The 1-3-25 Reporting Model

It’s time to talk about how a highly visual, well-formatted recommendations page doesn’t have much impact when it is buried on page 104. This is how we make reporting less cumbersome, particularly in a digital reporting era.

Of course your reporting will probably include a slidedeck. I mean, you could totally give a talk with no slides. People would look at you. And you would be awesome. But most of the time we have a slideshow, designed with the principles I’ve been discussing in this blog, all my books, and in every workshop for years. The idea of the presentation is generally to spark conversation and get people interested in learning more about your ideas, Rockstar.

So what next? Now that we have piqued their interest, we – what? – toss them a 300 page report and wish them luck? Sounds like a terrible way to foster engagement.

Instead of giving people a new doorstop, we can extend their engagement with a handout. Something short and sweet, like the stuff I discuss in my new book. In fact, this is where the 1-3-25 reporting model comes in handy. The 1-3-25 model suggests that our reporting include a 1 page handout, a 3 page executive summary, and a 25 page report. In each of these layers, readers gain more and more detail. They can stop anytime, having already gotten the high points from us. But it provides a scaffolding toward learning, in which each step helps the reader learn a bit more without being completely overwhelming.

This example comes from an Australian University research department that requires all researchers to publish by this model and makes templates to fit it. Smart! (See their package at http://rsph.anu.edu.au/research/projects/2015-extension-overcoming-access-and-equity-problems-relating-rural-and-remote-phc)

Of course its hard to squeeze your work into just 25 pages, especially when you include graphics and data visualizations. So you’ll need an appendix and this is where you can put things like your logic model, methodology, and p values. And it can even be a separate document that you just link to from the others.

So let’s talk about that 25 pages and what that’s going to look like.

We normally go about structuring our reports (and presentations and posters) like this:

Background
Literature Review
Methodology
Discussion
Findings
Conclusion

It feels serious and logical and rigorous. Does it look familiar? Probably so, because it’s the basic format for a journal article. It’s just that a journal article is not the same dissemination forum as the work many of us do, where our charge is focused on being useful to decision makers and we are paid to provide them actionable information.

Jane Davidson wrote a life-changing article on this matter, where she reorients us toward truly user-oriented reporting, in which we do not make the reader wait until page 104 to get to the good stuff. Today’s readers just don’t have the patience for it. They might flip through to glean highlights but few read, word for word, something so long and tedious. In fact, there’s a hashtag just for this scenario: #TLDR, which means Too Long, Didn’t Read.

The revolution in reporting is simple: Arrange the sections of the report in the reverse order. Report the findings and conclusions first. That’s what people came to learn, so give it to them. If they are satisfied, you are done! If they have questions, you have explanations, because that’s your discussion, methodology, literature review, and background. Reporting in reverse values their time. It means the C-Suite members of your audience can go on with making strategic decisions with your findings and the few statisticians in the room can hang out til the end and talk nerdy with you. Reporting in reverse puts the audience first.

This blog post is an excerpt from my new book, Presenting Data Effectively, 2nd edition. The second edition of this bestseller is in full color and includes much more on reporting for a digital reading culture. Order now

10 Comments

  1. This is excellent! We are slowly getting there in our reporting. Of course we try to use all of the best #dataviz principles throughout each that we create… We’ve had nice success with stakeholders by starting with a bulleted exec summary, next page is bulleted recommendations… but then we still revert to methods/overview after that and so on… Will use this to further reorganize our reporting! Ever evolving 🙂 Thanks Stephanie!

  2. Thanks for these ideas Stephanie, I totally buy in. Where I struggle with this is when much of the data come from in-depth interviews and/or focus groups, and there is just a lot of rich information that I believe needs to be shared. If I synthesize too much, I do disservice to the data and the time that those who shared their insight and knowledge took to provide the data. But, I totally get that people aren’t, or don’t want to read all of that. What would your advice be in this case?

    1. Stephanie Evergreen

      We tend to think we must report in proportion to the amount of time spent collecting that data. But that doesn’t make much sense, does it? There’s certainly so much worth in the data and time spent (on your behalf and those who provided you their data) – and it goes into your analysis. Not necessarily your pages. However, I think we all need more visual findings sections and your data definitely has a place there.

  3. I’m sold, but their are some traditionalists at the organization where I work. I think they would go for it if I pitched it to them, but then when they saw it drafted they would ask me to go back to the traditional way. One of the biggest barriers to organizational progress is the absurd idea that having done something a certain way for a long time somehow makes that way more correct or legitimate. I hate hearing, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.”

    1. Stephanie Evergreen

      That’s correct Rob. What’s you’ve identified is a culture issue. And maybe calling it that will help. Culture change can be slow. But you might try reorganizing a past report so they can see the difference.

  4. Thank you for sharing this info Stephanie. We always find your posts and monthly academy meetings to be very helpful. Our center focuses on STEM Education Evaluations and our audience continues to be receptive to changes we have made in visualizations and reporting. I think it is because the Stat laden reports of the past weren’t really communicating to our audience of fast-paced,over-worked, and over-loaded educators and researchers. Change is both hard and refreshing at the same time. Baby-steps. Thank you for the leading the charge.

    1. Stephanie Evergreen

      You’re so very welcome, Sondra. It takes leaders on the inside (you) making it happen. Thank YOU for leading the charge.

  5. I wish some of my clients subscribed here (similar mindset to what Rob describes above)… they are still requesting overly long text-based reports… any pointers on how I can suggest this approach without them thinking like I’m giving them “less?”

  6. Yes! I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m going to pitch this idea when I get the chance. I hope you don’t mind. 🙂

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.