Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Written Management Reports: An Evidence-based Checklist

The following guidelines refer to a management report written to gain acceptance for a recommended course of action. They are provided under the assumption that there are strong arguments to support your recommendations. Some of these suggestions are based on Glossary Link received wisdom and some on the principles (and empirical evidence) in J. Scott Armstrong’s book, Persuasive Advertising. [The relevant principles are listed in the brackets.] This list is provided in a checklist format on


Target Market

1. Be sure to understand who you are writing for and what are their expectations. An effective way to do this is to ask people to stand in the role of the target market as they write comments on the report.

2. Add a cover letter where needed.



3. Identify who wrote the report, when they wrote it, and how to reach them.

4. Establish your expertise, if not done previously. Put this at the end of the report unless you are well-known for your expertise. [6.7.1]



5. Make the recommendations operational. For example, “Raise the advertising budget by five percent over the next year” [6.17.1, 6.17.2, 6.17.3]

6. Build the report around the recommendations.

7. Offer choices among options and guidance on how to select. [1.3.2, 1.3.3]

8. Describe specific benefits. For example, “Profits from this Glossary Link campaign will exceed $185,000 over the next five years.” [1.1.1]



9. Describe the process used to reach your recommendations. [2.1.2]

10. Focus on strong arguments. Weak arguments would receive less attention[7.1.1]

11. Use only positive arguments. Instead of showing what is wrong, show how you would improve upon the situation. [7.1.2]

12. Use indirect conclusions for “new” conclusions. Build the case so that the readers can infer the conclusions on their own when a conclusion is new or challenging. Do not force conclusions on readers. But if the conclusion is not obvious, or the audience already agrees, provide explicit conclusions. [5.9.2]

13. Use two-sided arguments. [5.8.1] Describe risks and limitations and explain how they can be handled. Put the favorable arguments first.[5.8.2]

14. Use a single theme – or two – to tie the report together. [7.9.1]

15. Provide enough detail on data and methods (in an appendix or on a website) to allow for replication. [6.3.2]

16. Provide sources (e.g., Smith 1995) in the text and provide access to full text.

17. Show that you analyzed alternatives. [6.3.1]

18. Provide objective support (Do not say “I think,” “I believe,” “We are confident,” etc.) Present evidence, not emotion or opinions. [3.1.1] Use independent third-party support; describe results from prior research studies even if based on small samples. [6.3.1, 6.3.2]

19. Provide examples, stories, and pictures when needed to explain your points. [7.10.1] These can also be helpful when the audience has strong beliefs that are not consistent with your proposals.


Reader Guides

20. Executive Summary. The first page should provide recommendations on what to do, why to do it, and how this was determined. Assume that the client will only read the first page.

21. Provide an introduction on how the report is organized. [9.4.2]

22. Provide roadmaps such as a Table of Contents and informative sub-headings. [9.4.2]

23. Use bullet-point sub-headings for three or more items in a list. [9.4.2]



24. Tables are typically easier for people to understand and they are more precise. If you cannot get a table to work, consider a chart (for example charts can help to show patterns over time). Avoid pie charts. [6.4.2]

25, Organize data so that the conclusion is obvious [6.4.2].

• Put data to be compared in columns, not rows;

• Round data, typically to three significant digits;

Show column averages (and row averages, if relevant); Order rows by size or by key variable;

Use Glossary Link layout to guide the eye (do not use vertical lines);

Highlight data to reinforce conclusions (e.g., boldface key numbers);


26. Avoid anything that is not essential to understanding the table or graph. [7.9.2]

27. Provide descriptive titles for an exhibit if the conclusion is not obvious. [5.9.2]



28. Use prose for the report. Bullet points are not sufficient, although they can be useful as headings.

29. Write forceful reports. Use specific words with concrete meaning. [7.3.1] Do not hedge. [7.3.2]

30. Do not use negative words as they harm clarity [7.2.2]. Avoid apologies.

31. Do not go beyond your evidence or speculate (unless you are proposing further research).

32. KISS- Keep it Short and Simple): (Simple words; common words; short sentences; one idea per sentence; eliminate unnecessary words; avoid jargon unless common among all of the target market.)

33. Avoid cross-references (going elsewhere to see important results is distracting, so do not put important tables at the end of a report).

34. Put important information in the report itself (not in an appendix).

35. Use common typeface for text and be consistent. Use a Glossary Link serif typeface to aid reading although sans serif might be used for clarity of headings. [9.5.1] Use black on white; do not write on shading; do not use colors for fonts or backgrounds. [9.5.2]

36. Use a calm tone. Avoid exclamation marks. Do not use all caps. Avoid bolding that extends more than three lines. [9.5.3]

37. Do not number the sections unless you need them to help people find things. This is consistent with the guideline to avoid distractions and things that do not contain information.

38. Use few footnotes – none if possible.

39. Consider also providing an electronic Glossary Link copy of the report – especially when the report can provide links to supporting information.



40. Rewrite until it is clear and interesting. The first draft never works.

41. Proofread to eliminate obvious errors. Even better, ask someone else to proofread. Readers may think small errors are due to a lack of care and generalize about your analysis.



Acknowlegments: Eric M. Eisenstein and Lisa Warshaw (Director of the Wharton Communication Program) provided useful comments.


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