For a bit of variety, I am going to start posting the occasional blog based on the most common questions I receive from readers. This first blog in the (potential) series is in response to the repeated question I get from this blog, while training or while consulting:
“Can you recommend a good book for….”
Sure, we can all get by and survive by looking up things on the internet as we struggle on specific issues, but to thoroughly learn a subject and become an expert there really is no substitute for a good book.
In particular, I get regular emails asking me which Crystal Reports books I recommend to complement my own. It seems many people buy my book after struggling with formula writing, then start wondering what else there is to know and which books to read to find out more.
So in this blog I have decided to review some of the better books out there, Crystal Reports and others.
Please note: the cover illustrations link directly to Amazon.com if you want to update your own library.
CRCP Crystal Reports Certified Professional All-in-One by Annette Harper
This book is based on Crystal Reports 10. We are numerous versions past that. The CRCP is now called BOCP and exam guides are notoriously bad for anything other than studying for that specific exam.
However, this book is actually my favourite Crystal Reports book.
This book covers everything to an intermediate level and is a great reference for those things you don’t use often (like Mapping). If you want a reference guide beyond the built-in help files, this book cannot be beaten.
It is for version 10, but the differences between releases are so slight and this book is so good that it is still the best option.
Ignore the terrible and misleading title and invest!
The Complete Reference Guides (Crystal Reports) By George Peck
The Complete Reference Guides exist for a number of IT related subjects and vary in quality. George’s Crystal Reports books are some of the better ones.
Personally, overall, I prefer Annette’s book, but the Complete References really do cover all the functionality in great depth and are easy to use as a reference book after the initial read.
An added bonus is that they exist in numerous incarnations to match the Crystal Reports versions.
I can’t imagine anyone ever buying more than one of them, but if you want to learn the basic functionality and building blocks in detail, I thoroughly recommend getting the Complete Reference that matches your release of Crystal Reports.
Information Dashboard Design (The Effective Visual Communication of Data) by Stephen Few
This book focuses on the presentation and formatting side of reporting. I personally would not have thought this subject could justify a full book, but Stephen Few proves my misconception wrong.
Firstly, don’t be put off by the low page count. It is only 200 pages long, but these pages are bigger than the standard and are all glossy and full colour. And while it says “Dashboard” in the title of the book, the methods and tips presented are of great help to all report formatting.
Mainly, the book focuses on what data summaries to include within a dashboard and the best methods of displaying data for maximum clarity.
Chapter 3 shows an illustrated list of the worst examples of report formatting. There is nothing quite like seeing one of your own reports on that list to spur you on to make changes.
The problem with all the new reporting software is that it has so many bells and whistles it is an effort not to include them. Many times, these serve more to detract from the presentation than compliment the information you are trying to display.
The other issue is that many reports which look beautiful at first glance are actually terrible at displaying data clearly. This can be due to either the content or the actual formatting and Stephen careful deconstructs all the components to provide guidance on what to do and what not to do.
This book is not an essential to a Business Intelligence expert, but for those who want to ensure they are producing the most useful reports they can: this book is a blessing.
Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard Best Practices by Loren Abdulezer
When it comes to books for software, there is one core thing they should all provide: more information than the help files in the software itself.
This book does not really measure up in this regard. This is partly due to Xcelsius having a pretty good tutorial built in which takes some beating, but also because it glosses over any of the Excel side of things.
As Xcelsius is so heavily reliant on the Excel data being of a certain format and style, as well as the general approach of charts being based on Excel it is of upmost importance that these aspects be covered in any book for Xcelsius. They are not.
‘Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard Best Practices’ is mainly filled with a lot of generic talk and a distinct lack of practical examples or actual “how to” explanations.
It has some value for those who use Xcelsius exclusively and is more a “things to consider” guide than a specific ‘how-to’.
All that said, for those who want to know all there is to know about Xcelsius, this book is still worth a read as it may fill in a few gaps and the author obviously knows their stuff.
Lastly…Crystal Reports Formulas Explained.
My book! Obviously it is a bit unfair to review my own book, but it’s my blog and it seems stupid not to put at least put a link!
The cheapest way to buy this book is directly from the publisher, just follow the link attached to the illustration below and use this code: JB665Y to get the Crystal Reports Formulas Explained for the bargain price of £19.99!
Jason Dove is a senior consultant at Scry Business Intelligence and instructor who has specialised in Crystal Reports and Business Intelligence his entire career, utilising it for everything, from selling paint to counter-terrorism. He has provided Business Intelligence consultancy for some of the world’s leading companies and is currently making the same service available to smaller businesses. He is also the author of 'Crystal Reports Formulas Explained', a step by step guide to creating and using formulas for the industry leading BI reporting software.