Annual reports don’t need to be ho-hum pieces filled with tiny type, endless lists and boring tables. Try these writing tips to create a more engaging and effective showpiece for your organization.
Write in the active voice
In general, using the active voice, as opposed to the passive, is preferable. Sentences tend to be shorter, less awkward and more interesting. For example:
Passive: Research will be presented by Dr. Smith at the conference.
Active: Dr. Smith will present research at the conference.
Who’s reading your report?
Remember that your annual report will find its way into many hands—from those who have little familiarity with your work to experts in the subject matter:
• The casual reader may just scan the report and focus on quick reads like headlines, bullet points and photo captions.
• Professionals or academics may skim the whole report or concentrate on specific sections related to their interests.
• Your coworkers, colleagues and others with a vested interest will read the report more thoroughly and will want more detail.
Less is more
It’s difficult to sum up your year’s work in a few words, so the temptation is to say too much. It’s best to concentrate on top priorities so that readers remember the most important elements and don’t get overwhelmed with too many details. As an exercise, try writing down everything you want to say. Let it sit for a while and then cut your word count in half. Usually, you’ll find that the most essential points can be made in fewer words than you start with.
Aim for easy reading
As the amount of information we are exposed to grows exponentially, it can be difficult to decide what to attend to. Few have the luxury to read everything thoroughly. You can help your annual report readers by organizing the content into easily digested “chunks.” By chunking copy, you are directing the reader to what you feel deserves the most attention and giving them options for what to focus on. Use bullets, subheads, boxes or other methods of highlighting to tell the reader where to look and clue them in to what’s most important. It simplifies the elements and makes it easier to interpret and remember the details.
Research backs this up. Case in point: a Nielsen study showed a 124% increase in readability when content was concise, scannable and objective. So, be succinct and chunk your copy!
Graphic elements, such as photos, graphs or infographics are a very effective way to draw the reader in. And, white space between these elements is useful in reducing clutter and adding emphasis and structure. Work closely with your designers to find the best way for your writing to have impact.