Clients tell us that one of the biggest challenges they face is writing great research reports. There is the overwhelming difficulty of turning data into stories — making sense of volumes of data without losing the big picture or the details. And there is the difficulty of truly communicating research so that it is heard, understood, believed, and ultimately used.
We were reminded of the importance of communication and writing research for multiple audiences from Eric Zorn’s recent column in the Chicago Tribune, from which we quote:
How many of us feel this way? I asked [the researcher] for percentages and she responded by e-mail that her research was qualitative, not quantitative.
I asked then in what sense is it “research” any more than choosing anecdotes out of random interviews? Journalists do love numbers.
“I don’t write my research for journalists,” she wrote back. “I write it for the community of scholars who conduct this type of research, and who have since the 1930s when the Chicago School of Sociology began at the University of Chicago. Honestly, if you are going to interact with researchers who conduct perfectly legitimate qualitative research, I strongly suggest that you gain some knowledge of that type of tradition before you throw around words like `random interviews’ and `anecdotes.’”
Mr. Zorn’s question was a good one. It could and should have been answered. It’s really no different from the kinds of questions you and we often hear from the executives to whom we are presenting our work. “How do you know?” “Why does this matter?” “How does this help me?” We nearly always have multiple audiences. Good researchers can and must communicate beyond their own communities.
We at Versta Research have done a great deal of research and survey work to support newspaper stories and communications materials, so we definitely do write for journalists. They love numbers, but they also love stories, so we give them headlines and storylines and numbers to support it all. At the same time, we write for communities of scholars and see our work published in academic journals. The two need not be at odds.
We also write for top level executives (we give them a three page deck focused on implications with supporting evidence) mid-level managers (we give them a ten page deck focused on problems, diagnoses, and solutions), and market researchers (we give them a thirty page deck and a clear story supported with data).
Each audience requires a slightly different approach, answers pitched at different levels, varying degrees of detail, and so on. Need help? Our clients say that our experience and skill at turning data into stories adds significant value to the work they do, all the way from design to implementation, reporting and presentation. Research can make a difference in back offices and boardrooms, and with the right reporting and follow up it can make a difference among journalists asking tough questions as well.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.