Keeping the important stuff in mind: a tip for annual reports

It’s time to start piece of writing no one wants to hear about: annual reports. Generally, their mention makes people sob and horses bolt.

True enough, the worst sort of annual report is stupefyingly dull. But these reports are required by statute, and can be invaluable for outsiders who want to look at the entrails of an organisation.

For the organisation itself, the writing of an annual report is a way to better understand what has happened over the past year—what it did, what happened as a result, and what it can do better next time around.

Annual reports can be complex and are sometimes brutes to handle. How do writers know what’s important? And how do writers keep to an acceptably brief word count?

Like any other document, the first thing to do is identify the overall purpose, then the overall theme and associated messages. What do you want the reader to walk away with? If the year was successful, what good things did you do that you will keep doing in the future?

If the organisation failed in some way, why did it happen? And more importantly, how are you going to change so that it doesn’t happen again? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?

Have there been any particularly good examples of a job well done? How can you incorporate them into your report?

Is financial information up to scratch?

Is there a better way to tell the story? How should tables, graphs, charts and images be incorporated to make the clearest possible point? Do you have a consistent style?

Without these considerations, an annual report will say little, mean little, and touch very few. The simple rule: define purpose, identify themes, and keep the important stuff in mind.

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