ABC | Reports and papers

04 November 2022

Principal consultant David Holden continues our brilliant basics series with a call for accuracy, brevity and clarity

“Put it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” – Joseph Pulitzer

It is important that reports and papers for groups, committees and boards follow the simple rule of ABC.

  • Accuracy is crucial to good governance, both in terms of information and expression. Information should be correct and well-presented. There should be no errors of spelling, punctuation, grammar or usage. Precision – the quality of being exact and accurate – is an essential feature of governance-related writing. At GGI, we often see reports lacking in the kind of detailed information that supports critical decision-making.
  • Brevity means presenting all the information that’s needed as concisely as possible. Avoiding wordiness and repetition saves the time of writer and reader alike. Communication should be precise and pointed. Too often, we see board committee agenda papers longer than 200 pages. These papers tend to tell a story of management actions – ‘what I have done in the last month’ – rather than address the question ‘so what?’ What difference will my work make for patients, the public, users and carers?
  • Clarity – messages should be clear, well-planned and logically expressed without ambiguity. Clearly written papers avoid misunderstanding and save time. Go for simple, familiar, precise words and phrases, and avoid long sentences and clumsy expressions. We often see papers that do not point the reader to the key messages and expected actions, recommendations or decisions. The use of a cover sheet for reports and papers is good practice. These should advise of the title of the paper, mention why the paper has been brought to the meeting, provide details or an update of the situation and a ‘preferred line to take’ or advice on assurance.

Meet the author: David Holden

Principal Consultant

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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