It's a bit of a mystery, isn't it? Everyone gets jazzed about the initial stages of user research, from planning to synthesis, treating them like the rock stars of the process. Yet, when it comes to the grand finale – reporting and sharing your findings – it's like suddenly remembering the drummer exists. Vital to the band, but somehow always ending up in the background. So sad! 

This final crucial act isn't just about dotting the i's and crossing the t's. It's the bridge that carries all that hard-earned data into real-world decision-making and product strategies. It's our chance to turn who knows how many sticky notes into a tangible goldmine and influence the product roadmap

In this article, I dive into the nitty-gritty of user research reporting and share some best practices.

Presenting your research findings and insights

Effective research reporting goes beyond basic data delivery; it involves a nuanced blend of functional and emotional skills. Presenting findings and insights (yes, these are different!) isn't just about conveying information. It's about telling a succinct story that resonates, persuades, and ultimately inspires stakeholders to take action. 

This part of the process can be daunting in ways previous phases of the research cycle aren't. What’s different are the:

  • High stakes involved.

  • Personal investment in the research.

  • Dynamic nature of presenting in front of an audience.

  • Importance of understanding the audience’s cultural considerations.

  • The fact that this final deliverable should live on well into the future. 

It’s the culmination of your research study and your individual efforts. Achieving a balance between being confident and authentic is key to creating and presenting impactful final deliverables and sharing your findings.

In case you are wondering, the terms “user research reports” and “share-outs” often mean the same thing. It’s common to present a topline report, but I’ve also created slide-deck presentations and video walkthroughs for a single study. In these instances, each deliverable has different goals and audiences.

Setting strategic goals for your user research report

Understanding the strategic intent for your user research report is crucial in selecting the appropriate format, determining the right level of fidelity, and crafting a message that resonates with your audience. 

The nature of your research –  whether it’s a lightweight usability study or a comprehensive generative study with multiple segments – should inform your approach, as should the culture of the organization. Tailoring your deliverables to meet your audience’s specific needs and expectations, whether it's the team who will be implementing the findings or the C-suite, who are more interested in broader insights (and not the nitty gritty details), is key. Make sure you have a clear understanding of these aspects before beginning work on your final deliverables.

While your objectives are typically outlined in your research plan, the goals for sharing out the results might vary based on the data and other outcomes. Your goal may range from simply updating stakeholders on the research conducted to sharing insightful a-ha moments or advocating for a specific course of action. 

It’s important to clarify what the purpose of the report is. Consider if there are multiple audiences and whether their goals differ.

Below are the four research-reporting goals I see the most. After you’ve established the goals for your report, confirm the necessary time, resources, and any required artifacts with your stakeholders. 

The format of your deliverables will vary significantly based on the context, such as a 30-minute remote presentation for a small group versus a 90-minute in-person session for a larger audience. With these strategic goals in mind, you’ll be better prepared to craft impactful and effective research share-outs to drive understanding and action.

User research report

1. Inform/share

This most basic goal is to inform stakeholders about the research, its participants, the rationale, and how the findings contribute to the bigger picture. Insights aren’t likely to be included or required for success. This straightforward approach often suits lighter-weight studies and lays the groundwork for gut checks or future discussions.

2. Build credibility/consensus/persuade

Beyond sharing findings, these share-outs often include memorable insights (truly new and memorable “aha” moments), and aim to persuade stakeholders to take specific actions or directions. This requires a deep understanding of your audience, more advanced analysis, and the ability to strategically use evidence.

3. Choose/act

Expanding on the research completed and learnings gathered, these deliverables include options or inflection points for collaborative decision-making. They often include thought starters for future exploration.  

4. Immerse/bring research participants to life

In this instance, incorporating direct quotes is always a good idea. You can supplement quotes with visual aids, highlight reels, and personas, making the research subjects more tangible and easier to relate to. This may be the primary goal of the research or may work in tandem with another goal listed above. Regardless, this technique brings abstract participants to life, fostering empathy and a deeper understanding of the people we’re designing for. 

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Choosing the right format for your user research report

The format of your deliverables should have been discussed and agreed on during the scoping phase. This is because you need to plan for the time, resources, and artifacts required at the start of the study. 

For example, if a journey map or persona is to be a part of the deliverables, you’ll need a plan to gather the information to populate this artifact in your discussion guide. The design of the deliverables should also align with your audience's needs, budget, and the cultural context of the organization. 

These are the most common types of final deliverables I'm asked to compile:

  • Text-heavy, 10–15 page topline reports with key quotes. 

  • Slide presentations with static visuals and video highlight reels. 

  • A pre-recorded video walkthrough of the report, with questions and answers. 

