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Top 9 Mistakes to Avoid in Digital Annual Reports

How to Build Effective Digital Financial Reports

Preparing an annual report is a weighty task. It’s not just a financial report. Annual reports redefine the organization and polish its image. They outline accomplishments, future goals, areas for improvement and growth — and, of course, financial reporting. To stay competitive with the rest of your industry, you’ll likely want to create a digital report this year. Digital annual reports allow your team to develop more compelling content with multimedia. Digital annual report design also lets you tailor content directly to different types of readers. Additionally, they’re excellent investments in the future. You can reuse the content and design from your annual digital report in next year’s reports, your website, smaller customized digital reports for one-off projects, publicity and press release initiatives, and more.

What is a digital annual report? A digital annual report is a digitized version of an annual report. It may be in the form of a mini website or a section of an organization’s website. A digital annual report is more interactive than a conventional annual report, allowing readers to download data, listen to clips of speeches, navigate to various hyperlinked sections, and more. It may also offer a variety of multimedia, including videos and animations, charts, and more. A digital annual report is typically more compelling and appealing than a standard annual report.

Maximize the impact and ROI of your digital annual report this year (and every year) by avoiding these nine common mistakes.

Mistake #1 Not Creating Content for a Digital Format

When developing your content, prepare a digital audience and their expectations, not a print audience. Beat Schwarz, Language Excellence Manager at Lionbridge Zurich, says, “The biggest mistake you can make with a digital annual report is to believe the rules for the content are the same.” Your team should write and aggregate content suited to a website, not a long PDF or hard copy document. (Many companies turn to experts in digital annual reports, like the ones at Lionbridge.) The rules will be completely different. This means tasks such as:

  • Creating interactive financial reports
  • Writing shorter blocks of text
  • Creating bulleted lists when applicable
  • Aggregating visuals 
  • Making short videos or animated segments
  • Building a user-friendly navigation and search feature
  • Ensuring compatibility with all devices: mobile, desktop, Apple, Droid, etc.

“The biggest mistake you can make with a digital annual report is to believe the rules for the content are the same.”

- Beat Schwarz, Lionbridge Zurich, Language Excellence Manager

Mistake #2 Making Content Difficult to Read and Translate in Your Digital Annual Report

Even if your annual report design is appealing, vibrant, and innovative, the content must still be readable. The written content must be engaging and written in a clear, persuasive, and organized manner. Consider adding a glossary of terms to help readers better understand material. Write clean, effective sentences, not circuitous or in the passive voice.  

If you need a multilingual annual report, write content ready for translation. This will save on costs and turnaround time, especially if your team has tight deadlines to create and deliver its annual report. Luckily, the same tips for writing for translation will also ensure your content is easier to read in English (or whatever your source language is).

Mistake #3 Making Data Less Accessible in Your Digital Annual Report

Readers will expect the data in a digital annual report to be more accessible than if it were in a PDF or hard copy. Allow them to download it easily. Create interactive graphs and charts. Offer user-friendly displays that let your readers omit data they’re not interested in and focus on the data they want or need. This functionality will help people get more out of your digital annual report and understand your financial reporting more comprehensively. 

A graph juxtaposed with a cityscape

Mistake #4 Not Constructing Custom Paths or Messaging in Your Digital Annual Report

Unlike a print report or PDF, a digital report isn’t usually read from start to finish. Readers expect to be able to select only the material that’s relevant to them. Meet these expectations by tailoring specific paths for different groups: customers, vendors and suppliers, board members, investors, employees, etc. Make it easy for readers to choose these paths, then develop them with messaging and material they’re likely to seek. Consider what they want to know – and what you want to say to these groups. Beyond specialized pathways, making material easy to scan is also essential. Use headers and subheaders, bulleted lists, and call-out boxes. Avoid repeating your information. 

