How to create an annual report that people actually want to read

Reporting season is upon us, end of financial year headaches are accumulating. Most of us would have experienced the pressure of getting a report done and polished at a time when you really don’t want to. And then you find yourself thinking, who’s actually going to read this? Am I wasting my time?

Well, guess what? Annual reports don’t actually have to be hard or even boring. You can set yourself up for a winning report, a rewarding process and a prideful outcome if you set yourself up from the start.

We have worked on hundreds of annual reports over the years. We’ve read them, we’ve edited them, we’ve designed and produced them. We’ve seen annual reports from a huge array of industries and organisations and we’ve loved what we’ve learnt from it all.

From all this, we’ve got a few tips to share on how to make your annual report engaging, interesting and NOT a headache.

Break it all down

This works for both the reader and the writer. When you’ve got a huge task in front of you it can be daunting, hell it can even lead to mass procrastination and last minute all nighters. Breaking it down at the start gives you bite sized chunks to tackle and tick off your list in a very satisfying way.

Break your reporting down into the sections or chapters you want it to be organised in and then break those sections down even further. Try putting down the heading and all your subheadings first, then fill in each as a task. Remember as well, that it’s easy to get caught in a ramble, pulling your report apart even more into dot point lists can help with this. Expand where you need to, list it out where you don’t.

For the reader this is also important. Have you ever picked up a mammoth essay and just gone ‘uhhhh’ and put it down again? Having sections to read makes it feel less  dense. It also helps your reader to just find what they need to know quickly, being able to scan your headings and subheadings for what they’re looking for. Getting them to read the bits relevant to them is better than them not reading any of it at all.

Turn comparable data into easily consumed infographics

In the same way that breaking apart your text makes it easier to read, you can pull apart numbers and data into something that can be understood in a second. Graphs, diagrams and infographics can all do this for you, you just need to figure out the right representation for the information you’ve got. 

Infographics can be a great way to visualise data and ideas particularly throughout lengthy documents like annual reports. When an infographic works and is labelled correctly it will communicate an idea visually with no need for a written explanation. Data that translates well into infographics includes: percentages, comparisons between one year and the next and the results of a survey.

But a warning - infographics can be addictive! They look so good you just want to turn everything into one. Infographics should never make the data or idea more confusing and using infographics that have no real meaning should be avoided.

Tell some stories

Give people something to smile about or commiserate with, human connection is a real tool to be utilised in a good report. People engage more when they can relate with something. Wherever possible, include a little story or anecdote amongst your reporting - it helps people understand the results you’re getting and what you’ve had to do to get them.

Stories add a bit of depth to what could otherwise be some pretty dry reading, they are worth digging for. Even a quote can help inject a human element that will create connection.

Collect top quality images and photographs

No matter what age we are, we all still love a picture book. Pictures make a lot of writing feel much less, and seeing an image gives you a break from reading. There are so many benefits to including some good photos and images in your annual report.

Again, they add the human element - the reader can put what you’re saying to something real and visible. If you’ve got pictures of the actual thing you’re talking about - great - but even if it’s just some pretty pictures from your location, it helps.

It’s worth investing a bit of time in taking some really top quality photos. Find a friend who’s good with a camera or pay someone for a few hours of photography work to capture some high resolution photos. Any image is great, but when you’ve obviously put some effort into getting proper quality photos, it shows. Your report will look a hundred times more professional than if you’ve just gathered everyone’s phone photos from the year.

This is a good one to keep in mind throughout the year, a photo tells a story and will really help build your report and show what your year has been like.

Put it all into editorial format

You might not think that formatting is a big deal when you’re putting together your report, but trust us, it is. If you’re sending it off to get designed, you might not have to worry so much - the designer can do this for you. But if you’re putting together a report to send off yourself, pay attention to your formatting. 

Use proper heading styles, make sure your font, size and colours are consistent throughout. Putting your report into a full editorial layout will only help people read it. The less huge chunks of text on the page, the more people are likely to read on. You can use columns, boxes, pull out quotes and all kinds of other little editorial tricks to help keep the reader engaged.

Make it beautiful!

This is the part where we really just recommend that you let us help you with putting everything together. You’ve done all the hard work, spent hours upon hours banging away at the keyboard and harassing people for information and input - let us take it from here. We’ll take all your words and numbers and turn them into something beautiful that you will be so proud to have worked on.

Turning your report into a professionally designed and produced publication is the icing on the cake of a big year of hard work and the words you’ve written to prove it all. Not only will you be proud of your work and excited to share it, the people reading it will be super impressed and are much more likely to read the report you’ve worked so hard on. The flow on effect of that is more or extended funding, credibility and increased reputation in your field. All the things an annual report is actually supposed to do for you.