Crystal Reports: The Beginning. It’s Where You Should Start.

Now that I’ve expectorated some thoughts about Crystal Reports in the past two articles, it’s time to dive right in and get started with writing our first report together.  Let’s take a look at the overall report writing process, which can look something like this:

Report ProcessAs you can see there are a few steps to take before you even get to Crystal Reports.  For this article let’s start at the beginning and discuss the meeting to discuss the details of the report and create a mockup.

The process might start with a conversation like this:

  • Them: Oh hi Josh.  I’m so glad I ran into you in the hallway.  Do you have a minute?  Could you pull a report for me?
  • Me: Sure, which report would you like?
  • Them: Well, I need a gift report.
  • Me: Um, okay.  What information would you like to see on the report?
  • Them: You know, the usual.  Like, um, gift information, and details, and totals.
  • Me: Um, okay.  I would love to find out more but I’m on my way to the bathroom and I really have to go.  How about I schedule a meeting and we can discuss the details?

All you really know at this point is that they want (which is different than need) a report.  It is also quite possible that all they know at this point is the same thing, that they want a report.

Schedule a meeting with them and bring paper and Sharpie.  The objective of the meeting is to find out as much as you can about what they want on the report and leave the meeting with a mock-up (hence the paper and Sharpie).  As you ask (the right) questions you’ll find that they may not be sure of exactly what they want on the report and they are depending on you to help figure it out.  Yes, it’s their report but you know the database and what information is available and what might be most useful.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Who or what do you want on included on the report? (think Query)
    • Constituents, gifts, actions, etc.
  • What information about the “who or what” should be included on the report? (think Export)
    • Name, address, gifts, actions, proposals, constituent codes,etc.
  • How do you want the information grouped and sorted? (also Export, groups and sorting could be based on fields that do not actually appear on the report)
    • Sort key, gift date, constituent code, state, zip, etc.
  • What summaries, subtotals and grand totals do you want on the report? (also Export)
    • Number of donors, total amount of gifts, counts by constituent code, etc.
  • How will the report be used and by whom?
    • It helps to know who the audience is and how they will be using the report to do their job.

I don’t take notes as they answer these questions.  Instead I basically translate their responses directly onto the mock-up.  By the end of the meeting I have a mock-up like this:
ReportMockup_Page_1This gives them a much better idea of what they are asking for and it gives me a great place to start.  I also have all of the information I need to start on the next step and create the query.

(The above report mock-up and the sample report I will create is based on the Gift Detail and Summary Report in Raiser’s Edge.  So yes, there is a canned report for a request like this but this report is a good example to follow for a first report.)

Read the next article in the Crystal Reports track: Raiser’s Edge Query and Crystal Reports or view the track listing here


5 thoughts on “Crystal Reports: The Beginning. It’s Where You Should Start.

  1. Another visual, helpful tool, at a report meeting is for the person needing the report to give you an Excel spreadsheet of what they would like the report to contain and in what order. That is if they or someone who works with them knows Excel – then the designer can ask the same questions above to clarify. After this basic layout, other design elements can be added in Crystal – like the report header, a logo, a footer that can contain a Print Date/Time code field, and Page # of # Special Codes. Also asking the frequency of how they want to process the report, can determine if a Parameter formula is needed to give the report processor the ability to enter a Start and End Date to the report.

  2. Hi! Great post, however, the only change I would make is, bring a pencil to the meeting, not a Sharpie! Or erasable pen, you know, or white out.

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