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How great content can make your dry reports readable

If the words ‘financial report’ and ‘annual report’ make you want to yawn, you’re not alone. Reports across the globe are being produced in dry, monochrome fashion; usually eliciting nothing more than a brief glance at the first few paragraphs.

Reports are one of the most important pieces of communication a business owns, but for some reason, never receive the same love and attention as the rest of their content. It’s time to make a change. 

In order to run a successful organisation, it’s essential that stakeholders, customers and staff are able to absorb the content of your reports. Here’s how.

Think like a journalist

It’s time to ban reports filled with endless pages of black and white tables, numbers and graphs. Instead, try to think like a journalist, and ask yourself: ‘why are people interested in reading this?’

Use the introduction of your report as a chance to tell your organisation’s story. Interview your CEO or key members of staff, and tell the story in their words – you’ll be surprised at how many authentic tidbits you’ll be able to collect from a quick in-person interview. 

This way of writing is a great way to avoid the usual corporate clichés that can arise when too many people want to rewrite the same passage over and over. Too many cooks can spoil the broth, after all.

Thought leadership content is an increasingly popular way for businesses to share their stance on certain issues, and there’s no reason why you can’t include a few short, snappy pieces throughout your report. Dig into your organisation to find those members of staff who have an interesting opinion on a subject that fits with the overall themes. 

Just like a journalist, you should learn to love quotes. Collect as many as you can from clients, and insert the best ones into your reports. They’ll provide an extra layer of authority to back up your internally-sourced content.

If you’re unsure about the writing side of things, there is an entire industry of journalists and professional writers who specialise in this kind of content. Hunt them down through word of mouth or on LinkedIn, and hire them. 

Don’t skimp on design

Never underestimate the power of good design in your reports. Tasteful pops of colour throughout the publication will not only make it more pleasurable to look at, but it could actually increase its readability. By breaking up long chunks of text with coloured subheadings and attractive images, readers are far more likely to make it all the way to the end.

Colour is an important asset to any brand. Using your brand’s colours will also help the report appear more recognisably yours, and make sure it’s in keeping with the rest of your marketing collateral.

Design shouldn’t be an afterthought, it should be baked into the report creation process from the very beginning. If you don’t have an in-house design team, then hiring the right person or people for the job should be on your to-do list from the very start.

Some examples

Screen Australia’s annual report combines film stills with bite-sized chunks of information, well-laid-out pages and engaging articles. Along with the usual performance data, the report also contains ‘The story of’ features about some of the years’ best TV shows, documentaries and films.

Multinational oil company Weatherford threw out the typical PDF format with a responsive microsite for its 2017 annual report. The site is engaging and designed in a way that actually makes you want to keep reading. How many oil companies can say that about their annual reports?