How to create a one-page report?

We have created a simple 10 step process to follow. Each of the 10 steps have been broken out into 4 areas, Building the Foundations, Drafting, Visual Strategies, and Final Touches. Learn about the 10 steps below and check out the video series for each area.

1. Identify the audience

Be specific about who you are talking to and their information priorities. The content and layout of the document should be tailored to meet the needs of this audience.

But why is this important? What is the characteristics of your audience?

There are four areas to consider when thinking about your audience: 1) language and jargon, 2) the amount and type of information, 3) audience type, 4) reading level.

  1. Language and Jargon- be aware of the use of the language of your intended audience. Academic reports written in a university context tend to be structured, formal, objective, impersonal, complex, and contain technical language. This may be appropriate if you intend your one-page report for an academic audience, but if your audience is a non-profit, then you would need to adjust the language to less formal, reduce the amount of jargon, and ensure the ideas are straight forward for someone who does not specialize in the field. Additionally the use of discipline specific terminology in your report will add to its technicality and formality. A great example of this is when I was presenting a webinar, and used the “Goldie Locks Theory” as an example. During the question and answer portion of the webinar, I was asked what that meant. I assumed my audience knew what the Goldie Locks Theory was, making this assumption caused some of my audience members confusion. The next time I presented this same material, instead of referring to the Goldie Locks Theory, I broke the theory down into a simple explanation, therefore addressing my audience at the correct level.
  2. Amount and Type of Information- when deciding the amount and type of information put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Challenge yourself to think about what information they need. If the information is not needed, then don’t include it. Most of the time with one-page reports, less content is better. By reducing the amount of information included, you can highlight the important pieces you want your audience to take away.
  3. Audience Type- in addition to thinking about the use of language and amount of information, also think about the type of audience. A few examples of audience types are academic, kids/families, government, or community, just to name a few. Let’s apply one audience type to see how this works, if you are creating one-page report for a local non-profit childcare program, the audience may be more focused to parents with children, you would not want to write a very technical report with lots of jargon and data, the report would better suit the audience with non-academic language, extra visuals, ideas broken down into easily digestible pieces, and simplified charts.
  4. Reading Level- we’ve already skimmed on this when thinking about our audience type, information, and language, but do keep in mind the reading level. For a community piece, you need a reading level of an 8th grader based on studies. So keep this in mind when creating a report, think of all aspects of your audiences needs.

Keep in mind, there may be more than one primary audience for your one-page report. If your audience characteristics vary, you may want to consider creating two versions.

2. Identify the purpose

When writing the purpose statement for your one page report, you want to keep in mind the scope. This report is intentionally one-page, and you don’t want to over promise the amount of information that can be easily digested.

Something to keep in mind, is this purpose statement is for the one-page report, not the project.

3. Prioritize the Information

Categorize the information that is most relevant to your audience. Then rank each category from highest to lowest priority to help inform the layout of the document.

4. Choose your grid

The human brain is good at recognizing patterns even when we’re not aware.  This also means it is easily distracted or thrown off when things are not in a recognizable pattern. Even small misalignments can confuse the brain and distract it from truly absorbing and comprehending the data on your one-page report.

Intentionally using a grid layout can help organize elements for your brain, while also giving an easy format from which to start from.

5. Sketch the layout

Using paper and pencil, or a printed grid page, sketch out how you envision your one-page reports different sections looking. You will do this based on your mapping of the prioritized information in step three. You don’t need to be DaVinci, just get the basic idea on paper. The reason we recommend this step, is you are able to identify sections that may not work- for instance. You may think that you will be able to fit three charts into one section… but once you get it sketched, you realize you only have room for two. By sketching in advance you save yourself time and energy by not creating elements you ultimately won’t use.

6. Create an intentional visual path

The visual path is the order of objects a reader looks at when viewing a page. Where are they looking first? What elements on the page draw their attention?

In general, the average reader is drawn by areas of high contrast, blocks of color, and large text. When constructing your visual path, think about the overall form of your one-page report, what elements grab readers attention? Does this align with where you want their attention to go?

If you think about this in terms of your busy stakeholder reading your report, using these elements intentionally can help guide them to the information you’ve determined to be the most important.

7. Create a purposeful hierarchy

Studies have shown that readers perceive font size as the most important cue to the hierarchy information, more than the position, case, or underlining. Remember to use these things to your advantage.

8. Use white space

The brain subconsciously views content grouped together as a cohesive unit. Adding white space indicates to the brain- hey, I’m starting something new here. More white space can be used to indicate an intentional break between content.

You don’t want your items to be so squished that there is not enough white space to help the reader determine the important information. You also don’t want items to be so far apart that the reader isn’t sure the connection between the elements on your page.

You want to balance the white space out to tell the reader where the content breaks are, while allowing their eyes to quickly scan the page.

9. Get feedback

When creating any type of report, more eyes are always better.

When thinking about who to get feedback from, we would encourage you to think about asking a colleague, the intended audience, client or funder.

Keep in mind, that after receiving feedback, you may have to return to a previous step and make major revisions, that is ok. It’s all part of the process of creating a one-page report.

10. Triple check consistency

The final step before finalizing your one-page report is always to triple check consistency. This includes font, alignment, size, colors, and data.

Inconsistencies confuse the eye and your audience could loose patience or question the validity of the data in the report.

So always, triple check consistency.

Nation Science Foundation Logo EvaluATE is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers 0802245, 1204683, 1600992, and 1841783. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.