Chapter 8: Writing - reporting


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

Office of the notary (intendant's office), Jan Woutersz. Stap, circa 1629. A clerk or accountant is negotiating with a man with a money bag on the left and a woman with a boy with a flute on her lap on the right. In the middle a table with a cash book and some coins. In the background a bookcase and sealed documents on the wall.

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


Little is known about Jan Woutersz Stap, the painter who depicted the office of a seventeenth-century notary here. About all we know is that he was born in Amsterdam, and that he lived from 1599 to 1663. His works are often genre paintings, showing a scene of people going about their daily lives, for example while carrying out their profession.

This painting shows a discussion taking place. Does the notary separate the two warring parties by standing in the middle? Are they perhaps a husband and wife arguing about different plans for an inheritance? With his hand gesture, the man seems to try to reinforce his own point of view. The woman rejects it. Her expression is one of concentration and her face, like that of the man, seems somewhat bitter. She raises her right hand, while with her other hand she is holding a child that is looking in our direction. The notary seems to want to clarify the position of the man to the woman. The mirroring of the gestures (the man on the left uses his left hand, the woman on the right her right hand) can be seen as an illustration of the separation of the spirits. Does the discussion revolve around the content of the cash book lying on the table? Does the man or the woman have to account for incomes and expenses? Does the cash book include a description of their assets, the state of affairs they need to take into account for the future?

Elements such as the ones mentioned above are discussed in Chapter 8. If we interpret the cash book as a report, then we see how a report can become the starting point for a discussion between stakeholders who all look at the content from a different perspective. This is illustrated by a contemporary issue right at the beginning of the chapter, which describes the consequences of publishing a controversial report. There are many kinds of reports, as attested by the well-filled bookcase of the notary, as well as the overview of reports in chapter 8. A number of common reports, including the research report, are further elaborated on in this chapter. Authors of a report are always confronted with the interests of their readers: is the report too long or too short, does the content of the report meet the needs of the readers, is the report written in a style that the readers will find clear and attractive?

A good report can be stimulating because it offers new perspectives and opens up new knowledge. What should be done with this knowledge, which advice should be followed and which steps should be taken next, is up to the readers. That can be the topic of a discussion. What readers should agree on, however, is that no important questions have been left unanswered, that the report is clearly structured and that it is written in plain language. Chapter 8 not only provides concrete instructions, but it also shows how these instructions can be applied in various contexts - for example, but certainly not exclusively, in a contemporary notary firm.