Friday, August 6, 2010

ISA HK/China --- HK Tree News (Poor Quality Arborist Reports)

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Dear Station Members,

The newspaper report below described how a senile Camphor Tree was destined to be felled by the management company in HK Island, but was halted by a local Tree Expert after he visited the tree & studied the Arborist Report so prepared by a local Arborist. The newspaper quoted that the Tree Expert as regarding the Arborist Report to be "Careless/Casual", & advised further expert opinion to be sought before taking any action. The relevant words of the report are given in blue beneath for reference. The newspaper further quoted doubt on the quality of the Arborist Reports in the market for communal accountability.

ISA HK/China tends to agree with the comment of this Tree Expert. The Station Manager has seen some very poor Arborist Reports in the market with personal opinion overriding scientific observation, & speculation without technical ground. Many Arborist Reports in our territory are written in bad English with wrong spelling & incorrect grammar, which will come out as an international laughing stock if exposed to western experts. Some of those who are filling in "Rating Report" would give marks without solid justification, but rather personal preferences without careful observation. This can lead to major challenge in Court if prompted by professional scrutiny.

International Arborist Report would usually come in 3 different formats: Form Report where the Arborist would provide rating & short comments; Letter Report where the judgment & observation are give in a letter reply; & then the sophisticated Booklet Report where every details of site, tree, testing & analysis, conclusion & recommendation are written down like a story book. It is this Booklet Report that our territory lacks expertise in writing.

Conventional wisdom in our territory would regard a Booklet Report of complicated English jammed with technical jargons, fitted with piles of figures & tables bound in thickness, to be a "good" report. Internationally, it isn't. Expert Technical Writers would regard a quality report to be readable, defensible & usable. That means the contents should be written in Plain English where even laymen can understand. After all, most Arborist Reports are prepared for laymen reading anyway (the public at large). Filling it with jargons & technicalities may simply lose the audience & confuse them, unless this is the intention. A good report would convey complicated ideas in simple language to convince the readers. The readers should be able to use the information without keep on referring back to the author for clarification. The report is then "usable". Again, what's the point of producing a report which has no use but just piles of papers & graphics??

It takes great training & skills to learn how to write a good Booklet Report. In ISA HK/China, we call this Technical Writing. Technical Writing originates from composing Law Prose in North America. The closest in HK may be the Technical Circulars & Govt Gazettes, although those are written in a conventional British administrative language. That may not apply to scientific writing like the Arborist Report.

Our IPA class of membership ( requires the IPA to have produced a minimum of 3 Arborist Reports without being challenged, possessing 'A' Level in English Language & 'O' Level/GCSE in Law. We require our IPA to have the corner stones to produce quality Arborist Reports. Becoming an IPA is only the first step to learn how to write good Arborist Report. There are many areas of expertise to master before the IPA can really stand up in Court.

If the Arborist Profession is to be respected by our society, the ability to produce quality Arborist Report is important. To be able to fill in a "Form Report" does not mean the Arborist can write a Letter Report or, to a further hand, a Booklet Report. A good Arborist Report should be simple, precise & concise. Verbosity & vagueness appear to the local culprit in report-writing.

ISA HK/China will guide our profession to join international requirements in report-writing step by step, hopefully. However, the individual Arborists must also prepare themselves with good communication skills & basic legal knowledge, in order to learn.

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

"If a tree is not designed, installed, maintained & inspected properly, it is likely to become a liability rather than an asset."

"Trees are good for the community. Trees need care like human beings. Arborists are the Tree Care Professionals."

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