Good Actuarial Reports: Before writing
Simplify the problem
Actuarial papers can have many different tasks and a range of stakeholders. Before you wade into the report and try your best to keep everyone happy all the time, it can be helpful to step back and try to articulate why and how your report is complicated.
A technique called a ‘complexity heuristic’ provides a framework for thinking about the report through different lenses. For example:
Having worked out exactly why your report is complex before you start writing can help you plan how you can best manage this complexity.
Consider the structure
Now consider the high level structure of your report. Consider what it is you are trying to achieve, and review what information is required in your report to achieve that. Be bold and leave out anything that does not directly support your report’s objective. Think about what needs to be in the main body of the report, and what can be left in an appendix, or just signposted as being available in other reports.
Consider key messages
Next consider what your key messages are. To ensure your overall conclusions are clear, start with the ending. What message do you want your readers to take away from your report? In structuring your report around this goal, the aim is to ensure that your report flows in a clear narrative for the readers.
A traditional actuarial report structure might describe the activities that the author has undertaken in order to produce the analysis. For example:
Busy executives will have lots of papers to review and will be looking in vain for something telling them what the value of your paper is to them and their business. They will be looking for conclusions that include something tangible about what the analysis might mean for their business.
An alternative narrative structure that might appeal more directly to readers would be as follows:
Consider user requirements
Referring back to the user analysis you completed earlier, consider how you can engage all your users with your report. This may be through providing clear high-level summaries backed up by additional detail for those readers who would benefit from it. Storytelling is a way to engage readers in your narrative.
Understanding TAS requirements
Finally, consider the Technical Actuarial Standards (TAS). TAS should not be a reason to simply write out lots of technical caveats for the sake of it. Ask yourself what is really required for TAS compliance. Don’t rely on last year’s paper, or your memory or an abbreviated checklist – take a fresh look at the full TAS requirements and think about what they mean for the report you are creating.
Ensure you consider your readers when applying TAS. For example, instead of simply stating limitations and providing ranges of uncertainty, think about what those items mean for your reader and what they will be doing with your analysis. In this way, TAS will become a way of helping you get your messages across, not a bureaucratic or tick-box exercise.
- Funke, Joachim, Complex Problem Solving (March 14, 2012). N. M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (682-685). Heidelberg: Springer. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2233373
Read the other blogs in this series on Good Actuarial Reports.