How to present quantitative information in your reports

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How to present quantitative information in your reports

This 'How to' helps you tell the story about what you and your clients are achieving. You can be doing amazing things but if you can’t effectively communicate the results of your work, no one will know about your achievements.

This 'How to' assumes you have collected information using a ratings scale and that now you want to tell stakeholders the results in a way that they quickly understand.

Collect and analyse your information

Ratings scales are a common tool for measuring changes in behaviour and attitudes. For many services they are a good way to assess whether they are achieving the hoped for outcomes for clients. How to create and use ratings scales talks about how to create a scale and gather your data.

Be clear about what information you are using

Be consistent and clear about what information you are presenting. You will have both raw numbers (for example, the total number of people using a service) and percentages or proportions (the fraction of the total number that is being represented). So, for example, if 90 people use a service and 45 people are satisfied, this means that 50 per cent of the clients are satisfied.

Decide how much detail you want to present to your stakeholders

It is recommended that your scales ask people to choose between 5 or 7 options. This gives enough choice to allow people to find options which fit for them without overwhelming them. However, once you have collected all the responses you can cluster them – so all the good and very goods become positive or good/very good and all the bad and very bads become negative or bad/very bad. The neutral responses, don’t knows or skipped questions can become neutral.

This means that at first your information looks like this:

Q. How satisfied were you with the service you received?

Very dissatisfied

Dissatisfied

Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied

Satisfied

Very satisfied

Not sure/not applicable

% of clients

3

4

7

30

49

7

But if you cluster it you can present it more clearly, like this:

Client satisfaction with the service

Dissatisfied

(or negative)

Neutral

Satisfied

(or positive)

% of clients

7

14

79

Decide how you are going to show your information: tables or charts?

Tables and charts are good ways of presenting your information graphically (that is, as pictures). Presenting your information graphically can help everyone understand it and communicate the important lessons you want people to take from it.

Should you use a table or a chart? Statisticians say that tables are for the trees, graphs are for the forest. What they mean is that tables show exact values whereas graphs show patterns, shapes and trends. 

Let’s imagine that what you want to describe is quite simple, like the percentage of clients satisfied with your service. This table is quite easy to understand.

Client satisfaction with the service

Dissatisfied

(or negative)

Neutral

Satisfied

(or positive)

% of clients

7

14

79

 

But look at the table below. This is from The Emu Bay Centre, a fictional North West Coast service which offers Home and Community Care, disability respite services, mental health services and family support services. The table gives the exact figures for what outcomes the clients using the programs are achieving and what they are reporting about their satisfaction, or otherwise, with the services the Emu Bay Centre offers. It’s a lot of information.

The Emu Bay Centre Immediate Client Outcome Evaluation Results

Service

Proportion of clients with increased knowledge and skills

Proportion of clients satisfied with the service they received

Proportion of clients with improved engagement with services

Proportion of clients with improved engagement with education and/or training

 

N

O

P

N

O

P

N

O

P

N

O

P

Youth housing

7

14

79

0

0

100

6

6

88

46

10

54

Disability

6

20

74

3

6

91

3

85

12

25

4

71

Mental Health

6

37

58

0

9

91

20

20

60

17

16

68

Family Support

0

57

43

14

15

71

0

29

71

14

0

86

Legend
N=Negative
O=Neutral
P= Positive

What would you conclude looking at the table? If you are good at numbers you might be able to tell a lot, but for many people it’s difficult to understand much from this information – there are just too many numbers. And let’s remember that funders are busy people too – we need to communicate with them effectively.

Below are a couple of ways of presenting information in charts which helps you to tell the story of your service.

If charts, decide which type

If you want to present simple information consider bar charts.

Bar Charts are a common way of presenting two or more sets of information. You might use a bar chart to show the answer to a question like:

Graph 1: How many clients are using Emu Bay programs?

This graph shows that 350 people use the family support program, about 75 people use the disability program, and about 150 use the mental health and the HACC program.

If you wanted to present information from your ratings scales you might use a grouped bar chart. These are also called clustered bar charts.

Graph 2: What percentage of our clients are satisfied with our programs?

Unlike the table in section 4, this graph only tells you one thing, which is what percentage of clients in each program are satisfied or not with a particular program. But it tells its story much more quickly than the table. It’s easy to see at a glance that the bulk of Emu Bay’s clients are satisfied with the services they receive.

There are also stacked bar graphs. Stacked bar graphs are one of the recommended ways of presenting your ratings scale results. 1

Researchers tell us that for people trained to read from left to right, stacked bar graphs presented as rows are easier to read. They look like this:

 

Graph 3: What percentage of our clients are satisfied with our programs?

If you want to present more complex information …

Before you think about presenting more complex information in graphs remember that the best way to communicate is to keep things simple. Think again about the story you want to tell. In the section on tables you saw all the data being gathered by the fictional Emu Bay Centre.

If that same information is broken down and put into separate bar graphs it is easier to see some patterns. In the example below we have taken the outcomes data for one program – the mental health program – and put it in a stacked bar graph.

It’s easy to see straight away that although the service is achieving good results against two of the outcomes it is measuring, a number of clients are reporting that they are not experiencing better engagement with education and/or training. A quick look back at the data table shows this is true of clients across all its programs. That is valuable information for the service to explore with clients, to include in their planning and to talk to funders about. For example, are local educational institutions and training providers providing adequate support to students with mental health issues, or with disabilities?

Finally…

All the charts in this How To were made using the wizard in a standard office operating system. Whatever system your organisation uses is sure to have a similar capability.

 

Hint: Don’t make your charts 3-dimensional. Software will offer you this option but the researchers say that people find them difficult to read. Two-dimensional charts are clearer.

  • Pie charts are a popular way to present information but there are a lot of problems with them. For example, the human eye is not good at seeing the difference in sizes between slices of the pie. Three dimensional and exploding pie charts (where the slices look like they are being pulled out of the pie) are even harder for the eye to interpret. Rows of pie charts where you are asked to compare the difference in pie slices are the hardest to read of all.

So none of this!

And none of this!

And certainly none of this!!

Hint: It is confusing for people to have information presented in different graphical ways. Choose one kind of graphic and use it consistently through your presentation or report. Make sure your graphs also use consistent colours, and that the colours mean the same thing throughout your report. For example, in this How To orange consistently means satisfied or positive and grey means dissatisfied or negative. But don’t just use colour - make sure your graph has the data entered as numbers as well.

  • Whatever graphic you choose to present your data, keep it simple. Try to keep it telling one or two simple facts and don’t clutter it up with labels. Explain the most important fact about your graph in your text – don’t just plonk a graph in the middle of your report without explanation of what the data means to you as a service.