How to Make your Research Report Dull and Predictable

FlexMR
5 min readSep 27, 2023

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As researchers and other market research professionals, we regularly voice how exciting and compelling insights can be to anyone who will listen. We attend conferences and industry events where we speak with passion about what can be achieved through innovative research and insights activation. However, it then all too often transpires that the traditional written reporting of our project findings is anything but exciting, and that is an issue that has devastating consequences for both the stakeholders we serve and our own industry.

When we send a PowerPoint full of data points and insights to stakeholders, we’re not giving our work the best chance of making a full impact. To make them pay more attention to our reports with actionable insights, we need to steer clear of tired old reporting techniques that are bound to switch stakeholders off as soon as they are presented.

As much as we talk about how interesting insights are, insight teams still have a challenge communicating them in ways that engage stakeholders — here are 4 ways to ensure your reports remain dull.

So, let’s take a look at four ways in which really interesting findings can be made dull and predictable, and ultimately lose their power — and then what we can do to avert this tragedy.

1. Always stick to the report template

How often have you heard someone say one of the dreaded lines below? Nothing will make stakeholders and decision-makers gloss over your hard work as quickly as a predictable, standardised or templated report.

“We always report it like this. It’s our company standard reporting style. And it’s really what our stakeholders expect.”

Whilst clearly it is important to make sure that key requirements are met and that stakeholders are easily able to access the information they are looking for, using the same report layouts at the end of every project can make one report feel very much like another. In addition to providing the conventional, we should try and incorporate some additional elements in a novel format to bring key findings to life. Which leads us on to tip number two…

2. Limit (or avoid) the use of images, graphics and visual design

A picture paints a thousand words, but how frequently is visual creativity incorporated into reporting? Making sure that every slide in our report includes a headline, chart, quote and three ‘key findings’ helps us stay perfectly on track for ensuring there are no surprises for our audience. Instead, we can try giving stakeholders something to think about by breaking the mould a little. In this blog, Emily James talks us through the FlexMR consumer postcard project, where we turned qualitative data into art.

Suggested extras for attention-grabbing additions:

  • Infographics — generators such as Canva are easy and quick to use, and give you lots of scope to be creative.
  • Images — these could be stills from customer interviews, in-store shots or something more artistic conveying a feeling. There are lots of free royalty-free images that can be found on websites such as com and pixabay.com.

3. Keep the customer hidden behind stats, charts and graphs

The power of hearing, or even better seeing and hearing something directly from the customer cannot be underestimated, so to be confident that our findings will wash through the minds of your stake holders without leaving so much as a tide-mark, let’s be sure to go no further than the odd quote here and there. Absolutely, under no circumstances, will we include video clips, sound bites or images showing expression on the faces of real people.

It’s hard to ignore something being said directly to you, and that’s why bringing the customer before the stakeholders is such a powerful tool for getting our insights to resonate. This isn’t only possible after running an extensive qualitative study, it can be super easy to achieve by just incorporating a short video booth question into a survey, or taking half an hour to ask a couple of respondents to elaborate on their views in a video call.

From pitching only to a select audience to always sticking to the same reporting template, there are many ways to keep an insight report dull and predictable — so here’s how to fix it.

The customer experience can also be brought in front of stakeholders — if decision makers are not only hearing from the customer about their perspective, but also experiencing it alongside them, that’s sure to make an impression. For different approaches to achieving video input — read our blog on videos in market research.

Expect to hear more about customer salience in the near future, because making sure the customer is in the minds of decision makers at every point is crucial, but yet spectacularly absent much of the time. By getting ahead of the curve in becoming part of a culture of customer salience in our businesses, we can put the customer in front of the stakeholders and increase the traction of our findings.

4. Pitch findings only to a select audience

Another handy tip to keep insight from making too much of a splash, is to keep it within the confines of a select group of people. Traditional reporting helps keep things under wraps, but making it easy for those who have been interested by the report to share it with others will result in a wider reach.

Open link sharing of dashboards, such as ActivateMR, as a means of reporting allow insights to be easily shared through teams and businesses, reaching those who weren’t aware they were stakeholders but then realise they are impacted by our findings. This also has the benefit of helping to increase future research demand.

Creativity in writing and language can also make findings more salient to a wider audience. How does our report read if it were seen outside of the bubble who commissioned the project? Is the language clear? Is there a human touch in our written voice? Could we even incorporate some appropriate humour — what were the more bizarre opinions we uncovered that made us smile?

Fostering More Creativity in Reporting

In summary, there is a place for creativity, story-telling, and indeed artistry within reporting, and doing more to think outside the traditional box will lead to our insights having better reach and impact. It can be hard to move away from a specified way of doing something without getting push-back, so it’s important that rather than taking anything out we give a little extra, at least initially, whilst we see how our changes are being received.

We do good research, and it deserves to stick in the minds of those who read our results. Surprising stakeholders and presenting them with information in an innovative way can evoke the excitement that we know is there within the field.

This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog, and can be accessed here.

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FlexMR

FlexMR is The Insights Empowerment Company. We help brands to act decisively, stay close to customers and embed agile insight at the heart of every decision.