I’m part of the EvaluATE team. I also lead evaluations as part of my work at Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center, so I have written my fair share of evaluation reports over the years. I wanted to share a resource I’ve found to be game-changing for report writing. It’s the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation’s 1:3:25 reader-friendly report format. Even though I don’t follow the format exactly, what I’ve take away from the model has significantly improved the quality of my evaluation reports.
The 1:3:25 format for report writing consists of a one-page summary of main messages, a three-page executive summary, and a 25-page report body. Here’s a brief summary of each component:
1 Page for Main Messages: The main-messages page should contain an easy-to-scan bulleted list of information people can use to make decisions based on what was learned from the evaluation. This is not a summary of findings, but rather a compilation of key conclusions and recommendations that have implications for decision making. Think of the main-messages page as the go-to piece of the report for answering questions about what’s next.
3-Page Executive Summary: The purpose of the three-page executive summary is to provide an overview of the evaluation and help busy readers decide if your report will be useful to them. The executive summary should read more like a news article than an academic abstract. Information readers find most interesting should go first (i.e., conclusions and findings) and the less interesting information should go at the end (i.e., methods and background).
25-Page Report Body: The 25-page report body should contain information on the background of the project and its evaluation, and the evaluation methods, findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The order in which these sections are presented should correspond with the audience’s level of interest and familiarity with the project. Information that doesn’t fit in the 25-page report body can be placed in the appendices. Details that are critical for understanding the report should go in the report body; information that’s not critical for understanding the report should go in the appendices.
What I’ve found to be game-changing is having a specified page count to shoot for. With this information, I’ve gone from knowing my reports needed to be shorter to actually writing shorter reports. While I don’t always keep the report body to 25 pages, the practice of trying to keep it as close to 25 pages as possible has helped me shorten the length of my reports. At first, I was worried the shorter length would compromise the quality of the reports. Now, I feel as if I can have the best of both worlds: a report that is both reader friendly and transparent. The difference is that, now, many of the additional details are located in the appendices.
For more details, check out the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation’s guide on the 1:3:25 format.
Keywords: 1:3:25, reporting, evaluation report, evaluation reporting