As you collect secondary research, keeping track of the information sources is critical. Decision makers expect excellent documentation of your information because this helps them evaluate the credibility of your report. Since they often make high-stakes decisions based on reports, they expect to know exactly what the basis is for facts, conclusions, and recommendations you present.
When you keep track of your sources during the research stage, you can efficiently and accurately document your report. Many novice report writers waste time during the drafting stage trying to retrace their steps and find the sources for certain pieces of information. Worse, they may make errors in documentation by providing an incorrect source, casting doubt on the credibility of the report.
To avoid these problems, experienced writers have a system for recording all sources during the research stage. Not all report writers use the same system; some use word processing software, while others use spreadsheets or databases. The key is to create a system that allows you to accurately and efficiently record sources for your information. In Figure 12.11, you can see how Jeff combines taking notes with keeping track of his sources. This approach helps him organize his information and allows him to rapidly provide documentation once he begins drafting his report.
|Torrence, S. (2010, November). Change the world one meeting at a time: APEX/ASTM sustainability standards nearly set. Corporate Meetings & Incentives, 29 (11), 18–21.|
For most business research, the information you can access through business databases and other sources at your library is generally the most reliable. However, you will also likely use Internet searches outside your library system to find relevant information on your topic. As you do so, keep in mind the following strategies:
Source: Reprinted with permission of Convention Industry Council, www.conventionindustry.org.
LO12.7. Evaluate research data, charts, and tables for fairness and effectiveness.
As you conduct research for your reports, frequently evaluate whether you are being fair. For example, whether you are doing primary or secondary research, make sure you are examining all the available facts and interpreting them from various perspectives. A common problem is that business professionals may enter into research with preexisting assumptions or even conclusions. In primary research, such assumptions may lead you to ask the wrong questions or interpret the data incorrectly. In secondary research, they may lead you to gather only information that matches your assumptions and conclusions. For example, if Jeff already assumes that developing and marketing green meetings makes business sense for the Prestigio, he may inadvertently gravitate to information that supports his position and avoid information that does not, thus misleading his readers.
Another way you may unintentionally mislead a reader is with numerical data. However, you can take a few steps to ensure that you represent data fairly and avoid losing credibility. First, whenever you are unsure of a data relationship, discuss it with your colleagues. Collectively, you will often arrive at a fair way to represent the information. Also, ask yourself if you have provided enough information for your readers and audience members to make informed and accurate judgments.
Some business professionals show only the data that supports their points. In other words, they cherry-pick the data in their favor. This practice is deceptive. Furthermore, some business professionals distort information, even though it is technically correct. Charts, for example, can be manipulated to exaggerate or misinform. Notice Table 12.10, which contains two versions of the same chart.
|Less Fair||More Fair|
Note: Ratings are on a scale from 1, poor, to 5, excellent. All ratings were retrieved from the Wahoo travel website and are averaged for each month across the year.
|By displaying this chart on an axis that contains only part of the scale and no note or legend, this chart exaggerates the differences in cleanliness ratings.||By displaying the entire scale and providing a note about the ratings, this chart accurately reflects the differences in cleanliness ratings. It clearly shows that although the Prestigio is lower than its competitors, it still has an average cleanliness rating that is good.|
As you collect, analyze, and present data to others, ensure that you provide all the relevant facts, even if they don’t fit into convenient conclusions. Grant access to your data. Your full disclosure of data to colleagues, clients, and others in your business dealings will pay long-term dividends in terms of credibility. Many businesses emphasize transparency on an institutional level. As an individual, when you make compelling numerical arguments through charts, tables, and other formats while also maintaining a level of personal transparency and full disclosure, you will gain many career opportunities. Also, remember the impacts of your data on others and present it with respect. For example, when you collect data on your colleagues’ performance, how you present your information can impact career opportunities, team cohesion, and morale. For one business professional’s views on the importance of presenting clear, clean data, read the Communication Q&A with John Phillip.
John Phillip: Business leaders are inundated with data, some relevant and some irrelevant. I have seen meetings derailed because the executives can’t immediately see the significance of a PowerPoint slide. When used effectively, tables, graphs, and charts focus the audience on the key point and make the information easier for the audience to retain. Focusing attention on the key business drivers leads to more fruitful discussions and action. In my work, my primary duties include developing financial targets for the five-year strategic plan and the annual operating plan, creating current-quarter and full-year outlooks, and reporting results in monthly operating reviews. For each of these activities, I’m responsible for preparing presentations to deliver to senior executives. I have found that these presentations need to maintain consistent themes or story lines.
John Phillip has worked as a finance manager and financial analyst for the past 12 years in a Fortune 100 company.
Courtesy of John Phillip.
PC: How often do you create tables and charts for others to view?
JP: Every day—in a variety of forms, ranging from tables included within the body of an email to formal executive presentations.
PC: How do you choose when to use tables and charts?
JP: All communications need to be appropriately tailored to the audience. Tables are effective when I want the audience to know the numbers; I often use tables in less-formal communications, especially with my level of the organization and below. Charts are a great way to visually show comparative data and trends. Every formal presentation that I create contains charts because they easily focus on the key data.
PC: How are the charts you create today different from those you created just after completing your business program?
JP: The biggest improvement I have made is that I now clearly identify the information I want to communicate before I create the chart. The chart is just a tool in achieving the communication objective. The type of chart I use depends on what I want the audience to take away. Other improvements are subtle: I experiment with the scale, color, font size, and legend placement. These seemingly little things make a large difference in the ability of the audience to quickly be drawn to the emphasis of the chart.
PC: How often do you see colleagues create poor or ineffective charts? What are the most common problems you see?
JP: It is very easy to go overboard when presenting data, and I have seen quite a few ineffective charts. To be truthful, I have been responsible for one or two of them. The most common error is a chart that does not support the story line. This creates confusion in the audience. Another common error is an overly complicated chart. I tend to stick with simple charts, i.e., pie charts, bar charts, and line charts. More complicated charts often take too long to explain or confuse the message.
LO 12.1 Explain how planning and conducting business research for reports impacts your credibility. (pp. 343–345)
Planning and conducting research for business reports demonstrates your personal credibility.
It shows competence when you can collect, analyze, and present business research.
It shows caring when you collect business research that fills an unmet need for others.
It shows character when you collect, analyze, and report your research data fairly.
LO 12.2. Create research objectives that are specific and achievable. (p. 345)
See examples of research objectives in Table 12.1.
LO 12.3. Explain principles of effective design for survey questions and choices. (pp. 345–350)
|Principles for Survey Question Design|
LO 12.4. Develop charts and tables to concisely display data and accentuate key messages. (pp. 350–361)
|Criteria for Evaluating Charts|
LO 12.5. Evaluate the usefulness of data sources for business research. (pp. 361–363)
|Criteria for Evaluating Data Quality|
LO 12.6. Conduct secondary research to address a business problem. (pp. 363–368)
|Principles for Secondary Research|
See an example of documenting research during the note-taking stage in Figure 12.11.
LO 12.7. Evaluate research data, charts, and tables for fairness and effectiveness. (pp. 369–370)
Facts: Present all relevant facts, even when they don’t fit nicely into convenient conclusions. Avoid exaggeration or any other distortion of the facts.
Access: Grant access to your data to decision makers and others affected by your report. Focus on transparency and disclosure.
Impacts: Consider how the data in your report will impact stakeholders.
Respect: Ensure that your presentation of the data demonstrates respect for stakeholders