Monday, August 3, 2009

Guest Post: Make Your Reports Accessible - Three Easy Tips

by Luise Barnikel at IssueLab

The shifting landscape and expectations of information seekers leaves your nonprofit with the difficult task of catching up and rethinking dissemination.

Your research provides valuable insight into critical social issues. To generate the biggest impact from the knowledge shared, your research report should be engaging to the various audiences it will touch, and adapt to today's expectations for knowledge sharing.

So here are three easy tips to keep in mind when you are planning and designing your next research report.

1. Make your research usable, and re-usable. We understand the time and effort that goes into creating a thorough research report. Still, choosing a restrictive copyright can discourage readers from sharing or using your information - even for a good cause. There are copyright options that allow your audience to use the information in a wide variety of ways and even build upon it to create original research. An easy way to apply non-restrictive but legitimate copyrights to a document is using Creative Commons. IssueLab encourages its contributing organizations to use Creative Commons, because it "increases sharing and improves collaboration."

2. Leave Them Asking for More. The research abstract can be a great way to generate further interest in the entire body of work, but really it should tell a journalist on deadline everything they need to know. Abstracts that leave out vital information - or are too long to read quickly - can actually deter readers from downloading the report to learn more. There's a fine line between cliffhanger and information overload, but those who are truly interested in reading your report will ultimately do it when they have the time. So, distill valuable information, make the abstract comprehensive and quotable, but don't just copy and paste the executive summary.

3. Get the facts out there. Once your report is released, go through it and extract short phrases, quotes, and statistics that can easily be shared online. Micro-blogging (sending brief text updates) has become an increasingly important skill and tool for organizations that wish to keep constituents informed. You can also create graphic summaries or pull charts that can be posted on Facebook or displayed alongside the abstract. Lastly, always make sure you include a direct link to your report listing page or .pdf - nothing worse than not finding the source of good information!

What are your thoughts on other easy ways to make research more usable?