Today’s Report Writing: Less is More Impact


By guest writer: Jennifer Larsen

The world of information is changing, and qualitative market research reports should follow suit. Clients still want to hear what their customers have to say, but how they want to hear it has changed.

No one wants to go through thick decks to get at the meat of the findings…and let’s face it, we don’t want to write reports like that either. Qualitative research reports are getting shorter and shorter, but they can be more impactful at the same time.

Reports are like onions…they should have layers.
It is important to know who will be reading your report and to recognize that people at different levels within a company will have different needs. If you write a report in layers, your audience can choose the level of depth that is right for them. I recommend the 3-layer approach to report writing.

The first layer is the view from 40,000 feet. If the client has 5 minutes to devote to the findings of a particular research project, they can read a page or two and learn all they need to know.

The second layer is for people who have more hands-on involvement in the research. They have 30 minutes to spend on the report. They want a closer view of what happened. They can absorb 7-10 pages.

The final and most detailed layer is for people who want all the details or who want to pick and choose certain areas where the details are key.

Make the findings come to life.
Words are only one way to tell a story and often there are better ways to make research findings come to life:

  • The right picture tells a thousand words….so you don’t have to.
  • A well-chosen visual can make a feeling come to life in a way that words can’t. Don’t make the mistake of just choosing a pretty picture.
  • Let the participants speak for themselves….Include video/audio clips. You can tell a client that X number of respondents had a certain opinion, but sometimes what can really drive the point home is one respondent’s inflection or body language, especially when that changes the meaning.

But don’t forget the history.
In this world of tell me what I need to know now and fast, it is easy to skimp on background and context. But I would caution against it. If your findings have worth and depth, they should live on past a particular assignment. A good report can be mined long after the research is finished for additional ideas or become a foundation for additional research.

Therefore, it’s important to make good use of an Appendix to briefly explain the methodology (how you asked a question and when matters) and to outline the key demographic specs (who you spoke to and how you defined the demographic is equally important).

But above all else, when writing a report it is crucial to know your audience and what their needs are. Their needs should be your first priority, even if it means ignoring all of my excellent advice!


About the Author
Jennifer Larsen has been utilizing her psychology background to get deeper meaning out of participants for Fader & Associates since 1999. She has conducted hundreds of groups and one-on-one interviews across topic areas, but she considers report writing one of her favorite aspects of the job and is always looking for new and better ways to get her message and insights across. She can be contacted at