I’m a big fan of Stoic Philosophy. I’ve seen huge improvements in my mental well-being since I started studying and practicing it. Recently, I’ve been reading a book by Donald Robertson called, How To Think Like A Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
In this book, the author quotes Diogenes Laertius (not to be confused with Diogenes the Cynic, one of the founders of Cynic philosophy). Laertius proposes that, according to Stoicism, there are 5 virtues of speech. As I read through them, all I could think about was how these should be the 5 rules for creating research reports and readouts.
#1. Correct grammar and good vocabulary
This one is a little obvious, but worth mentioning. Grammar and vocabulary ultimately go toward your credibility. If your deck or report is littered with grammatical errors and misspellings, stakeholders are going to have a hard time buying into your findings.
Many stakeholders likely did not watch your interviews or look at your research data. They have no idea how detailed you were and how carefully you went through the data. In their minds, you didn’t proofread your report, you aren’t detail-oriented, and thus your results are questionable at best. This can be especially true if your findings differ from what they initially believed. In that case, they may already be predisposed to disagree with your findings and are just looking for ways to validate their assumptions.
Take the time to proofread your outputs. Some people like to read their reports backward when proofreading, which helps prevent your mind from automatically filling in the blanks (after all, you wrote it, you know what it’s supposed to say). I find that the best way to find these errors is to have someone else look at it with fresh eyes. Get someone who was not involved in the authorship to give it a once over. They are usually much more likely to find mistakes in your work than you are.
#2. Clarity of expression, making the ideas easily understood
Breaking down complex ideas into easy-to-understand pieces is no small feat. In my opinion, this is something that the best trial lawyers in the world do. They take often complex, sometimes poorly written laws and legal concepts, and break them down for a juror who has no legal training or experience whatsoever.
As UX Researchers, we need to be doing the same thing. Keep the jargon to a minimum, especially when presenting highly technical topics to stakeholders who don’t have technical backgrounds.
Avoid fancy “$5” words. There are times when I have heard and seen words in reports and readouts that I know are not part of the speaker’s or writer’s normal vocabulary. No one likes to appear dumb, so if someone does not know what that word means, they are unlikely to ask. By using that fancy word, you may have caused an audience member to not fully understand your finding. Sometimes you have to decide between sounding “smart” and communicating effectively.
This is also another place where proofreading or even a dry run of your readout is valuable. Go through your report with someone to ensure it is clearly written and easy to understand.
#3. Conciseness, employing no more words than necessary
Another really simple point. Don’t use 10 words where 5 will do. This is especially true if you are constructing a deck for a readout. Don’t put too many words on the slides. People will tend to read the slides and ignore you. Keep it short, snappy, and to the point. Longer details and explanations can be delivered by you verbally (but succinctly), or put in the appendix.
Remember when DVDs were all the rage? For me, the best part of the DVD was the deleted scenes. I always thought they were a nice little treat. But those scenes were deleted for a reason! The director or editor decided that they were unnecessary when thinking about the larger plot or message of their film.
Most writers, whether they are writing books, movie scripts, or plays, end up writing far more than is actually used in the final product. Hundreds of pages can end up on the cutting room floor. Keeping things concise is hard, but it’s also critical. Whether you are talking about your latest research or writing the next great American Novel, you need to be telling a tight story that doesn’t meander or ramble.
#4. Appropriateness of style, suited to the subject matter and the audience
Your audience and the subject matter should be the determining factors for the style and tone of your readouts. As a general rule, the more serious the topic and the less familiar you are with the stakeholders, the more formal you should keep the tone and style.
For example, I recently did a “Love Letters” project for a client. If you aren’t familiar, in this type of research, we asked customers to write love letters to the product as if the product were a person. The primary goals were to learn what “delights” users and to foster empathy (especially with employees who are not customer-facing). Additionally, I was working with a set of stakeholders with whom I am very familiar and have great relationships.
The result? I had fun with the report. I had sample love letters superimposed onto hearts. I used a picture of cupid firing a love arrow at a stick figure with the client’s logo in place of the head. I used a GIF of people doing a happy dance and a picture of Bugs Bunny falling in love. This was a fun topic with a familiar group of people. So I had fun with it! Most importantly, it was appropriate to the subject matter and the audience.
#5. Distinction, or artistic excellence, and the avoidance of vulgarity
If you’re building a deck, it needs to look good. Every single one you create need not be a masterpiece, but they should all look presentable. As you build more and more of them, you’ll develop a style all your own (or maybe your company has a template you can build from). Spend the extra couple of hours working on nothing but making the deck look nice. If it’s easier on the eyes, it’ll be easier for stakeholders to take in your findings. And avoid those 4 letter words!
We aren’t certain when Diogenes Laertius was born or died. Our best guess is that he likely died sometime around 240 AD. As I read his thoughts, and other stoic philosophies from the same time period, I am always shocked at how we can take something written nearly 1,800 years ago, and find value in it today.
The bottom line is that there are some universal truths that can be applied in most situations. And practice makes perfect. At Key Lime Interactive, we believe in both. Which is why we have a proven process that doesn’t steer us wrong. Contact us to see how we can assist in your next UX/CX project.