08. Writing

Storytelling is key to the successful design of any report. It needs to take your audience on your corporate journey with you – however bumpy or smooth, direct or scenic, fast or slow that might be.

Best practice

Key points:
  1. Prepare a clear brief. A writing brief is as important as a design brief. The scope of the project should be outlined clearly, including the roles and responsibilities.
  2. Have a writing style guide in place before writing commences.
    Common changes at the editing and proofreading stage include style inconsistencies like date formats, capitalisation of specific words, use of hyphenations and specific spelling. These detailed changes are costly and are easily avoided if the authors have a style guide reference.
  3. Use a professional proofreader or someone that can mark-up changes clearly.
    The more clarity, the faster, and more accurately the changes can be taken in, and that saves money and time so everyone can stay on budget.

If you need help crafting your messages and telling your story, we work with writers who understand the compliance and reputational imperatives of annual reports, are experienced in working with executive teams, and can tell a good yarn.


The key to a good Annual Report is effective communication. Most people don't want to read spin, they want to read a balanced report that doesn't gloss over the tricky bits.

Copy can be generated inhouse or externally by a writer specifically commissioned to produce new copy.

They may do this by:
  • collecting existing material
  • researching new material, and
  • conducting interviews with key personnel.

A writer can take complete responsibility for preparing all of the copy. In that case, the project manager’s role is to help negotiate with internal departments and ensure deadlines for the supply of information to the writer are met.

Sometimes all the copy is available, but written by different people and lacking consistency. In this case, a writer would assess the copy and re-write all or some of it to improve the flow.

Writers also take responsibility to seek permission(s) to use copyright material. This needs to be done early because if permission is denied at a late stage, it can be costly.

The writer’s fee could be negotiated as an hourly or project rate. It may be between a 3 and 6 month project.

Download a guide to briefing a writer fact sheet.


Editors could be used in conjunction with a writer, or to clean up material generated inhouse by a variety of people.

Editors do not usually introduce new text, instead they work with supplied material aiming to improve it. Imagine the text as furniture in a house, and the report as the house. The editor unpacks the house, and puts all the furniture on the front lawn to assess what is valuable and what needs to be replaced. They then repack the house, rearranging the furniture to try to make the house easier to live in and to meet the client’s requirements (the brief).

An editor can help:
  • correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and word choice
  • check facts and references
  • ensure that the structure of the Annual Report works.

If the Annual Report has been written inhouse it is a good idea to check the copy before supplying it to an editor.

There are a number of common errors made when writing. These can be avoided by putting together an internal brief for the writers.

Download a guide to common punctuation errors fact sheet.

The editor’s fee could be negotiated as an hourly or project rate.


Proofreaders are an invaluable part of the project.

During the Annual Report process a proofreader may be used to check that corrections have been taken in correctly and they are often used at the end of the production process as a skilled ‘fresh eye’. Their role is not to re-edit, restructure or rewrite.

Proofreaders are involved in the detail of the document. They will:
  • check page numbers are consecutive and running headings and footers are correct
  • ensure consistency – particularly of alternative spellings and hyphenation – by following a supplied style guide or by compiling their own
  • identify necessary changes and mark them in the copy. This is generally done on hard copy. If proofs come in electronic format as PDFs, they can be printed out and marked up in the usual way. Page proofs, draft web pages and PDFs can also be read on-screen, but this is usually less successful than proofreading from hard copy and more difficult to mark-up changes
  • check for typographical and design inconsistencies as well as textual ones
  • cross-check chapter titles with the table of contents and that references to the appendices, index, etc. within the text correspond accurately
  • check or insert numbers in cross-references
  • eliminate bad word, line, column and page breaks
  • ensure that illustrations and their captions and labels correspond with each other and with the text
  • liaise with the copy-editor and/or the author to resolve queries or bring them to the client’s attention
  • mark-up changes in a clear manner that makes them easy for the designer to take in, and therefore be less costly.