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Quality Criteria for Reports

The quality criteria for sound project evaluation reports are organized into six sections corresponding to report components: (1) Executive Summary, (2) Project Description, (3) Evaluation Overview, (4) Design, (5) Analysis Process, and (6) Results & Recommendations. See the criteria overview for a general introduction to the quality criteria.

For definitions of the report components, see the glossary. The alignment table shows how glossary and criteria entries for report components align to evaluation standards.

Component Quality Criteria
Executive Summary

The executive summary should provide essential information about the evaluation report that is easily understood by stakeholders. It should clearly summarize the purpose of the evaluation, the project goals, project implementation and impacts, and recommendations and conclusions drawn from the results of the evaluation.

Project Description  
Project Features

The following features of the evaluated project should be clearly described:

  • project goals (both explicit and implicit) and objectives
  • principal project activities designed to achieve the goals
  • project location and implementation sites
  • project duration
  • resources used to implement the project
  • expected short-term and long-term outcomes

If more than one site is implementing a project, the evaluation should describe each site and the anticipated variation that may be expected across sites.

Project Participants, Audiences, & Other Stakeholders

The different stakeholder groups should be identified, their relationships to the project described, and their different perspectives about the project's significance articulated.

Project Context

An understanding of contextual factors is necessary if an evaluation is to be realistic and responsive to the conditions within which the project operates. Contextual information is also needed to help audiences interpret the evaluation. It should be described in enough detail to enable stakeholders to understand the impact of the context on project implementation and outcomes.

Evaluation Overview  
Evaluation Purposes

The purposes of the evaluation should be:

  • stated in terms of goals and intended uses of results by stakeholders
  • described in enough detail to help stakeholders extrapolate critical meanings from the results

The evaluation should focus on whether or not promised project components are delivered and compare project outcomes against the assessed needs of the targeted participants or other beneficiaries. They should also be directed at finding unanticipated outcomes, both positive and negative.

Evaluation Questions

Evaluation questions that address context, implementation, and outcome variables provide the perspective not only for interpreting results, but also for understanding the conditions under which the results were obtained.

The questions should be justified against the following criteria:

  • To which stakeholders will answers to the questions be useful, and how?
  • How will answers to the questions provide new information?

The report can also delineate questions that could not be addressed because of constraints (e.g., limited time or resources, insufficiency of available data-gathering techniques).

Evaluator Credibility

The professional qualifications of the evaluator should be specified in order to build trust in the results.

Stakeholder Involvement

The report should describe how the positions and perspectives of the stakeholders have been considered in an ongoing manner, from the planning of the evaluation through the data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Stakeholder involvement in the evaluation can be beneficial because stakeholders can help the evaluator better understand project goals and objectives, shape evaluation questions, recommend data sources, and review findings. As a consequence of being involved, stakeholders are more likely to find the results credible, useful, and relevant, and less likely to curtail evaluation operations or hinder accurate and appropriate uses of the results.

Methodological Approach

The report should describe the selected methodological approaches and how, within the constraints of time and cost, they yielded data that help answer the evaluation questions. The data gathered need to be aligned with the goals that the project is intended to achieve. The data can vary, however, in how directly they indicate the attainment of project goals. Most projects are more likely to show effects on proximal outcomes than on distal outcomes that are either logically or temporally remote. (For example, a project has been designed to improve high school students' motivation to learn science. A proximal measure of the project's success would be student self-reports of interest in science content gathered immediately before and after the project. A distal measure would be whether the students decide to study science in college.)

Furthermore, the approaches should be grounded in respected methodological frameworks and best-practice literature. This increases the chance that project features and context that are likely to make a difference in project operations and outcomes will be identified.

Methodological approaches that look narrowly at project inputs and solely examine the results of quantitative outcome measures may not capture all the noteworthy influences, impacts, and outcomes of a complex project. Qualitative and mixed method approaches present alternative ways of detecting impacts, especially unanticipated ones. To corroborate evaluation findings and to provide multiple perspectives, it is highly desirable that evaluators measure multiple outcomes and gather data from multiple sources (triangulation).

Important constraints on the evaluation design (e.g., lack of random assignment of respondents to treatment and comparison groups, or lack of data on long-term effects) should also be stated at this point in the report.

Information Sources & Sampling

The sources of information used in a project evaluation should be described in enough detail to show that the information is sufficient to meet the evaluation's purposes.

The groups selected to provide information (e.g., administrators, teachers, students, parents) should be described. If a sample was used, the description should include:

  • the sample selection criteria (e.g., the lowest achievers, the best instructors)
  • the process by which the sample was selected (e.g., random, purposive)
  • the sample size
  • whether or not any comparison or control groups were included
  • whether and how participants were assigned to treatment and comparison groups

The extent to which the sample is representative of the entire population should be indicated. Information about the sample will help reviewers determine the extent to which the information provided about the sample is of sufficient depth to help users of the report judge its representativeness and appropriateness given the scope, context, and resources of the evaluation.


