Business Reports. Continued
There lies before me an attorney's report which is all narrative, couched in the first person singular. That is because the client was interested in nothing but an exact account of what the attorney had done. The paragraphs begin with such phrases as these: I have just closed the transaction of; Two of said notes being for * * *, I have * * *; I received this morning a letter on this matter from; As soon as I could arrange an appointment, I; We went together to the bank; Before I left Chicago I impressed it upon the Blank Company that; After talking the matter over on the telephone, I; I have an appointment with Mr. Blank this afternoon; It was necessary to do this, as; If you care to have me go; I shall endeavor to report to you promptly from time to time until the matter is closed up.
There lie before me several daily reports of a salesman who is on the best of terms with his manager. They tell the story of each day's work without a superfluous word. They are respectful enough, and the manager's first name does not occur in them. But in each there is some little human touch that sets me smiling. These flashes of humor are not irrelevant to the business, but throw light on it. And they must have been more acceptable to the manager than a surly tone or a boastful tone or a dry tone would have been. Some salesmen can send a ray of sunshine into the manager's office daily.
But impersonal narrative is often demanded. The report of an executive committee may very properly use such terms as: It was found; It was thought best; It was decided; The following arrangements have been made; This fact was taken into account; Your committee agreed. The reports of engineers, chemists, certified accountants, and experts of every sort are always impersonal to the last degree. Favorable reports are favorable, and there is an end to the matter. Adverse reports are adverse; the expert is not called on to expatiate either upon the adverseness or upon his own cleverness in discovery. No irony or humor is called for save the grim irony of the facts. There lies before me a special report of a committee of one which begins by uncovering a serious shortage. Note the following simple words:
Gentlemen: - In November, 19 - , the undersigned was requested to co-operate with the Investments Committee in examining the securities belonging to the University and in examining the accounts of the Treasurer. A rapid examination was made of the securities and of the books, and then Mr. John Doe, an expert accountant of----------------, was retained to make a more detailed examination of the accounts of the Treasurer and of the assets and securities in his hands. I beg to call your attention to certain matters developed by my own examination as well as by that of Mr. Doe:
In the Treasurer's report for the year ending in June, 19 - , and in subsequent reports you will find reported "Bills Receivable with collateral security consisting of life insurance policies appraised at their cash surrender value, and other sound securities." The facts in respect to certain of these securities do not support such statement in the report $ 105. As has already been remarked, the purpose of a report is to furnish facts that can be used. And there is every grade of attitude on the part of the writer, from bare presentation of statistics up to recommendation and even dignified persuasion. In the following extract Dr. Samuel MacClintock, when reporting from Honduras as consul to Puerto Cortez, wove together narration, description, and exposition to indicate a certain need:
There would seem to be an excellent opportunity to establish a branch of a good American banking house in Honduras. The country has a population of 600,000 or 700,000 inhabitants, and is greatly in need of capital and population to develop its latent wealth. It is rich in deposits of gold, silver, and copper in forests of mahogany, cedar, pine, and other valuable woods; in bananas, sugar cane, tobacco, corn, rice, and other vegetable products; and in its capacity, as a cattle country, to supply meat and hides cheaply.
During 1908 Honduras imported from the United States $1,946,838 worth of goods, and exported thither $1,540,780 worth. The only bank is the Bank of Honduras, at Tegucigalpa, with a branch at San Pedro Sula, and having a paid-up capital of 417,500 pesos. The bank does little more than a loan business, charging one or two per cent per month. It buys little commercial paper, and sells almost no exchange, having insufficient connections in other countries. Its dividends average twelve per cent per annum, and a large surplus has also been laid aside in addition to this.
Merchants not being able to get paper discounted easily are driven to the purchase of foreign exchange through mining and other companies, sometimes having to pay for a 30-day draft a premium of 270, while remittances within the country cost an average of three per cent through commercial houses, or the money itself often has to be sent overland.
The Government, aware of the desirability of providing better facilities for transacting business, granted in 1908 a very liberal concession to a firm seeking banking privileges here. Owing, however, to some disagreement as to the guarantee deposit the matter is now pending.
