Evaluation Purpose and Audience
Evaluation managers should revisit the intended purpose of the evaluation before drafting the evaluation report. The purpose of the evaluation - which should be explicitly described early in the evaluation report - dictates the audience for the report, which in turn guides its language, form, and substance.
A formative evaluation, intended for internal use to guide project implementation, might not even require a formal, written report. Findings might best be presented in the form of a presentation, describing successes and areas requiring improvement. Any written report might be expected to be brief, featuring clear tables, bulleted lists, or short descriptions rather than lengthy narratives. Make formative evaluation findings as useful as possible to intended audiences.
A summative evaluation report (usually required by a funding agency as a condition for continued support, for example) will probably be guided by specific expectations outlined in the Request for Proposals (RFP) or grant award documentation. Reports of this type might be reviewed by comparing them to scoring guides that require specific information or reward the meeting of particular requirements. Funding agencies might or might not require the submission of other materials (work products, for example) or a in-person presentation of findings.
The best advice for writing this type of report is "follow the directions." Allow ample time for planning the report and develop both the document outline and its content around the specific reporting requirements. Use key terms consistently, as they are defined in grant RFP or award materials. Make it as easy as possible for reviewers to find required information and resist the temptation to be creative. It is generally not advisable to provide a lot of extra information, beyond that which is required.
Regardless of the primary intended audience, it might prove valuable to prepare presentations or reports of evaluation findings tailored to the information needs of various stakeholder groups, bearing in mind and respecting the stated purpose of the evaluation.
It is also important that any evaluation report be clear to all members of any intended audience group, avoiding the use of jargon for example, with which they might not be familiar. The report should include a description of the project being evaluated, a delineation of evaluation questions, and an explanation of the methods and measures used to collect data to address those questions - as well as the findings arising from the effort.
It should go without saying that authors should make every effort to be impartial in their reporting, basing findings in available data rather than personal biases.
Finally, errors that might be caught by thorough editing detract significantly from the message of any evaluation report, regardless of its purpose and audience. Someone other than the report's authors should review the document with an eye toward typographical, usage, or other mechanical errors.
Summative evaluation reports typically have a specific date by which they must be submitted to funding agencies. The importance of meeting these dates should be obvious but the time required to prepare evaluation reports may dictate getting an early start toward achieving that goal. Include report writing in the evaluation plan, allowing sufficient time for necessary editing and revision.
The timing of formative evaluation reports should be tailored to meet the needs of project managers and other stakeholders, considering school calendars and other influences that might make some possible release or presentation dates better or worse than others.
Reports should be disseminated only as is appropriate to the stated purpose of the evaluation. Project managers might be afforded the option of reviewing and responding to formative evaluation reports first, before wider dissemination occurs, to head off potential misinterpretation of findings. It is not a good idea to distribute evaluation findings through "back channels" to inappropriate recipients or in advance of official releases of findings.
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This page last updated 6/23/05