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Writing an annual report

What does an annual report mean to you?

For many people an annual report is boring and they don’t read those they are given (such as from a superannuation fund or employer). For others, an annual report is an important part of reviewing investments and companies.

Then there is the group of people who are involved in preparing annual reports…

If you are in this group, annual reports suddenly take on a new importance and can be very intimidating to start. There is the size of the report plus the fact that an annual report is a significant, formal summary of the business.

There is nothing stopping a small or micro business presenting an annual report, but many bigger companies must produce an annual report within a certain timeframe. And that generally means there are specific things to be included in those annual reports alongside the standard financial summaries.

I have written and project managed a number of annual reports now, and I can honestly say it is a lot less intimidating now than when I did my first couple! So here are some of my tips to make writing annual reports a bit easier:

  • prepare a list of mandatory inclusions so you can check off each thing as you add it
  • in your drafts, set up tables and use dummy text for sections you don’t know details of yet – it reminds you to include it but also helps plan spacing in the report
  • read previous years’ reports to get a good idea of what the company prefers to include (for example, does each Board member get a bio or just a name?)
  • be prepared to make many edits as different people (eg technical and legal experts) read the drafts
  • set aside solid blocks of time to work on the report as it takes time. For instance, yesterday I spent two hours reviewing and refining a first designer draft of an annual report – doing it in smaller chunks of time would take a lot longer overall
  • utilise existing content where possible. For example, if you have a clear definition of a concept on your website copy that definition into your annual report instead of rewriting it. Not only does it save time, it means you have previously accepted text which saves edits and discussions
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