What does “text quality” mean for annual reports?

This article appeared in German on page 11 of the 16th edition of The Reporting Times (PDF) in May 2020

Which companies communicate most effectively with their shareholders? This question has gained a new dimension in 2020. For the first time, the Swiss Annual Report Rating is including “text quality” as a criterion in its rankings. But what exactly makes for a well-written report?

The addition to the Swiss Annual Report Rating’s grading system increases the demands on investor relations and communications personnel. Successful annual reports now need to take into account words as well as figures. But a high ranking is just the cherry on top when it comes to the advantages of a well-written report: numbers may persuade investors, but words win hearts, minds and long-term fans.

The precise criteria being used to evaluate text quality are still unknown – the specialist jury is keeping them close to its chest. However, the following rules for convincing writing are sure to score you points with your readers all year round.

Does your text meet the functional, aesthetic and content requirements?

What elevates a piece of writing from simply correct to actually engaging? According to a rubric from the University of Zurich, it’s all about the ars bene dicendi – the art of speaking well, or rhetoric.

Functional factors determine the text’s intelligibility and coherence. They include a logical structure, the use of sub-headings and paragraphs to organize the text, and explanations of any graphics or tables. Text structure can be used to build interest and hook the reader. The keyword here is corporate storytelling.

Aesthetic factors give a text its appeal through carefully selected vocabulary, sentence structures and register. Here, financial reports have the tricky task of balancing lively language with standardized terminology.

Gripping structure. Vivid phrasing. Surprising content.

Content factors aren’t restricted to the information offered in a text. A piece of writing usually aims to inspire a particular emotion or provoke an action on the part of its reader. To do so, it needs to offer relevant, easy-to-understand, surprising content. And dare to be different. Like Swisscom, ranked third in last year’s Swiss Annual Report Rating. Under the slogan “Inspiring people”, the company used language and graphics to connect technical innovations with the key events of 2018: for example, Ultra HD came alive through the example of the World Cup.

These factors can be applied to all kinds of texts, and we expect that they’ll form a key part of the ranking in 2020. If you’d like to make the top 100 in future, a well-written report will be essential. And it’s worth investing in it now.

Cover image via Twenty20

Want to create an annual report that your shareholders won’t just read, but enjoy? Talk to us.

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