As researchers, we often fall into the trap of organizing our reports according to the order of our questionnaire. It’s fast, convenient, and habitual… but we need to realize that when we do this, it oftentimes means that our reports are boring and not exactly engaging. Why you ask? Well, we are not being intentional about the structure of our story… it's just a list of information, which means our story is most likely Flat!
The first step in structuring compelling stories is to understand what our clients really care about within the areas we studied. What do they think is most important? We need to see the content of our report as “concerns” rather than just “topics”.
For example, if we are reporting on global performance, do we really care about where we are strong and where we are weak? For quality, are we really concerned about whether or not recent recalls and quality issues have hurt certain markets? Among competitor data, are we most concerned about where we are losing our shirts or what we can learn from the most up and coming threats? We need to go a step deeper and see report content as burning questions we need to answer, not just a list of objectives we check off.
Once we know the core concerns, then we can arrange our findings in a way that is interesting, memorable, engaging… not FLAT!
There are 3 easy ways to do this that resonate with different audiences. We can lead with the most important information which is great for executives with time realities and shorter attention spans. We can place the most important content in the middle of our report, which is ideal for various team managers that have a little more vested interest in the study details (and when different bits of information are important to different people). Or we can slowly build to the most important information, which can work best for core research team members that can stay with us over the long haul of the report.
These are definitely not the only story arcs that will work, and there are alternatives to organizing your report based solely on importance (e.g. good news vs. bad news)... the bottom line is that we need to be intentional about organizing our topics in a way that moves people. Structure matters!