The way we present our research findings depends on the audience. People who understand and have experience with research – especially qualitative research where you have the opportunity to drill down and really understand subtleties – are great at their jobs because they understand the importance of detail.
As a result, these people prefer very detailed reports on exactly what happens in focus groups and interviews. Reports for this audience need to have lots of direct quotes, charts, and detailed summaries, organized by participant persona and market segmentation.
Recommendations need to be very descriptive with significant backup. It’s also beneficial if these people can attend or listen in on as many live or recorded interactions as possible, especially at the beginning of the project. This enables them to feed their observations back to the researcher to make sure they capture the subtleties. A report for this type of person is easily dozens of pages long!
Executives are different. They are too busy to read a long, thick report. They want to see the bottom line. So obviously, research reports should have an executive summary. An executive summary previews the key points of the in-depth report. It is written for people who don’t have time to read the main report. An executive summary should communicate independently of the report: after reading the summary, your audience should understand the main findings of the project.
How long should the summary be? It is almost impossible to be too brief for a busy executive. A good rule of thumb is to write the executive summary, then go back and edit out half of what you’ve written. Wait 24 hours, then go back to the report and edit out another half. Seriously: one slide with three bullets in a large font is a realistic summary for this audience! Once they have their ultra short summary, they can ask more questions. Needless to say, the researcher should always have the backup to present and defend the recommendations and findings presented in the report.
While it can be difficult for people who appreciate detail to go through this process of editing and re-editing the executive summary, it is a crucial step. Researchers need to realize that if they present their findings in a way that is not appealing to executives, they run the risk of seeing the project they worked so hard on make no impact on the business, simply because the report was too detailed and the executives never really got the message.
Hmm… Now let’s re-write this post as an executive summary:
1) Be brief – very brief
2) Be prepared with backup