An organisation’s annual report is like its report card for the year.
Most annual reports convey the current state of the organisation and its performance over the past year, its goals and plans for the year ahead, and financial reports or statements.
When it comes to what to include in a report, there are no hard-and-fast rules. But it is important that an annual report does not just consist of marketing spiel, or simply turn into a set of financial data.
If you’re writing the annual report for your organisation, our tips can help you create an engaging and informative document that your audience will actually want to read!
Where to start
The first step is to determine the purpose of the report – for example, it could be to promote your brand, reassure shareholders, attract new investment or to increase sales.
You also need to know who you are writing for. This requires more than just knowing who you want to read your report. You need to know what makes them tick, what solutions they are seeking and so on.
It’s a good idea to read through a sample of other annual reports – what do you like, and what makes your eyes glaze over? Do you think everything in the other reports should be included in yours? What is missing, such as things you’d like to know that are not there? Note down all your ideas and thoughts down as you go.
Once you’ve done some research, draw up a rough outline before filling in the detail – this is an important step for determining the structure of your report before you start writing.
Things you might include in your report
While reports will differ somewhat, depending on particular industry requirements, there are a few basic elements to include.
- Mission – its broad goal and reason for its existence.
- Vision – defines where the organisation would like to be and what it hopes to achieve.
- Values – core values such as reliability, honesty, consistency, integrity, being customer-centric and so on.
- History – a brief history helps to paint a picture of where your organisation has come from and where it is now.
- A statement from the CEO or director outlining this year’s achievements and milestones as well as goals / strategies / plans.
- Team outline – e.g. team member portrait images and 50-word descriptive snippets, or a page devoted to team achievements with a group image.
- Customer stories – short, positive ‘testimonials’ from some of your clients.
- Snapshot of main achievements for the year – e.g. a single-page view showing key facts and stats such as how many projects were won, and the value of contracts for the year.
- Details of specific projects and milestones – for instance 100-word snippets for current and completed projects for the year with high-quality images.
- Benefits and impacts of the organisation’s achievements – for example, places that were made safer or more efficient, or stories about communities that benefited.
- Action plan for the coming year – including proposed projects, work-in-progress, improvements, or new directions.
- Financial reports – such as the balance sheet, profit & loss and a cash statement.
You could also include information about your customers, stakeholders, assets and any other information that’s relevant to your audience.
Making it ‘shine’
There’s nothing worse than wading through pages of dull ‘corporate speak’. Here are some tips and suggestions for making your writing shine.
Use an active voice
With an active voice the sentence subject performs the action, rather than the other way around. So, you might say “Four team members reached their milestones” rather than “Milestones were reached by four members of the team”.
Sentences with an active voice tend to be clearer, more direct and easier for people to follow. Active language also sounds more authoritative.
Use simple, engaging clear sentences
Shorter sentences (20 words or less) with clear concise meaning are easier for people to read than long meandering ones. It’s also important to use shorter words where possible and to delete unnecessary words.
Include a narrative theme
Telling a story helps to make a report less bland and gives it a human side. Your story might include challenges and problems you faced and how you overcame them, as well as talk about as key achievements.
Include easy-to-read stats and facts
This might include a year in numbers, the year in review, or infographics depicting key stats. Visual representations often help readers to grasp and remember key information more quickly than plain text.
Use consistent styles and colour schemes
Your report should be professional-looking while being easy on the eye. However, it should not look like it’s trying to win an art award, so make sure not to overdo the colours or layout styles or you could end up with a cluttered mish-mash! Instead, use a simple and consistent colour palette and style throughout.
Incorporate pull-out text to emphasise key points
Highlighting key information in a larger font can be great for catching a reader’s attention. It’s important that all pull-out text is simply stated and only makes one point at a time.
Include some easy-read charts for financials
No one ever got out of bed in the morning excited about getting to look at some rows of numbers! Use charts and other graphics to help make important financial information easier to read and more digestible.
Tie the years together
It’s important to follow-up on any unfinished projects or new developments mentioned in the previous year’s report. This creates a consistent story and continuity from one year to the next.
Write, rinse and repeat
Make sure to do as many drafts as you need. It’s important to edit out excess ‘boring stuff’ and include all relevant information before the final publication.
What not to do
There are some key things to avoid when writing your report, including:
Jargon or clichés – people can get quickly bored or frustrated with these, so keep the language plain and its meaning straightforward.
- Marketing spiel – people are quick to pick up on this so make your report informative but not too salesy.
- Text alone – text on its own can become tiring to read and follow, so make sure to include at least some graphics.
These tips and suggestions can help make your report easier to write, and more engaging. But if you’re still daunted by the task, hiring a professional writing team can be a great solution. Some professional expertise can make your report stand out from the crowd and really shine!