15 Quick Tips for Turning Information into Insights

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A compilation of my top tips for avoiding a data dump and making information irresistible.

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15 Quick Tips for Turning Information into Insights

  1. 1. 15 Quick Tips for TurningInformation into InsightsMarcy PhelpsPhelpsResearch.com
  2. 2. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsMarcy Phelps Marcy Phelps is the founder and principal at Phelps Research, where she provides insights for better business decisions. Marcy frequently speaks and writes about topics related to business research, and she is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Research on Main Street: Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market Information. Follow Marcy on Twitter - @marcyphelps PhelpsResearch.com
  3. 3. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsTable of ContentsTransform your research into something useful .............................................. 1Quick Tip #1 - Get to know Excels chart features........................................... 2Quick Tip #2 - Add quick summaries................................................................ 3Quick Tip #3 - Add an executive summary ...................................................... 4Quick Tip #4 - Add a word cloud ...................................................................... 5Quick Tip #5 - Build a dashboard ..................................................................... 6Quick Tip #6 - Try a different view .................................................................. 7Quick Tip #7 – Listen and learn! ...................................................................... 8Quick Tip #8 - Try different formats ................................................................ 9Quick Tip #9 - Add images ............................................................................. 10Quick Tip #10 - Include a matrix ................................................................... 11Quick Tip #11 - Map it .................................................................................... 12Quick Tip #12 - Use quotes ............................................................................ 14Quick Tip #13 - Create a value-add toolkit .................................................... 15Quick Tip #14 - Tell a story with a timeline ................................................... 16Quick Tip #15 - Offer updates ........................................................................ 17More from Marcy ............................................................................................. 18 PhelpsResearch.com
  4. 4. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsTransform your research into somethinguseful"There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, canmake it irresistible. All you have to do is find it. ̶ Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping PointWith the explosion of information on the web and the tools for capturing it, theres noshortage of information about our customers, competitors, and the environment inwhich they operate. In fact, were drowning in it.For researchers, its important that we dont contribute to the deluge, and we mustdeliver results in a way that ensures they will be read and – more importantly – put togood use. Our goal is to make it easy to navigate, learn from, remember, and use ourresearch and analysis. In short, we need to deliver insights, not just information.So how do you turn that collection of statistics, news, journal articles, and expertopinion that youve gathered into something more than the proverbial "data dump?"How do you deliver the valued insights your clients need for making decisions andcompleting projects?Sometimes its something as simple as adding a hyperlinked table of contents that willhelp readers navigate the document and provide a preview of the information to come– similar to the "tell them what youre going to tell them" rule in public speaking.In this e-book, youll read 15 of my top tips for turning information into insights,originally posted on my blog, MarcyPhelps.com. None require a big budget or a steeplearning curve. And the list is by no means complete – Just a few tricks of theinformation trade, which will hopefully add to your value as a researcher.Enjoy, and feel free to share with your friends and colleagues. PhelpsResearch.com 1|Page
  5. 5. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #1 - Get to know Excels chartfeaturesLine, pie, column, or other types of charts turn boring numbers:…into something thats interesting and useful:Charts are not only more visually appealing, they facilitate making comparisons andfinding connections. In the example above, it took me about two minutes to create thechart in Excel. It provided an easy way for my client to understand the growth of the10G market, as compared to the total Ethernet market.To learn how to create and work with charts, check out the Microsoft Excel help pages. PhelpsResearch.com 2|Page
  6. 6. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #2 - Add quick summariesRather than hand over a long compilation of articles and other documents for yourclient to slog through, create some quick summaries. Briefly summarize or copy the firstparagraph of each article, and link to the full text in an "Articles" section of your report.Also include a link for easy navigation back to the summaries (check Word Help andHow-To to learn how to create a hyperlink to a place in a document).This small investment of time will reap lots of benefits. Quick summaries facilitatebrowsing - and help readers decide if they need to read the full article.Heres an example of a quick summary I used in one of my projects: Is Hulu a stolen idea? Arbitration to decide [link to full article within document] Los Angeles Times July 09, 2010 | Meg James A Los Angeles County judge on Thursday referred to arbitration the case of a Canadian engineer who contends that NBC Universal stole his idea and business strategy to launch Hulu, the website that shows TV programs and movies…Note: Make sure you have permission to reprint and share articles. Since I retrieved thisone from Factiva.com, a fee-based service, my agreement allows me to send a copy tomy client. If you are using an article from the web, I suggest you just use the articlesweb link and not include the full text in your report. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 3|Page
