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No Designer Needed: How to Create Beautiful Reports Using Only R

David Keyes David Keyes
November 21st, 2022

I recently gave a talk titled No Designer Needed: How to Create Beautiful Reports Using Only R at the CANSSI Ontario Statistical Software Conference. This talk showed how we at R for the Rest of Us use the pagedownpackage to make high-quality PDF reports for our clients.

In the talk, I explained the two approaches people typically take when making PDFs:

Some people make all charts and tables, and then bring in a designer to lay out the report. The problem with this is that it is inefficient. Especially if you need to make multiple reports, the time it takes to generate all charts and tables and then have the designer lay them out is huge.

The other approach R users tend to think of is using LaTeX to design PDF documents. LaTeX is notoriously challenging to work with and if you don't already know it, you're probably better off skipping it.

We at R for the Rest of Us started to use the pagedown package because it allows us to design reports with HTML and CSS, two technologies we (and, increasingly, others) are more familiar with. You do need to know some HTML and CSS in order to make reports with pagedown, but, as I tried to show in my talk, you don't need a ton of experience with them to make something that looks decent.

The reason we at R for the Rest of Us go to this effort to make reports in this way is not just because we like using R. We often work with clients who need us to make multiple reports. This happened recently in our work with the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University.

IVAC produces an annual Pneumonia & Diarrhea Progress Report Card. In the past, they did this working with a designer. But they wanted to produce country-level reports for the 15 countries with the greatest burden of under-five pneumonia and diarrhea deaths in young children. Working with the IVAC team, we produced both a global report and 15 country-level reports.

So, if you're interested in making your own beautiful reports in R, consider learning the pagedown package. If you want beautiful reports made for you by the team at R for the Rest of Us, feel free to reach out.

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