Creating annual reports is daunting. The process can be derailed by challenging timelines, editing various writing styles to get a consistent voice, and the number of decision makers involved in sign off.
In the leadup to her Business Writing workshop on Annual Reports, communications specialist Spiri Tsintziras shares five tips on how to make project managing, writing and editing your organisation’s annual report as painless as possible.
1. Plan, plan, plan
Identify who needs to be involved in planning, writing, editing and signing off content – and do this as early as possible in the lead-up to your deadline.
Good planning will help streamline the process. Build in some time buffers for the things you can’t control yourself – especially staff delivering articles, sign off, design and printing.
Allow plenty of time for editing, as this often takes longer than you think. Consider engaging a professional editor if you have the funds – this will help get a consistent voice across the report, particularly if the people delivering content differ markedly in their writing styles or abilities.
2. Show off
Don’t just treat your annual report as a mandatory requirement. Your annual report is a great opportunity to show off your organisation’s achievements. What are your top products? What are your most impressive practices? What did your people do best? How were your clients or customers positively affected by your practices?
Brainstorm your successes, find quotes and dig up numbers for each program or unit, as well as the organisation overall. When you have the raw material, consider how you can package this up into compelling stories. Don’t forget to use visual stimuli to get your point across – simple graphs, images, illustrations and charts all help to make the report more accessible.
3 .Tell a story
Having a strong narrative thread running through your annual report will help frame it and tell your organisation’s story in a compelling way.
Sometimes the story plays out as an explicitly stated theme – or it might simply be a thread that underpins the overall focus of the report. Very often the story revolves around a key concept – for example, how the organisation engages people both from within and outside of itself, how it acts to change lives, or how its services or products impact its stakeholders.
Illustrating your achievements through compelling stories (be it via the words of the CEO, the actions of a volunteer or feedback from clients) will help you engage the widest possible audience.
Consider which people have the most compelling stories to tell to illustrate your organisation’s work – it might be the loyal office clerk, the long-time customer or the up-and-coming scientist who has made an exciting breakthrough. Take the time to engage them – perhaps spend a few hours with them as they do their work, ask them what they love about their job and what they would change if they could. Get to the heart of what they do and then show how it fits in with your organisation.
4. Get the voice right
When everyone from the CEO to the accountant delivers copy, inevitably the voice across your annual report will differ.
A good project manager will provide direction at the outset to those preparing content for the report – this means outlining word counts, providing style guides and sample annual reports, and ensuring that each writer understands that their work may be edited for consistency. If writing isn’t their strength, consider engaging an external writer or internal staff member who can interview them, collect information, and write the article on their behalf.
If one person or a small team are writing the whole report, it helps to source relevant and accurate content as early as possible
5. Polish until it shines
Often, it’s a mad dash to your deadline as articles that need editing and sign off come in. Generally, there are several layers of editing in an annual report – an overall edit to ensure consistency in voice, a line-by-line edit to ensure language is tight, and editing for legal and technical accuracy. And then there’s proofreading. In between, you might have program heads introducing new content and making changes. Try to allow a generous amount of time for editing.
Basic grammatical or spelling errors will undermine the professionalism of your annual report. If you or your staff have read the copy too many times, consider employing a proofreader, or ask a few people to proof the report who haven’t seen it yet.
For a pain-free annual report, remember to plan well; don’t forget to show off; tell a compelling story; and allow plenty of time for editing, proofing and sign off.
Find out more
To learn more, and to give your annual report a ‘health check’, book into the Writers Victoria half-day annual report writing workshop with Spiri in April 2018.
About Spiri Tsintziras
Spiri Tsintziras is a communications specialist with qualifications in training, social work, and freelance journalism. She runs the copywriting business Writing Spirit, where she regularly transforms facts and numbers into engaging reports. She teaches corporate writing at Swinburne University and has had several roles in publication management within the government and not-for-profit sectors.