  7. 7. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #3 - Add an executive summaryIts simple, quick, and youre probably already including some sort of summary in yourreports. What Im referring to, though, is a real executive summary. Thats a one-page,top-level summary of what youve found in your research – something that lets thereader know at a glance what the information in the report means to them. The executive summary should address each of the initial research questions and basically provide an answer in one or two sentences. Include links to places in your document where more information can be found. Also, (very) briefly describe your observations about issues or trends that came out of your research. Put yourself their position. Imagine what you would want to know if youve just received a report thats full of new information. Wouldnt it be nice to get a quick overview before delving into the details? Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 4|Page
  8. 8. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #4 - Add a word cloudMany thanks to Cindy Shamel, Shamel Information Services, for contributing this tip.If your deliverable is text-heavy, for instance youve done a literature search andretrieved a collection of articles, it can be informative to include a word cloud. Wordclouds help readers visualize key concepts discovered in a collection of articles.Wordle offers a free and easy tool to work this magic, and heres a word cloud madefrom the text of the SLA San Diego Chapter practices manual. Fascinating for sure. PhelpsResearch.com 5|Page
  9. 9. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #5 - Build a dashboardSimple dashboards can add value to the information you deliver. In computerterminology, dashboards are graphical interfaces that display key performanceindicators, sometimes in real time.When creating your deliverables, though, theres an easy way to highlight key indicatorsand the quick answers to specific research questions. No need for programming skills.Heres how to add a dashboard - without a steep learning curve or a big budget:Open a Word document and set the page orientation to Landscape. Copy and pasteonto one page a few charts, table, graphs, or other type of visual with highly-relevantstatistics. Select those that help the answers to your clients questions pop out, andselect only the amount that will fit on one page. Include the dashboard at the beginningof your report for a top-level summary of the topic.Heres an example of a dashboard Ive created:Dashboards make it easy to view trends, make comparisons, and get the bigpicture - and they add valuable insights to the inform ation you deliver. PhelpsResearch.com 6|Page
  10. 10. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #6 - Try a different viewWhen research projects include telephone interviews, I always include a summary ofeach interview - one page, with all the questions and that persons responses. Thisinterview-by-interview summary provides a great top-level view of the research results.For additional insights, though, I also include a question-by-question summary of theinterviews:Clients appreciate results formatted this way, because they dont have to look throughall the interviews to get insights about each of their questions. It also helps me with theinformation analysis, since it highlights any differences and/or similarities in responses,possible trends, and even new questions to ask.Once you create a template, its easy to copy and paste from the interview summaries -a small investment of time, with a big ROI. Im happy to share my template - justcontact me. PhelpsResearch.com 7|Page
  11. 11. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #7 – Listen and learn!The only way youll know whats valuableto your client is to listen. Listen for: • Why do they need the information? • How do they plan to use it? • Where have they looked, and what information do they already have? • Whats frustrating about their search for the best information? • If the information theyre looking for cant be found, what would be an appropriate replacement?Beef up your initial client or referenceinterview to include these questions. Conduct informational interviews with clients andprospects. Look at recent research requests to identify recurring needs. Follow up afteryou deliver your findings. Determine what would really help turn the information intoinsights, because its not the same for everyone.Listen - and learn what value means to each of your clients.For more questions to ask before you start your search, check out my article, "Ask theright questions to get the right answers" - on the ColoradoBIZ magazine website. PhelpsResearch.com 8|Page
  12. 12. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #8 - Try different formatsNot everyone wants or needs their information analysis delivered in a Word document.The key is in knowing your audience and how they will be using the research results.Does the client like to crunch numbers or sort data in a variety of ways? Do they needto analyze key metrics when preparing their strategy? Consider using Excelspreadsheets to deliver your findings and facilitate analysis.Will your findings be used in a presentation? Is your client a high-level executive thatneeds to quickly get to the bottom line? PowerPoint can be very useful for these andsimilar types of situations. I like using PowerPoint, because it forces me to be concise.If you do use Word, think of ways to mix up the formatting. Text-heavy documentsdont get read, and theyre not conducive to delivering insights. Find ways to "chunk"the information into manageable, digestible pieces. Use headings, charts, tables, andbullets to break up the text and convey key points.The only way to find out what format works best, though, is by asking the rightquestions - before you even get started. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 9|Page
  13. 13. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #9 - Add images At times, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. For example, when youre delivering information or analysis about places, photos can enhance your story. If your client is researchingcompetitors, adding Google Earth images of corporate and branch offices could verifywhats online.The trick to including images in your deliverables is to make sure you have the right touse them. To avoid any copyright violations when incorporating images into my articles,presentations, or client deliverables, I head to these resources:Search USA.gov for images - The websites of most government agencies containcollections of photos, which generally can be used without restriction. Run a search ofyour topic, and then narrow your results by clicking Images on the left side of the page.Google Advanced Image Search and Flickr Advanced Search - Both these tools offeroptions for finding Creative Commons content that can be reused.iStock - Sometimes free isnt always the quickest route to quality images. This siteoffers low-cost stock images and handy advanced search filters. PhelpsResearch.com 10 | P a g e
