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Research Tip: Tell a Story

I’m sure we’ve all seen the “report” that amounted to little more than a data dump. Usually, they devote one page to each question and every page follows the format of bar chart and two bullet points telling you what is obvious from looking at the chart. Also, the bullets are often written as if the intent was to be as obtuse as possible.

These reports often look something like this:

don't do this

In a world where you need to constantly demonstrate the value you bring to the business, reports like this earn you negative points. An improved version of the same slide might look something like this:

Do this

Making individual slides more readable and information (rather than data) packed is a big improvement. But don’t stop there.

I suggest you use the following approach when developing your next research report:

  • Find the story in the data. What is the one huge overarching result of the research.
  • Identify three to five key findings that add up to the huge overarching result
  • Organize the flow of the report around the three to five key findings

Using this approach, the basic outline of your report would look like this:

  • Introduction: Tell them the huge result and the 3 to 5 supporting findings.
  • Finding #1: Explain the finding and provide supporting evidence from the data. Then explain why that finding is important for the business.
  • Finding #2: Same as #1
  • Finding #3: Same as #1
  • Wrap up: Re-iterate the huge overall result and the key findings and explain what that means for the business.

That’s quite a bit better than: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4, and on (and on and on and on) until you reach the end of the survey. Telling a story keeps the readers (or listeners) engaged and positions you as a valuable member of the team instead of a talking spreadsheet.

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .

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