There are none.
I know I’ve done a poor job if the client or a consultant asks me what program I’ve used to produce a report. (Or if I did.)
A report is as much a work of art as it is a communication of ideas, theories, evidence, and data. The production of a report can entail any combination of stoicism and artistry. It, of course, depends largely on your audience (a police report, for example, leans heavily toward stoic; an infographic on popular celebrities, on the other hand, depends more on aesthetics).
When I’m asked about the “program,” I used to develop a report, it feels as if I leaned too stoic. That the level of creativity in my report was no greater than that of a computer-generated report.
My goal in my report is to assign or draw meaning from abstract concepts.
There is nothing fundamentally meaningful about a number – or a collection of numbers. Only by providing some subjective qualification to a data point do I bring meaning to the abstract.
Picture this progression…
- 75% of Americans believe [tech company] has a ‘good reputation.’
- With 75% of Americans rating [CPG company’s] reputation as good, [CPG company] has one of the best reputations in the industry
- [energy company], with 75% of Americans assigning it a ‘good’ reputation, drastically breaks from the expected industry norm — just 50% of Americans have a good impression of the next best competitor — though, fails to achieve the same acclaim internationally, despite being just as well-known in the United States.
In statement A, the reader is left wondering whether 75% is a big number or a small number. Just a basic report of the value is ok in some contexts, but the researcher’s job is as much to interpret the number as it is to report it.
Statement C, arguably, evokes an emotion and offers the reader something to react to. It offers context and subjective meaning (‘just 50%,’ ‘fails to achieve,’ etc.).
Accepting the notion that market research is as much an industry devoted to providing facts as it is to providing reassurance is an important realization that will lead to a researcher writing “better” reports. (Or at least reports that are better suited to the audience).