In the final part of his three part series Jonathan Hazell looks at writing your report’s conclusion and offers some advice on presentation.
In the beginning you will have reported the facts about the tree population that you have captured, in the light of the brief and scope that you have agreed with your client. You may have used photos to help illustrate more exactly what you mean. There’s no point in gathering more data than you need, but remember the golden thread – if you refer to something at the end of your report then it must first make an appearance in the beginning as a fact, and then in the middle during the discussion.
In the middle of your report you will have shifted from dealing with fact to offering your opinions, ideally substantiated by recognised authorities such as BS5837 or the Research for Amenity Trees series, and based upon your professional training, qualifications and experience. By all means discuss a number of opinions that would address the brief equally well and feel free to be novel. Substantiate your opinions: BS5837 in particular is open to wide interpretation based upon the specific facts of a given situation. When marshalling your thoughts, be rigorous in applying the logic test to ensure that if A is true then B will be, as well as C, and even D: moreover, remember Mark Twain’s advice that, just maybe, it’s wise to say nothing about something that you have seen. I have said that your report must answer your client’s question, but the answer can be “No” just as easily as it can be “Yes”.
The final part of your report will set out your conclusion(s) which must have been reached independently, you should not be a willing apologist for your client’s stance. Your conclusion(s) will be supported by recommendations, usually management intervention of some sort that may help to deliver the client’s objective: the final choice over whether to take action or not will necessarily be left to the client.
Turning now to a few golden style rules. From my experience a client will have commissioned your report, but there’s no telling where it will end up so I try to write well, with no sales pitches. I present the report as though it will be in a ring binder, using a wider left margin that right, making sure that the title and so on is right justified so it can easily be found in a bundle of documents. I use plain English to explain things in a way that I hope my client will understand without resorting to jargon. I provide drawings that show where the particular tree(s) are, and photos to illustrate what I’m trying to say. I take the time to write a short report, and avoid what John Hetherington, a lecturer of mine, referred to as “white noise”, pointless extracts from BS5837 for example.