Tip 2. Be Concise and Well-Organized

Generally speaking, people do not read any more than is necessary, so brevity is critical to improving the odds that people actually read a report.

Focus on the Essential Information

Readers of report cards tend to turn immediately to visual displays of information. To address this likely behavior:

  • Limit the introductory and explanatory material at the beginning of the publication or Web site. Some experienced report sponsors have cut down this content to the "bare minimum"—just enough to answer any questions the reader might have about the data.
  • Take the time to identify the critical elements of what you need to communicate and carefully review all text to omit any unnecessary words. Even a simple sentence can be inaccessible to readers if it is wordy.

Learn more about recommended content for the front page of a report card.

Organize the Material Logically

To decide how to organize the pieces of information you want to convey, consider the reader’s perspective: What’s the logical progression of content that will make sense to the reader?

To provide an adequate context, start with background information readers will need and provide definitions of important terms to help them understand the language used in the report. To do this, ask yourself: What do people need to know first to understand the rest of the material in the report?

Learn more:

  • About general principles for organizing content: Understanding and using the “Toolkit Guidelines for Writing” in the Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective (forthcoming), Section 2, Part 4. Written by Jeanne McGee for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • About effective ways to organize Web content: Redish J. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. Burlington, MA: Elsevier, Inc.; 2007.

Put the Main Points First

Get to the point quickly. Specifically, begin sections, pages, paragraphs, and lists with the main message. Putting your main messages first helps readers notice and absorb them.

Starting with your key points is especially important in a Web-based document, where readers are used to skimming the first few words for content and making snap judgments about what to read and what to skip.

Make Connections for the Reader

While you may be very knowledgeable about the information in your report card, most of your readers are not. Don’t assume that your audience will make the same assumptions and draw the same conclusions that you do.

Take a moment to think about concepts and connections you may tend to take for granted. Then help your readers by making these concepts and connections explicit. For example, you understand that quality varies, but you may need to point out that variation to your audience.


Also in "Tips on Writing a Quality Report"

Page last reviewed July 2011
Page originally created February 2015
Internet Citation: Tip 2. Be Concise and Well-Organized. Content last reviewed July 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/talkingquality/resources/writing/tip2.html