A blog for writers with tips on editing, proofreading and related tools.

Nine steps to a better annual report

As many companies, clubs and societies are preparing to publish their annual reports, now is a good time to brush up on the little things that make a report look polished. Annual reports are often pulled together from a variety of organisational sources so inconsistencies in style and formatting are common. Before publication every report should be proofed by someone with a keen eye for detail and a fresh perspective.

Here is just a short list of the little things to look for:

1. Date formatting — pick one and go with it. DD Month YYYY is a neat option.

2. Figures — % is per cent or percentage. Write numbers under 10 in full.

e.g. Two sectors will be downsizing.

Write numbers over 10 in numerals. Large numerals take a space.

e.g. $12 400, not $12,400.

3. Capitalisation — for government, there are only a few terms that always take capitals: Cabinet, Treasury, Crown, the House, the Budget (but not as a plural or adjective), Act(s), Ordinance(s), Regulations(s), Bill(s). Other government-related terms should only take capitals when the full title appears.

e.g. Parliament House is situated in Canberra. She says parliamentary debate is terribly dull.

For business, resist the temptation to capitalise job roles, business documents and activities.

e.g. The business managers have been meeting quarterly since January 2014.

4. Acronyms — Pluralised acronyms DO NOT take an apostrophe.

e.g. Registered training organisations = RTOs, not RTO’s.

Choose whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ based on the sound of the acronym’s first letter, not its status as vowel or consonant.

e.g. an RTO, a UI.

5. Register — this is a term for the style of language you use. The style used for your annual report may tend toward the incredibly formal, or it may be more conversational depending on the audience. There is no right or wrong, just select a style and stick with it for the duration.

6. Redundancies — you want your report to be easy to read, so take out those extra words that don’t affect the meaning, and re-work the sentence if necessary.

Before: However, there have been many changes to the type of skills required to keep the business a going concern with relevance in the market place.

After: However, increasingly diverse skills are required to keep the business relevant in the market.

7. Dashes — en rule (hyphen): the short dash that joins compound words together, indicates a period of time, shows a relationship and is used for mathematical notation.

e.g. bitter-sweet, 1920-2009, hand-eye coordination, -45°C

em rule: the longer dash that is used to signify a change, introduce an explanation or set apart parenthetic elements.

e.g. Business development activities have been a core focus this year — in addition to sales, of course — and the corporate team has developed a long-term plan in consultation with each functional team.

The em rule can be used with or without spaces on either side, just be consistent.

8. Structure — be sure to check the table of contents, page numbers and references as a final step, once all editing is complete.

9. Style guide — if your organisation has not been working to a style guide I definitely recommend writing one (or asking your proofreader to develop one). Style guides formalise decisions related to formatting, style and word choice. A style guide should, among many other things, stipulate your organisation’s preferred font type and size, line spacing, colour palette, and also include a list of industry-specific words in the preferred format e.g. your organisation might decide to hyphenate ‘on-site’.

Remember, there is always the Australian Style Manual to provide guidance when lost (or when the office argument over full stops with bulleted lists needs settling).

What does your organisation do about proofreading? Do you need a style guide?