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What Makes a Beautiful Report: Navigation

Posted on 07/31/2014

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NOTE: This is the seventh and final post in our Windward series on creating beautiful reports. Missed the beginning? Start here.

Text, tables, charts, layout, images, color – it seems like there’s a lot you need to take into account when creating a stylish report. We have just one final item to add to the list: report navigation.

When you’re focused on displaying data, document navigation may not immediately jump to mind as a needed report design feature. But navigation is the final touch that can turn your informative report into an informative and beautiful one.

And the beautiful report is the one that is more likely to be shared, remembered and the cause of wild praise for the creator (that’s you!).

Subheads/Section Titles

We mentioned this concept in our earlier post on text, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning again:

We read by scanning, so use visual clues to help your readers quickly grasp the layout content of a report.

This means separating out key sections with subheads or section titles, such as the four main ones (Subheads, Tables of Contents, Page Numbers and Appendices) you see in this article. You allow report readers to quickly get a sense of the entire report and to easily navigate to the data or sections that most interest them.

You can also use other “signposts” throughout your report, such as bold text, italics, bullets and the like to make key information stand out.

Tables of Contents

TravelWarningsSampleTables of contents are for books and not business reports, right?

Not so fast. We’re big fans of tables of contents when used in appropriate cases.

If the report recipient could benefit from an outline of the document – say, the report is on the longer side, or the reader might want to skim to see what it contains – think about adding a table of contents.

Our developers did this in Windward’s sample report “United States Travel Warnings,” which displays live data from the federal government. The table of contents allows readers to instantly grasp which countries have alerts at any point in time and pinpoint the alerts that may directly affect them.

A table of contents is especially useful when the report is viewed online and the reader can click on each listing to jump directly to the content.

TIP: If you’re designing your report in Microsoft Word, you can use subheads (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3) to automatically generate a table of contents, and you can change how “deep” the table of contents goes.

PageNumbersSamplePage Numbers

Page numbers resemble tables of contents in that it’s easy to overlook including them when designing your report, but in some situations they can greatly improve that report.

Consider using page numbers for long documents, especially if the report is to be printed and shared in a large group meeting.

This way everyone can easily be on the same page – literally – when discussing the report.

Appendices (and a Note on Footnotes)

You’ve worked hard to collect meaningful data, but sometimes the best place for your data isn’t actually in the report; it’s after the report.

If that massive data table is more likely to overwhelm than to inform, look at placing it in an appendix and summarizing its contents within the main report body.

Appendices are also great places for supporting information that is too large for a footnote (did someone just mention footnotes? See Enhance Your Reports with Footnotes and Linked Text Boxes) and for information that is outside the scope of the report but still useful.

The Whole Beautiful Report Series

Beautiful Reports cover pageWe hope you found these tips useful. Feel free to let us know in the comments section below and add your own observations on navigation.

Also, we want to thank your for reading this series on how to design beautiful reports. We have released the entire series as a free e-book for you to download, share and refer to in the future.

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Author: Heidi V. Anderson

Heidi has been writing professionally about computers, technology and the Internet for more than 20 years. She lives in Vermont where she taps her maple trees for syrup and most of the year wishes it was just a little bit warmer out.

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