It is probable that $5,000,000 of American money is invested in Honduras today. The country is only three days from New Orleans and fully seventy-five per cent of its foreign trade is with the United States. Nearly all the work being done in developing the country is being carried on by Americans. Only a good American bank is needed to bind this market to Americans completely.
There is here no definite recommendation, because the purpose is merely to suggest an opportunity for private capital. But when the privilege of a definite recommendation is given to a reporter, he has his great chance. The recommendations of a report are the test of all the literary skill and business judgment that a man can master.
Half the recommendations made in business reports are vague because the writer has not grasped the subject. He does not know for certain what ought to be' done. He hasn't the brains for the situation, or he hasn't studied the subject closely enough to get his thoughts into definite shape. But suppose that he does understand the situation and has the right recommendation in mind. He may yet spoil his report by lack of attention to the form and method of his recommendations.
No reporter can ever be quite sure that his report will be adopted in its entirety. He can't know exactly how the man or the men will take it. He must always reckon with differences of opinion, and is often half paralyzed with fear of recommending too much. But it seems safe to advise the report-maker on three points:
1. Make your recommendations definite but simple. Many a counsel would go through if the nub of it were contained in a short sentence. It is the too definite details which get caught in the sentence and make the hearer impatient with the whole.
2. Make your recommendations comparatively few.
3. Give your reasons first. Prepare the audience, leading up to your point gradually, and with profound attention to the character of the man or men you are addressing.
The following report is a good one, except that some of the sentences are too long, and some of the recommendations are hidden in the middle of paragraphs:
The committee of the Western Fuel Association at Spokane, Wash, which was appointed to investigate the cause and remedy for shortage in carload shipments of coal last month, made its report as follows:
"We, your committee appointed to prepare a resolution on the matter of short weights and railroad deliveries, beg to report as follows:
"We find that the retail coal dealers in Spokane and throughout the Inland Empire, are sustaining a disastrous loss on coal shipped from certain mines to their yards, said loss being represented in the difference between the mine weights on which settlements for freights and mine cost of coal are based, and the weights of the coal delivered by the railroad companies hauling the coal. We find that the loss appears to be almost wholly caused by incorrect mine weights and by pilfering while enroute, and incorrect weighing is almost wholly caused by the fact that the mine making shipments accepts as correct the stenciled weight marked on the cars, in computing the net weight of coal, and as the stenciled weights on cars are very rarely correct, errors are bound to occur where this system is practised.
Therefore, we recommend that all mines shipping coal to members of this association be instructed to weigh all cars light to ascertain the tare weight, and use a. self registering scale, and furnish with each car shipment the ticket from this self registering beam. The necessity of some action of this kind is shown by the fact that where coal is weighed in cars where the tare is ascertained by actual weight, as from Lake Superior points and some of the mines shipping into this territory, there is very little loss from incorrect weighing.
"We recommend that this association adopt and furnish to the mines a uniform seal to be placed on all box cars of coal shipped to members of this association, and that the railroad companies accepting shipments under these seals be requested to not break seals enroute and that inspection be made only at destination if inspection is desired by the railroad company. We recommend that the railroad company making deliveries be requested to re-weigh (loaded and light) all cars arriving at destination with the association seal broken, or where shipped in open cars, excepting in the case of steam coal, which will not be weighed excepting on special request of the consignee.
"We also suggest that the railroad company be requested to expedite all claims filed for shortages of coal when the shortage is ascertained by re-weighing cars as above outlined. We also recommend that the several railroad companies delivering coal to members of this association be requested to adopt stringent rules regulating taking coal from cars enroute for company use. thus preventing the use of commercial coal by railroad employees, which occurs to a large degree where shipments are made in open ears. We recommend that the rail-roads be requested to use more stringent measures to prevent pilfering of coal from cars enroute.
We recommend that the secretary of this association be instructed to inform all mines from which members of this association are buying coal as to our action in this matter, with an earnest request that they immediately take some steps to conform with the above request and that all mines confirming to the foregoing than those refusing to show a disposition to comply with these resolutions. We also recommend that the secretary be instructed to take all necessary measures to carry out the recommendations of this committee."