As with many things, the answer to how to sum up results is to find your inner Einstein. He famously said that if you can’t explain something to a six year old, then you don’t understand it. Since so much communication goes on in a business, it’s really easy for your point to get lost in the shuffle, so make your summary really simple and ungodly clear. Plus by doing this you get to imagine your boss as a six year old, which is always good for a chuckle. OK, so how do you start?
1. Find the key point. This is the most important thing you can do when summing up results — it’s your headline. Sometimes this will be really clear: for instance, if you’re summing up the results from a survey in which 80% of customers were unsatisfied with the company, that’s obviously your lead. But what about when the lead isn’t so clear, like when you get a big mess of raw data dumped on your desk?
The first thing to do is to think about where the data comes from and why it exists at all. It had to be created for a reason; no one’s going to do massive surveys or analyses just for the hell of it. What was the point of doing the research originally? Can you find a key point that’s connected to that? If you’re not sure, then ask — just say something like “What kind of findings were you generally looking for?” or “What problem are we trying to solve with this?”
Next, look for themes and try to categorize things. What words keep coming up? Can you categorize things by demographics, or by a particular number that keeps repeating? Is there one result that stands out from the rest in the data? This may look pretty crazy when you first start out — you might have a lot of themes coming up, but you should be able to consolidate them into a few main ones, with one stand-out that you should lead with.
2. Chunk things. In addition to helping you figure out your main point, your themes are also basically your outline for the rest of the report. Keep this as simple as is reasonable — don’t try to shoehorn different themes into each other, but consolidate wherever you can. If two themes are similar, see if you can combine them.
3. Use concise, straightforward language. Avoid the temptation to go all business-speaky — use simple, basic words in short, logically connected sentences. Prefer Anglo-based words to Latin-based words (hint: if it was a vocab word on the SAT, skip it). The point of writing a summary is to get information across quickly, not to impress people with your vocabulary. Keep channelling your inner six year old and use words they would understand.
4. Keep it unbiased. I know, it’s tempting to skew the data or to skate over bad results. But this will come back to bite you big time. Whoever you’re writing the report for needs to know any bad data straight away, because then it can be dealt with.
5. If there’s a format for your industry or company, use it. For instance, science and medical journals have specific ways to write abstracts, and law briefs are written in a specific way. Companies also sometimes have in-house rules, so figure out what they are so that you can look like you know what you’re doing.