Storytelling is a community act that involves sharing knowledge and values. It’s one of the most unifying elements of mankind, central to human existence, taking place in every known culture in the world. In the same way, presentations in all their many forms are never just about transferring information alone. We are emotional beings, like [...]
So you’ve been asked to produce a report. How do you react? Where do you start? What are they looking for? What will you say? What message will you put across? There is so much information, how will you condense it? What will you use? Where is the information? How will you pull it all together?
The purpose of writing a report is to communicate results of an investigation or to identify progress made during a specific period of time. The report represents on paper some new knowledge gained. It conveys your accomplishments to the recipient. It should not be looked upon as simply a recording tool, but an action tool – a document frequently used by management in planning and decision-making. Do your reports usually have the impact they should? If not, to what do you attribute the problem? Is it the logic you used, or is it perhaps the report structure?
Effective writing, based on adequate preparation, involves analysing, selecting, and organising ideas. This process establishes the foundation for all work that follows. At the outset you need to be able to arrange the ideas in your mind.
There are techniques available that can help you to focus and deliver your message, but there is one that I particularly like – the mind map. A mind map is basically a diagram that connects information around a central subject. I like to think of it like a tree, although it has more of a radial structure.
Why mind maps work
Invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s, mind mapping is much more than drawing: It’s a framework to help you fully think through ideas, and show how topics and ideas are connected and allowing with more flexibility than an outline or list affords.
Mind mapping is simply a diagram used to visually represent or outline information. It is a powerful graphic technique you can use to translate what’s in your mind into a visual picture. Since mind mapping works like the brain does, it allows you to organise and understand information faster and better. I suspect that the reason mind maps works so well is that they engage your visual intelligence and provide a way to navigate a much larger space of ideas in a smaller visual field.
How to make a mind map
First we put the topic at the centre of our notes rather than at the top, and then work outwards from the centre in expanding branches, using key words to summarise each body of knowledge.
As we identify key words we make a connection not only on the paper, but also in our brain. As we make these connections, we are inserting psychological triggers, which can be pulled when we want to recall not only the key words, but also other information that is filed away with them. We can see the brain as being similar to a computer or filing cabinet – if files are clearly named and filed away in a logical sequence, the process of retrieving information becomes much easier. Similarly, we use keywords in the index of a book, in order to find the content we want.
When writing up a formal report, try to brainstorm all the main points first. Then order your points into a logical sequence and write around them. Your keywords may become your subheadings.
Then, create sub-branches that stem from the main branches to further expand on ideas and concepts. These sub-branches will also contain words that elaborate on the topic of the branch it stems from. This helps develop and elaborate on the overall theme of the mind map. Including images and sketches can also be helpful in brainstorming and creating the sub-branch topics. Mind maps are pretty simple to create and you can build them on a whiteboard, sketch them on a piece of paper, or use a mind mapping app to create them.
These basic steps apply in any medium:
- Start in the middle of the page with a central idea. This can be a word or an image/picture that represents the central topic you’re going to map.
- Create branches to represent sub-topics or key words
- Add branches to your mind map. These should be limited to words or short phrases. Keep a good amount of space between your ideas to leave room to add on later.
- Add further details to your short phrases
- Keep expanding for as long as you need to. You might feel done with your map after one sitting, but it could also be something you keep and adjust or add to over time.
Making a mind map is an excellent way for you to be able to sort through your thoughts and ideas. This activity allows you to quickly generate creative and even unique ideas in less time. It gives you the freedom you need when brainstorming so that the flow of ideas is not blocked or hampered like linear thinking does.
However, developing the mind map is just the beginning. You still need to put your well-planned thoughts and ideas into a report format that the reader will easily understand. Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s two-day Business Report Writing course will help you develop the skills you need to write a clear, well-structured business report that presents facts and findings in a logical way, with maximum impact.
Book your seat at the upcoming training course scheduled for 22 – 23 March, 2017 in Johannesburg.
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