Annual reports made easy: the four steps to real success

This article appeared in German in the 24th edition of The Reporting Times (PDF) in May 2024

An ever-widening target audience and externally driven changes in reporting make one thing certain. For anyone who wants to cut through the thicket of data and win over their stakeholders, clear communication is essential. Corporate publishers have a duty to consider: how do you ensure that reporting texts convey the correct message? One example is the new international standard for plain language.

We all know it. You have a lot to talk about – a new product, a change process that is finally complete or a successful financial year. So you invested a lot of time and money in polishing off a perfect report. But instead of reaching your audience, you flew over the heads of most of them. They simply did not understand. The problem: you might be knee-deep in your material, but your readers aren’t necessarily.

There’s a plain solution: “put your readers first” and provide them with texts that they understand from start to finish right away. You’ll notice the added value. At least when you’re on the other side and have to read an insurance policy twice.

Clear corporate communication is therefore a top priority. According to the CCR Future Laboratory, for 82% of respondents, readability and comprehensibility are increasingly important. But we know the reporting requirements, so we need a tool that is compatible with them. Introducing: plain language. It makes specialist texts easy for everyone to understand. The guidelines for this have been officially set out in ISO standard 24495–1 since January.

Are you thinking, “great, even more rules”? You’ll get used to this one: after all, something should change in your communication strategy. And for a truly effortless text, you need to put in some effort yourself at first.

How communication simply works

There are four basic principles behind plain language:

    • Readers get what they need (relevant)
    •  Readers can easily find what they need (findable)
    •  Readers understand what they find (understandable)
    •  Readers can use the information easily (usable)

For annual reports, this means identifying in advance the questions your target audience wants to have answered first – everything else ends up at the back of the report. Use common words instead of technical terms wherever possible. Keep sentences short and only include one idea at a time. Emphasizing important keywords also helps with understanding. Include images and multimedia, too – if they underpin statements and don’t just decorate pages. Anything that supports the physical act of reading, nothing that complicates it.

“Clear words will help you achieve your aims more quickly. And close the deal sooner.”

In addition to clarity, the whole process has other advantages. Keeping things brief can counteract “data overload”, which, according to the CCR study, stakeholders paradoxically both scoff at and see as detrimental to transparency and trust. Laying it on too thick probably won’t get you very far. And in the best case scenario, absolute clarity can even promote business. After all, fewer inquiries mean faster results – whether you’re concluding a contract or buying shares.

Nevertheless, time and interest aren’t always enough for brooding over a text. That’s why there are writing experts who can help. We call them plain language professionals. And they make your texts easy for everyone to understand. Sometimes, the plainest ideas are the most brilliant.

Cover image via Envato

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