Create a Perfect Report Every Time – a Recipe for Success

In just a blink of an eye, we landed in the last quarter of 2019. 

Yes, I find it hard to believe too. It’s almost 2020!

As we near the end of the year, there’s a good chance that most of you are getting ready to sum up your individual, company, or department achievements. There are probably countless reports being created across Marketing, HR, Sales, and Finance, as I write this post. 

But how can you present your data so your audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed and confused? How can you make them look professional, deliciously refreshing and memorable at the same time?

Below you’ll find the ingredients that make up a great recipe for reporting success. 

I’m going to start with four key ingredients that you should include in just about any report.

Know who will consume the final report

When I make pancakes for my son, I know I can get away with using some whole wheat flour, as long as at least half is good, old fashioned baking flour.

I could, of course, just make ultra-healthy, whole-wheat pancakes with no sugar, but none of the message (or nutritional value) would get through to my target consumer (my son).

The same principle holds true for reports: minor modifications help ensure a receptive audience for your important data.

Most importantly, consider what each reader might try to do with the contents of your report. 

What are their goals, needs, and/or frustrations, and how can you help to address them?

For example, if you’re putting together the results of a recent social media campaign for your boss, their primary objective is most likely to find out whether it was successful or not and what the contributing factors were. 

To get you started, you can use one of our newest social media performance templates:

When you create this specific report, make sure to include an overview of the most important KPIs, such as user engagement, demographics, breakdown of followers and campaign sources.

An appetizing executive summary 

At the C-level, an executive summary may prove more effective than even the most well-formatted tables and graphs. Think of it as the amuse-gueule for your multi-course data feast.

Your goal in the executive summary is to be clear and concise; if the reader isn’t hungry enough to consume the entirety of your report, they should be satisfied with the overview or an executive summary. And when I say clear and concise, I mean a quick visual snapshot of all relevant data. An amuse-gueule is traditionally eaten in one bite, after all. 

But remember that it shouldn’t leave your audience with unanswered questions. 

Below you will find an example of how your next executive summary could look like. In this case, let’s use the following template to create a report:

This particular template will allow you to include only the relevant information, without elaborating on the subject too much. After all, that’s what an executive summary is all about. 

NOT everything from the data pantry

Good cooks know when to stop adding ingredients, and so do good report authors.

Combining every single tasty ingredient in your kitchen will produce an overwhelming mess of a dish. Likewise, cramming each and every data point you’re tracking into a massive spreadsheet will result in an unintelligible jumble.

Just because you’ve got information on a particular metric doesn’t mean it belongs in every single report you provide. Remember our very first key ingredient, and include only what will help your audience achieve their goals or answer their questions.

Imagine you’re a medical scientist who just finished testing a new drug. You’ve got amazing results to show, but also tons of back up data and information. Not to mention the fact that this is a very complicated subject, and presenting the findings in a digestible way could be a challenge. 

In this case, an infographic report like this one could come in handy:

Bear in mind that when you create a report which is meant to summarize a complex process or detailed findings, it’s better to follow the rule of “show more, tell less”. Pick the most critical data points and create a visual representation of those points. Don’t confuse your viewers with too much information, in a similar way, a good chef wouldn’t add all ingredients to their dish, just because they look or taste interesting. 

Pristine presentation

If you have two identical meals, one that has been lovingly placed on a beautiful dish, and one that has been tossed haphazardly onto whatever plate was handy, which one do you think will look more appetizing?

Once again, the same holds true for reports.

But there’s no need to despair if you’re not a graphic designer. A few straightforward adjustments can take your report from painful to pristine:

Use less text, more visuals: Unlike conventional reports, brands that embrace the power of visual imagery create reports with fewer words and more graphics. 

Use a combination of charts, text and images: To illustrate your points better, you should use a combination of photos, charts, visual representations of concepts, or annotated screenshots (or even comics) to go together with your text. This way, your readers will not only understand but also memorize your message three days later. 

Have a logical flow: When you create a report, spend some time making it accessible and enjoyable to read. Use design flow to guide a reader’s eye through a piece. You will then ensure that your audience’s access and comprehension will become more effortless.

A good example of where all these ingredients play an important role is when you are a Marketing professional and, let’s say, you need to create an overview of your team’s objectives and key results. 

It could look something like this:

With this type of report, you can smoothly guide your viewers from the beginning to the end, showing all relevant details in an eye-pleasing way. 

A final word about report recipes

Please remember that what I’ve covered here are ingredients only; it’s up to you to combine and customize them to fit your unique situation.

And don’t be afraid to mix things up when the situation calls for it. If a diner asks a chef to leave the onions off their meal, it won’t go well if the chef insists that the onions stay because the recipe calls for it.

It’s tempting to use reports as an opportunity to show off how much you’ve been doing, but the most powerful reports sometimes contain only a handful of insightful formulas.

Some chefs have built their careers on producing amazing meals with a few simple ingredients; use their success as your inspiration and resist the urge to clutter your reports.

To learn how to create eye-catching reports that can captivate your audience, check out our dedicated Reports page or SIGN UP to start creating your own reports (SPOILER ALERT: includes countless NEW templates for all your industry needs!).

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