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EHS Pro Gives Advice on Writing Reports

An experienced safety and environmental manager offers some do's and dont's of report writing.

As a safety and environmental manager, there are many opportunities to read and write reports. In my experience, many writers bury the essence of the report in a myriad of large sentences and never ending dialogue.

One must read and analyze the report more than once to understand the intent of the reporter. I don't claim to be an expert on how to write effective reports, but feel the necessity to offer some techniques that have helped me in the past.

The following are basic suggestions in writing effective reports in various subject areas.

  • 1. Organize your material into five categories: Summary, Background, Observations, Recommendations (if any), and Summary.
  • 2. Using these categories, subdivide your report data into specific topics and decide the best heading to place the information under based on relatedness. (For example: a. Number of accidents, b. Length of employment).
  • 3. All reports should start with the summary, capturing the essence of the report.
  • 4. Don't use cliches.
  • 5. When recommendations are warranted, objectively formulating them is foremost in controlling excess verbosity.
  • 6. Grammar and spelling are other components, which can make or break an effective report.
  • 7. Always number the pages to indicated the number of pages in the document and where the pages sequentially belong.
  • 8. Any narrative account of observations should never include "here-say." You or in the case of a witness report, you and the witness should always have actually seen or heard the reported incident.
  • 9. Do not report any material which is not truthful or factual.
  • 10. Be sure to proof your report and allow a colleague to review it. Often we think it makes sense because we are the authors and we know what we wanted to convey.
  • 11. Lastly, check the document for "that" overuse; one will be surprised how much more fluid the report reads without it.

by Larry Blackman: Blackman is safety and environmental manager for PML Inc., Paris, Tenn. He has a bachelor's degree in Health and Physical Education, a master's degree in Education and is a CESM (Certified Environmental Systems Manager) with the National Registry of Environmental Professionals.

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