Return to: How Do I Know What the Research Says?
Reports on evaluation studies are less rigid in structure than research reports because the format of evaluation reports depends on the audience. Evaluation reports published in academic journals are more likely to resemble research reports than those that are unpublished or published in other formats, such as technical reports for school districts.
Most reports that are primary sources on evaluation studies follow a common organization (see also Weiss, 1998).
- Executive Summary – Gives a comprehensive summary of the report, including a program description, evaluation questions, method, findings and recommendations.
Always read the executive summary first because it provides an overview and enough details to understand the evaluation outcomes.
- Program Description – Describes the education program that is being evaluated, including program goals, activities, participants and staff. Also provides context such as the history of the program and its relationship to the community.
- Evaluation Description – Describes the evaluation questions and the evaluation design. Also briefly describes the methods used to collect data, but technical details, such as data-collection instruments, are discussed in an appendix to the evaluation report.
- Results/Findings – Presents the main findings of the evaluation study. Each finding is accompanied by supporting evidence from statistics and/or narrative descriptions. More detailed results are described in an appendix.
- Conclusions – Presents the evaluator’s interpretation of the findings, including limitations of the evaluation study.
The conclusions an author gives often go beyond what is really justified by the evaluation results or findings and may involve the author’s own subjective interpretations. The conclusions of an evaluation study thus generally should be carefully scrutinized to see if they truly follow from the findings.
- Recommendations – Suggests recommendations about the program based on evaluation results. (Whether or not recommendations are included in an evaluation report depends on the goals of the evaluation study.)
The recommendations an author gives necessarily involve the author’s own interpretations and values and thus always go somewhat beyond the study’s results and findings. Recommendations should not be considered matters of fact.
- Appendices – Provides additional information and technical details about the program being evaluated, the evaluation method, the data-collection instruments and the results.