Assisting with inquiries: Part three – filtering information

This blog is part of a series called ‘Assisting with inquiries’, exploring some of the important factors which can help us with reporting. The series is complemented by some additional pages which look in detail at the questions we can ask to help us provide valuable, timely and reliable information to the people who need it. The sister page to this post is called ‘Whilst reporting, consider the information you intend to provide’. Take a look at that page for more on this subject.

So far we have discussed two important considerations before reporting:

audiencetiny The needs of your audience
cogstiny The mechanics of reporting

This time we are going to look at how to decide what information should be included in reports. It is worth re-emphasising the point that I am not just referring to written reports. Any information that you pass on to your audience can be considered a report, whether that be through an informal discussion, a presentation, something documented or some other means.

Some people might consider testing somewhat boring

Let us be frank; test reports can be dry and rather dull. Those of us involved in testing may consider it an interesting subject but some of our audience might take a different view. Their minds may instinctively begin to wander when presented with any kind of test report simply for the reason that it is a report. About testing.

Your audience are people; people with their own jobs, responsibilities, concerns and distractions. They may need to feel a connection with you, and an understanding of what you are doing before they invest time in thinking about the information you are trying to share with them. They will almost certainly need to relate it to something which they are responsible for or interested in. Part of your task therefore is to establish that connection.

You might feel that this is an unwanted burden; you are after all probably very busy testing (or with some other activity). Unfortunately, to your audience this doesn’t really matter. If you are a tester, you have a responsibility to tell the people who matter the things they need to know, when they need to know them.

In earlier blogs and pages I have discussed some steps you can take which might help you establish a connection with your audience:

  • Involving them early
  • Asking them what they need from you
  • Understanding the kind of decisions they have to take
  • Talking to them regularly (or at least as regularly as they want to)
  • Using engaging and interesting visual components in written reports

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

― Clay Shirky

An important technique you can develop is filtering information. If our job is to communicate information through our reports then we need to be selective about what information we present. Let me be absolutely clear that I do not mean filtering out unfavourable news or information. That is an unethical and irresponsible practice which has no place in reporting.

Filtering should be a positive and helpful part of the mental process which you follow when providing, and receiving information. As this suggests, filtering is a two-way act. Your audience will filter the information you provide them and discard those elements which they don’t feel are useful to them.

You can help them by filtering information before it gets to them. Whether consciously or otherwise, you filter information for audiences every day and in many parts of your life.

Let us take social media as an example. Each day as you go about your business, you encounter things that you find interesting, amusing, sad, annoying or distressing. You consider which stories, anecdotes, photos and articles might be of interest to the people you are connected to on social media. You discard many of them, select the most pertinent, and share them via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or some other medium.

Meanwhile, you scroll through your own news feeds and filter out anything which doesn’t interest you or which might offend you (or maybe in some cases you home in on those things which might offend you). Perhaps you mark some stories or tweets for later attention, or you are interested enough in what someone new has to say that you follow them or connect with them. You probably also find there are people you have already connected with who haven’t done much filtering themselves, and you sigh to yourself as you scroll past yet another Instagram photo of someone’s lunch.

Hey guys, check out this AWESOME pizza I had for lunch!

You make decisions about what might interest you, influenced by external factors including the time you have available. You apply filters to screen the information you are presented with. Of course, whilst screening this information you might miss something interesting or important that is lost amongst the Instagram photos and promotional material.

As you begin reporting on your testing, keep this in mind. You are about to present a person or a group of people with some information. They are going to filter some of it out. They are also going to devote a finite amount of time to your report. You should aim to get the most interesting and important information to them with as little distraction as possible.

Of course, this also requires some perception of what they might find interesting and important. As with your friends and contacts on social media, your understanding of this will improve over time based on their response to the information. Through that feedback and the understanding you develop, you can of course improve your reporting; and that will be the subject of the final part of this series.

Quick links to the posts and pages in this series:

Assisting with inquiries – blog posts

The mindmap and questions

6 thoughts on “Assisting with inquiries: Part three – filtering information

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