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This chapter is from the book

Deciding the layout and format of the report

After you identify the report’s purpose and content, you should have a good idea about organizing and presenting the information. Consider these questions:

  • What is the overall layout for the report data? Can all the data appear in a single section, or does the data need to be presented in multiple sections?

    A simple listing of customer names and phone numbers, for example, can be presented in a two-column table. A financial statement, on the other hand, can be a multi-sectioned report that includes a form letter, a summary of accounts and balances, and transaction details for each account.

  • Do you need to organize information into groups? If yes, how?

    For example, a monthly sales report can display sales figures by region, by sales representative, or by both. To display both, you can group the information by region first, then list the sales representatives for each region.

  • How do you want to sort information?

    A report can present information in the order in which it is stored in the data source, in ascending order, or in descending order. The sort order affects the readability and usability of a report.

  • Do you need to summarize the data? If yes, how?

    Reports that present numerical data, such as expense reports, financial statements, and earnings reports, always contain summary sections for totals, averages, or percentages. Decide if this summary information should appear in a table, a chart, a cross tab, or a combination of these display options.

  • Do you want to highlight information based on certain conditions?

    It is common to use formatting to emphasize certain information. For example, if a report displays a long list of customers in alphabetical order, you can display the names of the top ten customers in blue.

  • Do you need to display information in page headers and footers?

    Printed reports typically display information in the page header to help users navigate multi-page reports. For example, you can display the region name in the header, so users know that sales representatives on page n are part of region x. In the page footer, you can show the page number and the report's generation date. On the other hand, online reports that present data in one continuous page do not require page headers and footers.

  • Are there corporate standards that you need to follow?

    If your company produces reports for external use, such as financial statements for clients, it is likely that a report that you create needs to use corporate styles. Corporate styles typically dictate the logos, security statements, fonts, and colors that you can use.

  • Are there online style sheets that you can use?

    Most organizations maintain a corporate web site and frequently use CSS to format the look and feel of web pages. You can reuse CSS styles in your reports, which enables you to create reports with the corporate look without having to recreate the styles.

  • Are there report templates you can use?

    Unless your organization is just starting up, chances are report templates are available. If there are no formal templates, look at existing reports to see if you can reuse and adapt their layouts. If you are in start-up mode, examine the sample reports, and consider establishing standards for organizational reporting in common areas, such as budget variance, expenses, and vacation reporting.

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