On Lines

Reeling in readers

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Swathes of effort, budget and senior stakeholder time go into producing annual reports yet research suggests just 12% of investors read them – and those who do spend less than five minutes on each one. Assessing the recent crop of 2012 annual reports, the best reads are those that follow the fundamental rules of all good writing. To make sure your annual report – or any publication – gets read, try our tips:

  • Use straightforward language. Avoid jargon, acronyms and industry buzz words: analysts may understand them but lay readers won’t
  • Give some background. Don’t assume prior knowledge of your company or sector
  • Keep it brief. Habitual online reading means we now demand information in small chunks. And, as the Investor Relations Society says, in its annual report best practice guide, “Quantity does not always equal quality”
  • Discuss the negatives as well as the positives. Omitting bad news damages the credibility of the whole report
  • Avoid repetition. With different teams responsible for separate sections, too often the same facts reappear again and again. Repeat yourself sparingly or, at the very least, discuss different aspects of the same issue
  • Maintain a unified narrative voice. Have one person edit the whole report to ensure a consistent tone, style and vocabulary. Don’t forget the corporate governance section: it shouldn’t read like legalese, even if it’s been written by lawyers
  • Use news-stand tricks. Editorial devices like pull-out quotes, case studies, larger point standfirsts, Q&A features and key facts panels will all pull readers in.

Rebecca Dowman contributed to Petrofac and Centrica’s 2012 annual reports and edited the Grant Thornton Corporate Governance Review 2012.