memos tend to be more sensitive in nature than others.

How sensitive is the information?  Routine memos – those that deal with non-controversial topics – make up the bulk of memos sent by managers.  These types of memos rarely require follow up and tend to be taken at face value.  Other topics, such as corporate downsizing measures, reduced health benefits, etc., can be difficult for employees to hear and, as a result, their validity may be challenged.  When the topic is sensitive, the memo writer may initial the memo to add validity to the contents.  But even then, initials are NOT required.

How many people will receive the memo?  Again, memos sometimes go to hundreds of people and even initialing them may be a time consuming task.  In the business world, time is money – and adding even initials may be a large undertaking.  When deciding whether or not to initial a memo, ask, what value is being added with this task?  If none, skip it.

Tip: Signature blocks signal to readers that they’ve reached the end of a letter.  With memos, however, telegraph the ending by using transitional expressions highlighting the conclusion, such as “In closing” or “Lastly.”

Warning: Remember, whether you’re writing a memo or a letter, with or without a signature, the content can be a legally binding document.  Never dash off any correspondence in haste – you could get yourself, and your company, in hot water.


Differences Between Group Work and Team Work

The following is an article written by X204 Business Communication Adjunct Lecturer Robin Fritz for Chron.com, the online business portal for the Houston Chronical:

Overview – In the business world, the words “group” and “team” seem interchangeable, but smart managers realize there are subtle – but important – differences.  Recognizing these differences early on will help small business managers to more effectively lead people to achieve their organizational goals.

What is a Group? – A group in the workplace is usually comprised of three or more people who recognize themselves as a distinct unit or department, but who actually work independent of each other to achieve their organizational goals.  For example, a small business may have a client services group, but one person may focus on local clients, one person may focus on regional clients and a third person may assist both of those individuals.  Also, groups tend to be permanent fixtures with ongoing goals or responsibilities.

What is a Team? – A team is comprised of three or more people who may come from different departments within a business, but they collaborate together over time to achieve some set purpose, goal or project.  For instance, before a small business creates a new product, it may organize a team comprised of people from all departments – engineering, finance, legal, marketing, etc. – to consider all aspects of the potential new product in order to avoid costly surprises down the road.  With a team, individuals recognize the expertise and talents of others needed to achieve the team’s goal.  Additionally, teams are often formed for temporary assignments with one specific goal, focus or outcome in mind.

Why Form Groups? – Managers recognized many years ago that two heads are better than one, thus small businesses have turned to groups or departments for many reasons.  With group work, members have a shared knowledge of the group’s objectives, but specific tasks or responsibilities are assigned to different individuals.  By separating work into groups – such as one devoted to marketing, one devoted to accounting, etc. – individuals within those groups are able to maximize their expertise on a long-term basis.

Why Form Teams? – Businesses form teams usually to tackle a specific – and usually temporary – goal or project with the intent of leveraging the collective expertise of a variety of people.  Because experts from various departments are involved, teams can avoid potential problems early on in a project.  For instance, a team of only engineers may create a new product but may not understand whether it’s affordable until someone with a finance background completes a “return on investment” or ROI analysis on its feasibility.  Having a finance member involved on the team from the beginning will help the engineers to create an affordable product in the first place, saving time and resources.  Teams can be very productive because involving people with different talents provides teams with increased opportunities to work more efficiently.


Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

The following is an article written by X204 Business Communication Adjunct Lecturer Robin Fritz for Chron.com, the online business portal for the Houston Chronical:

Overview – Thanks to technology and faster transportation, the world is growing smaller every day, leaving plenty of opportunities for businesses to expand their products, services and staffs on a global scale.  But with a more global business environment comes a host of new challenges, not the least of which is learning to function in a multicultural workplace comprised of people with widely differing backgrounds.  For businesses with a very diverse workplace, successfully juggling a multicultural staff can make or break the bottom line.

What is Culture? – Culture is an interwoven system of customs, morals, traits, traditions and values shared by a group of people or a society.  It provides people with a common heritage, and it links them through shared experiences and joint learning.  Cultures exist on scales both large and small, ranging from large cultures extending to countries and regions, such as the American culture or Middle Eastern culture, to such small and distinct cultures as that of Amish communities in Pennsylvaniato the Basque culture in southern France.  Moreover, cultures provide people with a sense of self identity and community, and it greatly influences their actions within the workplace.

What is Diversity? – But, not all cultures are the same.  For instance, some cultures operate on a more “low-context” level than others.  People raised in low-context cultures tend to be very literal – focusing on the spoken word – and they’re more often analytical and action oriented.  Low-context employees also tend to use linear logic in the workplace, for example proceeding from point A to point B to point C and so on.  Additionally, business managers raised in low-context cultures strive to be efficient and professional, and they treat time as a very limited commodity.  North America and Western Europe are examples of low-context cultures.

