A good title makes your report unmissable

This blog post could have been called ‘Report title selection’ or ‘Ensuring a report is read’. But why waste your very first chance to catch your readers’ attention? For anything you write, the title is an opportunity to get people excited about the content. That means making sure every word in the title conveys as much information as possible.

We often default to boring report titles because they feel safe. Or because it’s what colleagues or managers expect. Or because it’s just what those reports are always called. But the title of your report is crucial. It’s the first impression you make on your reader, and your first chance to tell them what issue the report addresses.

If the title of your report clearly represents the contents, both writer and reader benefit. The writer gets their message across, and the reader knows what they’re going to find out.

That sounds difficult!

It’s not really. Start by thinking about your reader. If the report arrived in your inbox, what would make you want to read it?

Here are some tips to help you write a compelling title.

Image, a Lego Santa Claus in his reindeer-drawn sleigh

No ACC claims for these reindeer. Image by Bill Ward / Flickr licence

Think beyond ‘the usual’

Annual report 2020. Boring! You may assume you have to call it that. But it may just be the default option. If you have to include those words, put them in a subtitle on the cover to keep management happy.

If Santa was writing his annual report, he might choose:

2020: More toys than ever

or

One billion happy children: job done

Choose carefully so your title matches your brand and your audience.

Describe the problem clearly

What is the reader going to find out? Imagine explaining what your report is about to a reader sitting opposite you. Say it aloud: ‘I’m writing a report about…’ Then see if you can turn it into a compelling title. This approach can be a good way to find a more natural way of putting things — we often use words quite differently when we talk than when we write.

Instead of:
Sleigh feasibility study

Write:
Could Santa use a sleigh to deliver a billion presents in one night?

Image, a tangle of yellow fairy lights

Trying to understand noun strings is about as much fun as tangled fairy lights. Image by Francesco Ungaro / Pexels licence

Avoid noun strings

In an effort to save words, sometimes we pile them up in front of a noun (naming word). The result can be ambiguous or confusing. Try reordering the words so they make sense without making the reader disentangle them.

Instead of:
Elf wellbeing at work survey results

Write:
Results from surveying our elves’ wellbeing at work

Untangle your nouns to make your meaning clearer

Don’t be too concise — be descriptive instead

As with noun strings, we can think that fewer words make a better title. But you want your reader to know what the report is about before they open it. Good writing means putting in the work so your reader doesn’t have to — a few more words can help them understand.

Instead of:
North Pole security

Write:
How we’ll improve security at our North Pole toy-making factory

Be creative — if you can

You’ll know your own workplace and how far you can take this. Nobody tells Santa what he can and can’t use for his report titles, so he might go a bit crazy:

Laughing at courier delivery times — every year

When happy children are your key success factors

No reindeer ACC claims this century!

Follow it up with compelling writing

For generations, students writing essays have used long words to impress and increase their word count. Many of us entered the workforce believing we should use an extensive vocabulary at all times to demonstrate our expertise or mastery of our topic.

But plain language is all about writing for your reader. So first get their attention with your title. Then think about who they are, how busy they are, and how badly you want them to read your work. Now make it sing!

Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly

Learn more about report writing

Slay your annual report dragon — time for a new chapter on annual reports.
Hook report readers with your structure — sort out the questions your reader wants you to answer.
Report Writing — learn to write reports your readers will want to read.
Business Writing Essentials — learn to write create clear, purposeful documents that connect with your audience and get results.

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