Write Up Internal Summaries At Every Step
When each step in a project occurs it is very important to write up the results soon afterward. Document the complete process of the project including each step. The write up does not have to be for external audiences, but rather an internal record for future reference. It will most likely contain information you will not share with others outside of your project's study team, but is useful to you when writing reports for external audiences. Many times project steps end several months before the results are discussed externally, which is why it is important to at least have a draft of the each step for future reference.
Include The Following In Your Internal Write Up:
Purpose: What was the purpose of the project and this step? Why will it be useful to the field?
Objectives/Hypotheses: What were the objectives of the project or the hypothesis of the study? What did you expect to accomplish or find in this step?
Methods: How did you meet your objectives or test your hypothesis?
Results: What did you accomplish through the project or what were the findings of this step?
Conclusion: What are the implications of your work? What do your results mean for the field? What actions can or should be taken based on your results?
Reporting to External Audiences
Who: The first thing to consider is who are you reporting to, what are they interested in knowing and how is that information best presented? Make sure that before you communicate your project results you have conducted due diligence on the audience. A report to a funder should be different than an academic journal report, which should be different than a report for growers. Unless you are writing for an academic journal, it is important to avoid jargon as much as possible. You should not create one report for all audiences. Each audience should have a report designed to address their questions, concerns, and interests.
Your internal write up can serve as the basis for all reports, but they should all highlight the aspects of the project relevant to the specific audience. For example, a funder may not need to know the specific details of the methods in a field trial, whereas a colleague wanting to replicate or further your research will need to know this information. Also, though it is important to not use jargon and use language appropriate to your audience, don’t talk down to your readers. Understanding the level of expertise by conducting due diligence on your audience will help you understand how you present your data without losing or alienating your audience.
Length: Most reports to external audiences should not be more than a couple pages, no not kidding! This can be the biggest error in reporting results, providing too much information. For those rare readers wanting more information links can be provided to reports with greater detail.
Pictures: When possible, include pictures of the crops, pests, beneficials, your project has focused on. Pictures are more likely to engage your reader and encourage them to read your report. If discussing different stages of a pest, beneficial, or crop, include pictures of all the stages of development that are being examined.
Personal Stories: When reporting to lay audiences, including stories can be useful in communicating about your project. For example, if your project was about a new IPM tactic to rid a school of wasps, include an interview or story about the positive effects from the perspective of school personnel. Or if you are studying the impact of a beneficial on a pest, include feedback from a grower on the increased crop production and decreased pesticide use due to the beneficial.
Writing an executive summary is part art, part science. Though there are variations in executive summaries, here are some general things to consider:
1. The early bird catches the worm. Don’t leave writing the Executive Summary to the last minute. It takes a long time to refine and get a version that’s an interesting read. You should know all the key messages that go into it from the early stages of a report.
2. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Remember who is reading the Executive Summary and make sure it fits their needs and interests.
3. Use words as if they’re gold. It’s easy to throw in the kitchen sink and write reams, but it’s disrespectful to your reader.
4. Keep editors to a minimum. Decide on a small group to sign off and review the Executive Summary. Executive Summaries can easily get overloaded with too much information and the messages are lost. It’s also wise to keep one reviewer ‘fresh’ and only show them a draft that’s close to final. That way you’ll get an objective view of what it’s like as a first read.
5. Keep it simple. Don’t over complicate things. Avoid using too much technical language or terms if you can.
6. If you can’t write, find someone who can. We can’t all do everything brilliantly. Not everyone can write well. It doesn’t stop you from planning the narrative and including all the key messages. You can then brief someone to make it read and flow well.
Additional Resources and Links
Scientifically Speaking. Interesting presentation of best management practices on communicating science.
Making Data Talk. A Workbook from the National Cancer Institute