The report should describe the nature of the various instruments and how they are used to gather the needed information. Instruments should be used as intended in order for the data produced to be reliable and valid.

Data Collection Procedures & Schedule

The report should describe how and when data were obtained from the various sources and how the sources provide corroboration and multiple perspectives.

A description of the data collection and its intent provides a context for judging and interpreting evaluation findings and recommendations. The description of the data collection can inform the conduct of similar evaluations in other settings.

Information about the timing of data collection is important because the project's maturity needs to be considered when drawing conclusions about the project's strengths and weaknesses. For example, a survey questionnaire administered to participants halfway through the project is likely to have different results than a survey administered at the completion of the project.

Hence, this section should describe:

  • how and when an appropriately broad range of data were collected
  • what steps were taken to get essential data from the sample and other targeted sources (this might include a human subjects review)
  • how the data have met the criteria of validity
  • how reliability was achieved through the systematic training of data collectors and consistent data collection and scoring procedures
  • how the data collection procedures limited the burden of time and effort placed on project participants

Different models of evaluation present different data collection needs. For example, a formative evaluation requires that ongoing project activities be assessed at points in time that enable project developers to refine the project's components.


Evaluation purposes and procedures should be reviewed periodically, particularly during longitudinal evaluations, to determine whether the evaluation design, instruments, and procedures are adequately capturing the project's implementation, impacts, and outcomes.

Analysis Process  
Quantitative Analysis

The quantitative analysis procedures should be appropriate to the evaluation questions being addressed and the characteristics of the information being analyzed. The practical significance (e.g., effect sizes) and replicability, as well as statistical significance, should be considered when drawing inferences and formulating conclusions from quantitative analyses. Analyses of effects for identifiable subgroups should be considered, as appropriate, because a program may have differential effects for them.

In addition, the number of informants who actually provided data should be reported. (Informants who fill out a survey are called "respondents," and the percent of those solicited who actually respond is called the "response rate." This will help reviewers determine the extent to which the informants are representative of the total population.

Potential weaknesses in the quantitative data analysis, along with their possible influence on interpretations and conclusions, should be described.

Qualitative Analysis

The qualitative analysis procedures should be appropriate to the evaluation questions being addressed and the characteristics of the information being analyzed. As the evaluation progresses, the accuracy of findings from qualitative data must be confirmed by gathering evidence from more than one source and by subjecting inferences to independent verification.

Potential weaknesses in the qualitative data analysis, along with their possible influence on interpretations and conclusions, should be described.

Results & Recommendations  
Interpretations & Conclusions

This section of the report should be thorough and fair in noting, in a balanced and unbiased way, the project's anticipated and unanticipated strengths (e.g., smooth implementation, positive outcomes) and weaknesses (e.g., obstacles to implementation, evidence of negative outcomes), so that the strengths can be built on and problem areas addressed. When relevant data are inaccessible because of time and cost constraints, the resultant omissions should be noted and the effect of such omissions on the overall judgment of the project's impacts and effectiveness should be estimated.

If the project has been implemented in multiple settings, and each setting was a locus of data collection, the evaluation should compare and contrast findings across the sites in order to find results that are generalizable to the project as a whole. Some lessons learned about the project may also be generalizable to other projects, and should be identified in the report. When legitimate, generalizable statements about program effectiveness can contribute to theory development by providing positive examples for analysis and replication.

The conclusions section should report the findings with more broad-based statements that relate back to the project's goals and the evaluation questions. To view the significance of the project's impacts from a sufficiently wide perspective, the impacts can be examined in light of the alternatives (such as no other project, or a different type of project, to meet the need).

In posing conclusions, the evaluators should be open and candid about the values and perspectives they have brought to the task so that readers of the evaluation will be able to understand the context in which their judgments are rendered.

The conclusions can contribute to the furthering of professional excellence in the evaluation community by relating the outcomes of the evaluation to approaches and practices espoused by other evaluators.


When appropriate, recommendations should be included, either for current stakeholders or for others undertaking projects similar in goals, focus, and scope which were designed to serve similar participant groups in similar contexts. Care must be taken to base the recommendations solely on robust findings and not on anecdotal evidence, no matter how persuasive.

Stakeholder Review & Utilization

On sharing the report with stakeholders:
A draft of the report should be reviewed by key stakeholders so that the findings can be discussed, lingering issues can be resolved, and the stage can be set for the next steps to be taken, given the successes and failures that the results have revealed. After the draft of the evaluation report has been reviewed, all stakeholders and others with legal rights to the results should receive access to the final version of the report. The evaluator's judgments and recommendations need to be perceived as clearly and frankly presented, backed by descriptions of information and methods used to obtain them. Such disclosures are essential if the evaluation is to be defensible.

The report needs to be written in a responsive style and format. Different reports may need to be provided for different audiences that have different needs and perspectives (e.g., perhaps a longer, more technical report for the funder and a shorter report for lay audiences such as parents of student participants).

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