One thing I’ve learned as I’ve progressed through my library career is that reporting plays an essential role in most management positions. Effective reports can help prove your organization’s worth to its trustees, patrons, and local government. Although it may seem like the great things you’re doing are obvious, often times hard data in the form of statistics and other anecdotes is required to sell your success.
The idea of monthly reports may conjure an image of long blocks of dry text and enough numbers to make your head spin. Equally boring for both the reader and the writer, these serious, lengthy reports often do little to convey your organization’s successes; the more dense they are, the less trustees and other stakeholders are likely to read them. If no one is reading them, is your library’s story really being told? Here are some tips for creating more interesting reports:
Break up long blocks of text or charts of numbers. Paragraphs of dense text and spreadsheets that span multiple pages are hard on the eyes. It’s a long-accepted rule of copywriting that the average reader scans long blocks of text rather than reading it closely; in today’s world where many board packets are distributed digitally, this rings true for report content as well. Instead of writing lengthy paragraphs, consider utilizing bullet points or subject headings to delineate new ideas. Determine which metrics are most important and draw attention to the numbers through a larger, bolder font.
Use an engaging format. Instead of the traditional letterhead or default word processing template, play with some basic graphic design to create an eye-catching report. My current favorite resource is Canva. This tool in particular has hundreds of colorful document templates. Even your favorite word processing software such as the Microsoft Office suite or Google Docs comes with template options that are easy to customize. Your reader will be more likely to spend time with – and remember – a document that stands out visually.
Include images. Perhaps the best way to stand out visually and call attention to what makes your library awesome is through graphics. This can come in the form of program photos, infographics to display hard data, or screenshots of patron comments from social media. In addition to being visually appealing, graphics are another great way to break up chunks of text. When I began including photos from successful events in my annual report to my town council three years ago, several readers commented that they were better able to understand what goes on at the library on a regular basis. Seeing visual evidence of happy patrons also makes stakeholders more likely to advocate for the library and remember specific examples of why its presence is so important.
How do you make your reports stand out? Have a question or need ideas? Share your story in the comments!