Designing Reports So People Want To Read Them
In this era of sound bites and social media posts, people aren’t used to slogging through long reports. Unfortunately, information doesn’t always fit in a tweet. If you must present a multi-page report, help your audience by using the following elements:
- Table of contents (for reports longer than 10 pages long)
- Executive summary (for reports longer than 10 pages)
- Plenty of white space (i.e., margins and space between and around paragraphs and infographics)
- Headers to signpost important topics
- Bulleted lists
- Infographics and other non-text means to convey your messages
- Engaging photos
- Page numbers
I recently wrote a 20-page report for a client, detailing the findings from my research and recommending several courses of action. I wrote the report in Microsoft Word with plenty of section headers and bulleted lists to make it readable, but as I was proofreading it, I found myself wanting to skip over some of the longest sections. If I wanted to skip them, I knew my client would, too.
If you run into this problem and you have the budget to hire a professional graphic designer, then send your report to the designer without delay. If you don’t have the funds (or time) for a designer, consider using a pre-designed template (Microsoft offers lots of them). Your final report may end up a few pages longer, but your readers will thank you for presenting the information so they can digest it.
For my report, I added a cover page with an engaging title, a byline, and a photo that invited a second look. I created a table of contents to make it easier to find information. I added an executive summary so people in a hurry could absorb the main points quickly. And I used a template (and my graphic design experience) to highlight the information that mattered most.
The great thing about hiring a professional graphic designer is that they know how to typeset reports so people can fly through the information effortlessly. Designers know how to use layouts, color, fonts, images and infographics to draw attention to the most important issues. A well-designed report won’t look designed; it’ll simply come across as professional, well-organized, and easy to read.
If you need help writing a report, get in touch. If it’s a long one, I’ll have my graphic designer buddies lay it out for us.