Creating actionable reports through group writing: An evolving process

Hi! We are a group of faculty from James Madison University who fill a variety of roles at the university. Gretchen Hazard and Kathy Clarke each serve general education leadership roles. Brian Leventhal and Jeanne Horst serve the general education program as assessment liaisons. Over the past six years, several of us have collaborated on writing our general education assessment reports. By intentionally joining together in a process of group report writing, we have refined our report writing to the point where we now have meaningful and actionable reports.

The process has been deeply enriched by working together, rather than in isolation.  Each year, we invite more people into the room when creating reports, developing the report-writing process into a group conversation, rather than a solitary chore.

Writing reports as a group offers numerous benefits. Not only is it fun, but writing reports as a group:

  • incorporates viewpoints of diverse stakeholders
  • leads to asking deep, meaningful, and diverse questions of our assessment data
  • promotes deeper discussion of assessment results than had we been working in isolation
  • helps to build a community surrounding assessment

Rad Resources

We had the opportunity to attend a graphics design workshop sponsored by our university’s Center for Faculty Innovation. Most campuses likely have multiple faculty who are skilled in graphics design and who can offer feedback on report layout.

Hot Tips

Set aside dedicated time for group writing. The drawback of group writing is that it can be less efficient than working alone. Coming prepared for the group meeting saves time. Prior to each meeting, make sure data sets are available (for answering questions on the fly) and create preliminary graphs, which can be altered or discarded as the group decides. Group members should come to the meetings, having thought through the questions they will be asking. We would argue that with adequate preparation, the efficiency trade-off can be minimized.

Lessons Learned

Over the years, we have invited more and more people into the room. Because this is a labor- and time-intensive process, there is probably a “sweet spot” for the number of people in the room, which we are still in the process of figuring out. Having a consistent group of people, such as the four of us, it is probably most productive to only invite 1-2 others at a time. For example, when creating the communication report, the first-year communication course director joins us. He provides invaluable information that aids in the interpretation and use of the assessment findings. He also has the authority to propose next steps. Last year, when discussing information literacy, we invited two librarians to join the conversation. However, again, the efficiency trade-off needs to be monitored.

What’s next?

Group report writing has enriched and enhanced the quality of our reports. Our reports changed from being long and tedious to becoming useable, readable, and actionable reports. However, we are well aware that there is still a great deal to learn.  We look forward to next steps as we invite others to join in the process.


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