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Writing Intelligence Reports that help Insight

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Jason Wells

I've worked in both the public and private sector and managed multiple risk types but whatever the environment there are always a mountain of reports.

Often these reports are dense and weighty, trying to pick out the insight is a chore. The consumers of these reports would often say "what's it telling me?" " what am I supposed to do with this?" "Should I be worried?" . Many of the senior execs have multiple meetings a day and receiving a 50 page deck 2 days before one of 5 that day often means it doesn't get read or its skimmed and the message is lost.

Here are a few thoughts on this:

1. Keep it short and on point - this is an old one that seems to have been forgotten. Don't say in 50 words what you can say in 5, an insight in a short sentence may be hard but it's more likely to be read.

2. Use format and structure to highlight the critical information - sometimes you cannot get away from some supporting data. Don't let the critical message be lost in the morass. Place the insight in clear white space at the top of the page, with bullets or different font, reference the detail as needed.

3. Proofread that report until it's 100% accurate - Small mistakes, spelling, grammar, funny maths (hope I have none here...) will detract from the insight you are giving. We most probably all remember delivering a report that somebody at the table points out the error on page 4 then everybody flicks to that rather than seeing the #1 insight.

4. Use info graphics - if you can find a way to visually represent your insight with the supporting data do it. It may take time to create but instead of 50 words highlight the point graphically so the eye is drawn to it and we process the data quickly. Apply photographic "rule of thirds" to the graphic, it's a picture so rules like this apply.

David McCandless Ted talk "The beauty of data visualization" is a great watch.

I'm interested to know what you think are the best tools, techniques and styles for data insights.


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