The most rigorous data analysis can lose its impact and fail to communicate what decision makers need to know if it is not presented in a well-written report. A key to writing an effective data analysis report is to think of your report as an extension of your analysis itself. This means writing a report that uses text, charts and tables to present analysis results and communicates the information in clear, jargon-free language.
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Outline your report, making sure to observe any guidelines or rules that your organisation has regarding the format of formal reports. Some organisations may require, for example, an abstract and an executive summary, while others may not. A brief outline provides a road map that helps you overcome any "writer's block" and assemble a report that explains your data analysis and communicates the results in a clear, understandable way. Longer reports may require a table of contents, which can act as an outline that helps you structure your report and assists your readers in understanding the structure.
Create tables, charts and graphics that help illustrate the results of your data analysis, and write text references that explain the important findings. When writing text references, be sure to highlight for your reader what is important about each table and graphic; don't simply report your data. This means that your graphics should be as self-explanatory as possible. In addition, be sure to position tables and other graphics close to the text that references them.
Complete a first draft of the body of your report, structuring sections and paragraphs in such a way that conveys the most important information first. You can flesh out the technical details later in the body of the report. Effective data analysis reports make the most important information easy to find so that busy readers, many of whom will not have time to read a report in full, can identify what they need to know without searching for it. In addition, be careful in your use of statistical terms and jargon. Effective reports should convey analysis results in such a way that most readers can understand, regardless of their knowledge of statistics and data analysis methods.
Save writing abstracts and executive summaries for last. Waiting until you have a complete draft of your report will make completing these sections much easier. Keep your abstracts and executive summaries free of technical jargon, and include only the most important findings and conclusions. When completing an abstract or executive summary, ask yourself what information your readers need most if they have only five minutes to read your report.
Edit, revise as needed and organise your data analysis report so that the document will facilitate the ease with which readers explore its contents. Make sure your report is free of bulky "wall-to-wall" blocks of text, and needless and uninteresting graphics. Use white space effectively by varying paragraph lengths and using headings between sections.
Tips and warnings
- Prefer active voice, which emphasises the subject performing the action, over passive voice, when writing your report. Active voice is more concise and conveys information more clearly, with fewer words.
- Ask yourself if a table could be more effectively presented as a chart, which has more visual appeal.
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