Improving Annual Reports |

10 ideas for improving your next annual report

It won’t be long before you’ll be in the throes of producing your next annual report. Before you begin, here are 10 things you should keep in mind to make the most of this important investor relations tool.

1. Write for your audience
Don’t assume that investors and other stakeholders are familiar with your company or your industry. Be sure to define unfamiliar terms. And write for the first-time reader.

2. Take things one step at a time
Like it or not, most people who read your report do so with preconceived ideas of your company formed from other sources of information. First impressions are difficult to change. So don’t think you can change your company’s image with a single report.

3. Get PR out of your AR
Annual reports serve many purposes. Done right, they do a good job at all of them. But to be truly effective, your report needs to be forthright about your company’s performance and must reflect a high degree of integrity.

4. Write for skimmers and scanners
Corporate report readers don’t exactly hang on every word. Reports are usually skimmed and scanned. Use graphic tools and a writing style that allows readers to extract key messages quickly.

5. Repeat and vary. Vary and repeat
Repetition with variation is a classic communications tool. You enhance the comprehension of key themes by emphasizing them throughout your report in diversely worded ways.

6. Satisfy your readers
Reader satisfaction with your report is tied to comprehension. So strike a balance between the seasoned, informed reader and the rank novice.

7. Keep it simple
To reach your audience, you need to make your report easy to read. That, more often than not, means keeping the design, copy and graphics simple.

8. Provide a 360-degree view
Yes, your annual report is intended to report on past results. But most readers care more about your company’s plans for the future. So give them an overview of your vision and strategies.

9. Set the right tone
A corporate report is a reflection of management’s judgement. The tone, look and feel of your report, therefore, needs to be carefully crafted to accurately capture management’s attitude and mindset.

10. Get a second opinion
Writers have a tendency to fall in love with their work. But this is a risky romance that can lead to even basic errors being overlooked. Hire an editor or give your work to a dispassionate third-party (that excludes family members) who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

Whether you publish your annual report online or in print, it remains an important stakeholder communication tool. Companies that take stakeholder reporting seriously already understand that effective communication is a sign of good leadership and a means of building trust. What are you doing to show reporting leadership in your company?

– –
Richard Ketchen is a freelance financial writer and communication specialist. He draws on more than 20 years of experience to help clients produce sharper, clearer, simpler communication for stakeholders. Richard can be reached through his website,