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RocketReader newsletter - Report Reading Secrets


Gerald's Story

It's Sunday morning in California and company executive Gerald Hoskins would rather be having a leisurely breakfast on his front patio and reading the newspaper. Instead, he is stuck at his desk, with a pile of corporate reports to read.

Gerald eyes the pile of reports with distain. He knows he must finish reading the reports but he doesn't want to! Reports are boring. Reports are frustrating. Gerald often spends hours over hundreds of pages of reports, only to find that, hours later, these reports do not contain the information he needs.

As an executive in the corporate world or even a student in a competitive academic world, you may often find yourself in a similar situation as Gerald. You may constantly find yourself flooded with cumbersome reports. Corporate reports are rich with relevant and powerful information but also contain a lot of irrelevant data. Sifting through page after page of irrelevant information can be a frustrating and time consuming process.

'Corporate reports are rich with relevant and powerful information but also contain a lot of irrelevant data.'

Luckily for you, you can learn how to be a smarter, faster and more accurate report reader. This newsletter will give you valuable tips on how to navigate through irrelevant information to extract the information you need. You will learn to read reports like a CEO . successful people who have a no-nonsense attitude towards time management. Share this information, feel free to forward this email containing these secrets to your friends and coworkers!

Report Reading Secret #1

STOP! What is the best source of information?

Ask yourself the following questions first:
  • What sort of information do I want to obtain?
  • What is the best way to obtain this information?
  • What is the best way to obtain this information?

There may be faster and more effective ways to source the information that you require. Don't rely solely on reports or you may end up spending many frustrating hours looking for information which can be found much more quickly. Can you ask someone for the information? Often this is the quickest way to find out information. For example, if you are looking for reports on cell phone usage, it may be worthwhile consulting the marketing manager, who has been observing consumers in the industry for the last five years. She can assist you to locate the relevant reports quickly, eliminating the need to find and sift through countless reports. Use the expertise of people in your organization as a source of information.

Often you will need to consult more than one source of information. Talk to colleagues who can tell you where to start. If you have the time and resources, consider undertaking your own research. Use the services of others such as librarians when undertaking research to locate information quickly. Consult books, industry magazines, the internet and newspapers. Other sources of information may better suit your information needs. Use these in combination with reports to support and enhance your business decisions. Many CEOs use search engines such as Google, MSN and Yahoo! to find alternative sources of information. Other online references such as the free online encyclopaedia wikipedia.org is another great source of alternative information.

Report Reading Secret #2

Don't read everything at first! Scan the main parts.

Smart report readers know they do not have time to read everything which lands on their desk. This would be impossible. Instead, keep your purpose in mind and scan the main elements of the report. The idea is to gain an overview of the document and determine its relevance. Use the table of contents to skip to parts which appear relevant. Don.t waste time blindly reading the report in a linear fashion . the table of contents is there for a reason.
'Smart report readers know they do not have time to read
While reports contain a wealth of useful information, there

Scan the abstract, introduction and conclusion. Summaries give a good overview of the report. Peruse headings, subheadings and highlighted words and sections to find relevant passages. Consider the first and last paragraphs of each section. Look at the non-verbal elements of the report such as photographs, figures and graphs. These elements give important clues as to whether the document suits your information needs. If the report appears to suit your needs, you can then proceed to read the relevant sections in detail.

'Scan the abstract, introduction and conclusion.'
Every so often a thick report lands on your desk that does not have a table of contents. It doesn't have any bullet points or headings either. It just contains page after page of text. This is referred to as a 'user hostile'. or pathological report. Many people get trapped reading pathological reports only to find out that it wasn't relevant or that they could have just read one or two small sections. Next time you see one of these reports start by reading the first and last paragraphs of the report.






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Are you suffering from information overload? Read on!

If it seems relevant, then read the first sentence of each paragraph and highlight the sections that may be relevant with a colored marker. Again, if relevant, proceed and read each highlighted section in detail. If the report is still highly pertinent, then read the rest of the report in detail. And when you have finished, don't forget to write a polite email to the author of the report suggesting that they include headings in their next report they write! Also, forward this email about CEO report reading secrets so they can appreciate the value of writing structured reports.

Report Reading Secret #3

Is the report credible?

The credibility of a report is important. Business decisions should be based on reliable and useful information . there is no point wasting time in implementing decisions based on inaccurate or biased information.

Who are the authors of the report? Are they well known/recognised? What are their academic qualification and/or industry experience? What is their public stance on the issue which you are researching?

'The credibility of a report is important. Business decisions should be based on reliable and useful information.'

Consider following any links to websites listed in the report for further information. If the report does not contain a web address, do a Google search on the authors and/or the organization. Gathering more information on the authors and the organization they represent will give you an idea of whether the report has been written with a preconceived view or bias.

The credibility of a report can be assessed by looking at its layout. Does it look professional? Are there many noticeable spelling or factual errors? A less polished piece may indicate poor editing and research. The credibility of a report can also be checked by looking at the evidence used to support its arguments. Does the report give details of studies and statistics? Is a reference list provided, and if so, what sorts of references are used?

By consulting credible reports, you can make sure you are not wasting valuable time.

Credible information will ensure you make sound, smart decisions and do not waste time fluffing around with dead-end resources.

Report Reading Secret #4

Delegate when possible!

If the report is relevant and credible, decide whether you need to read the report in its entirety or whether you can delegate the task to someone else. Successful readers know when to delegate tasks to others to leave time for key priorities. Ask whether you need to read this information yourself or whether someone else can read the information and make the decision for you or summarize it for you. You are flooded by a never-ending array of important documents which need to be addressed everyday. Learning to delegate can be a great time saver and also allows people to specialize in certain types of information.

Report Reading Secret #5

Action it right now!

Now that you have determined what needs to be read and by whom, it is time to take ACTION. Successful report readers immediately begin to build action items as they read. Highlight relevant sections, jot down notes and immediately start to compile a list of action items that need to be completed. When compiling the list, determine priorities and set deadlines/timeframes for completion of the action items. Set a meeting, write an action email, arrange for more research to be undertaken, make a calendar entry. whatever! Just make sure you convert your reading into action items to avoid wasting time reading the document again.

Conclusion

So remember:
  1. Decide on the best source of information.
  2. Scan the main elements of the report to determine relevance.
  3. Check the report's credibility.
  4. Delegate when possible.
  5. Build action items straight away.
If you follow these five secrets to reading reports, you are well on your way to becoming a faster, more accurate and smarter reader. You will be able to make use of the valuable information contained in the reports on your desk, minus the frustration and tediousness of sifting through irrelevant material for hours on end. We may not all aspire to be a CEO but like Gerald we would all like to cut through our report reading time. Read reports the smart way and you will be rewarded. This means MORE valuable information and MORE useful action points and LESS time wasted on reports!

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Reading Tips: ‘…Not only may you be caught, you will feel terrible trying to use someone else's writing as your own.…’  read article