The results of marketing research must be effectively communicated to management. Presenting the results of a marketing research study to management generally involves a formal written report as well as an oral presentation. The report and presentation are extremely important. First, because the results of marketing research are often intangible (after the study has been completed and a decision is made there is very little physical evidence of the resources, such as time and effort, that went into the project), the written report is usually the only documentation of the project. Second, the written report and the oral presentation are typically the only aspect of the study that marketing executives are exposed to, and consequently the overall evaluation of the research project rests on how well this information is communicated. Third, since the written research report and oral presentation are typically the responsibility of the marketing research supplier, the communication effectiveness and usefulness of the information provided plays a crucial role in determining whether that particular supplier will be used in the future.
Every person has a different style of writing. There is not really one right style for a report, but there are some basic principles for writing a research report clearly.
Preparing a research report involves other activities besides writing; in fact, writing is actually the last step in the preparation process. Before writing can take place, the results of the research project must be fully understood and thought must be given to what the report will say. Thus, preparing a research report involves three steps: understanding, organising and writing. The general guidelines that should be followed for any report or research paper are as follows:
Consider the audience: The information resulting from the study is ultimately of importance to marketing managers, who will use the results to make decisions. Thus, the report has to be understood by them; the report should not be too technical and not too much jargon should be used. This is a particular difficulty when reporting the results of statistical analysis where there is a high probability that few, if any, of the target audience have a grasp of statistical concepts. Hence, for example, there is a need to translate such terms as standard deviation, significance level, confidence interval etc. into everyday language. This is sometimes not an easy task but it may be the case that researchers who find it impossible do not themselves have a sufficiently good grasp of the statistical methods they have been using.
Qualitative research also presents difficulties. The behavioural sciences have their own vocabulary, much of which is not encountered in everyday speech. Examples include: cognitive dissonance, evoked set, perception, needs versus wants, self-actualisation. It should be noted that these are extreme examples; many words, phrases and concepts used a very precise way by behavioural scientists are also present in everyday speech but often in a less precise or different way. This also presents opportunities for misunderstandings.
Be concise, but precise: On the one hand, a written report should be complete in the sense that it stands by itself and that no additional clarification is needed. On the other hand, the report must be concise and must focus on the critical elements of the project and must exclude unimportant issues. There is a great temptation, on the part of inexperienced researchers, to seek to convey all that they did in order to obtain information and to complete the research. This is done almost as if the researcher is afraid that the audience will not other wise appreciate the time, effort and intellectual difficulties involved. What the researcher has to come to realise is that he/she will be judged by the contribution towards solving the marketing problem and not by the elegance or effort involved in the research methodology.
Understand the results and drawing conclusions: The managers who read the report are expecting to see interpretive conclusions in the report. The researcher must therefore understand the results and be able to interpret these. Simply reiterating facts will not do, and the researcher must ask him/herself all the time "So what?"; what are the implications. If the researcher is comparing the client's product with that of a competitor, for example, and reports that 60 percent of respondents preferred brand A to brand B, then this is a description of the results and not an interpretation of them. Such a statement does not answer the 'So what?' question.
The following outline is the suggested format for writing the research report:
· Title page
· Summary of findings
· Table of contents
· List of tables
· List of figures
· Background to the research problem
· Sample and sampling method
· Statistical or qualitative methods used for data analysis
· Sample description
· Results, interpretation and conclusions.
The summary of findings is perhaps the most important component of the written report, since many of the management team who are to receive a copy of the report will only read this section. The summary of findings is usually put right after the title page, or is bound separately and presented together with the report.
The introduction should describe the background of the study and the details of the research problem. Following that, automatically the broad aim of the research can be specified, which is then translated into a number of specific objectives. Furthermore, the hypotheses that are to be tested in the research are stated in this section.
In the methodology chapter the sampling methods and procedures are described, as well as the different statistical methods that are used for data analysis. Finally, the sample is described, giving the overall statistics, usually consisting of frequency counts for the various sample characteristics..
Once the sample has been described, the main findings are to be presented in such a way that all objectives of the study are achieved and the hypotheses are tested. As mentioned before, it is essential that the main findings are well interpreted and conclusions are drawn wherever possible.
Easy-to-understand tables and graphics will greatly enhance the readability of the written research report. As a general rule, all tables and figures should contain:
1. Identification number corresponding to the list of tables and the list of figures
2. A title that conveys the content of the table or figure, also corresponding to the list of tables and the list of figures, and
3. Appropriate column labels and row labels for tables, and figure legends defining specific elements in the figure.
There are a number of ways to produce tables and figures. When typing a report on a typewriter or word-processor, it is sometimes easiest to type a table out by hand. However, when complicated tables have to be produced, it is advisable to use spreadsheet software like Lotus 123 or Excel.