Magazine article Online

What's the Big I-DEA?

Magazine article Online

What's the Big I-DEA?

Article excerpt

Research Presentation Tips

Presenting your research results to a client is a little like buying a birthday present for your best friend. You not only want to get her something she will really like, but you also want to wrap it up in a pretty package and tie it with a bow.

The extra time and effort it takes to attractively package your research report will add both real and perceived value. Real value because it will make it easier for your client to read and digest, and perceived value because, like it or not, looks count for a lot in our society. The value of your report, and ultimately your value, will be judged on appearance.

Where I work, Threshold Information [], there's an acronym that sets the tone for our work. It's I-DEA. Information reports that Delight, Enlighten, and Assure. Threshold Information is an information services firm that does on-demand research, analysis, monitoring, and tracking for a variety of corporate clients, often serving as an adjunct to information centers.

There's no one-size-fits-all format for presenting information results, any more than there's a formula for gift buying. Form follows function, and the shape of your summary or report will depend on the request. In all cases, you must let the information lead you. There is, however, an overriding goal for all reports-to make sure the information is clear, accurate, and easy to read. Here are some of the ways in which Threshold's other researchers and I strive to do this.


First of all, clients should want to read your report. This is unlikely if you make it a hundred pages of dense, unbroken text in 10-point type. If you want to delight them with the quality of your research and the acuteness of your perception, make sure you present your findings in an appealing package.

Wide margins, lots of white space, and a user-friendly typeface (Serif fonts such as Times Roman are easier on the eye than Sans Serif) will go a long way toward making the report easier to digest.

Make liberal use of section headings, preferably in a bold typeface that stands out from the body of the report. The headings can be a single word (Overview, Financials, Major Competitors) or a feature-type headline ("Growth strategy focuses on new products").

Use visual elements such as tables, charts, and graphs, even spreadsheets, whenever the information lends itself to such representation. Again, let the information lead you. In his books and seminars on the visual presentation of information, Edward R. Tufte notes that the goal of designs for the display of information is to simplify the complex, not complicate the simple. If a pie chart or even a picture will serve to illustrate and illuminate the information better, by all means use them. Graphics are no substitute, however, for good information.

How long should your report or

summary be? As long as it needs to be. It's hard to say what's too long or too short, since it depends on the query. Personally, if my summary starts to run longer than three pages, and my source documents number 50 pages or more, I start to get a little nervous. I'll take a second look to see if perhaps I provided a little too much detail or explanation. Sometimes I'll cut it back, but sometimes I'll decide it's merited. In some cases, a summary of 10 pages, with nearly a hundred pages of backup documents, is just right.

Questions of length and other format issues also depend heavily on the client, as well as the query. Some people don't want to read more than a page or two (double-spaced, in 14 point type, at that), while others will eagerly pore over pages and pages of obscure details. The rule is respect your clients' wishes, always. In cases of a new or unknown client, however, I'd err on the side of brevity.

Source documents should be well organized, too. We usually cull material from different databases, with varying formats. …

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