Helping readers understand your “funky” formats -how to bring your readers up to speed with research-based reporting techniques by Corey Newhouse

Greetings everyone! Corey Newhouse here, Founder and Principal of Public Profit – a consulting firm helping mission-driven organizations measure and manage what matters. Have you ever toiled for hours on a data-heavy report, only to hear back from a client that it doesn’t look or feel quite right? Maybe they missed your point entirely?

As evaluators, we put a great deal of thought into how we present our findings in order to convey the right message. There is plenty of research to show that a well-formatted report increases comprehension and retention. But sometimes those old-school clients of ours get a little prickly about these updated formatting styles, and spend more time critiquing the layout than paying attention to the content. For exactly those situations, Public Profit has developed a short document to share with clients that outlines why our reports look the way they do.

Lessons Learned:

  • Show, don’t tell. It is easy (and wishful) to think you can tell a client why you did something, and they’ll just accept it. Trust me, it is much easier to just show them why. That’s where our formatting style guide comes in handy. It outlines our rationale behind things like margins, layout, font sizing, and use of color amongst others. This shows the client why our format style works well, all in a quick two-page document.
  • Show them before, not after. When possible, we show the formatting style guide to our clients early in the reporting phase. When the client receives the report, they will be more focused on the information, not the “funky” formatting.
  • Start a conversation. Clients sometimes have valid reasons (or at least strong feelings) for why they might prefer a different format. Having a short conversation early in the process often saves us from spending unnecessary time re-formatting documents at the last minute.

Rad Resources:

  • Download Public Profit’s short formatting style guide that we share with clients.
  • Stephanie Evergreen has a handy checklist to help you score your report layout.
  • Ann K. Emery has lots of great strategies on how to design and display information effectively.
  • Chris Lysy’s Creativity School offers short online course aimed at helping boost your creativity and leverage digital tools to better display information.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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