This post is a collaboration between myself (writing) and David Standen (editorial).
Having worked as both an analyst, supporting analyst, strategist and just a spare pair of eyes for analytical work, I know the value of a second opinion. What I am surprised at, though, is how often I hear a report described as something to be ‘proofed’ rather than edited.
Editing is essential to good writing, not only to catch the odd mistake that the writer will inevitably overlook, but to critique, challenge, and therefore expand the piece. It’s a similar thing for analytical work:
- An analyst, just like a writer, will read their own work in their own voice. Just as a writer will miss a quirk in language, an analyst will miss an oddity in a chart.
- Opportunities for insights are overlooked in a report at the expense of getting it done. Therefore, it is necessary to have a fresh pair of eyes to spot the opportunities to dig deeper, to expand and find even more valuable insight.
So who should be the ‘analytical editor’? As long as they have a data-ready mind, or are adept at a certain type of curiosity, it can be a strategist, planner, senior (or peer) analyst, or an account manager.
Once the editor is in place, all that is needed is the allowance for, and understanding of, the editorial process – ensuring there is time for critique, challenge, discussion and a round of edits (sometimes two).
Report editing checklist
Below is an editorial checklist to help refine and improve the structure, style and copy of your reports:
Basic structure and layout
- Is there an executive summary?
- Are there distinct and useful section headings?
- Is there an appendix?
- Are the limitations and caveats of the data clearly acknowledged?
- Are all charts titled?
- Are all axis labelled?
- Are keys and labels clear?
- Does the report have a clear purpose?
- Does it provide or encourage clear action?
- Is it written at a level appropriate for the audience?
- Are the chart styles used the easiest to read?
- Does each chart serve a purpose and have a distinct point?
- Are you telling the right story from each chart?
- Are the findings given the correct level of focus and space depending on their impact?
- Can sections/slides/charts of the report exist, and be shown, in isolation?
- Are the sentences concise?
- Can you replace complex/analytical language with plain English?
- Have you removed all jargon?
- When data is referenced…
- Is it clear which chart the copy is referring to?
- Does the copy match the chart?
Are there any questions missing from the checklist? Let me know in the comments.