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Annual reports

Six steps to create an awesome Annual Report that people will read...


Download the Annual Report PlannerDoes a root canal sound like a more exciting alternative than writing yet another annual report? The good news is you’re not alone! If you work in government, not-for-profit or even a commercial organisation, it’s a once a year necessity.

So why is writing the annual report such a headache?

  • Some of the content is compulsory and confidential.
  • Different versions need to be released at the same time e.g. hard copies, an online version, media releases etc.
  • Waiting for other peoples content can try your patience.
  • The devil is in the detail.
  • The content must be correct.

At the Information Access Group, we know your pain. To make the process easier for everyone, we created a few resources to help. Annual reports can take up to three months to produce, so you need to start planning early.
If you have less time and a tight deadline, stay calm – simply follow the steps and keep moving forward.

Let’s turn your annual report journey from awful to awesome!

Step 1

Have a project PLAN

You need to find out all the essentials for your plan right at the start:

  • Who is your team for content and approval?
  • What are your deadlines?
  • What is your budget?

Start with your end date and work your way back. Give yourself a little room for those people who need to include content and who are difficult to chase up. As you go through the steps below complete the Annual Report Planner. Share the plan so everyone knows what is happening and what is expected.

The Annual Report planner includes three planning templates: a project planner, a creative brief and a print specifications template. 

The planning templates have been developed with a not-for-profit organisation in mind, but can be adapted to suit the needs of government departments or other organisations.


Step 2

Know the PURPOSE

What is the purpose of your annual report?

  • Is it to get the minimum legal requirements tick of approval?
  • Is it to be a marketing and public relations tool?

Be clear on what it is going to be used for, this will help set the tone and direction of the report.


Step 3

Know your AUDIENCE

Identify all key audience groups. Who are you writing for and how would they want to receive the report?

We can’t stress this enough: think about accessibility at the start. This helps you to save time and money by not having to create accessible versions of documents at the end. If you are publishing your report online, you need to make sure it is fully accessible to meet WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines. Get expert advice right from the beginning.

Knowing your audience will help you work out the production formats. This can be digital, online, printed, video or a postcard with a link to the online version.

An interesting trend in annual report design is creating a plain language or Easy English version. This trend is becoming increasingly popular to engage with a wider audience base making more inspiring and impactful reports. This is also valuable if your organization supports people who have intellectual disabilities, people from cultural and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is a tried and tested way for greater accessibility to information for everyone.

There is also a trend to move to an online only version of your annual report. Before you go ditching the paper version though, this article by Tom Ahern still serves as a cautionary tale for not-for-profits that fundraising opportunities are still a strong draw card for a printed version.


Step 4

Know your KEY MESSAGE and who is writing content

To really make an impact, try to identify one strong key message. The title sets the theme in the headings, the design and the overall look and feel of the report. Share your passion and your personality.

Editorial style must be constant throughout. Remember that consistency is key. Think about getting a company style guide or specific style guide for annual reports if you don’t have one. A little effort now means big rewards later.

Who is writing your content? Is it a team or an individual? Ideally one person should co-ordinate all content. Identify them early and let them know what is required.

Make sure you are clear about what must be included in the content and know what content can be edited if need be. Are there any departmental or ministerial guidelines that will affect the annual report design?

Make sure you proofread regularly throughout the process and have various readers check editorial copy before it is sent for approval.


Step 5

Develop your THEME and tell your story

Once you have your message, develop a theme. The main theme will bring the entire report together, be reflected in strong design and mean a more engaging result.

To create an outstanding report:

  • use simple text
  • use big bold images
  • choose a bold and brave front cover for maximum impact
  • highlight achievements not activities
  • evoke emotions – powerful stories connect
  • create heroes from your supporters
  • use easy-on-the-eye charts for financial information.

To ensure you create a memorable annual report people will read, make it:

  • engaging
  • informative
  • inspiring
  • easy to access
  • include easy to understand numbers and financials
  • available in multiple formats
  • fully accessible.


Step 6

Set the benchmark for next year

Why not put the challenge out there and enter an award? Setting a benchmark is a key incentive to setting the bar high for next year. Some awards to consider include:

The Information Access Group are experts in accessible design and audience engagement strategies. Speak to us for further information on how we can help you create an awesome annual report. 


Tell us what you think! We'd love to receive your feedback on the annual report planner and we can incorporate your ideas into future versions.