  14. 14. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #10 - Include a matrixClients often need insights into how their products and services compare with those oftheir competitors. Thats when a matrix comes in handy. Heres a template I puttogether that can be easily adapted for different types of projects. Note that I createhyperlinks that lead to more in-depth information about each of the competitorcompanies.This matrix makes it easy for clients to discover their key differentiators and identifygaps in the marketplace.Let me know if youd like a copy of an editable version of this matrix. Im happy toshare. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 11 | P a g e
  15. 15. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #11 - Map itMuch in the same way I use charts and graphs for turning information into insights, Ilike to display place-related data on maps.Spreadsheets are great for crunching, sorting, and analyzing data. But, as hard as it isfor the math geeks among us to comprehend (myself included), columns and rows ofnumbers mean absolutely nothing to most people. Convert the data into a prettypicture, though, and it all starts to make sense.Heres an example from a recent project. My client was trying to make the mostefficient use of her sales teams resources and wanted to know how many companieswithin several metropolitan areas met their specific requirements (ownership type,revenue, industry, and location), and she wanted the information broken down bycounty. After running my search in Hoovers to find how many companies met theircriteria, I created this spreadsheet for the Denver metro area:Then, with the help of some relatively-inexpensive mapping software, I turned thenumbers into this visual, which my client included in her presentation at the nextdepartment meeting:Read more… PhelpsResearch.com 12 | P a g e
  16. 16. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsI use Microsofts MapPoint for creating maps and have found the $300 investment wellworth it – and it took me about two minutes to complete this example. There arecheaper options out there, including Mapland, an Excel add-in. You can also downloadmany U.S. government data sets into maps for free through American FactFinder,BearFacts, and other sites.From demographics to business and industry statistics, a picture is definitely worth athousand words - or spreadsheets. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 13 | P a g e
  17. 17. Quick Tips for Turning Information into Insights Quick Tip #12 - Use quotes Primarily used in journalism and publishing, pull … pull quotes draw quotes - also known as callouts - highlight aattention to key findings key quotation or excerpt from an article. When or insights in your report. summarizing results of research and analysis, for example, pull quotes draw attention to key findings or insights in your report. They also provide quick answers for those just-the-facts types of readers. Use the text box feature in Word, and format your pull quote in larger or bold font so its distinctive. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 14 | P a g e
  18. 18. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #13 - Create a value-add toolkitOne of the biggest barriers to using charts, maps, pull quotes, and other value-addingfeatures that add value to information deliverables is time. I often hear from researchers that value-added reports take too much time - time they just dont have. Save time and energy by creating a value-add toolkit - a collection of templates that you can reuse. They add a distinct look and feel to your information packaging and enhance your image. Why "rip and ship" when you can offer eye-appealing reports that transform information into insights?Here are the tools Ive created and keep in a dedicated folder:• Branded report template with preferred styles, cover letter, table of contents, section headers, and copyright/disclaimer wording• PowerPoint templates• Word document with frequently-used SmartArt diagrams and a template for pull- quotes• Product/company comparison template• Interview summary templates (by interview and by question)• Excel spreadsheet with sample chartsWhats in your value-add toolkit?Related links:• 10 Microsoft Word Style Secrets• Value Added Reports and Deliverables• Ready-to-use information graphics PhelpsResearch.com 15 | P a g e
  19. 19. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #14 - Tell a story with atimelineOne of the simplest tools for turning information into insights is a timeline. Its a greatway to display and find the meaning in events over time.For example, when I need to compile an executive profile for a client, rather thansending a [boring] list of career highlights, I put them in a timeline:Two recent events reminded me of why I <heart> timelines:First, at the SLA annual conference I had the opportunity to attend the interactivesession, Favorite CI Analytic Tools that Deliver Value. Speakers Fred Wergeles andMichel Bernaiche provided groups with random pieces of information (news articles,company profiles, etc.) about several consumer brands. We were tasked withorganizing this information with the help of Timeline Analysis. Once we got the hang ofit, patterns, gaps, and trends began to emerge from the randomness, which shed lighton company strategy and other competitive insights.Then, in her keynote address at the BMA Colorado regional event, Louise Clements,President of MacLaren MRM Toronto, used timelines to track and compare innovationtrends in the advertising and IT industries. With this simple device, Ms. Clements told afascinating story - one with a lot more impact than if shed used a bulleted list or simplytold us, "Theres been a lot more innovation in IT than in advertising."How do you use tim elines to convey your m essage? PhelpsResearch.com 16 | P a g e
  20. 20. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsQuick Tip #15 - Offer updates Market research and analysis offer valuable insights that can guide strategic and tactical decisions. Unfortunately, in our rapidly- changing business environment, it doesnt take long for your research to become outdated. One of the easiest ways to add value to the information you find is to provide regular updates. Use RSS feeds, email alerts, and specialized tools such as YahooPipes to monitor any topic. Then compile relevant articles, summarize in an email orWord template, and send to stakeholders on a quarterly basis. And, dont ask if theydlike to receive updates on this topic - ask how often. Thats much more valuable. Share this! PhelpsResearch.com 17 | P a g e
  21. 21. Quick Tips for Turning Information into InsightsMore from MarcyRead more about turning information into insights atMarcyPhelps.com.Subscribe to ResearchNOTES, a monthly emailbulletin with my favorite tips and sites for websearching.I can be reached at+1 303.239.0657mphelps@phelpsresearch.comwww.PhelpsResearch.comConnect at: PhelpsResearch.com 18 | P a g e

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