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Blog: Declutter Your Reports: The Checklist for Straightforward Evaluation Reports

Posted on February 1, 2017 by  in Blog

Senior Research Associate, The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University

Evaluation reports have a reputation for being long, overly complicated, and impractical. The recent buzz about fresh starts and tidying up for the new year got me thinking about the similarities between these infamous evaluation reports and the disastrously cluttered homes featured on reality makeover shows. The towering piles of stuff overflowing from these homes reminds me of the technical language and details that clutter up so many evaluation reports. Informational clutter, like physical clutter, can turn reports, just like homes, into difficult-to-navigate obstacle courses that can render the contents virtually unusable. If you are looking for ideas on how to organize and declutter your reports, check out the Checklist for Straightforward Evaluation Reports that Lori Wingate and I developed. The checklist provides guidance on how to produce comprehensive evaluation reports that are concise, easy to understand, and easy to navigate. Main features of the checklist include:

  • Quick reference sheet: A one-page summary of content to include in an evaluation report and tips for presenting content in a straightforward manner.
  • Detailed checklist: A list and description of possible content to include in each report section.
  • Straightforward reporting tips: General and section-specific suggestions on how to present content in a straightforward manner.
  • Recommended resources: List of resources that expand on information presented in the checklist.

Evaluators, evaluation clients, or other stakeholders can use the report to set reporting expectations such as what content to include and how to present information.

Straightforward Reporting Tips

Here are some tips, inspired by the checklist, on how to tidy up your reports:

  • Use short sentences: Each sentence should communicate one idea. Sentences should contain no more than 25 words. Downsize your words to only the essentials, just like you might downsize your closet.
  • Use headings: Use concise and descriptive headings and subheadings to clearly label and distinguish report sections. Use report headings, like labels on boxes, to make it easier to locate items in the future.
  • Organize results by evaluation questions: Organize the evaluation results section by evaluation question with separate subheadings for findings and conclusions under each evaluation question. Just like most people don’t put decorations for various holidays in one box, don’t put findings for various evaluation questions in one findings section.
  • Present takeaway messages: Label each figure with a numbered title and separate takeaway message. Similarly, use callout to grab readers’ attention and highlight takeaway messages. For example, use a callout in the results section to summarize the conclusion in one-sentence under the evaluation question.
  • Minimize report body length: Reduce page length as much as possible without compromising quality. One way to do this is to place details that enhance understanding—but are not critical for basic understanding—in the appendices. Only information that is critical for readers’ understanding of the evaluation process and results should be included in the report body. Think of the appendices like a storage area such as a basement, attic, or shed where you keep items you need but don’t use all the time.

If you’d like to provide feedback you can write your comments in an email or return a review form to info@evalu-ate.org. We are especially interested in getting feedback from individuals that have used the checklist as they develop evaluation reports.