Embracing Cultural Diversity – High-context cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more contemplative and intuitive, and workers raised in such cultures often treat time as an endless resource.  Additionally, in such cultures, spiral logic is more common, with individuals circling indirectly around a topic, considering it from all angles and viewpoints instead of head on.  Whereas Americans may be very literal, high-context workers pay attention to more than just the spoken word, believing that all aspects of communication – body language, facial expressions, etc.  – carry as much meaning as the actual words themselves.  Examples of high-context cultures include Far Eastern, Middle Eastern and Hispanic cultures.

Encouraging Cultural Diversity – In today’s global economy people from both low-context and high-context cultures are interacting in multicultural workplaces like never before and, as people are affected both visibly and invisibly by their cultures, conflict can result from the inevitable misunderstandings.  For example, employees from high-context cultures such as China, Mexico or Japan may prefer to imply no with their body language rather than saying no in actual word form.  Literal Americans and Canadians, however, often overlook these subtle implications and may fail to understand. 

To overcome multicultural misunderstandings, smart business managers will take the time to learn about and understand the differing cultures represented within their workplace, and will train their employees from different cultures on how best to communicate with each other in the workplace.


If You Post It, They Will Come….

Welcome to the X204 Project!  We are a group of business communication students at Indiana University – Purdue University’s Columbus campus.  Together, we are exploring workplace-oriented communication topics in a social media format.

Failure to practice good communication habits can stop your forward career progress.

Beginning in September of 2011, we will post weekly topics focused on communicating effectively in a business environment.  And, as real communication is a two-way street, we welcome your feedback!

To Agree or Disagree? Apparently, It Depends on the Chromasomes

Below is a link to an interesting article from Inside Indiana Business regarding a University of Notre Dame study.

Not another double standard!

 The finding? “Disagreeable” men advance in the workplace while “disagreeable” women do not. 

According to the study, when men react in a disagreeable fashion, it’s because they’re viewed as being tough.  But not so with the opposite sex.  Disagreeable women are viewed as control freaks.

Can you say “Martha Stewart” everyone?  I think you can.

The article goes on to say that the “way women communicate their demands matters more than it does for men.”

Which is not exactly a news flash to any woman who’s labored away in the workforce for the last 30 or 40 years, but we’ll give it to them.

Read on for more:


Strengths and Weaknesses in Workplace Communication

The following is an article written by X204 Business Communication Adjunct Lecturer Robin Fritz for Chron.com, the online business portal for the Houston Chronical:

Overview – When hiring, one of the first qualities managers look for in new employees is superior communication skills.  Smart managers recognize that creative employees with great ideas offer little value if they lack the communication skills necessary to adequately share those ideas in the workplace.  To improve upon communication in the workplace, managers build upon communication strengths while identifying and eliminating communication weaknesses.

Effective Communication – Most people are born communicating, thus it’s something many take for granted, but some people communicate more effectively than others.  Effective communicators recognize two vital aspects of communication – sharing both the intended information and the meaning of that information with their intended audience.  In fact, most communication errors occur because one of those two aspects of a message is missing.  For instance, if a supervisor instructs an employee to have a project completed by noon, but the employee hears 2:00, the message was ineffective because, while the proper meaning was communicated – have the project completed –  the correct information – have it done by noon – was not.

Communication Strengths in the Workplace – Skilled communicators recognize that effective communication takes forethought.  For example, smart managers first evaluate their intended audience to gauge such factors as the current mood, their education level, the context of the situation, etc., and they frame their message accordingly.  Effective communicators also evaluate all the possible channels available for communicating, such as face-to-face, over the phone, via email, etc., and they chose the channel best suited for that particular message and audience.  Also key to communicating effectively is learning to engage in actively listening as it takes two people – a sender and a receiver – to communicate.  

Important too, effective communicators avoid distractions and focus on more than just the spoken word, and they evaluate body language, tone of voice, etc. for clues to gauge whether their intended audience comprehends the message.  Skilled communicators in the workplace also encourage open feedback, recognizing that communication is a constant process.

Communication Weaknesses in the Workplace – Given its complexity, it is little wonder that most people, at some point, fail to communicate effectively in the workplace.  Typical weaknesses in communication include failure to adequately consider the needs of the audience.  For example, rushed employees trying to meet deadlines often overload their audience with information, and important details are often lost in the process.  Additionally, many communicators inadequately evaluate their audience and ignore the impact of such crucial details as cultural background or education level on the communication process.  For instance, industry experts who speak only in jargon will lose members of a general audience lacking experience with those terms. 

Ineffective communicators also underestimate the impact of physical distractions and emotional interference on their audience.  For example, audiences often discount a speaker’s message if that person uses bad grammar, appears sloppy, or lacks enthusiasm for the topic.

Building the Strengths while Avoiding the Weaknesses – Smart business managers encourage communication strengths in the workplace by modeling superior communication skills with their own messages.  Effective communicators educate themselves on the their employees’ individual frames of reference, and adapt their messages accordingly.  They recognize that meaning exists not in words, but in the people who use those words, and they use language that their audience will understand, for instance, using or avoiding slang, colloquial expressions or jargon based on their understanding of the audience.  Most importantly, though, smart business managers listen to their audience, and they seek to ensure that they fully understand both the intended information and meaning of a message by asking questions and encouraging feedback.