How To Write Evaluation Reports

RDI Network
October 2021
7 min read

Evaluation reports present the findings of evaluations and use this as the basis for recommendations. They are commonly shared with internal and external stakeholders, including staff, partners, donors, community groups and policy makers. Here we look at the steps involved in writing and presenting effective evaluation reports.  

  • Consider what information your audience needs. Time the report according to when they need the information and how they would like it presented, and particularly accessibility needs.   
  • Evaluation reports consist of an executive summary, introduction, evaluation objectives & methods, evaluation findings, discussion  and recommendations. Understanding this overall structure helps to plan headings and subheadings. 
  • The executive summary presents the key findings and recommendations in brief.
  • The introduction provides a background and justification of the program/project, an overview of its primary aim and objectives followed by a description of the evaluation’s purpose, objective and key questions, and the methods used to conduct the evaluation.  
  • Depending on the focus on the evaluation, (process evaluation or impact evaluation), the findings would be concerned with how a program was conducted and what did and did not work, what the program delivered, and beneficiaries were satisfied, or whether and which intended outcomes were achieved and what circumstances shaped these results. 
    The recommendations draw on the findings to direct action to improve on the programs processes, outputs or outcomes in the future.  
  • Additional information, such as definitions of terminology used, and data collection tools are included in the appendix. 
  • Analyze your data, before you start to write your findings. Describe what it shows, such as what outcomes or outputs that were achieved. This is distinct from interpreting the data, which discusses what the data means by making connections between the data or putting it into context. You might discuss what the data indicates about why outcomes were or weren’t achieved, what did and did not work, and what answers it provides for your overarching evaluation questions. Be clear about when you are describing and when you are interpreting. 
  • Structure your ideas using subheadings. For instance, use a subheading for each intended outcome you are evaluating and bring together the data collected from different sources. Choose how to present the interpreted data focusing on what is most important. Use key numbers, quotations and visual aids to illustrate your findings. Your audience may not be familiar with what you are evaluating, so keep language straightforward and explain any terminology. 
  • Lay out how you came to your conclusions, limitations of your data, and alternative interpretations for your findings. Select case studies that are representative and quotes that reflect the range of responses. Make sure to also report negative findings and be careful not to overstate the program’s role and impact. 
  • When developing your recommendations, be sure they are supported by your findings. Specify the action that needs to be taken, make sure that they are achievable, and the evaluation users have the authority to carry them. Prioritize the most essential recommendations and explain what would be required for the more difficult recommendations.  
  • Share the draft with staff, beneficiaries and stakeholders, use their feedback to refine conclusions and prioritize recommendations. Someone less familiar with the content will be able to point out what might be unclear for a broader audience.
  • Leave enough time before you complete your draft report to ensure participants’ continued consent to use their contributions, and to anonymize details where required. Also, ensure you have enough time for proofreading, editing, checking references, and design.
  • In terms of design, a good layout can make evaluation reports more comfortable to read and help to communicate meaning. Overall, a simple, uniform layout prevents distraction or confusion. Engaging a graphic design expert or following graphic design best practice can help to guide decisions about type, arrangement, graphics and color. 
  • In terms of type, the report should use no more than 3 fonts. The body text of a report is easiest to read in a simple serif font in black on a white background and a size 11 font. Headers can be emphasized through a larger, sans serif font.  
  • Arrangement covers how elements are positioned on the page. Wide margins and empty areas on the page allow eyes to rest. Text that is left aligned is easier to read, while full justified text can be considered more formal, but can create awkward gaps. Columns should also be wide enough to avoid too many hyphenated words.  
  • Graphics make evaluation reports easier to remember and can create emotional connections with the reader. Graphic elements should be positioned with or guide the reader’s gaze to corresponding text. Pictures should not appear blurry or pixelated, and diagrams should not be obscured by detail or be overly complex. Attention should also be paid to ensuring that graphs accurately convey the data they present.  
  • One or two colors can help to emphasize headings and call outs. Color selection can help to associate the report with the organization or draw on cultural color associations. It is also important to consider how the document would appear when reprinted in black and white, and to people with color blindness.

For more information on how to develop an engaging research report, check the resources on Research Communication.
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Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

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