Why research reports need a revamp

 Sarah Kocianski photo
Sarah Kocianski Head of Competitor Strategy
5min read

I’ve read an awful lot of research reports in my professional life. I also studied History at university and if that doesn’t set you up with the ability to detect sense from nonsense when it comes to research, I don’t know what will. More recently, I’ve written a lot of market research reports and have every intention of writing more in the future. But I want my next set of research outputs to be different. So I turned to Twitter, that great hotbed of opinion, to conduct a survey (with many methodological holes) to find out what people’s biggest bugbears are with most of the content out there today.

So without further ado, here are 116 Twitter users’ responses to the question “what really annoys you about market research reports - free or paid for”? Before I dig into this, I should caveat that I’ve never written a report with a named sponsor or partner who specifies a desired outcome, and I hope I never have to. Nor have I written a report based entirely on the results of a survey, so I can’t speak to issues around either of these specific types of output.

It’s clear that long-form research reports are due an update.

Especially if you want a broad audience to read and understand them. The most common formats used to deliver content today, the downloadable PDFs, glossy booklets, and unbroken blocks of text in an email, are not easily or quickly digested. This is almost certainly why 22% of respondents feel research reports are too long. Most people do not have the time or inclination to read 30 pages of a PDF (and I’m as guilty as the next analyst of producing such tomes) to find the information they need. That’s especially true when you consider what technology allows us to do with hyperlinked indexes and deep links. This also plays into the factor that got the most responses — 39% of respondents said research reports are “boring/unengaging”. When you are used to something as simple as the Google logo being animated and providing you with multimedia content, a few flat charts or diagrams, or even worse stock photos , are not going to be enough to capture a reader’s attention for long. There’s also no excuse for it if you are delivering content in a digital form. The use of jargon and acronyms should also be avoided — rather than making the author sound wise, it often makes research feel exclusive and frustrates readers. * As for reports going out of date, which annoyed 22% of respondents, there is case to be made that in a world of real-time data feeds, research is one of the few areas it’s almost impossible to be always bang up to date. Good research, qualitative (exploratory) or quantitative (numerical) takes time. That said, one of the things that annoys me most is reports without a publication date — there is very rarely such a thing as an evergreen report, and even in cases where content is still useful after time, it requires context. Finally, 17% of respondents said research reports didn’t provide enough case studies. Many reports provide non sector-specific recommendations, without any evidence to back up what they are saying. But if you don’t provide data then you can’t expect people to take any notice of what you say. In the absence of numbers, tangible examples are vital if you want readers to fully digest what you are suggesting, and to find the content useful. While I accept each project is unique, a few carefully chosen case studies can inject utility into calls to action as they show what CAN be done. With all this in mind, I’m off to write my first research report for 11:FS... I will try to take all of the above into account, but to borrow a phrase from my colleagues - we are only 1% finished. If you have feedback, ideas, suggestions on how we can make our research outputs even better, tweet us @11FSTeam. *I’m aware that people happily read books which are by and large not chock full of multimedia, but largely they have chosen to do so in a different context — at the end of the day to unwind for example. There are very few people who would choose to sit down with a 30/60/even 100 page PDF and a glass of wine on a Friday night as a form of leisure.