It is an open secret when writing reports for research or consultancy that the most crucial part is the executive summary. In any project, at some point, it will be agreed that most of the audience will only ever read the executive summary. Research reports are long, complex and time-consuming, and as a result, the most critical information is often lost or hard to follow.
Whilst working on detailed research deliverables to the TRIPS project, based upon the co-design of innovative transport concepts for people with a disability, it was evident that most of our audience would never read the report. The two deliverables, including their appendices, were over 200 pages long.
Each deliverable had been written with both an abstract and that executive summary. We began to explore how we could build upon this to share and distribute information in digestible chunks that would help the project increase impact.
The idea that was developed was called 5 x 5 x 500. The formulae could be applied to a complex written work to help the author create a series of knowledge artefacts that supported the main report. At the end of the process, we created 5 “blogs,” each with five key points and each of around 500 words. 5 x 5 x 500 is based on the concept of taking a complex paper or document and identifying.
- Five themes
Choosing the five themes from your research requires you to focus on what you want readers to take away from your study. It also allows you to work on a piece that might be relevant only to part of your audience. That might be something you want to say about the process or methodology of your study, which is often of little interest to most of your readers. In our case, we outlined one theme as being concerned with the process of co-design with people with disabilities, highlighting how we tried to make sure that everyone could be fully engaged.
- Five key points for each theme
For each of these themes, the author then highlights five critical points that you want the reader to take away. In some cases, they might be part of any recommendations or a significant issue that arose or five examples of the work outcomes. Crucially you are trying to whet the reader’s appetite and stimulate thinking, giving a taste of what might of interest in the formal documents.
- 500 words for each theme
The final focus is to communicate your points in as few words as possible. The formal academic need for citations and validations can be placed gently to one side in the spirit of clear communication of your ideas and outcomes. We aimed to write pieces of 500 words. In practice, they are closer to 750. Still, by setting ourselves an aim, a document that could be read in 3-5 minutes, we tried to recognise the needs of our audience, helping them feel informed, but without assuming that they had unlimited time to read everything we wanted to say.
5 x 5 x 500 is something of an artificial construct. It could easily have been 6 x 6 x 600 or 4 x 5 x 800, but the principles of distillation, cohesion and clarity would apply regardless. The set of documents each standalone but equally build one upon the other, allowing readers to pick and choose if they are interested in one item or all. For researchers and authors, it offers a means to disseminate and share your work to maximise impact and value.