Covering Your Assets: The Analytical Memoby Leslie R. Fisher
The production of deliverables often involves invisible services. Marketing our services can and should educate the user about product development and about the value that we as information professionals bring to the process. Without resorting to an overbearing narrative description of service processes, we can provide our users with a product analysis that reveals the foundations, procedures, and relative success of a request fulfillment. The method I use is to provide an "analytical" memo with search results.
The notion of providing "analysis" on a topic, industry, company, etc. is one that makes many librarians cautious, if not launching them into a dire panic. Let me head off some of those concerns by emphasizing at the outset that I am talking about analyzing the research process and the deliverable_and not analyzing the topic, industry, or company per se. After I describe this marketing tactic, I will touch on the concerns of avoiding analytical responsibility as an industry specialist. This is a valid concern, and yet there is much that can be provided by the searcher or reference specialist that gives context to the product and the subject that the memo covers.
Increasing the UnderstandingFirst, consider the nature of our work. We take numerous steps in providing a finished product. A search or reference endeavor starts with a user request and some degree of reference interview. This is followed by the searcher's appraisal of the subject. If the searcher is well versed in the subject this may be a quick event; if not, this may require investigation of subject history and clarification of best search resources. If the request is highly textured (containing multiple subject concepts or multiple aspects of a topic, i.e., business information, market information, key players, competitors, etc.), then the request fulfillment requires significant internalization of retrieved information and thoughtful output.
We may be requested to present all output in an unmediated format. This certainly requires little value-added structuring to the deliverable beyond identifying search sources and time references (search conducted when, search covers what time frame). On the other hand, we may also be requested to present a snapshot of a subject (who's who in an industry, companies and their status, background of a technology/product, etc.). In these cases we are preparing, sleuthing, and presenting. We make judgments and assessments not only about where to search, but also about what to retrieve and how to weave together a large body of material. It is this process that I illuminate through the cover memo.
Being the Authority on Your Process, Not on Their SubjectWhen I give my clients their information packages, I sometimes include a cover memo depicting the contents of the deliverable and presenting some points about sources. This memo may be simple, like a list of featured sections from articles in the document. The list will present key points that provide an overview of search results. To clearly represent the featured sections, I usually identify the date and source of original publication. I also include the page number in the search results where this item will be found.
The search document itself will be framed into sections using headers to identify the document by logical information segments. Segmentation of the search document depends upon the subject matter. Logical segmentation may be subject subsets, such as company A, company B, product history, etc. Another subject segmentation might subdivide the document into persons, companies, industry overview, etc. Sometimes an effective overview of the search process and results are better revealed through segmentation by document type (such as news material, market research material, bio material, company publications, etc.).
When a request results in a complex retrieval, I will provide more information in the analytical memo. In this case, I am likely to abstract material ranging across subsets (as defined above) and present these in the cover memo in a layout that depicts their inter-relationship. For instance, when information is retrieved about a number of players, companies, or products and is distributed over several document segments, I will draw them together in the cover memo as a list or table. As another example, when the collective information on an individual is spread across several sections of the search document, I will abstract vital information into a biographical outline, such as age, education, key dates of interest, professional appointments, etc. With the abstracted notations, I usually include selected quotations from retrieved material, or I will at least identify source documents for these data.
I may or may not include exhaustive references to the database sources that I used in the analytical memo. In a large organization where interfaces may be less personal, I would do so. However, in my present situation, I have the privilege of working for a group of people that I see nearly daily. With some clients I will discuss the types of sources I will use or get suggestions/directions from them while the search is in progress. If I did not have this accessibility and ready dialog I would certainly apprize requesters of the search sources (as opposed to retrieved material sources) I used. And, as I do verbally, I would indicate where a richness or dearth of information occurs in published material. (The absence and presence of published material is indicative in some cases of the "freshness," degree of importance, public awareness, etc. of a given subject.)
One point I will include in the output is an indication of success or degree of fulfillment of the search. I will indicate any problems I sensed, such as if I felt the retrieval is missing some factor, if retrieved material is not current enough, or if a lapse of data pieces occurs over the time sequence of the material. Also, I may note where there is an abundance of material. Though this factor is likely to have been communicated during the search mediation, when there is a great deal of material retrieved I will choose not to include a significant amount. I feel it is important that the client realizes the degree of selectivity that is represented in the product.
The amount of narrative disclosure on search fulfillment depends in part on the client. As I mentioned earlier, in my current situation I will usually be in verbal communication with clients during a long, complex search process. In this case I will tell them about obstacles and holes or imbalances over comparative segments of a deliverable. Cover memos thus may or may not include this commentary.
