Why crosstabs and reporting need to fit together

For too long, research agencies have produced tables, counts and percentages from their survey data and then used different methods to put those figures into reports in the forms of tables, charts and other infographics. Most market research reporting has been in PowerPoint for the last 20 years and the preparation of those reports has often been a manual operation with some copy/paste techniques used to reduce work – but, only slightly. This is why MRDC is adding to the tools available that make automation easier.

My wrong prediction

In 1997, I discovered that it was possible to automate the production of reports in Word, Excel and PowerPoint so that calculated data could be fed directly into reports. I recall speaking at a conference in 1998 where I predicted that nearly all market research reports would be automated within five years. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Making the same prediction in 2019

So, 21 years later, I am going to predict that nearly all market research reporting will be automated within five years. Let’s hope I am not 21 years too early again! But, what has changed? Has everyone just woken up at last? Has it been necessary for the software to take this amount of time to mature? I think the main driving force is that the online world means that buyers of research demand that market research data is delivered as smoothly and quickly as other business data.

Skipping the PowerPoint generation

The main reason for the move to some level of automation of reporting is the simple fact that ‘online’ means faster everything. Fieldwork is quicker, so analysis and reporting need to be quicker. And, now, 30 years later than it could have been for offline reporting, both online and offline reporting are beginning to be handled more efficiently.

Online reporting is leading the way

The speed at which some online survey systems can turn survey data into online reports, even when the outputs are quite basic, has changed mindsets. Further, The CYS Platform has made the presentation of survey data as online dashboards within the budget of many projects. These belated developments in reporting research data have thankfully changed the thinking of research buyers for surveys using paper questionnaires, CAPI or CATI for fieldwork. So, let’s look at where the industry is with offline reporting.

Barriers to automating offline reporting

It is true to say that getting from cross tabulations to a PowerPoint presentation may not be as easy as it sounds. Some software packages like Snap link these two parts of the process together in one software system, but if you want to produce your tables in a specialist tabulation software program and then produce a report in PowerPoint, it may not be so easy. Here’s the main reasons:

a.Tables are not the same as charts

Most tables contain either raw numbers (counts), percentages or both. They might also contain mean scores, standard deviations and other statistical calculations. It may not be easy to get those figures from parts of one or a series of tables into a nice tidy PowerPoint chart, for example. Converting those requirements into a specification may not be so logical or easy as it might seem.

b. Tables and charting software have been separate products

The software where you want to produce your report whether its PowerPoint, Google Slides or any other reporting system is unlikely to understand what a table is and, more important, work with market research tables of data. The percentage of users of PowerPoint in the world that work in market research is very small. Therefore, the tools for pulling figures into, what is effectively, general purpose reporting software is minimal.

c. Many research projects need just one report

It is possible to use automation software that is designed for market research or you can use macros that will transfer figures from your survey data to the reports. This is generally not an easy process and takes time and effort to achieve and get right. If you want to produce 1000 reports for 1000 retail outlets such effort is warranted and will reduce time and costs, but often in market research we want just one report per project. It is quicker to produce the report manually or with copy and paste techniques.

Solutions to offline reporting

a. All-in-one software

Products like Snap allow you to take survey data, produce tables and produce reports. There are others that do the same thing, but if you want to use specialist scripted tabulation software like MRDCL or CATI software like QPSMR CATI, you will need some other way to automate your reports.

b. Tools to make it easier

There are some tools that make the production of charts and presentations easier. These tend to be focused on Microsoft products rather than Google products, but they are a mix add-ins, macros and other software tools that can take figures, usually from Excel, and display them how you want in reports.

c. MRDC’s new tool

Our brand new tool will endeavour to make automation easier. This new productivity tool is free to all users of MRDCL and to anyone buying QPSMR from MRDC or one of its authorised dealers. Keep an eye out for it’s big reveal in 2 days time.

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