We have all fallen into a writing slump at one point or another. Though evaluation report writing does not involve the same kind of creativity as writing a novel, report writers can experience the same type of writer’s block. Here are 10 tips from my experience and reading that have helped deal with the evaluation report writing slump.
1. Visualize Positive Outcomes
Athletes spend time visualizing themselves performing successfully. Spend a minute visualizing yourself successfully working through that report. Convert this vision to positive self-talk.
2. Just Do It
Tell yourself to stop thinking too much about the report writing, and just start writing. Just the process of writing and arranging my ideas on paper has helped to beat writer’s block.
3. Break the project into smaller steps.
Write your report one evaluation question at a time. Break up your report into smaller sections, and don’t address other sections until you have finished the section you are working on. Make a checklist of sections to complete, and check them off as you go.
4. Focus on Quantity versus quality
Often writer’s block is caused by perfectionism—trying to get the first draft perfect. For your first draft, focus on quantity versus quality. Time yourself and force yourself to write as much as possible in that time period. Then for subsequent drafts, revise, revise and revise!
5. Find your most productive time of day
Determine your most productive time of day. When are you most free of interruptions? When can you focus on your work the best? If possible, arrange your schedule so that you can write during this time.
6. Make it a habit
Incorporate report writing into your daily routine. Write at the same time every day whether you feel like writing or not. Writing something everyday will help keep you motivated to write.
7. Discuss report writing with stakeholders.
Brainstorm ways to involve stakeholders, from sharing completed reports to involving them in drafts. Before data collection, write up a mock results section with the actual numbers missing and ask stakeholders to fill in the blanks according to their expectations. This is a strategy that Michael Patton details in the third edition of his book, Utilization Focused Evaluation. This helps to establish whether the expected outcomes match actual evaluation results. This also helps to engage stakeholders in the reporting process.
8. Ask Colleagues for feedback
Set intermediate deadlines before the actual report is due, to submit drafts of sections of the report to colleagues for review. This can help you stay motivated to write and will help elicit valuable feedback. Two heads are always better than one. This strategy will also help beat procrastination.
9. Read Other Evaluation Reports
Read other evaluation reports to help get into the report writing mode. This can also help you get a better idea of how much detail is necessary in reports. Be careful though that you don’t spend your time procrastinating by reading other reports instead of writing your own report.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Even when you don’t have to write reports, stay in the habit of writing by keeping up a professional blog. Read journal articles and textbooks in your field, and collect key points and nuggets of wisdom. Then practice paraphrasing these key points. These can be incorporated in your blog too.