NLPES Question of the Month
How, if at all, has the development of your agency's webpage changed the way that you write reports, distribute reports, or present information to your audience?
From: Ron Perry, Washington
For the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee in Washington State, the development of our web page has affected distribution more than anything else. The internet has not really changed how we write or format our reports. Because we expect our reports to be read by the members of our committee (16 legislators), we format them so that they can be read in summary form or in total. To that end we prepare a one page digest, and our new report format limits the length of our reports (main body) to about 20 pages (not including appendices). We put more detailed information into technical appendices.
Having a web page means that we now convert all of our digests, reports, and special publications (e.g., newsletters) into Acrobat format, so that they can be posted on our web site where anyone can download and read them. We make the appendices available for download too. Internet access has given us a broader audience for our work. We now receive more phone calls from other audit offices and from researchers who want to know more about a particular report.
Also, web access has reduced the number of public requests for hard copy, as well as the number of copies mailed out to legislators, staff, and interested parties.
From: Gary Brown, Michigan
I don't believe that our website has changed our reporting writing. However, it is now common for a person to call with an inquiry, for us to identify a report for them to reference, for them to access that report from our website, and for them and us to then discuss the issue, all in a few minutes and one phone call. This seems to work especially well with newspaper reporters.
From: Gary VanLandingham, Florida
OPPAGA's web page really hasn't changed the way we write reports, with a couple of exceptions. We haven't changed our report format, length, or layout, and generally view the web as another distribution channel rather than the cart that should drag the horse. However, we have made some changes in response to the web. First, we developed a process to assure that the brief web summaries of reports that we post on our site accurately portray the fundamental report messages. This wasn't a problem for our brief reports as we can just copy the abstract (what we call "at a glance") section of the report to the web. However, for longer reports that have a 2-3 page executive summary, we have had to distill the longer summary into the "20 second sound byte" that we need for web posting.
The second change we have made is to review our use of publication fonts and graphics colors to assure that the ones we use for hard copy use are also appropriate for web use. For example, there are some excellent publication fonts that cannot yet be readily used on the web because most users won't have drivers that can recognize the fonts. Similarly, some graphics that print well in black and white don't show up well on the web and we have developed color schemes that work well for both presentations. Use of the web has reduced the number of extra copies of reports that we have to store to meet requests for copies. Where we used to have to store 100 or so copies of each report, we now can get by with a much smaller number as most folks just download the report if they want it. This change has also been helped by advancements in printer technology that enables us to produce hard copies as needed from an electronic file without having to do special production runs in the print shop we use.
From: Kirk Jonas, Virginia
Our website has not changed the way we write reports. We are essentially able to put reports on the web as they appear in print. We are, however, thinking of having lengthier appendices available on the web alone. I don't think the web has made a difference in the way we present information, but it has made reports more accessible to the public and other audiences, such as academia. Regarding distributing reports, the web has made a big difference. Many requests come in via email and we can simply reply with the url for the report. We have also cut the minimum print run for hard copy reports. We also use the web in conjunction with earlier processes. For example, I might refer someone to the web to review a report. If they find it is useful we can follow-up by sending them a hard copy.
From: Joel Alter, Minnesota
The development of our website has not noticeably changed the content of our "full" reports. However, some items that we used to put in report appendices are now excluded from the report and placed on our website-such as survey forms, complete survey results, etc. In addition, the PowerPoint slides that we use for report presentations are available at our website. We have also posted items on our website that were developed AFTER a report was issued-such as memos or data analyses that addressed questions posed by legislators. Finally, we print a smaller number of full reports now (typically up to 500) than we used to because more interested readers are downloading the report from our webpage.