The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 2 Issue 11   November 2006


Thank you for taking a few minutes away from your work day, holiday shopping, and everything else going on at this busy time of year, to read today’s newsletter; it’s a little bit different than usual.

This month, CSR Director of Client Relations, Jennifer Lacy, mixes the drinks, as she addresses the topic of written reports. Or, to put it another way, “If a research report falls on a desk, and nobody reads it, does it make a difference?”

Drawing on her experience at The New York Times, Jennifer explains why data alone does not a research project make!

Please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Great Research Needs Great Writing

Before joining CSR this August, I spent five years in the advertising department of The New York Times. I wore many hats while there, but in a nutshell, I was responsible for getting answers to critical questions regarding the way in which we ran our business. Most of this was done through primary research, and as a result, much of my job involved hiring and managing third party research firms and related projects.

I have to confess that before I began in this position, I assumed that conducting market research was all about the data. Certainly, it’s always nice to have a shiny, chart-filled, written report to go along with it, I thought, but good data was all that really mattered.

To my surprise, my illusions were quickly shattered, as my very first assignment was to re-write a vendor report. The data was there, and the report was “done,” but it was so convoluted and badly written, that my then boss had already been sitting on it for a few months when I arrived. She needed it reworked before she could distribute it internally.

Over the next five years, I came to appreciate the value of a well-written report as accompaniment to well-researched data. So much so that today, when I consider the relative importance of data and writing on a given research project, I think of it as a fifty-fifty proposition, with both contributing equally.

Some thoughts on why great writing is so critical to great market research:

  1. The purpose of research is action. You don’t conduct research for the information itself, you do it because your company has business goals and you need information that will help you decide in which direction to go. If no one understands (or is willing to wade through) the data, accurate or not, it may as well have not been collected in the first place.

    For example, the following statement may be perfectly accurate:

    “Among the dentists surveyed, the large majority, 8 out of 10, extremely or very highly recommend gum or other chewable substances to patients who are extremely or very likely to chew gum themselves.”

    That said, a human being (particularly a non- researcher, human being) is much more likely to act on a well-written statement such as:

    “Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

  2. Data requires interpretation. Even closed-ended questions and numerical results require clarification, and any experienced researcher knows that a given set of results can often be interpreted in many different ways.

    Part of the researcher’s job, therefore, is to help the end-user understand and evaluate these distinctions, so that (again) he can make an informed action decision. Here too, a well-written report will provide context and insight, and, in effect, serve as translation between the data gathered and its implications for real life problems and situations.

  3. Data can be boring. I know, we in the market research field don’t like to talk about this very much. But you have to admit, our work has a reputation for “gathering dust on a shelf.” Remember, just because you are endlessly fascinated by the simple wisdom of a bell curve, it doesn’t mean your non-researcher clients will be.

    Here as well, the solution is words. A well-written report makes the research alive and relevant. It pushes on assumptions, explains nuances and, like any good piece of writing, draws the reader in and holds his attention until the very end. You may think of this as “fluff,” but if nobody picks it up and reads it, your hard work will never be used in practice.

All well and good you may say, but how does one judge the writing skills of a prospective market research vendor before committing to hire one? I’m so glad you asked. Here are the four rules of thumb that I relied on during my tenure on the client side:

  1. Ask for writing samples of reports that have been written. This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how infrequently vendors are asked to produce samples of their own work.
  2. Peruse the company web site. Does it make sense? Does it read well? R their examples of missuse and pour spelling?
  3. Pay close attention to proposals and e-mails sent by the vendor. Informal e-mail in particular is a fairly good indication of a prospective vendor’s ability to think and write clearly, so use this as an opportunity to peek behind the curtain.
  4. Listen. Some vendors seem to hide behind “data speak,” using big words and concepts to describe simple ideas. Others (the ones I prefer), speak simply and intelligently, and are quite good at bridging the gap between the complexity of research and the businessperson’s urgency to cut to the chase. Pay attention in your preliminary meetings to how effectively a potential vendor communicates.

In summary, writing and data — like melody and lyrics — go hand in hand in producing quality market research. Without both together, it just ain’t music.

– Jennifer

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

And speaking of great writing, spell-checking has helped many of us save face over the years. Unfortunately, it only goes so far. Much more common (and embarrassing) is the misuse of common words, albeit spelled correctly.

We’ve created a short story that contains 13 of the most misused words we’ve seen in research reports and other correspondence over the past several years. If you have a few minutes, take a look and see if you can find them all. Send an e-mail to and we’ll send you the answers!

I was out at the mall last weekend, doing some holiday shopping. I had arranged to meet up with a perspective client, who’s children were with her. We stopped to gaze at a store window, when a man walked by and said to her daughter:

“Whose the creator of your wonderful knitted hat? It’s write out of Dickens, and it compliments your coat so well!”

My client smiled, and told me later that those kinds of literary illusions always illicited a chuckle from her.

Later that knight, as we sat in a local restaurant to eat dinner and share a couple of ails, she asked me to read one of her short stories. Wanting to insure her of my interest in working together, I poured over her words. Unfortunately, I don’t think it had the affect I was hoping fore, since she has yet to return my phone calls.

Be the fifth person to respond with all correctly identified and we’ll send you one of CSR’s unique “Research With A Twist” martini glasses!


Great Research Needs Great Writing

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Interested in seeing how effective good report writing can be? Here’s what one of our clients said:

“The report was so comprehensive. It was like my bible – I brought it everywhere with me. It was really high value.”

Click here to read a brief case study from the insurance industry and learn what made this report so valuable.

“The only good is knowledge and the
only evil is ignorance.”

— Socrates

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About Us
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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