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Report Writing: Recommendations

Aim:
This slideshowpage is to help you write the recommendations section of a business report.

On this page: Introduction, Scenario, Example, Explanation, and Exercise

Introduction
This section of the report is probably the most important part of a report, because the purpose of a report is to solve problems or to take advantage of opportunities, and the recommendations section is the part where you make suggestions about how to do this.

Your reputation as a professional can be influenced by the quality of your recommendations. Therefore, the quality of the content must be good. In addition, using correct language is also important, because you want readers to trust you enough to implement your suggestions, and if the language has errors, your readers will think that you do not produce high-quality work, and therefore are not trustworthy. The notes below will help you to produce recommendations with good content and language.
 

Scenario
To help you to understand the notes below, here is a scenario:

A customer visits your company and talks to a salesperson. The salesperson is new, and lacks product knowledge, so sells the customer an unsuitable product. Later the customer discovers that the product is unsuitable, and therefore he returns the product, complains, and asks for his money back.

Example Recommendations

5. Recommendations
Due to the customer complaint and the lack of guidelines to prevent untrained sales staff from serving customers, the following recommendations are made concerning compensating the customer, staff training, monitoring new staff, and revising the guidelines.

5.1 Compensation
Given that the customer has justifiably complained, we should give him his money back, and, to maintain goodwill, give him a single-use voucher worth 5% of the price of the original goods to encourage him to continue his relationship with our company.

5.2  Staff Training
In the light of the customer's complaint that our salesperson recommended the wrong product to him, we should ensure that all sales staff complete their product training before serving customers. This guideline should be in our staff manuals and procedures.

5.3 Monitoring New Staff
In order to reduce the possibility of new salespeople making incorrect recommendations to customers, they should always be accompanied by an experienced salesperson for the first month of their service. This guideline should also be in our staff manuals and procedures.

Explanation
This section covers content, organisation, grammar, vocabulary, register and conventions.

Content

  • Cost / benefit analysis
    For each recommendation you should think about how much it will cost and how much money it will save your organisation.
    For example, in the above scenario you should not recommend a training course for all staff on communication skills, because such a training course would be very expensive. It would be much cheaper to give the customer his money back, and to maintain goodwill, give the customer a voucher for a future purchase.

     
  • Opportunity cost
    For each recommendation you should think about whether it would use the facilities, staff or money (in business terms: land, labour and capital) in the most profitable way. For example:
    • If your suggestion would only make a profit of 2% on the money that you need to spend on it, it would be better to save the money in the bank, and get more interest.
    • If you recommend sending staff on a training course, you must convince your readers about why this would be more profitable than the staff doing their normal work and saving the cost of the course. If the cost of the problems is less than the cost of the training course, it is not worth doing the training.
    • If you recommend moving a factory to a cheaper location, you need to persuade your readers that after a few years you would save more money than if you remained in the existing location.

  • Problem Analysis
    To solve a problem, your recommendations can solve both the results of the problem (the symptoms) and the root cause of the problem. To find the root cause you can use a method called the '5 Whys' method. This method involves asking 'Why', and then for each answer, asking 'Why' again. Here is an example using the scenario above.
    1. Why did the customer complain? Because the salesman sold him an unsuitable product.
    2. Why did the salesman sell the customer an unsuitable product? Because the salesman did not know that the product was unsuitable.
    3. Why didn't the salesman know that the product was unsuitable? Because he hadn't finished his product familiarisation training.
    4. Why was a salesman who hadn't finished his product familiarisation training serving a customer? Because our guidelines do not forbid it.
    5. Why don't the guidelines forbid it? Because we hadn't had this problem before, and we cannot predict every problem.

    Therefore, the solution is to change the guidelines.
     

