A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Aug 7th, 2018 / Reports / , , , , , , , , ,

Most of my early reports looked exactly like this: a few pages of 11-point font and some bullet points here and there.

Except… Mine were way worse! I loved to write 100 pages of 11-point font and bullet points instead of these four summarized pages.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

If you’re a full-time graphic designer, then you have 40 hours a week to get fancy with covers and other visuals.

But if you’re a full-time researcher, evaluator, scientist, or university faculty member (like this report’s author), your time to mess around with reports is limited.

I’m going to walk you through five easy steps that you can tackle in just two hours:

  1. Add a 20-Minute Cover
  2. Add a Text Hierarchy
  3. Color-Code by Section
  4. Add Intentional Page Breaks
  5. Add More Visuals

 

Step 1: Add a 20-Minute Cover

Covers for short reports are optional, but they sure add a lot of visual interest to a text-heavy report.

I experimented with two 20-Minute Covers. The first cover is a full-bleed photograph. The second cover is a word cloud made from the report’s key words.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Here’s how I added the 20-Minute Cover with the full-bleed photo:

I added a new, blank page to the beginning of the document. I typed The ABC Library and 2017-18 Annual Report in large font.

You’ll use your institution’s fonts, not mine.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

I went to www.Pexels.com and searched for library. I like Pexels because it has enough options without having too many options. You’ve got better things to do than spend your entire afternoon searching for stock photography. Plus, the photos on Pexels are free for both educational and commercial use.

If your organization already has its own repository of stock images—great! Use those.

I downloaded this photograph of a bookshelf.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

I inserted the image file into my Word document.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

I moved the image behind the text. To do this, I clicked on the image, went to Picture Tools: Format, and selected Wrap Text: Behind Text.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Tiny photos are so 1995. Nowdays, the bigger, the better. I wanted a full-bleed photograph; in other words, a photograph that filled the entire page with no margins whatsoever.

I enlarged the image until it filled the page (11 inches tall).

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

The photograph and the words were competing for attention, so I changed the font from black to white.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

It was still too hard to read the text. I covered the image in a semi-transparent purple rectangle. You’ll use your institution’s color palette, not mine.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

You’ll need to experiment with different transparencies (e.g., 10%, 20%, 30%, or higher).

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Here’s how I added the 20-Minute Cover with the word cloud:

I added a new, blank page to the beginning of the document. I typed The ABC Library and 2017-18 Annual Report in large font.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

I highlighted the entire report’s contents with a CTRL + A keyboard shortcut.

I went to www.wordle.net to make a word cloud. This site works best with Internet Explorer.

I spent 19 of my 20 minutes updating Java and giving permissions for the site to run on my computer.

I pasted the report’s contents into Wordle.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report
I adjusted the word cloud’s settings. I used horizontal text (I didn’t want distracting vertical text on my cover). I selected a Sans Serif font. I chose a grayscale color scheme.

I downloaded the word cloud.

I inserted the image file into my Word document.

I enlarged the image until it filled the page (11 inches tall and a million inches wide).

I moved the image behind the text. To do this, I clicked on the image, went to Picture Tools: Format, and selected Wrap Text: Behind Text.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

The word cloud and the words were competing for attention, so I changed the words from black to white and covered the word cloud in a semi-transparent purple rectangle.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Which 20-Minute Cover is your favorite?

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

I liked the photograph better than the word cloud.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Step 2: Add a Text Hierarchy

When you zoom out and glance at the report, nothing stands out. It’s just a sea of text because everything is size 11.

I enlarged the Heading 1s from size 11 to size 38 bold. I often use even larger font for my headings (40s, 50s, or even 60s). But, some of the headings were long, and I didn’t want them to spill onto a third line. I kept all the headings to just one or two lines of text.

I also enlarged the Heading 2s from size 11 to size 13 bold.

Finally, I changed the black text into colored text to further differentiate the Heading 1s and Heading 2s from the regular ol’ body font.

Now, you can spot the sections of the report at a glance.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Step 3: Color-Code by Section

It’s a short report but it still feels dense. We need to break it up even more. Readers love skimming.

I color-coded the headings by section:

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Step 4: Add Intentional Page Breaks

Make sure every section begins on a new page.

I use CTRL + Enter to add page breaks (rather than pressing the Enter key a dozen times).

Intentional page breaks are the easiest edit, yet researchers, evaluators, and scientists shy away from page breaks.

Why are we so afraid of white space? It’s not going to bite us.

Why are we so afraid of adding another page or two to our already-way-too-long reports? A well-designed report beats a non-designed report every time, regardless of the length.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

Step 5: Add More Photos

The zoomed-out, at-a-glance view was really coming together! Our readers can see that the report has a few different sections because each section begins on a new page, with large font, and in a new color.

I still needed to add visuals. I suggest aiming for one visual per page—a graph, photograph, table, diagram, logo, etc. It would be great to comb through the entire report and find ways to incorporate graphs, tables, or diagrams. But this report was largely a list of bullet points, and I didn’t have the time or the background knowledge to completely overhaul its contents. I wanted to focus on the low-hanging-fruit edits.

When you’re pressed for time, or if you’re new to data visualization, you can add icons and/or photographs.

The default Microsoft book icons looked cheesy when placed next to the nice stock photograph. Mixing icons and photos just didn’t look right.

I decided to repeat the cover photo behind each of the Heading 1s.

I inserted the photograph, placed it behind the text, expanded it to fit the full width of the page, cropped it to be just a few inches tall, and overlaid colorful semi-transparent rectangles.

Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

These small edits can transform a text-heavy report into a visual-lite report.

This transformation took me an hour. The vast majority of that time was spent banging my head against the wall thanks to the Wordle/Internet Explorer/Java trifecta of insanity. I’m calling it a Two-Hour Turnaround because everything takes longer when you’re doing it for the first time.

Don’t lose sleep over report formatting. You’ve got better things to do. Instead, just follow my easy steps and make drastic improvements to your document’s appearance within an hour or two.
Ann K. Emery on A Two-Hour Turnaround: How to Transform a Text-Heavy Report into a Visual-Lite Report

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