Writing Better Reports (WBR): An Introduction

Updated: Jul 25, 2019

Welcome to Writing Better Reports - a weekly chat about report-writing and how to make it better.


WBR is for you if:

  • You want to write shorter reports

  • You want to write more reader-friendly or readable reports

  • You want to write reports that are more useful or practical

  • You want to write reports that better reflect your values (e.g., strengths-based)

  • You want to spend less time on reports

  • You teach students and want ideas for how to best pass your report-writing knowledge to them

  • You enjoy reading long posts with cartoons


Right now WBR is in the idea stage, so please bear with me. My plan is to put out a post about once a week on some topic related to, well... writing better reports. I am not an expert in report-writing, and my goal is not to 'impart my knowledge from on high.' Instead, my hope is to spark ideas, generate discussion, and share inspiration and resources. I want to have in-depth conversations about something that is (A) incredibly important and (B) something we all struggle with.

To borrow from Brene Brown (in her brilliant Dare to Lead), I have three mostly-selfish reasons for starting this series:

  1. You're supposed to "write what you most need to read." I need to read about writing better reports. For the sake of the families I serve, and for the sake of my own sanity.

  2. I want to learn from what you are doing and you've discovered. If I share, maybe you will share. We have to start a virtuous circle of braveness and collaboration. We have to be vulnerable enough to put our ideas out there, take risks, innovate, sometimes fail, and inspire each other. There's no other way we'll write better reports.

  3. I love child assessment and I want it to be a cutting-edge service that meets a real need. I'm convinced we need better reports to stay relevant, useful, and accessible to the children we see. I want to refer kids to any qualified professional who tests kids and feel confident they are writing the best possible report we as a field know how. That is, a report that is readable, useful, and individualized. A report backed by the research, knowledge base, and collective clinical wisdom our field offers. A report that is uniquely personal to the person writing the report and his or her target audiences. I truly believe there is no one perfect report style and no easy answers about what the "best" reports look like.


Topics I plan to cover, in random order, include: report readability, organization of reports (overall and in specific sections), different ways to describe test results or evaluation findings, personalizing recommendations, different styles of reports (or different versions of the same report), reports/letters for kids, technology that can assist with report-writing, format/font/universal design factors, time management and procrastination around writing reports, and emotional/vulnerability stuff that can get in the way of writing reports.

The 'theme' will be whatever I'm thinking or reading about that week, though I'm open to requests. ;) My hope is to use a lot of examples, mostly drawn from my own work since that's what I have easy access to. I'll also draw from many other sources (both within and very outside of our field) to bring these themes to life. I hope that, over time, others will also join me in sharing examples and ideas.

I'll mark all the posts with WBR so they are easier to find if you're looking to for them.

First up, here's a link to this post. This post expands a message I first posted on the PED-NPSY listserv (then later on this blog). It provides some context for this discussion. It's a list of structural and systemic reasons we currently and collectively write reports that - for the most part - are long on length and short on utility. If those points don't resonate with you, maybe WBR isn't going to be your cup of tea and you should start your own blog (please send me the link though so I can still steal ideas from you!).

Next, for "Week 1", I expanded this post I wrote a while ago on report readability. In the original post, I reviewed some research some colleagues and I did on the average reading level of reports. Those of you who attended Dean Beebe's talk at AACN, or read the summary of it outlined in the post above, will note the general gist is quite similar. I then presented a report summary that written at about the 9th grade reading level. What I've done in the expanded post is show you my "before and afters." If you read both posts, you'll see 3 versions of the exact same summary, at the 13th, 9th, and 5th grade reading levels. I find examples like this so helpful, and I hope you will too. Here's the expanded "Week 1" post.

[Please note, the samples are de-identified and pretty generic. However, I also have permission from the parents to post the de-identified original summary here.]

Next week (Week 2), I'll discuss some of the reasons we struggle with revising our report templates. We'll outline ways to overcome those barriers, using an ACT framework and techniques from Russ Harris' The Confidence Gap. These principles also help me when I'm procrastinating about reports in general. So stay tuned!



"Have you considered just deleting this whole section?"


Note: The reading level of post is 7th grade. This post is 58 sentences long. 11 of those sentences are "hard to read" and 2 of them are "very hard to read." There are no uses of the passive voice.

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©2018 by Stephanie Nelson, Ph.D.