Here are five more tips on writing annual reports plus a reminder about getting the tone right.

In my last blog I offered you six practical tips on writing annual reports. And I reminded you of the importance of consistency throughout.

Tip 7. Find out about the organisation and its recent activities
You must become familiar with what the organisation’s goals and activities are and what events have occurred over the last 12 months. Only then can you write or edit an annual report. Here are few places to look for information: intranet, internet, newsletters, speeches given by senior officers, media releases and journal articles written by staff.

Also, make yourself familiar with last year’s annual report. For example, if the chief executive foreshadowed certain events then you may need to know this and report on their progress. Read business plans or other strategic documents.

You will also need to grasp some idea of what external conditions have been relevant to the organisation. For example, have political, economic, investment, social shifts and weather changes helped or hindered its success?

Tip 8. Find out how bad news will be conveyed
If there are legal requirements about what topics an annual report must include, an organisation cannot leave out any of those topics just because they contain bad news. It is not a question of whether to include such information it is a question of deciding how to.

Larger and medium sized organisations that have suffered from bad news or embarrassments generally have already adopted an approach to this problem. Regardless of whether it is a known problem or one that the report will reveal for the first time, the CEO, media, or public relations units will have already discussed how to release this news. Contact them for advice.

Tip 9. Be extra careful with audited accounts
The end of a financial year is a hectic time for auditors. Their timetable for checking and signing off your organisation’s accounts will determine your timetable.

You cannot change anything in accounts that the auditor has signed off. If their accounts are reformatted you need to very carefully check for accidental changes. A two person proof read is preferable. Ask your chief accountant to sign off on the reformatted accounts.

Tip 10. Be prepared to handle text, graphs and tables containing statistics
I once presented a course to editors on editing and writing annual reports. One session included an outline on what to be aware of when checking statistical content. I was shocked by their reaction. I saw so many horrified looks from editors who clearly hated numbers and had no intention of getting involved with editing anything to do with them.

Are you one of those writers or editors who are uncomfortable with content containing lots of numbers? Yes? Then unless there is someone else who can compile and sign off on all statistical content, you should probably avoid annual reports.

It is critical that all numerical content in text, graphs and tables is accurate and consistent.

Tip 11. Compiling reports for government departments and bodies
Each level of government in Australia has unique requirements for their annual reports. For example, they all have different demands about:

• Topics to cover
• Deadlines
• Dimensions, formats and numbers of hard copies

Annual reports for Australian Government departments and bodies must be tabled during a sitting day, by the appropriate minister, in their own house, that is House of Representatives or Senate, and before a certain date. Special arrangements to table out of session apply if an election is called.

You need to know about these requirements before you start planning and setting timelines. You might be lucky and find that someone has already downloaded the appropriate information for you. The department or body you are working for may have an inhouse parliamentary liaison officer who can help you find out who tables your report, by when and where.

On the other hand you might have to go searching for yourself on government or parliamentary websites in the relevant state or territory.

Because of parliamentary privilege, you must never distribute a government annual report until it has been tabled.

Reminder about using the right tone in your annual report
A neutral tone is most appropriate one when writing an annual report. It is a critical business document and must sound like one. Apart from your choice of words and sentence length the structure of your report is important.

A clear content structure with headings, summaries, tables and diagrams, and an uncrowded layout demonstrate to your readers that you are trying to make it easy for them to understand your content. These elements assist in creating neutral, as well as persuasive and transparent, tones.

For practical guidance about tone, word and sentence choice and document structure use Indis as your organisation’s preferred writing style guide.