Data surround us, and we face more of it each day. In fact, the amount of data uploaded to the web is massive. According to a report by BBC, 2.5 billion gigabytes of data is uploaded every day. Google's Eric Schmidt agrees, saying that every two days, we pour out around 5 billion gigabytes of information.
We live in the information age, and managing all that data is essential. Professional success depends upon good data management, but therein lies a problem. When we're faced with a vast amount of material, our brains give up, and we tend to avoid rather than trying to cope. A complex set of psychological factors come into play when we're surrounded by data, including our survival instincts and our brain's built-in desire for simplicity.
Our Brains Get in the Way of Information
With more and more data, workers face increasing difficulties in coping with the sheer amount of information. While our jobs involve ever-increasing amounts of data, our brains try to minimize that data's impact on our psychological health. This clash means that as more data arrives, we tend to ignore it.
Systems that automatically integrate data and prepare summaries are clearly essential for us to cope with the tsunami of information. However, at some point, we'll have to read something or get someone else to look at the data. Simply saying that data is important isn't enough.
The first few words of any data report - the title - can be used to help people focus on what's important. Using a great title avoids data being lost within the report's sea of information, and it also prevents people from ignoring results that should spark action.
Newspaper publishers have known for years that the headline is the most important part of the story. Good headlines grab attention and make people want to read more. Headline writers use clear psychological "tricks" to encourage us to keep reading - the same techniques that can be used to encourage employees to delve into office data reports.
Three Components of a Good Title
The first essential component is that the title contains emotional triggers of some kind. This word or trigger might make the reader happy, sad or curious, but regardless of the emotion that's invoked, a good title must engage human emotion if it will be successful in causing people to continue reading. Here's a helpful list of emotion words to consider using in your data report titles.
Secondly, most newspaper headlines are active, not passive. For example, the best headlines wouldn't say something like "Report on web data"; instead, they would include words of action such as "Web data doubling each month." In other words, a good headline is about "doing," not "being."
Finally, most newspaper headlines include a human element, enabling readers to get a clear picture of who the story is about. An examples of this is "Accountants contribute most to web data doubling each month." (That's not confirmed info, by the way! Only used as an example.)
Applying Newspaper Title Components to Data Reports
So, how can you use these three principles to produce great report titles that will focus recipients on the essential data that you want to catch their attention?
First, review your data report and determine which element(s) are those that need to be focused on. Then consider the human elements of the data itself: who represents the data, or who is the data about? Finally, think of emotional connections between the "data people" and your readers.
As an example, let's say your data report deals with the volume of sales for particular products and customers and that you want your staff to focus on data regarding upselling. You now have the data you wish to focus on - upselling - and the people related to that data - a group of customers. All you need to consider is how your readers will emotionally connect with those specific customers. For instance, will the reader be shocked or annoyed by the data related to these customers - and, therefore, extend that emotion to the customer?
Once you've considered the above, you can produce a psychologically engaging title that makes it nearly impossible for people to resist reading further, and looking over the data. One headline that's sure to spark some emotion would be: "Tech buyers given fewer upsell opportunities than service buyers." Employees on both the tech and service sides would undoubtedly read on to see exactly what the data reveals, and to discover if they had a hand in their department's upselling success - or failure.
There are quite a few free headline analysis tools online. Our favorite was Advanced Marketing Institute's. If you're unsure of the emotional oomph in your data report title, head over to AMI and determine if there's room for improvement.
Titles and subtitles are the first thing your intended readers will see. By including emotional triggers in your data report titles, you're sure to have folks flipping through the data to get more info.
To learn more abut Graham Jones and additional thoughts on internet psychology, visit http://www.grahamjones.co.uk/.