Rush Rush Rush – get it done, get it sent…….. BUT what is the end result?

Applying the concept of elegance to reporting may seem a bit odd, however Elegant has several meanings:

Elegant:   Tasteful;   Dignified;   Cleverly simple, ingenious.

It is this last point I am referring to; elegant preparation really does make for Cleverly Simple Reports.
I have written previously about Simple Reports:

– 3 Keys to Simple Reports
– 4 Ways to make more Useful Reports

These posts touch on simple reports as those that drive decision making through:

accuracy         completeness
timeliness        relevance

How often do we ever consider clever simplicity as a goal?… In this context simplicity is focusing on the equally important:

* Ease of preparation
* Visual appeal


Cleverly Simple Reports

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full” icon=”empty”] If you are not convinced elegance is important have a look at these:

Top 3 worst charts of all time Or Errors in Economic Study

in both cases in-elegant reports hampered the right decisions.[/box]

A. Ease of Preparation

What happens to your reporting month to month?
Would your reports be prepared if you were not available (would they be correct)?
Streamlining the processes is as vital as the report being issued. Chaos around report preparation creates a minefield for errors, so consider implementing the following

  • Automatic data population of reports – if you have to key in each number separately there is a greater chance of errors, so try to automate the process wherever possible. There may be some time and setup costs involved but it will improve your timeliness and accuracy
  • Create auto-checks back to the original source and checks within the sheets themselves – I always include and show my check-sums on every excel, even though they are in 4pt font, to create a sense of rigour and trust
  • Include footers or a reference with the file path of the report so that there is a record where it lives electronically
  • Create, and use, a version control system so it is clear which is the latest file to work on, even include a version control sheet as part of the document to record iterations of changes
  • Include a “hidden” page of instructions, this need not be printed as part of the report but should enable another user to easily make updates
  • Pre-format the report for printing – pages sent electronically (especially in excel) need to have print areas set, or ensure there is a printer-friendly version sent as well such as a .pdf


B. Visual Appeal

Visual appeal has two elements “attractiveness” and “ease of reading”.
I was once given this guideline for all of my reports:

Place each page of every report 2 meters away from where you are then ensure the key points on each page are visible at this distance, and check for sufficient white space – overcrowding is an enemy of visual appeal.

As part of this process I also mentally impose the letter Z over the page and review the items to see first along the top of the Z. The eye normally follows the path of the Z, so “decisions and/or recommendations” need to be at the end of the Z.
Also consider these very basic artistic principles in your layout:

  • Is the most important point the most obvious – or is it hidden?
  • Are the headings consistent with the message, ie the most important headings are the largest and sub-headings are smaller, also ensuring the font styles are used consistently
  • Alignment is confirmed both horizontally and vertically – not wiggly, mis-aligned tables etc – and each paragraph justification is consistently either left justified or full justified
  • The overall colours work well together and complicated backgrounds are avoided
  • Attention-attracting features (such as pictures, animation, bold colours and size differentials) are used sparingly
  • Minimal use of capitals, italics and underlining
  • Consistent page margins through-out the publication, the bottom margin is usually larger than any other margins and often the right margin is wider to enable the report to be read after the hole-punching for filing
Finally, this is a communication at a point in time. Changes will take place so it is imperative to contextualize the report in terms of their purpose, scope, date of preparation and time of printing; these can be part of the header, footer or introduction.
So this week I challenge you to try some elegance instead of complex messiness – the result will be more useful reports that are able to drive better decisions.

Do you have other ideas of how to bring some elegance into your reports?

Add your comments below and we can all benefit.