The writing process

Writing a professional planning report is usually a complex process, and the combination of the “art” of writing and the skill of following established writing principles can improve the outcomes (Veal 2011). Figure 11.1 provides a summary of nine key writing principles explained in the following paragraphs. These can function as a checklist to guide good writing and application will assist a planner to provide a more effective report.

Understanding the audience of a report is an essential first step (Cresswell & Plano Clark 2011; Jones 2015). For example, there is little value in providing a technical report with an extensive set of data if the audience is unlikely to fully understand it. As such, it may sometimes be necessary to have different versions of a report that use differing styles for different audiences.

Writing a whole report at the end of a planning project can be a substantial task. It is therefore advantageous to begin writing sections as a project evolves (Jones 2015;Veal 2011). It is likely that many ideas will be generated by each of the planning research components, and taking notes or establishing a diary or journal to document the details creates a record (which may, on occasion, need to be drawn upon to explain or

Writing principles

Figure 11.1 Writing principles.

defend a position) to inform a plan’s preparation (Jones 2015). Writing is a type of thinking, so documenting issues and ideas rather than just talking about them is a good way to get information organised (Cresswell 1994), and the preparation of issues papers is one way of doing this.

The style of expression used in a planning report is important, and adopting a first person (I, we) or third person (he, she, it, they) will impact on its tone (Royal 2015). First person makes a report more personal and will help a planner to claim ownership of what is presented, e.g.,“We found that the increasing ageing of the community will impact on the need to ...”. By comparison, using third person makes a report more objective and minimises personal ownership of ideas, e.g.,“The demographic analysis identified the fact that the increasing ageing of the community will impact on the need to ...”. It is usually best to write in the third person because it better reflects the evidence-based approach of the leisure and recreation planning model and reduces the potential for the material being reported to be seen as the personal views of the writer.

Active voice is an important consideration when writing a report (Royal 2015). Active voice usually requires fewer words, is more direct and provides a clearer intent, especially with paragraphs topic sentences, recommendations and priorities. Active voice focuses on the doer of the action at the beginning of the sentence. Passive voice usually provides a reverse order of the doer, such that the topic of the sentence is provided at the end (Royal 2015). For example, a passive voice sentence may say, “When using research findings in the preparation of a leisure and recreation plan, a planner should apply the principles of research triangulation to determine the data that is most likely to guide a final plan”, whereas active voice would shift this statement to have the main topic presented first, “The principles of research triangulation should be applied to determine the research data that is most likely to guide a leisure and recreation plan”.The second statement makes it clear that the topic is about the application of research triangulation and reduces the words from 35 to 24.

Choice of words often has an impact on the strength of a statement about what needs to be done. An example is when a report author has the option of writing “will” or “must” rather than “may” or “should” and other similar terms. The softer terms, “may” and “should”, provide an opportunity' for decision-makers to be selective in what they act on and thereby' weakens the overall implementation and impact of a plan.

The writing style used in a report is enhanced by finding a balance between the provision of information and telling a good story. An elegant style finds this balance by providing enough information to explain issues and making the information interesting. The use of examples to reinforce the most important points creates a style that is more engaging due to the capacity' to relate to the topic and thus becomes memorable (Royal 2015).

The principles of coherence and cohesion should also help to guide a reports style. Coherence entails presenting ideas, thoughts and issues in a consistent format by using the same phrases or list of issues. For example, this book has consistently referred to “leisure and recreation programs, facilities and services”. Referring, instead to “recreational facilities, programs and services” may lead a reader to think that this relates to something different. Cohesion relates to a reports narrative, so the various topics and sections are connected in a logical and systematic approach. Cohesion can be enhanced by adopting a consistent sequential explanation, such as moving from the most important to the least important point(s) (Royal 2015). The absence of coherence and cohesion diminishes the readability of a report (Cresswell 1994).

Relevant diagrams and illustrations can be effective in explaining the complexity of the variety of inputs to a planning report (Veal 2011). There is merit in presenting a potentially complicated process, e.g., the Community Leisure and Recreation Planning Model, in incremental steps that explain the discrete components as well as providing an overall diagram. A convergent report design, i.e., one which draws on a range of data sources to inform the final explanation, can be enhanced by using a table (Cresswell & Plano Clark 2011). For example, this chapters Table 11.1 illustrates how a range of data sources can be converged into a single analysis. However, if diagrams, tables and charts are used, they must be described and explained, so that the readers are not forced to draw their own (potentially erroneous) conclusions about the messages being conveyed.

Several drafts of a report should be allowed for from both a timeline and budget perspective. It is best to go through an iterative process of writing, reviewing and editing/re-writing (Jones 2015). Authors should keep the interests of the report’s audience in mind by providing it with drafts to both gain responses and inputs and to assist that audience to understand the report content. This approach is an important part of the engagement initiatives, so stakeholders and community can see how their contributions have been included.

A careful review of grammar becomes more important after the content is written to guarantee that the language is correct and in an acceptable form (Royal 2015). Reviewing the text by focusing on sentence, paragraph and section structure is an important step to enhance clarity. Polishing the written expression can be done by eliminating unnecessary words (Cresswell 1994) and making sure principles like active voice are put into practice.

Having established a clear guide for the structure and a good writing approach for a leisure and recreation plan, planners are able to move to develop the specific content.This process is detailed in the following section.

 
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