Online first: what does it mean for the text?

This article appeared in German in the 17th edition of The Reporting Times (PDF) in October 2020

Ever more companies are embracing digital options for corporate reporting. But the web poses new challenges for text design. How does online reporting differ from print? And how can you make digital content shine?

In the train, on the bus, on your tablet or smartphone – digital annual reports can be read wherever you are. New media channels bring with them new readers – and new challenges. Online reports need to be clear, intuitive to read and available with a single click. So what does that mean for the texts they contain?

What makes a successful digital report text?

The main advantage digital reports have over their printed counterparts is that they allow for a richer reading experience, with multimedia content and direct hyperlinks replacing static images and footnoted sources. That makes usability the key to success for report designers – yet reports need not only to offer a compelling reader experience, but also to fulfill the regulatory requirements. Simply copying and pasting the print version won’t cut it. Instead, follow these golden rules for effective web texts – and content that achieves your aims from the very first page.

Take advantage of activity.

Online readers are active: they want to scroll, click and download. Guide them through your annual report by providing opportunities for action via clickable elements and links to additional information at the end of – or within – each paragraph. Plus, having a detailed financial statement just a click away keeps your legal department happy as well.

Make the text easy to scan.

Online readers read less and scan more. So adjust your report to their needs with plenty of keywords and short paragraphs that each contain a single idea. Navigation and search functions will also help them get an overview of your report.

Keep it simple – and short.

Online texts are usually half the length of their printed counterparts, and it’s sensible to keep this in mind when drafting your report. Say goodbye to complicated, clause-heavy sentences and focus on clear, straightforward language. If you’re basing the online text on a print version, be prepared to cut it down significantly. Repetition and filler words have to go. Almost everything can be explained more simply. Even an income statement.

Stand out visually.

If content is king, design is the emperor. It’s visual factors that determine whether your report gets read or not. Large fonts and plenty of space beat small, tightly-packed serifs any day. And the option to add graphics, videos and animated flipcharts opens up new worlds of opportunity for corporate storytelling.

“The annual report is becoming a digital experience – and so are its texts. If you get it right.”

The good news is that new measurement tools make it easier than ever to tell whether you’re getting it right. There’s no need for surveys or guesswork thanks to web analysis tools that deliver cold hard statistics: super useful for next year’s report. Will you have switched to digital first by then?

Cover image via Twenty20

Want to make your annual report a pleasure to read? We can help.

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