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Annual reports can be boring, here are five ways to make them a thriller

Let’s face it, annual reports can be boring. Surely even the most business focused person would have to admit that corporate publications are not renowned for their entertainment value.

So when the annual review which I write, edit and produce was declared unputdownable by a veteran journalist, it was praise indeed.

“These kinds of documents can be heavy going, but Cambridge Assessment’s annual review is absorbing”, wrote Jenny Chapman, award-winning Business Editor at the Cambridge News.

“I was sitting at home half watching Silent Witness when I began reading it, and pretty soon I switched off the telly.”

So how do you get an annual report so enthralling that people switch off the TV?

Corporate reports fulfil an important function. They have to be serious. But it doesn’t mean they should be dull. So here’s how we try to liven things up at Cambridge Assessment:

  • We use pictures (of people, not buildings), colour and graphics. If it looks good, it reads well.
  • We weave everything into an overarching narrative. It needs to flow. We use plenty of case studies and examples.
  • We break the text up with pull-out quotes and sub-headings, text boxes and highlighted sections.
  • And lastly, we use a potted financial summary. Because most people just want a heads-up on the financials.

But above all there’s one magic ingredient without which none of the above tips will work. And that’s a great story to tell. Luckily that’s something we have in abundance at Cambridge Assessment.