You have been given a research report written by a consulting firm for your organization. You are asked to judge the quality of the study. What would you look for?
Good research reports begin with clear thinking on the part of a researcher. The researcher should analyze the reader’s needs carefully and prepare a detailed outline prior to writing the first draft. The first draft should be considered just that-a first draft. Few of us write well enough to produce a polished draft the first time. The writer should plan on at least one major rewrite.
Several facts must be kept in mind. First, managers are extremely busy. Second, they are much less interested in the technical and logical aspects of a research problem than the researcher is. Third, they are seldom well versed in research techniques and terminology. Fourth, if there is more than one reader, and there usually is, they are likely to differ in terms of interests, training, and reasons for reading the report. Finally, managers, like everyone else, prefer interesting reports over dull ones. With these facts in mind, a number of general guides are offered here.
Focus on the Audience
The only reason for writing a research report is to communicate something to someone. The someone is the most important aspect of the communications process. The entire research project is performed to generate information that will aid one or more decision-makers. The research report must convey that information to those decision-makers.
Focus on the Objective of the Study
The research is initiated to help make a decision. The report should be built around the decision and how the resultant information is relevant to the decision. This is what the manager is interested in. Researchers are naturally interested in the research problem and the methodology used to solve it. Unfortunately, some research reports reflect the interest of the researcher rather than the manager.
Minimizing the Reporting of the Technical Aspects of the Project
Researchers have an unfortunate, if natural, tendency to attempt to convince management of their expertise and thoroughness in the research report. This leads to detailed discussions of the sampling plan, explorations of why it is superior to alternative sampling plans, and so on. Yet, few executives are interested in this level of detail. However, the research department should keep such a detailed report internally to serve as a guide for future studies, and to answer any question that might arise concerning the methodology of the study.
Use Terminology That Matches the Vocabulary of the Readers
“Few managers can balance a research report, a cup of coffee, and a dictionary at the same time. Terms such as skewed distribution, correlation coefficient, or even significance level are not necessarily familiar to all marketing managers. In many research reports, it is often necessary to utilize the concepts that underlie these terms. Three strategies are available for dealing with this problem. The term can be used, followed by a brief description or explanation; the explanation can be provided first followed by the term; or the technical terms can be omitted altogether. Which approach, or combination of approaches, is best depends upon the nature of the audience and the message.
Avoid Errors in Grammar and Spelling
One incorrect sentence of misspelled word can undermine the credibility of the entire research project, and it can seriously harm your career. Use a dictionary and grammar guide any time that you are in doubt.
Develop an Interesting Writing Style
Research reports should be interesting to read. There is no inherent reason for a research report to be dull, tedious, or boring.
Use Visual Aids Whenever Practical
As a general rule, a sentence in the text of a report should contain no more than two or three numerical values. Sentences containing more numbers than this are difficult to read and understand. The table in the exhibit is much easier to read than the sentence. However, the pie chart contains the same information and provides a quick, strong impression of the relative sales by each department.
Rounding of Numbers
Reporting data to several significant digits is often unnecessary, even when accurate.