Using a Journalism Model for Evaluation Reporting by Amanda Kelley Corbin

Hi there, my name is Amanda Kelley Corbin. I am an evaluation analyst at The Human Development Institute (HDI), Kentucky’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, University of Kentucky. We help to improve lifelong opportunities and services for individuals with disabilities, their families, and the community. Before becoming an evaluator, I received an MFA in fiction writing and I have a background in journalism.

Today I’m sharing how practices from journalism can inform evaluation writing. Rather than the traditional way of presenting study data (introduction, method, results, discussion) let’s consider a different approach.

Journalists often use the Inverted Pyramid technique where the foundation, or the most important information, appears first. Remaining details are then arranged in order of most to least importance.

Traditional evaluation style puts less interesting details like background and methodology first. Applying the inverted pyramid style puts the purpose of the report up front and then provides supporting details after.

Th inverted pyramid with Most newsworthy info on top, Important details next, and Other general info and background info on the bottom.
Figure 1: Inverted_pyramid.jpg: The Air Force Departmental Publishing Office (AFDPO)derivative work: Makeemlighter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Hot Tips:

Clear and Concise Writing

Journalistic writing is succinct and delivers what the reader wants using clear, concise writing. In addition to being easier to understand, it’s more memorable and builds trust in your audience. (Vague language can seem to obscure the truth and overly wordy writing can appear to compensate for unknowns.)

To make your writing clear and concise, sentence structure should follow the subject-verb-object model  most of the time and avoid using extra words when they aren’t needed.

Consider this challenge from Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House publishers, and go a week without using the following unnecessary words in your writing:

  • very
  • rather
  • really
  • quite
  • so
  • of course
  • in fact

Rad Resource:

Example of the Inverted Pyramid Technique

Check out this article about a recent research study. Notice how the author includes the most important information—the study’s findings—in the first line:

Supplementation of cocoa powder in the diet of high-fat-fed mice with liver disease markedly reduced the severity of their condition, according to a new study by Penn State researchers, who suggest the results have implications for people.

The beginning also incorporates a summary of the most important details:

Who: Penn State researchers

What: markedly reduced severity of liver disease

Where: Penn State

When: April 13, 2021 (the date appears under the author’s byline.)

How: supplementation of cocoa powder in the diet of high-fat-fed mice with liver disease

Why: the results have implications for people.

Lessons Learned:

When writing, consider what stakeholders are looking for when reading your report. Know your audience and what their needs are, and then give them what they want!

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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “Using a Journalism Model for Evaluation Reporting by Amanda Kelley Corbin”

  1. Hi Amanda,
    My name is Nicole Preymak and I am currently taking a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation through Queen’s University. Before taking this course I had never heard of program evaluation so, needless to say, I am learning a lot. We are just completing an evaluation design on a social program of our choice. It has been an interesting process and your article has added to my slowly growing knowledge and understanding of program evaluation. The Inverted Pyramid is an interesting idea and one that I instantly connected with in my profession as a teacher. I’m excited to hear what my classmates and professor think of this idea.

    As I mentioned, I am an elementary school teacher whose passion is literacy. I am always trying to find ways of helping my students become better readers and writers. The Inverted Pyramid technique reminds me of teaching my students to start their writing with a hook to get the reader’s attention. My message is always to start with something exciting that will make your audience want to keep reading. The same can be said for evaluations (which I had never really thought about). By starting with the purpose of the evaluation you are instantly getting the stakeholder’s attention. This way they are not having to weed through the program context and all the background information before getting to the main message. As writers, whether it’s journalism, stories or evaluations we strive to get the reader’s attention.

    As well, good writers use concise writing which I’ll admit is a challenge for me. I’m always re-reading my writing and taking ‘extra’ words out. I love the word challenge from Benjamin Dreyer that you mention. I am going to accept this challenge and also challenge my students with it. I’m going to be paying close attention when completing my program evaluation design to keep it interesting and concise. The idea of incorporating writing techniques into evaluation designs makes perfect sense and has kind of brought everything together for me. Thank-you for a timely and interesting article as I venture into this new world of evaluations.

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