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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Overview of the report design process

Designing a report involves the following tasks. You do not have to perform all the tasks in the order in which they are presented here, but if you are new to BIRT Report Designer or learning how to design reports, you can use the following task list as a starting point:

  • Plan the report.
  • Start a new report design.
  • Specify the data to use.
  • Lay out the report.
  • Format the report.
  • Design a master page.
  • Preview and test the report.

For those who do not have report development expertise, it is important to understand that the process of creating a report is iterative rather than linear. You typically perform each task multiple times and in different orders. You might specify the data to use, lay out data, preview the report, then modify the data set, change the layout, preview the report again, and so on, until you are satisfied with the report's contents and appearance.

Planning the report

Before creating a report, identify the information that you want the report to provide and decide how to present that information. It is important to think through these details, then draw a mock-up on paper, which you use to get feedback from your report users. Most people cannot visualize what a report could be without a paper and pencil sketch. Planning saves time in the long run because you do not waste time creating a polished report that contains the wrong information or layout. More frequently, you discover in this review process that the customer wants much more and can now articulate those requirements more successfully.

Starting a new report design

If you are using BIRT Report Designer, start Eclipse, and create a new project, if you have not already done so. Eclipse requires that all files are organized in a project. No project is required if you are using BIRT Rich Client Platform (RCP) Report Designer. After you create the project, create a new report using one of the following techniques:

  • Start with a report template.
  • Start with a blank report.

Specifying the data to use

A report can access data from a wide variety of sources, including databases, text files, XML documents, and web services. To set up the report to access data, complete the following tasks in this order:

  • In BIRT Report Designer, choose the type of data source.
  • Specify how to connect to the data source.
  • Create a data set that identifies the data to extract from the data source.

Laying out the report

There are many ways to present information in a report. Different users have different expectations about how to visualize the data, and different types of layouts work better for different types of data. A report can display information in a tabular list, a cross tab, a series of paragraphs, a pie chart, a bar chart, a hierarchical list, or a series of subreports. These different layouts can be combined and customized. Laying out a report entails placing data on the page and organizing it in a way that helps the report user to grasp and analyze the information.

Formatting the report content

After laying out data in a report, format the report to give it a professional and polished appearance. Typical formatting tasks include highlighting certain data, applying styles to data, adjusting the spacing between rows of data, and conditionally hiding sections. You can also apply conditional formatting to data. One basic example is to display numbers in different colors depending on their values. Highlighting data makes the report more accessible to users. Key information stands out in the report, and users can absorb the information in layers.

Designing a master page

When you create a new report, BIRT Report Designer uses a default master page. The master page specifies default values for page size, orientation, and margins. It also defines a default page header and footer, where you can display page numbers or the date. You can modify the master page to design a custom page layout.

Previewing and testing the report

You should preview and test the report as you design it. The most important item to test is your data set. Verify that the data retrieved from the data source is what you expect before you start laying out the report. As you lay out and format the report, check the report output throughout the design process. If you add code, test and debug it as you go.

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