As a researcher, it is always important to consider the point of view of your audience. In many cases this means understanding what it is that your client wants to know. The purpose of a research report is to not only present the results, but to do it in a way which is easy for the reader to follow. The client needs to fully understand the points you are making and how these are relevant to their business. With this in mind, I have come up with what I believe to be the three key elements of a report.
In a report, it is crucial for the researcher to not only deliver the findings, but to interpret them. A client isn’t interested in a list of results with no meaning. What they want to know is what these findings mean to them. What are the reasons for these results? Why do customers behave or feel the way they do? And even more crucially, how are these findings relevant to the business at hand?
The researcher should aim to look for patterns in the data. For instance, if customers were asked to rate a company’s marketing messages, a client wouldn’t benefit from hearing about separate individuals’ phrasing preferences. It would be of no use reporting that one individual valued a sentence such as, “Don’t worry, we are there”, while another respondent showed preference to “We care about you” and another “There to support you” etc.
What would be insightful to say is that these group of customers perceive emotive and reassuring language as effective. Only when you have found some consensus in the data can you identify the driving factor at work. This, in turn, provides more actionable information that the company can apply in future.
When identifying patterns in the data, it is also important to interpret the amount of respondents this applies to. Is it the majority, around half, or only a few? If the majority of participants felt a certain way, then any recommendations based on these findings may hold greater significance than those reported by only a few.
It is essential for the report to be clear, not only in terms of content but also in how the data is visually presented. The information provided must be filtered to be relevant to the original objectives of the research. Why was the research conducted in the first place? What was the business problem? The findings should inform these objectives and help provide a solution to the problem.
If a company was initially interested in customer perceptions of their staff, the report should only provide findings related to this area. Exclude any comments made towards other departments such as marketing or sales as this information is currently irrelevant.
When you’ve filtered the data to provide what’s relevant for the client, ensure the findings are supported by evidence. Include quotes from customers to add clarity to the results and enable greater understanding. However, provide only key quotes to illustrate your point; including too many may overwhelm your reader and shift their focus away from the main finding. For reports of a more quantitative nature, statistics play a greater role in supporting the results you present, giving the client a more precise indication of how participants responded.
Presenting the findings in a visually appealing way also helps the client to follow your research story. The use of graphs and diagrams for example help make information easier to digest. Having a clear layout and not overloading each page of the report with information are also key in maintaining clarity.
Last but definitely not least, the aspect of the report the client will be most interested in is the findings — as well as their implications. Now that the results have been presented, how can their business benefit from this insight and apply it? A researcher is not a decision-maker, they cannot instruct a company on what to do based on the data. The role of the researcher is to deliver the information and guide the client to a decision of their own.
Towards the end of the report, the researcher needs to reflect upon the data they have gathered and think in the context of the company. What is important to them? How can they use this information going forward? Recommendations of potential avenues can then be suggested, giving the reader a chance to consider their options. It’s important that these suggestions are realistic, i.e. a strategy that can be easily implemented and generally based on findings from the majority of participants.
These are only a few key elements that make a great research report. In reality, every presentation is different and you must tailor your style to decision makers. What are some of the key learnings you’ve found when presenting research data? How do you make a persuasive, but fair argument? Let us know in the comments below.