Zen and the Art of Answering Questions

By Wesley Hall, Analytics Manager


One great thing about being a digital analyst is that we get many chances to be impactful in our jobs. The majority of our contributions come from responding to marketers and senior leaders who need to make informed decisions. Effectively answering questions is as much art as science, so I offer you a few guidelines in providing the very best responses to research tasks you are given.

1. Take the time to understand the question.

In every business time is money – so an Analyst’s’ ability to listen and summarize is just as important as his or her technical skills. Treat every question like the discovery phase of a project. Make sure you define the objective as well as the parameters (date range, audience, data sources, etc.). Write down your objective along with the question(s) you are going to answer and refer back to what you have written as you work to make sure you stay on track.

2. Choose the best format to deliver your findings.

Keep in mind that your research and report preparation is meant to be quickly understood and acted on. Do not make your audience sift through spreadsheets and charts to find answers; instead, summarize and direct your audience’s attention to your outcomes. Use charts, graphs and spreadsheets to illustrate your points, not to make them. If your format has not been decided for you (e.g. you are contributing to a deck) choose the simplest format to convey your message. Will a well written email work instead of a spreadsheet? Can you summarize your findings on one spreadsheet tab instead of three?

3. Lay your information out using C-F-C.

Caveats: Give your audience the background information they need to put your findings in the proper context. Date ranges, segments used, data anomalies, etc… should all be spelled out so your reader knows the landscape of what you are presenting.

Findings: The foundation of your research will always be the raw data you provide. There is no room for error when it comes to data integrity, so take all precautions to ensure you have the right data sources and queries. Share the results of your queries in succinct statements that coincide with your format.

Conclusions: I hold the view that a Report Writer distributes numbers while an Analyst provides interpretations. It is unthinkable to share charts or graphs without a narrative summarization of what they represent. After all, the purpose of gathering data is so that someone can take action on it. Always wrap up your findings by explaining to your audience what your outcomes are and how they can utilize them.

A few, final notes:

Remember that people digest food and information in chunks, so use bullets and outline forms rather than long narratives. Make it your mission to leave your audience feeling empowered by your findings rather than bewildered by catchphrases.

Lastly, remember to have fun. As the celebrated author Charlaine Harris once said, “if I quit having fun, then it’s time for me to quit working”. Let your unique personality shine through your analyses.

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