Tips to make your report succinct and powerful

Part 1. Start with a cover with impact. One dramatic large image usually has more impact than a collection of small photos.  But does it also fit the theme of your report this year and give readers an insight into the aspect of operations or brand attribute you wish to emphasise?

Part 2. Create a clear structure. People like continuity, so last year’s template can be a good starting point, but the structure should meet readers’ current needs and be built to communicate your main messages this year. If you were to start with a “blank sheet” what structure would ensure a cohesive, logical narrative flow to the report?

That approach will be more effective than ticking off a checklist of compliance requirements.

Part 3. Aim for the right ratio of photos, text and white space. Note that online media is becoming more visual. That has implications for the ratio of text to illustrative ways of communicating. Pages densely filled with text are a turn-off. Think: “What is the story we are telling this year?” and: “How can we tell it more visually?”

Part 4. Make photos and graphs do more work. Create and select only the ones that best reflect the main points you are making this year: the organisation’s breakthrough achievements; how it has helped society; its potential to grow and multiply earnings. Then craft captions that go beyond labels to reinforce those key messages.

Part 5. Convey dynamism, action. Humans are a gregarious species. We relate to other people. So if you want to convey that your company is a dynamic and team-focused organism, show people doing things, relating to others, smiling and enthusiastic in their work. Put verbs into headings and sub-heads to subliminally convey an action-oriented organisation. Shorten sentences. Active voice.

Part 6. Case studies are now almost a necessary part of a good report.  Look for human interest stories that personify how you are making life better for a particular person; what you are achieving in a community; how an employee has helped improve the way you do things; or an example of innovation.

 

Part 7. Aim for simple and concise, vs. daunting, turgid and laboured. Increase readability by using descriptive headings and break-out boxes to help cut the clutter. Relevant examples, photos, diagrams and tables assist too.

Part 8. Language. Cut out the industry jargon and business-speak. Use ‘vogue’ or fashionable words sparingly (‘passionate’; ‘going forward’; ‘disruption’; ‘pivot’, etc). Active tense; shorter sentences; include examples to make information quicker to absorb.

Part 9. Reduce content to sharpen the message. Updating last year’s report to include everything you can think of is a recipe for information overload and reader turn-off. The general reader may only look at the pictures in such reports – so you’d better make photos and their captions tell the story you are trying to communicate.

Reduce the number of pages in the front section and get creative to convey your information more succinctly. Cancer Council NSW is a good example of resolutely keeping the front of the report to 25 pages, grouping information into logical sections.

Part 10. Stop talking about internal stuff. How terrific a charity may have been in raising funds; the introduction of a new accounting system etc, are low on the totem pole for what matters to your readers.

When assembling all the raw information that you receive from each department for your report, order the points in the way a journalist orders a story: most important info at the top, descending to least important. Then be brutal and cut from the bottom.

Use creative writing and photography to bring the corporate story to life, as with this theme from Sanford’s report. Great writing:

 

Part 11. And, lastly, Cut 10% from the ‘final’ text. Do a final proof-read specifically to cut unnecessary verbiag

I hope these thoughts help you in constructing your next annual report. The writers and designers at FCR have many years’ experience, so give us a call: 612 8264 1000.

This article is from a presentation Brian gave to the Australasian Reporting Awards 2020 Seminar  www.arawards.com.au as the Coordinator of the ARA’s Special Awards for Communication judging panel.