5 tips to create a report people will actually use

The anticipation, the allure, the suspense – it’s almost too exciting to sleep. I get it, I really do.

Reporting on analytics from a campaign or survey is very exhilarating. There are so many metrics to report on or to show in a dashboard. So many in fact, why not just show them all!

I would love to spend hours with a colleague or client just spewing out numbers and analysis. But how long do you think I could really hold their attention? What would they be able to take away from our conversation, other than “Wow, that Jill girl really loves to talk about numbers.” Would they be able to remember the key takeaways? Possibly. I am a pretty decent storyteller, but more than likely they’ll tune out most of my ramblings.

As an analyst, it’s my job to take all the data and put it into a story that clients can easily understand. Below are some ideas on how to put together a report, what to report on, and how to avoid a data dump of every metric possible. The key to remember when creating a report – less is more.

Define objectives

Defining the objectives of the report should be done with the client and a subject matter expert (SME). It may take some time to try and narrow down what is important within a certain campaign or what the key takeaways might be for a specific report.

Determine how to measure those objectives

Once you’ve determined your objectives, work with an analyst or someone who understands the data to determine the best way to measure those objectives. These measurements, along with any supporting measurements, are what you’ll use to help tell your story. Those supporting metrics do not need to have their own graphs or charts within your report, but they should be used for analysis.

Use industry standards when defining metrics

As an example, if you’re reporting on the average cost for each post engagement on Facebook, find out how the metric is calculated on the Facebook Business page. According to Facebook, to calculate that metric, you need to divide the total amount spent by post engagement.

At times, this information may not be available to you. If that’s the case, make it clear in your report. Explain how you’re calculating that metric and why it might be different from the industry-standard formula.

Try not to use jargon, buzzwords, or overly technical phrases

In the early days of my career, I made the mistake of using statistical terms about the analysis I did on a campaign. Rather than using a technical term, I should have kept it simple when describing my findings. The analysis may not be simple and the measurements might not be easy to calculate, but the story they tell should be. Your report should be to the point and easy to follow. Avoid using jargon or technical phrases that your audience might not know, need to know, or care to know.

The SME and clients need to know the outcome and analysis, but they don’t need to know all of the specific tests you ran. Some users may attach to those words, because let’s face it, statistical language is uber cool and makes you sound super smart, but not everyone knows where and how to use those terms.

Make it useful and actionable

Out of all the steps above, this is the most significant. This is the big daddy of them all. If you are reporting on a metric, ask yourself if it’s useful and what actions can be taken as a result.

For example, one of the metrics you might report on is time on site. The data shows that time on site has remained flat, but you would like to increase it. Through your analysis, you can explain why this is, and how actions A, B, and C can be used to increase that time.

A report should be concise and straight forward. It should also be easy to understand from an entry-level position all the way to the top. When creating a report or dashboard, remember to keep the visualizations minimal, tell a compelling story, and make sure the metrics are actionable.