Good Actuarial Reports: During writing

Good actuarial reports during writing

With sufficient planning and preparation, the writing process should now flow relatively easily. At this stage, less is generally more - except when it comes to emphasis, stories and visual depiction. 

Be concise 

Aim for brevity in your style and content. Your report will be judged on quality, not quantity. 
Do not be tempted to put in excessive content in order to demonstrate that a lot of work has been undertaken this is not meeting the needs of the user. Do not unnecessarily expand the scope check regularly that scope creep has not occurred. 

Avoid jargon

Reports often serve multiple users with differing levels of knowledge of the subject matter. The writing style should therefore be appropriate for the user with the least knowledge. Awareness that another actuary may read the report can lead to the temptation to put in jargon and technical terms in order to maintain intellectual credibility. However, where possible, this should be avoided or at least confined to more technical appendices. A glossary is essential, particularly where acronyms are used. 

Writing flow

Rather than start writing by diving into the details of each section in turn, it can be better to initially write down the main section headings and the main conclusions. Use key bullet points at this stage, which can be fleshed out later. 
Consider the flow of the points. Is the order the one that makes most sense to the author or to the user? It is also worth trying to avoid taking the user on an ‘emotional rollercoaster’ i.e. causing unnecessary alarm by highlighting a problem before revealing why it’s not material. Instead state conclusions first and provide explanations second.

Focus on what the user wants and needs to know - recognise there is much of your work that they are fine taking for granted, they want to know what is key to their decision-making 

Storytelling

Various approaches can be used to help get the message across to the reader. One powerful approach is to use storytelling. This can result in better retention of information by the reader than by stating facts. Storytelling can also help to recognise and clearly formulate knowledge gaps

Visual tools

“A picture is worth a thousand words” according to the well-known idiom. However, it is important that each picture doesn’t require a thousand words to explain it! Reports may lack visual tools because the author may consider text to be quicker to create. However, this is where consideration must be given to the time of the user it is no use if the written explanations are long-winded or unclear and take a long time to decipher (or in the worst case are not understood at all).



Top Tips to Takeaway:

  • Set yourself an initial expectation of how long the report should be and try and stick with it. Go through and re-edit if you start to exceed this initial expectation. Imagine you have a set word count what would you remove?
  • The benchmark for clarity should be that if it was given to a person on the street they would be able to understand what the report was about and what the key issues were.
  • It will help to get to a position where the whole report framework can be reviewed as early as possible. It is much more efficient to make wholesale changes at this point rather than waiting for the full report to emerge from the ground up and then try to change it.

Read the other blogs in this series on Good Actuarial Reports.