Organizational Context of MemosIn this article you may have observed an implied factor in the decisions I make about the analytical memo; this is the nature of the organization in which I work. Analytical overviews of deliverables may be more appropriate for some organizations (or some clients) than for others. My organization supports this form of value-added processing (and marketing), and it includes rich communication levels among members and a significant degree of partnering on the search process.
Another important factor in this organization is the clarity I have on how my clients will use the material I deliver to them. I know that they are not passing products along to outside sources. Thus I am confident that this information will not appear out of context and misrepresent the subject to a party that has not participated in the search mediation.
I currently work for a venture capital group. This industry is very contact-intensive. A great deal of information employees rely on is obtained as word-of-mouth communication among themselves and between colleagues and deal participants. They are great sifters of information. And they use their expert networking skills to confirm and context data points (narrative and documented) from many angles. I am certain that every information kernel and data bit they gather is added to the greater knowledgebase and referenced from that point of view. It is not unusual for new information presented in the course of a deal to change the picture. Sometimes the search process is a result of these changes. Sometimes the search process results in these changes. While quantitative aspects are part of many searches, this is a very qualitative research environment. Perhaps, in quantitative research environments, the analytical aspect of a deliverable would be reduced or limited.
The Analytical Memo as MarketingI believe my deliverables serve three significant aspects of marketing services to my clientele: increasing my clients' understanding of what I do, validating my services, and establishing a dialog between my clients and me. Let me explain further:
As a whole, the memo provides an insight into the sleuthing, comprehensive skills, and post-processing agenda I've undertaken for a research event. I believe this increases my clients' understanding of what I really do. Increasing their awareness of my aptitudes puts the client into a better position to evaluate the construction of the deliverable and gives them more information with which to assess the value and validity of the search results. They are empowered by understanding the process and they are invited to participate in search mediation. I believe the increased confidence in the product that this produces also validates my services at large and my position as a company asset, therefore encouraging my clients to take advantage of the services more often.
If I have done everything right, I have now forged greater respect for my position as well as for myself. I believe the memo opens up dialog that establishes my ownership of my work (what I really do), and it establishes an invitation to one-on-one and iterative relationships. My client and I become a team.
Cautions on "Analyzing" InformationWhen using the analytical memo for search and reference deliverables, it is necessary to maintain very clear distinctions about what is being analyzed. For most search and reference librarians, and even for some subject specialists, out-and-out industry analysis is beyond the scope of our job requirements and beyond the authority of our skill sets. However, analytical skills are very much a part of what we must use to fulfill our research tasks. Using these skills appropriately can increase the value of the products we deliver and thus increase the value of our services.
When applying these skills, it is important for us to keep in mind the key word "appropriate." I believe that appropriate analytical practices are the norm among us. (In conversations with my colleagues I find that many would rather avoid any such analysis than provide it. And I have yet to find someone who would blithely assume to apply these skills beyond their ability.) What requires more endeavor on our parts is to ensure that our clients recognize the limits with which we apply our analytical skills. Promoting the skill and its services through value-added memos must be tempered with carefully crafted delivery so the client recognizes that the analysis is applied only to the deliverable and to the process. There are some additional steps you can follow in order to maintain and promote those limits.
If I worked in a large organization I would always identify in the memo the analyst (myself or a team). I would also indicate the limits of the analysis, e.g., not a company-sanctioned document, not a formal analysis, etc. It might also be appropriate to caution the client to refrain from further distribution of the document.
Any specialists that are identified during or for the purpose of a search (individual, agency, or institution) may also be identified as such in the memo. Likewise with pertinent authors in the subject areas. This gives the client access to specialists and analytical authority beyond the scope of the searcher.
One Final NoteI do not include an analytical memo with each deliverable. Sometimes there isn't time for this degree of post-processing. Sometimes I deliver this information verbally. Some deliverables are far too simple or data-oriented to warrant such an attachment.
On the other hand, some deliverables cry out for a good cover memo. A 30-page or longer document requires more than headers to assist the reader in timely digestion. It is one simple (though not always easy) step to extract the highlights from the document so that the reader knows how to prepare their own thought processes for this new information.
This sort of value-added tool is a kind of handshake between my client and me. It also helps me to form the shelf on which I store this information. The analytical memo concludes a process I have started with sleuthing. It prepares my thought processes for further discovery in the same subject arena, or in other related subjects. It is thus a part of the agenda for my work-related satisfaction. It completes my cycle of research. It prepares me for further dialog with clients. And, as I have learned, especially in my current work arena, dialog is marketing.
Leslie R. Fisher is the manager of investment research at Technology Funding, Inc. in San Mateo, California. She has an M.L.I.S. and a C.L.I.S. from the University of California-Berkeley. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.