A fact sheet is a single sheet of paper listing important facts about an issue. Fact sheets are easy and relatively quick to make, easy to understand, and cheap. You can do one sheet with basic information, or you can do a series of them on various aspects of an issue.
Why make fact sheets?
They are a handy self-contained quick reference that anyone can use during an interview or in writing stories, speeches and letters. They do not attempt to answer all questions but only to supply basic information.
Who can be targeted with fact sheets?
Just about anyone! They can go to the general public, handed out at local events or public meetings; to elected officials, government bodies, journalists; to other groups like yours.
Steps to making a fact sheet
Think about your target audience. What kind of information will appeal to them most? Hard facts describing the problem? Graphs, charts, tables? Comparisons with other areas? Stories of suffering people? Success stories? Recommendations for action?
Think about the message(s) you want to convey. What reaction do you want? Shock? Understanding? Outrage? What action should the readers take? You want the facts to support your message and goals in the wording that will be most effective.
Decide on the fact sheet subject area. One sheet can give an overview of your issue. You might also have several sheets, each covering a separate aspect. E.G., child marriage sheets might cover its threat to girls’ education, to their reproductive health, poverty as a factor, a global scorecard, the role of men, solutions, and recommended actions.
Set up an online or paper file for each fact sheet. As you find useful facts, stories or graphics, you will put each fact in its proper file.
Find good sources for your facts. Use government or international agency sources; current studies from reputable NGOs, universities, respected medical or scientific journals. Avoid news reports and online opinion. Treat all unsourced “facts” as unverified.
Go through each document start to finish and put useful facts, charts etc. from it into their proper files. ATTACH A SOURCE CITATION TO EACH FACT, even if you have seven facts in a row from one source (you may move them around later). If some good facts don’t seem to fit into any of your chosen subjects, make a separate file. Don’t worry yet about duplications, quantity, wording or length. Keep a hard copy of every document you use.
Verify, verify, verify! Check for possible bias. E.G., did a very low figure on teen smoking come from a research institute funded by big tobacco companies? If a fact is on a web site, does the site belong to a private citizen? Is this poll from a clearly biased group? Find a second source. You can include an opinion in a quotation, citing the source.
Make sure the fact is current. A figure on breast cancer rates might be interesting, but what if it’s from 1984? Use only recent information whenever possible.
Narrow it down. Now you have several files full of facts. Go through each file, arranging its facts in order of importance, grouping related items. Choose among duplications. Where factoids conflict, consider the source. Can you combine related facts (or sheets) into one? Move any that now seem misplaced. Do you need an additional fact sheet? Fewer?
Decide on your format. Try to keep each sheet to one side of a piece of paper, with both sides the absolute maximum. Use 11 or 12-point font for the text, 9 point for the footnotes or end notes. Each sheet should include your logo and contact info (in the header or footer).
Make the layout user-friendly.
- Plan to leave white space between items. Graphics, charts, tables are good.
- You can use a “who, what, when, where, why” layout, or sets of bulleted or numbered lists, or some other simple format. Use boxes and subheads to ease reading.
- Group related facts under subheads. E.G., “The Situation,” “Recent Developments” and “Next Steps.” Or use your message talking points, supporting each with factoids.
- No paragraph should be more than four lines long. Use principles of good writing.
- Leave space for the sources. Now you know how much space you have and about how many facts you can put on each sheet.
Condense, rewrite, explain. Some facts speak clearly for themselves but some need a sentence or two to explain what they mean and how they apply to your issue.
Don’t overdo percentages: They confuse some people. If possible, use fractions instead. E.G., instead of “33.2% of women…” say “One-third…” or “One in three…”
Don’t stretch the truth: Exaggerating makes you look dishonest. You can round a figure to the nearest whole number or use averages, but be accurate.
Don’t be repetitive: You may have drunk-driving accident rates for each of the last ten years, but use a single average or a range. Don’t repeat facts among sheets.
Make sure you cite the source for each fact. Now you can eliminate duplicate references. Structure all citations the same way, including enough information so that a reader can find the original source. Give the last date a website was accessed.
Include links to more information – your website and/or those of other groups.
Edit ruthlessly. If you have too many facts, resist the urge to cram them all into a sea of gray print. Don’t add pages or eliminate white space or reduce the font size. Instead, eliminate less-crucial facts. Eliminate jargon, adverbs, rhetoric. Rewrite to fill each line.
Remember: the goal of a fact sheet is not to answer every question about an issue but to supply important basic information.