Less is more

Big is out – and tiny is in!

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If you haven’t been hiding under a rock recently, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of the tiny house movement. This trend toward small and ultra-small houses has been gaining momentum worldwide as more and more people have been seeking simple and affordable housing options. One of the underlying reasons is that people have embraced the notion that having more stuff doesn’t necessarily make people happier.  Perhaps the same can be said of reports.  Over the course of my career as an evaluator, I’ve written many reports that have exceeded 100 pages – but rather than being the useful resources that we hope they will be for our clients, they often become glorified bookends. Maybe less is more where reports are concerned as well.

Can we go from this:

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to this:

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?

Okay, not literally tiny reports.  But seriously, I’ve been sensing a growing interest in and demand for tiny reports – i.e., reports that total less than 20 pages and take less than a half hour to read – Reports that give readers a good sense of the key findings without inundating them in every detail of an extensive study – Reports are far more likely to be read, shared, and referenced than their lengthier counterparts.

I’m not sure that all clients/evaluation stakeholders are ready to embrace the notion that less is more – and that might be the first challenge: i.e., getting the primary audience to see how a shorter report might be  ultimately worth a great deal more than a much longer/more comprehensive report.  But an equally daunting challenge, once you’ve gained buy-in for the idea of producing a tiny report, is the fact that its not always easier to write less.  Presenting information in the most succinct/elegant way possible can actually be far more time consuming and mentally taxing than mindlessly spewing out every single finding. Despite these challenges, however, I’d argue that the resulting use of a tiny report should be the driving factor in advocating for and adopting the move toward shorter reports in contrast to longer more burdensome reporting formats.  After all, a great report is only truly great if it gets read and used – no matter its size.

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