Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The 30-3-1 Approach with Unlimited Visual Appendices: The Bare Minimum for Designing Reports that Actually Inform Decisions

Ann K. Emery holding a fanned out book wit the words: 30-3-1: The Bare Minimum for Designing Reports.

Want to design reports that actually inform decisions? With software you already have??

Nobody wants to pour blood, sweat, and tears into a document that sits on a dusty shelf.

In May 2021, I co-presented with Elizabeth Grim at the Eastern Evaluation Research Society’s annual conference.

Our session was titled, “How to Design Reports that Actually Inform Decisions with Software We Already Have.”

Attendees learned about:

Today, let’s focus on one of those techniques: following the 30-3-1 approach to reporting, which is the bare minimum for designing useful reports.

Watch the 10-Minute Tutorial

I recorded a portion of our presentation for you. Here’s a 10-minute lesson about the 30-3-1 approach.

Hopefully you recognize this technique already; I’ve been speaking about it on panels for a decade. 😊

I’ve raised the bar over the past decade though. I used to simply encourage us to follow 30-3-1. I’ve clarified my advice to add visual appendices, too.

The Old Way: The 100-Page Technical Report

In the video, I show you the old way of writing reports in research and evaluation settings.

The single, 100-page technical report used to be the norm. And in some settings, it still is. (I’m thinking of the government agencies and government contractors that I work with.)

Nobody’s got time to read all 100 pages. I think we’ve known that for a while. 30-3-1 to the rescue!

The single, 100-page technical report used to be the norm. And in some settings, it still is. (I’m thinking of the government agencies and government contractors that I work with.)

The 30-3-1 Approach

Don’t want your reports to sit on a dusty shelf?

At a bare minimum, I suggest following the 30-3-1 approach, which includes:

  • A 30-page report (30 pages maximum) with unlimited visual appendices
  • A separate 3-page PDF
  • A separate 1-page PDF
At a bare minimum, I suggest following the 30-3-1 approach, which includes a 30-page report with unlimited visual appendices plus a 3-page PDF plus a 1-page PDF.

In a perfect world, with more time and a bigger budget, I’d love to see slideshows, dashboards, and infographics for every single project, too.

Reports are a good starting point.

The 30-3-1 approach with unlimited visual appendices is even better.

And adding slideshows, dashboards, and infographics is even better.

This approach is all about tailoring for our audiences. Rather than pouring everything into a single document, we design a 30-pager with one audience in mind, a 3-pager with another audience in mind, and so on.

Paring Down 100 Pages into 30 Pages or Less

This is the hardest step. You’ll need to get input from your boss, your report’s audience, a stakeholder group, etc.

I suggest following Marie Kondo’s advice: Focus on what you’re keeping, not on what you’re letting go of. In the video, I discuss her technique for decluttering our closets: Make a big pile of all your clothes, and then look at each item to decide what sparks joy.

We focus our mental energy on the best pieces that are worth keeping, rather than getting stressed by what we’re discarding.

We can apply the same strategy to paring down reports. Focus on the charts, pages, or chapters that are so valuable that they need to stay within the 30-page report body.

We don’t have to delete the rest of the pages. We simply move them to the back of the report, and they form the appendices.

Pairing down a 100+ page report can be hard but we don’t have to delete the rest of the pages. We simply move them to the back of the report, and they form the appendices.

The 3-Pager and 1-Pager

When we’re done with the 30-page report, we also need a separate 3-page report and a separate 1-page report.

Sometimes we’re tempted to count the executive summary as the 3-pager or 1-pager. That’s not enough!!! I recommend creating separate PDFs altogether.

And of course, we don’t have to follow the 30-3-1 approach exactly. We’re aiming for a full version, a mid-length version, and a short-n-sweet version. Your 3-pager might actually be 5 pages, for example. The spirit of the 30-3-1 approach is still there. I want us to avoid only writing a 100-page technical report. 20-10-2 or 30-5-2 will still help our readers tremendously.

A Case Study from a Public Health Agency

In the video, I mentioned a guest blog post from Sara DeLong about how the Wisconsin Division of Public Health applied this technique.

Her agency developed a 130-page report, a 10-page summary, and a 1-page summary. Then, they also created videos, images, and billboards (!!!) to ensure that the messages got off the dusty shelf and into the community.

One agency developed a 130-page report, a 10-page summary, and a 1-page summary. Then, they also created videos, images, and billboards (!!!) to ensure that the messages got off the dusty shelf and into the community.

Add Unlimited Visual Appendices

In the video, I also discussed adding unlimited visual appendices to the end of our reports.

Here’s the blog post where you can learn about visual appendices and get tips for creating them yourself.

Spoiler alert: I create these tables in Excel; add Data Bars, Color Scales, and Spark Lines; and then save them as PDFs.

You can add unlimited visual appendices to your report.

Learn More

My co-presenter, Elizabeth Grim, also wrote a conference session recap.

Your Turn

Have you followed 30-3-1? Have you created unlimited visual appendices? Please comment below and link to your public-facing examples or describe your project. I’d love to learn from you.

More about Ann K. Emery
Ann K. Emery is a sought-after speaker who is determined to get your data out of spreadsheets and into stakeholders’ hands. Each year, she leads more than 50 workshops, webinars, and keynotes for thousands of people around the globe. Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making technical information easier to understand for non-technical audiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Courses

Most “professional” reports are too long, dense, and jargony. Transform your reports with these practical tips.

Enroll

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

Learn More

SPONSORED

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

#f-post-el-35{display:none !important}

Learn More