Communications: Visualizing Data for an Annual Report

Create a brief, visually appealing report for stakeholders.


Annual reports are created across various careers and sectors (academia, government, industry, etc) to demonstrate how the group has accomplished their goals. An annual report highlights successes and impacts over the previous year by a group, and shares next steps. Key stakeholders, such as supervisors, partners/collaborators, customers or beneficiaries, and non-experts (such as faculty at an academic institution) use these reports to inform policy, procedures, and resource allocation.

The professional could hold a number of different roles: a Marketing & Communications Specialist within an office or department; a Program Director or Director of an office, department, or program; an Office Manager. Several individuals who are part of a group (office, department, program) may contribute data and information, while one professional may compile and finalize the report.

The Process

The process below includes the steps to create an annual report. Data visualization is a critical part of this process.

  1. Strategy. Review the group’s mission and vision to identify data and metrics you will highlight. 
  2. Data. Collect data from team members and/or programs that will be described in the report.
  3. Visualization. Analyze data using data visualization software.  
  4. Synthesis and Design. Summarize key metrics and findings, and identify prominent themes in the results.
  5. Write. Construct the report in the layout aesthetically, including your data visualizations and descriptions. 
  6. Review. Circulate the draft with team members and incorporate feedback into the final report.
  7. Share the final report with key stakeholders.

Your Role

For this exercise, you are an administrator in a Postdoctoral Affairs Office at an academic institution. You report to the director of the office and work with a Marketing and Communication team member. In addition to running social media channels and updating the office website, you are also tasked with putting together the annual report that highlights workshop participation and outcomes, advising appointments, and marketing efforts.

The Exercise

You will create one or two pages of the Postdoctoral Affairs Office’s annual report, summarizing data from workshop attendance, workshop outcomes, and marketing efforts. The annual report will be shared with the Director of the Postdoctoral Affairs Office for feedback before sharing with key stakeholders.

Task 1: Data Visualization

Review the example data provided about participation in workshops, advising appointments, and marketing data. Your first task is to visualize the data (step 3). After consulting the resources below, create 2 or 3 visual elements (infographics, graphs, icons, quotes, etc.) to meaningfully describe results of the office. Choose one or two areas to focus on for the purpose of this simulation (workshops, advising, and/or marketing). Think about the impact or benefit of using different types of visualizations.

It’s important to also review the mission, values, and goals of the office. Consider the stakeholders who will read this report. What would key stakeholders want to see? 

Task 2: Synthesis and Design

Consider which piece(s) of data are most important to the annual report and create a layout that will draw the eye to that data. Use quantitative and qualitative information.

Now, design the layout for one or two pages of the annual report that will incorporate the visual elements created in task 1. Use Canva, InDesign, or another program of your choice. Ensure that you are consistent with institutional branding (use of colors, fonts and logos). This task might take the most time to complete. To get an idea or a head start, use the Canva template provided for task 3.

Task 3: Write the report

Use your visualizations (task 1) and page layout (task 2) to construct the report. Include text and captions where necessary to emphasize the outcomes and value of the office, tying in the mission and vision as necessary.

Sample Deliverable

2021 Annual Report from Boston University Professional Development & Postdoctoral Affairs


General resources to help you get started:

Data Visualization: 

Layout Templates and Design: 

Sample Annual Reports

Skills Used to Perform These Tasks

  • Organizational skills 
  • Clear, concise writing
  • Detail oriented
  • Strategic thinking 
  • Data analysis and visualization

Skills Used in This Field

  • Critical thinking
  • Time and Project Management
  • Collaboration
  • Effective writing for technical and non-technical audiences

Additional tasks in Marketing and Communications:

A professional in the field of Marketing and Communications may also perform these tasks:

  • Develop social media strategy and run social media channels
  • Design and update website
  • Interview collaborators and partners to inform marketing strategy

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation authors – Olivia Chesniak, PhD and Celine Young, PhD
Job simulation vetted by professionals from public and private universities serving graduate students and postdocs.