Welcome to the final topic in Module Four: Taking Notes and Writing Reports.
Professionals are often referred to as knowledge workers because of their capacity to analyse ideas and information. Your ability to receive and convey ideas and information is fundamental to your success in any endeavour. Two crucial practices in this regard are note-taking and report writing. Notes are typically intended for personal use, whereas reports are commonly shared with others. Nonetheless, the quality of your reports can be significantly influenced by the quality of the notes you take.
Let’s begin with the practice of taking notes.
The workplace is typically characterised by a multitude of activities related to planning, marketing, sales, product delivery, and more, depending on the organisation’s nature. Meetings are a common thread weaving through these activities. Taking notes serves several purposes, such as aiding in the recall of critical details, recording instructions, and tracking tasks. Well-crafted notes contribute to maintaining your work and thoughts in an organised manner. They also serve as a valuable means of documentation, functioning as logs, evidence, or records of activities, discussions, and meetings. Notes can also double as effective communication tools, suitable for use in presentations or for sharing with colleagues and managers in the form of reports. As an intern, you can become an invaluable asset in your workplace by taking thorough notes that can be transformed into reports shared with others. Writing notes will also make it easier for you to write your internship report.
Let us start with some best practices for effective note-taking in the workplace.
- Choose Your Medium: When it comes to note-taking, you have options – you can write with a pen or type using a digital device. It’s advisable to use a dedicated work journal or diary to record your notes. Writing on loose sheets of paper may not convey professionalism and increases the risk of misplacing notes. Digital devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, or laptops, provide a convenient alternative. Some tablets even come equipped with a stylus for taking digital notes. Many note-taking apps offer cloud backups, ensuring your notes are securely stored and accessible from any internet-connected device. However, be mindful that if you’re too engrossed with your digital device during a meeting, it might give the impression of distraction. If you’re a key participant in the meeting, it’s recommended to take handwritten notes, and later, transfer them to a digital note-taking app. A simple way to do this is by taking a photo of your handwritten notes and saving it in a digital note-taking app.
- Establish a Clear Outline: Each note should begin with a well-defined heading, which includes the meeting name and date. Meetings involving other organisations or departments are often named by the respective organisations or departments, along with the meeting date. It’s also beneficial to include the meeting’s purpose in the heading. The body of your note should be organised with key topics discussed. Additionally, make sure to include a section listing the meeting attendees. You can choose to underline these topics or start them on new lines.
- Capture Key Points: These typically encompass concerns raised, action items, deliverables, recommendations, decisions made, and associated timelines. Don’t forget to note down the names of individuals, their roles, or the departments responsible for particular actions and deliverables. Clearly mark timelines within your notes to keep track of when tasks need to be completed. To increase your note-taking speed, use abbreviations and shorthand that you can easily interpret during future reviews, even if those reviews occur days or months later.
- Process the Notes: Once the meeting concludes, it’s essential to promptly process your notes. This can involve reviewing, summarising, or sharing the information contained in the notes. Processing notes soon after the meeting is crucial, as it’s easy to miss details such as the name of the person who made a recommendation or is responsible for a decision. In such cases, you can reach out to a colleague who attended the meeting or event where the notes were taken for clarification. This is why it is often recommended that notes are processed on the same day they were taken. Some organisations even have a policy requiring notes to be transformed into reports on the same day they are created.
Identify the purpose and objective of the report by knowing what it will be used for and how it will be used. This will inform the content, scope, and format of the report. Tailor the report to the intended audience. Reports may be submitted as a document to be read or as slides to be presented.
Know Your Audience
Consider who will read the report and tailor your language and content accordingly. Know the key indicators that matter to your audience and emphasise them in your reports. If your audience is executives, you will often need to include an executive summary on the first page or slide to capture the key points of the report.
Outline the Structure
Reports should have a clear structure, such as an introduction, background, findings, analysis, recommendations, and conclusion. The structure can be outlined in the report’s table of contents. Use a structured approach with clear headings.
Collect relevant data, facts, and supporting evidence. Facts often revolve around the why, who, what, when, where, and how.
- Why: The purpose, reasons, or motivations of what is being reported and sometimes, the report itself. This understanding is crucial for the audience to dive into the report.
- Who: The persons or parties to be featured in the report.
- What: The key issues, findings, observations, recommendations, or action points.
- When: This may be a past, present, or future timeline. It is important for context and to help the reader understand the relevance of the information.
- Where: These are locations.
- How: These are processes being reported, if any, and may include the processes for writing the report.
Not all of these facts need to be featured in your report. It is important to focus only on those important to your audience. You can always reference your notes for some of these facts. When referencing external sources, always cite the information source.
Craft the report using clear and concise language. Use appropriate charts, graphs, and tables where relevant to reduce the volume of textual information. Data organised in this way is easier to reference and compare. Applications such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs have inbuilt templates that you can use to create your own reports. Keep your reports concise and professional in style by maintaining formal language. Before submitting, thoroughly edit and proofread for clarity, grammar, and spelling.
Taking notes and writing good reports are skills that can be developed through practice. The more you practise, the better you will become at both. Putting the best practices discussed at work will not only be useful for writing your internship report, but it will also help you to be more productive and valuable in the workplace.
This brings us to the end of this topic and the fourth module. In the next and last topic of this module, we will be looking at Internship as a Springboard for Lifelong Career Success.