Why do you need to know how to write a good report? Reports track progress against objectives, outputs and activities to inform stakeholders and assess results. They give account of something that occurred, was observed, and heard or investigated for which one is responsible or accountable.
A report contains information that has been collected from the field or operational areas of use, which is presented to readers – namely internal staff and donors. Most reports can be used at strategic points in the project cycle from the identification to the evaluation phase.
How To Write A good Report?
Start with a previous report or the proposal. A previous report is a good starting point for a new one. If you can:
- Integrate new information into your report.
- Avoid changing previously reported information.
- Do not change organization, headers and categories.
- Remove old content as you write the new report.
- Stick to activities during the reporting period (don’t include recent information outside the period).
- Check with your Monitoring & Evaluation team for programme indicators and any reports, such as post distribution surveys. If for example, 90% of the parents indicated they were more likely to keep their child in school because of your project, this is something the donor would like to see. These surveys often include quotes and pictures which help the donor paint a picture of your project.
- Always cross-reference the report to the proposal, work plan, log-frame and relevant financial information to make sure all presented information is matching. If you rehabilitated 100 classes, there should be 100 in the budget too.
Why Do We Report?
You don’t write reports just because you have to or have been instructed by the donor or head offices. Reports are essential part of your work and spending time on them has multiple benefits, including:
- Accountability: Reporting is an important tool when it comes to accountability. You are accountable to stakeholders (donors), the people you support, and your colleagues. Reporting reflects to your donors and others that you are fulfilling your responsibilities and achieving or working towards achieving the results highlighted in the proposal/agreement.
- Re-gaining focus: Reports also focus your work in an objective way. They are an opportunity to reflect whether you are on track, on time, and on budget and whether any adjustments need to be made.
- Important learning: A report will also capture learning and evaluation of successes and challenges. What went really well and why did it go that way? What can we do better next time? Reports offer a change to collect information, draw conclusions and improve overall implementation quality.
- Recording: The information gathered in a report will also function as a recorded memory of your work. Reports can be a useful tool in countries with high turnover to provide a source of information when starting up a similar project.
Most donors have their own format which you should use for reporting. If you have not been provided with one you can adopt a template or check if your organization has a template. You can also use the grand bargain harmonized reporting 8+3 template a tool developed by the grand bargain to reduce reporting burden when providing necessary information to donors.
Most reports will have the elements;
THE COVER PAGE
Most cover pages will mention:
- Title of the project
- Amount of the grant
- Location where the activities take place – country, area office
- Implementation period
- Project code – make sure to include the donor project code
- Donor – use correct spelling and logo – this can often be found in the agreement or their website
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The table of contents should have a clear and accurate layout, with page and sections numbering.
The executive summary/abstract is an overview of the whole report. Usually it is written after the report is complete. It should not be more than one paragraph.
- Keep it short and concise. Remember this is a summary. Avoid repetition and avoid provide clear justifications when targets are not met or overachieved.
- Specify with quantifiable data. Make sure the data aligns with the rest of the report.
- Structure is key. Start off with bullet points to form your structure and then transform these into text.
- The first question is where most of the abbreviations will come up. If they are used frequently, write them out in full the first time you come across them with the abbreviations in parentheses.
The main content section highlights the findings and results in a logical and chronological manner. It is good practice to follow the structure of the logframe.
- Compare the progress of activities planned to the activities accomplished. If any delays occurred – explain why.
- Measure the outcomes and impact of the activities against the indicators. Explain any targets not met or overachieved.
- Describe challenges faced during the implementation and how they were overcome e.g. alternative activities, hiring of extra staff.
- Provide quantified results of any Monitoring & Evaluation/Monitoring Evaluation & Learning assessments conducted. E.g. 70% of the participants passed the post-test.
- Be specific. Use specific names when referring to places or activities. Name neighborhoods, list schools, specify needs and sum up selection criteria.
It is essential in this section to tackle the 5 W’s and the H so that the reader will have a complete understanding of the project implementation. Answer these questions:
- What were the project activities?
- Who implemented the activities?
- Who was targeted by the activities?
- Where were they implemented?
- When were they implemented?
- Why were they implemented?
- How were they implemented?
- Summarize the issues raised in the report.
- Refer back to the challenges faced and the lessons learned from them.
- The conclusion should not contain any new information
Recommendations are based on the conclusion and focus on the next steps. They will highlight how we can achieve better results; suggest alternatives and how to use available resources. This is also a good spot to address needs that are not met by the project. Good recommendations are clear, specific, and occur in a logical sequence.
Other topics to be discussed in a report could be coordination with other organizations, visibility, lessons learned and challenges, environmental impact, risk management, etc.
Learning how to write a good report is important as it enables you to communicate clearly the outcomes and progress of a project and gives confidence to the sponsors of the project to fund the next stage. It also makes you accountable and shows how you are achieving or working towards achieving the results highlighted in the proposal/agreement.