  • SMART Recommendations
    Recommendations, like Objectives, should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-oriented and Time-bound:
    • Specific:
      You should state the method for implementing your recommendation.
      • Bad examples:
        • We should increase sales.
        • We should take appropriate measures to increase staff satisfaction so as to increase morale.
      • Good examples:
        • We should increase sales through a marketing campaign.
        • We should improve staff morale by setting up a suggestion scheme, then rewarding and implementing good suggestions.
    • Measurable:
      Although some things in business are difficult to measure, such as reputation, goodwill, knowledge and quality, your recommendations will be more persuasive if they are measurable.
      • Bad examples:
        • We should increase sales.
        • We should take appropriate measures to increase staff satisfaction so as to increase morale.
      • Good examples:
        • We should increase sales by spending 10% more on advertising. According to our experience with our recent advertising campaigns, this will generate an extra 15% in sales.
        • We should improve staff morale by increasing the pay increment for each additional year of service. This would discourage staff from leaving. Although this would cost more, we would save money overall by doing less recruitment and training for new staff.
    • Achievable:
      Recommendations should not involve too little time, or too much money, labour, facilities or risk.
      • Bad examples:
        • We should re-train all sales staff.
        • We should offer the customer a 20% discount on all future orders.
      • Good examples:
        • We should re-train sales staff who consistently do not meet sales targets.
        • We should offer the customer a single-use voucher worth 5% of the price of the faulty goods.
    • Result-oriented:
      The recommendation should provide good results for stakeholders:
      • Bad example from the scenario above:
        • We should fire the salesperson. (This would not solve the underlying problem of allowing untrained staff to serve customers.)
      • Good example:
        • We should set up procedures so that new salespeople are not allowed to serve customers until they have finished their training, and new salespeople should always be accompanied by an experienced sales person for the first month of their service.
    • Time-bound:
      The recommendation should set realistic deadlines for completion of suggestions.
      • Bad example from the scenario above:
        • The salesperson should not serve customers.
      • Good example:
        • Salespeople should not serve customers until they have finished their training.

Organisation

  1. The Recommendations section is the last main section of a report.
  2. It comes after the Conclusion and before any appendices.
  3. Recommendations should be numbered so that it is easy for readers to refer to them in messages (e.g. 'In Recommendation 2 you said that...')
  4. Recommendations should have an introductory sentence or paragraph linking them back to the Conclusion and outlining the areas; e.g. 'Due to the customer complaint and the lack of guidelines to prevent untrained sales staff from serving customers, the following recommendations are made concerning compensating the customer and revising the guidelines.'
  5. Recommendations should have sub-headings so that it is easy for readers to find the right one; e.g. 5.2  Staff Training
  6. Recommendations should refer back to the problem that they address; e.g. 'In the light of the customer's complaint that our salesperson recommended the wrong product to him, we should ensure that all sales staff complete their product training before serving customers.'
    The grammar for this is: Referring phrase; problem (noun phrase or clause); comma; recommendation. For example:
    • In the light of  +  the customer's complaint (meaning = something informative, grammar = noun phrase) + comma + we should ensure that... (+ recommendation)
    • In view of + the salesman's lack of product knowledge (noun phrase) + comma + we should ensure that... (+ recommendation)
    • Given that / Due to the fact that / In view of the fact that / Since + the customer complained about the service (clause) + comma + we should ensure that... (+ recommendation)
  7. Previously mentioned single objects should be referred to as 'it', but previously mentioned situations should be referred to as 'This'; e.g. ' The product was not suitable, so we should replace it ' ( 'it' = the product), or ' The product was not suitable, and this caused the customer to complain' ( 'this' = The lack of suitability of the product).

Grammar

  • Recommendations often use modal verbs such as should and could, followed by an infinitive verb. Should is for recommendations that you are sure about, but could is for ones that you are less sure about.
      e.g. 'Sales staff should have completed their training before they serve customers.'
      e.g. 'Experienced sales staff could be requested to monitor new staff.'
  • Should and could can also be in a clause, for example:
    • I suggest that we should change our procedures.
    • It is suggested that we should change our procedures.
  • It is wrong to use I recommend to change our procedures; use I recommend changing our procedures or I recommend that we change our procedures.
  • To describe the results of your recommendations, use would or will if you are very confident; e.g. ' This would prevent this problem from happening again.' or ' This will increase sales.'
  • would and will can be part of conditional sentences; e.g. ' If we increase advertising, sales will increase.' or ' If we increased advertising, sales would increase.'
     
Common grammar errors:
 

Vocabulary

  • Verbs for recommendations: recommend, suggest and propose.
  • Matching Nouns and Verbs for Reports - an exercise in choosing the right vocabulary for reports.
  • Business reports are often about staff. More information about how to use the word staff correctly is available.

Style and Tone

  • This section should be formal.
  • The strength of your recommendations will partly depend on your company culture. For example, in some companies it is acceptable to use 'We must change...', but in others this would be too strong, and it would be better to use 'The company should consider changing...'

Conventions

  • The Recommendations section is usually longer than the Conclusion, but shorter than the Findings.
  • The recommendations of business reports tend to be less tentative than those of academic reports.
  • Business recommendations should be ethical.
  • Business recommendations should be legal, especially regarding any punishment of staff.
  • Recommendations should be suitable for the company culture; e.g. it may not be a good idea to suggest training courses for staff on Sundays.
  • Like most formal business writing, recommendations should be clear, concise, and correct.
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Exercise

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Last updated on: Tuesday, September 23, 2014