  • A combination of the above. Remember, some orgs will request two or more final deliverables intended for various audiences or to achieve different goals. These may be in the same or divergent formats. 

The ideal formats for user research share-outs will adhere to the following criteria:

  • They’re meaningful and culturally relevant to the intended audiences.

  • They can be created using your existing skills or with resources that are readily available or can be reasonably procured.

  • They can be produced within the designated timeframe and budget.

User research report

Structuring your user research report

With the objectives and format firmly established, the next step is to craft an outline for your report that aligns with these goals and leverages the chosen format to its fullest potential. 

For instance, if you’re assembling a slide deck, it’s important to make the visuals impactful and memorable. You also need to decide where and what visuals to use. This ensures that your presentation not only captivates but also communicates the research results effectively. In contrast, these elements aren't nearly as important in a topline report. 

Regardless, your outline should comprehensively address the what and why behind your findings and, ideally, include actionable recommendations and delineate clear next steps. These inclusions clarify the research implications and guide stakeholders through a thoughtful structure to encourage informed decision-making and strategic planning.

 Here’s a short checklist of what I include in my most basic reports and share-outs. 

  • Title: Project name, core stakeholders, and date.

  • Background: Overview of the business challenge or research context.

  • Participants: Overview of recruiting criteria, quantity of participants, and their relationship to the topic.

  • Objectives: The research goals and questions I addressed.

  • Approach: A quick summary of research methodology, activities, and how and when the research learnings will be applied.

  • Top findings/opportunities: Key themes, supported by key quotes (e.g. evidence), and their implications to the business.

  • Recommendations: Actionable short-term recommendations and long-term, strategic considerations. 

  • Next steps: Proposed actions, with rough timelines, broken out by discipline (where possible).

User research report

Enhancing the impact of your user research report

Last, but certainly not least, make sure your research findings will make a tangible impact. Linking the learnings to tangible business outcomes or KPIs, such as growth opportunities or cost savings, is very effective. Demonstrating how your research directly relates to product development, customer experience, and business strategy can significantly enhance the perceived value and credibility of your research.

Effective user research reporting has many levels. While simply reporting on what happened and what was learned may suffice in some contexts, there are ample opportunities to facilitate true comprehension and motivate stakeholders to act quickly. 

I love to design research reports. To me, these are juicy creative problems to solve. That said, and being a very visual and collaborative person, I often also add these aspects:

  • Enhanced visual aids and design elements

  • Analytical and strategic content 

  • Engagement and communication tactics 

  • Triangulated data  

While mastering the art and nuances of presentation and reporting takes time, it’s a worthwhile investment that pays dividends. It empowers you to profoundly impact product decisions and strategies, and ‌propel success and innovation. 

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Creating a time capsule for your research

Consider this intriguing perspective: your final research report is a gateway to the past for the future. Read that sentence again. It’s not merely a document for present purposes but a guide for future endeavors. You are laying down a foundation not just for your future self but for your future colleagues who will continue the journey of discovery.

I view my deliverables as a message to the future – as a time capsule that documents the insights and understandings of today, thereby preventing future confusion and unnecessary effort. Ever found yourself pondering, "What were our thoughts and reasoning at that time?". Your research deliverables should answer this question, making sure that knowledge and decisions are clearly communicated and are easily accessible down the road. 

The significance of a comprehensive research deliverable extends beyond its immediate utility. It encapsulates a moment in time, offering a snapshot of current findings while simultaneously equipping future teams with a robust tool for reference and insight. By dedicating yourself to detailed and impactful reporting, you’re investing in a resource that will continue to yield benefits, enhance knowledge continuity, and facilitate informed decision-making in the years to come.

Moreover, this process is inherently circular and ties seamlessly into the research planning phase. At the outset of any new research initiative, the first step involves delving into existing knowledge – understanding what we already know and what can reasonably be inferred. These final, documented deliverables become a critical resource in this phase, stored and accessed to inform and shape future research directions. Thus, your report not only serves as a bridge to the past but also as a cornerstone for future explorations. It guarantees that the cycle of learning is continuous, making every research effort a building block for subsequent inquiries and strategies. 

In essence, your report solidifies the circular nature of research, where each phase of planning, execution, and documentation feeds into and informs the next, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem of knowledge and innovation.

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This article was authored by Michele Ronsen, Founder and CEO of Curiosity Tank. Michele is a user research executive, coach and educator. She teaches design and user research to people around the world. Her corporate trainings and workshops are inspired by working with Fortune 500s and start-ups for more than twenty years. Fuel Your Curiosity is her award winning, free, user-research newsletter. In 2020, LinkedIn honored Michele with a TopVoices award in the Technology category. She is the first and only researcher to receive this award. 

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