Spoiler Alert!

Why bottom lines should be headlines.

What would your readers say if you put the conclusion of your report in its title?

A: Booh! Spoiler alert!

B: Aha!

I have asked that question in my writing groups for years and every time a few of my students answer ‘A’. Apparently they think that argumentation should come before conclusion. And of course it does – when you are doing the research and the designing. But does that mean that you should keep your conclusions secret until your reader has read the rest of the report? I think not!

Mind you: I am not talking about scientific papers or essays here. But your report should give the most efficient representation of your conclusions and argumentation possible, and that means that your reader should be able to see what your main conclusion is. Immediately. On the front page.

A title like: “An investigation into algae as an energy source” forces your poor readers to find the Summary or the Conclusion section and read until they come to the relevant bit, which they will find annoying. You don’t want your readers to find you annoying. Really. It’s bad for business.

Instead, write something like: “Three reasons why algae will never replace fossile fuel”, or: “Why algae are likely to be the biofuel of the future”. If you want (you do), you can combine them into a title and a subtitle (or primary and secondary, if you are American) like this:

Three reasons why algae will replace fossile fuel within five years.

An investigation into algae as an energy source.

Or:

Algare are not an acceptable alternative for fossile fuel.

Research shows algae are too slow to grow, expensive and inefficient.

I have said this in previous posts, but you may not (yet) have read them all (you should). People who read technical reports professionally don’t have a lot of time to read. Do them a favour: don’t waste their time by keeping your main findings a secret.

Author: Bob

Bob’s teaching career started at Nijenrode University, where he taught business English to students dressed either in expensive suits or track gear, who would literally jump in and out of his classroom through the window. Thankfully, it was located on the ground floor. After two years, the quickly growing Netherlands Institute of Tourism and Transport Studies employed him, first as a teacher of English, later as head of the English department. Nine years later, Delft University of Technology, which was dealing with more and more international students, was looking for a skills teacher who could teach in Dutch and in English. Since then, Bob has had the best job a skills teacher can have. He teaches students from all faculties: from Aerospace Engineering to Architecture and everything in between. Bob is head of the English department, he teaches Academic Skills, Intercultural Communication and English as a Foreign Language and he is co-author of Presentation Techniques (isbn 978 90 469 03650), available at https://shop.coutinho.nl/store_en/presentation-techniques.html?___from_store=store_nl

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