Lab managers don't have time to read or write unnecessarily long reports; nor do they have the time to write them.. Thick reports may look impressive but how many people are actually going to read them? So how can you write a concise report that conveys essential information needed to make decisions?

Begin with an outline

Lab reports and other business documents should be focused and clearly written. Beginning with an outline can help keep your first report draft focused and concise. Whether writing from an initial outline or not, outlining your already completed first draft helps identify paragraphs that interrupt or slow down your manuscript's flow. These sections need to be eliminated or repositioned. Because of your emotional attachment to your manuscript, these are often much easier to spot and delete when working from this second outline than from the manuscript itself. Preparing an outline of your completed draft can also help you shorten or otherwise revise reports for submission to journals or trade magazines.

Excessively long introductions can cause readers to lose interest. Background material places the subject of your article in context. It engages readers by helping them relate to your subject or characters. However, is all your background information really needed? Keep only that essential to your report. If you think large amounts of background material needs to be included, put this information in appendices at the end of your report.

Tactics to reduce report length

Unnecessary summaries often result when moving from one topic to anotherr or introducing an important piece of information. This summarizing in advance seems to be a natural tendency but one we can't afford if we want to produce a focused report.

Bullet or numbered statements save words by eliminating the need for transitions. In addition, they may be written as phrases rather than complete sentences. These are especially useful with sections of manuscripts that lend themselves to list formats.

Line editing

Now the time has come to narrow your editorial focus to individual sentences. Begin at the opposite ends of the manuscript. Introductions and conclusions often contain surplus sentences and phrases. Then extend your sentence revision to the rest of the manuscript.

Edit sentences for structure and clarity. Unless they add power and precision to your sentences, cut out adjectives and adverbs. Using active rather than passive voice usually results in shorter, more forceful sentences. Avoid using verbs that sound weak or hesitant such as "appear" and "seem."

Occasionally a compound noun such as "end result" will creep into your manuscript. Like compound verbs and unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, these often needlessly lengthen your sentences. So do prepositional phrases.

I always save earlier, longer versions of my manuscripts. Then when a manager asks questions or suggests adding information, I often can provide a rapid response with little additional work.

It helps to establish emotional distance from your manuscript before editing it down to size. This means scheduling your writing project so you can set it aside a day or more to cool before beginning your manuscript surgery. For longer manuscripts, I find it helpful to schedule a second editing session a day after the first. I'm more satisfied with the results than if I substantially reduce the word count of a long manuscript in a single session.

Editing checklist

The whole editing process is complex. So a checklist can help cut your report down to size. Here's mine:

1. Outline your manuscript before beginning to write.

2. Write your report following your outline.

3. Prepare an outline of your first draft. Use it to cut unneeded portions of your manuscript.

4. Ask yourself what background information can be removed?

5. Narrow your focus and edit the manuscript sentence by sentence for structure and clarity. Start with your introduction and conclusion.

The result is a manuscript that flows smoothly from one important point to the next leaving the readers agreeing with your conclusions and recommendations.