Mistake #5 Using Inconsistent Terms in Your Digital Annual Report

Sometimes, when multiple team members or departments — the communications team, accounting team, etc. — write a report, there’s an inconsistency in key terms, including complex financial terms and titles. You can avoid this mistake by creating a glossary with standard terms and titles, their definitions, and capitalization practices. Share this glossary with everyone who will write a section of the report. Some of these terms could be published in the report for readers. (Of course, it may be better to omit some). If a translation process is necessary for the report, the glossary will help the translator to improve their final product.  

Creating a corporate language is useful for digital annual reports. It’s also helpful for many other internal and external communication projects. Share the resources defining the corporate language with the entire company. Consider encouraging (or enforcing) its use daily. Your company will benefit from this exercise all year, not just when preparing the annual report. 

Mistake #6 Applying Inconsistent Grammar and Style

As noted above, when multiple teams or departments write an annual report, it’s common to find a variety of grammatical and stylistic differences. One section may use an oxford comma, while another one omits them. One segment could capitalize the beginning of a bulleted line, while another doesn’t. Some sections may use an annual report design comprised of company colors, while others don’t. Even if these inconsistencies aren’t mistakes, they’ll damage the company’s credibility. The annual report is a representation of the organization and its achievements. As such, it should be pristine in every way, including grammar and style.  

Ensure consistency by developing a style guide and sharing it with everyone contributing to the report. As a final step, one team (or person) should be charged with reviewing the report against the style guide’s rules. The final version should have a uniform look, follow the same grammatical rules, and use the same stylistic rules in the text. 

This review and style guide process will also assist in translation. If an organization needs to translate its report, it should share its style guide with the translator. The style guide will answer a translator’s questions about grammar, spelling, how to write headings, and more. It will also help them translate the report faster and thus reduce costs for the translation process. A style guide is a good investment for years to come, since you can reuse it for every new annual report. Organizations may also want to use the style guide for their blog, website content, or other corporate communications. 

Mistake #7 Writing a Shareholder Letter Without Personality 

Most companies understand that digital annual reports need accurate financial reporting and error-free consistency in style. People sometimes forget these reports must also have a distinctive voice representing the company, especially in the CEO’s letter. When many departments and team members review a report, it’s easy to lose the “voice” in essential sections like the shareholder’s letter. However, this section will be far more persuasive and memorable when it retains the CEO’s character and perspective.  

Traffic against a digitized graph

Mistake #8 Not Answering Fundamental Questions

It doesn’t matter how much multimedia material, letters, or financial reporting are in an annual digital report. If it doesn’t address the most fundamental reporting requirements, it won’t be effective at all. In fact, it may be a waste of time and resources. Every annual report should clearly answer a few questions:

  • Why does the organization exist?  
  • What are the objectives (overall and for the previous and subsequent years)?
  • What are the strategies for achieving these objectives?
  • How does the organization make or raise funds?

These answers don’t have to give away trade secrets (of course, they shouldn’t), but they must be reasonably detailed and persuasive. Shareholders, investors, vendors, financial reporters, employees, and clients/customers will lose or gain confidence in the organization based on how well it can answer these fundamental questions. 

Mistake #9 Neglecting to Review and Measure Results of Your Digital Annual Report

After devoting so much resources and labor to your digital annual report, measuring its efficacy is critical. Digital reports allow you to track downloads, heatmap where people read sections or bounced, and compare your stats to other organizations’ annual reports. There’s also the traditional method of asking for feedback. You can leave a place for reviews or comments at the end of the report, on the landing page where it’s downloaded, or simply offer an email address for people to send their feedback. After a suitable time period, it’s vital to review all the data about how the report performed. Set a meeting, take notes, and plan how to improve in the next report. This feedback can help inform procedures for the digital annual report and other reporting projects. The value of measuring the success and failures of this report could be impactful for years. 

Get in touch 

Want some help creating your digital annual report?  Do you need translation services to prepare your report for global readership?  We can help. Contact us today to find out more about Lionbridge’s services for writing, translating, and digitizing your financial reports.   

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