If I asked you what type of business
writing most often goes unread, what would you say?
Minutes? Annual reports? Junk-mail
advertising? Policies and procedures? Instruction manuals?
My vote goes for progress and activity
Of all the routine, dull, tedious
documents a reader is supposed to wade through in a day’s work, in my
estimation progress and activity reports top the list.
I’m not talking about least
important--obviously, these reports are vitally important to the
effective management of any business or organization--I’m talking about
Consider your own experience in writing
these reports. How many times has your boss asked you for information that
you included in your most recent report?
And when is your boss most likely to sit
up and take notice of the reports that you dutifully churn out week after
week, month after month? In time to help you resolve a small problem
before it becomes a major one? In time to offer you a little friendly
advice and encouragement?
Or when something goes terribly wrong?
And when things do go wrong, your
report better be good. It better be complete. It better be accurate.
Here’s how to write progress and
activity reports so both you and the one report in a hundred that is
read carefully will survive the scrutiny.
provide information about the current status of a
particular project--whether it is on schedule, whether it is within the
budget, and whether there are problems. According to John Schell and John
Writing on the Job: A Handbook for Business &
Government, progress reports may be organized in this way:
Identify the project and director by name, provide an overview of the
project’s goals, and give the projected completion date.
Summary of progress:
Remind the reader of what went on prior to this report (previous
progress); describe activity during the current report period, comment on
problems and highlights, and indicate resources, number of employees
involved, and other financial matters (present progress); and estimate
what is expected during next report period (projected progress).
Offer an overall appraisal of the project, and confirm or indicate changes
in the projected date of completion.
provide information about the status of all current
projects or activities. In contrast to progress reports, activity reports
need no introduction or conclusion because they are issued periodically
and their contents are familiar to the reader.
Although formats for activity reports
vary, Charles Brusaw in
The Business Writer’s Handbook
recommends the following sections:
List every project assigned and summarize its current status.
Explain any problems and indicate the steps being taken to resolve them.
Plans for the Next Period:
Describe progress expected on each project during the next report period.
Indicate the number of employees involved and whether the staffing level
Whatever format you decide on, be sure
to use it consistently for all reports submitted in a series.
As for the actual writing of these
reports, Schell and Stratton offer these tips:
Use a letter format for reports going
outside the organization; use a memo format for reports directed to an
As with all reports, be detailed and
Beware of the project manager’s tendency
to stress procedures over facts; keep the emphasis on results and
Understate rather than overstate your
Use a "strong, vigorous, and optimistic
tone" to project confidence.
Progress and activity reports are like
grammar and punctuation: No one seems to notice them until something goes
It isn’t fair, but it’s life.