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Common errors

  • 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor

    6 common errors in annual reports

    6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor

    By Sharon Lapkin

    A company’s annual report is an important and ongoing component of its corporate financial reporting. It provides information to shareholders and other stakeholders about the company’s financial performance over the past year.

    Following are my six most important annual report writing tips. They include common errors that I’ve seen over the past 14 years as an editor, and my advice on how to avoid them.

    Annual reports are publicly available, so they’re the public face of the company.

    They provide transparency about the activities of the company over the previous 12 months, and are an opportunity to showcase the company’s success, community work and global conscience.

    Prospective investors, creditors, analysts, employees, and any other interested parties, can study and analyse the company’s growth. They can read about its ability to pay its suppliers, whether it makes a profit and what proportion of its earnings is retained to develop the company. 

    Now (after a little quote from Warren Buffet) let’s take a look at my annual report writing tips.

    When I take a look at a company’s annual report,

    if I don’t understand it, they don’t want me to understand it.

    Warren Buffett

    Smooth out the inconsistencies

    Figure number one above a highrise building showing first tip in annual report writing tips.

    Annual reports are usually multi-authored, and this can create consistency issues.

    Each section writer has a different writing style, and these contributing writers are often not aware of what others are writing.

    Readers suffer the consequences of this disconnect. They grow tired of the inconsistencies and instead of reading on, they flick through the pages to check they’re not missing vital information then close the report.

    The annual report isn’t the place to tell stories – or the place to take three pages to say something you could say in one. It’s a dynamic publication – one that presents information in clear unambiguous terms, without rambling or repetition. 

    A good annual report addresses all stakeholders, and presents precise information in informative and interesting ways.

    Minimise jargon and acronyms

    Figure number 2 above a highrise building showing second tip in annual report writing tips.

    Using industry-specific jargon and acronyms is the easiest way to communicate if you work in-house.

    Your work colleagues all understand this codified way of communicating. But when it comes to the company annual report, please don’t do it. It’s a sure-fire way to alienate and lose readers.

    If you need to use industry-specific terms, acronyms and abbreviations, spell out the short form in the first instance and then use that short form thereafter. See this practice in the following example.

    A new LMS (learning management system) was installed in July this year, and by early August the LMS was fully functional.

    If you haven’t repeated the short form (LMS) for a few pages and are not sure readers will remember its meaning do the following:

    The LMS [learning management system] was an expensive investment.

    The conventional use of square brackets is for editorial comment. In this case you’re reminding the reader what LMS stands for. Don’t do it too often; however, it’s a good save to help your readers.

    Also create a glossary in your annual report that includes explanations and definitions of these terms for your readers. But don’t forget to tell them where it is. Add ‘See Glossary’ in round brackets after terms that need clarifying, and ensure the Glossary is in the report’s Table of Contents with a page number.

    Finding these annual report writing tips useful? Great! Keep reading.

    Be forthright

    Figure number 3 above a highrise building showing third tip in annual report writing tips

    Transparency is your keyword.

    Don’t leave out meaningful analysis in your annual report.

    If your company’s performance has been poor, or there’s been an unfortunate work accident, be upfront and address it.

    A good writer, together with a good editor, is a great support here.

    Work with them and rely on their expertise to communicate this type of information in the most appropriate way. 

    Don't leave it all to the designer

    Figure number 4 above a highrise building

    Don’t hire a graphic designer and think you’ve got the project covered.

    Designers aren’t responsible for grammar or punctuation, or for the factual accuracy of the content you give them. Remember, a designer is an intrinsic part of the team, but you also need an editor.

    A professional editor will work with your writer/s or project manager and they will know when and how to raise queries.

    Good editors know how a designer works. They know how text and graphics should sit on a page, and they work with the designer to fit your content perfectly. Page fitting is a tricky skill and a vital part of an editor’s toolkit.

    The designer and editor work collaboratively to make your annual report a professional publication. Every page is perfectly pitched and error-free, and you can trust that your annual report writing is being treated with respect.

    Leave the numbers to the accountants

    Figure number 5 above a highrise building showing fifth tip in annual report writing tips.

    But what about the numbers?

    An accountant prepares the financial information in an annual report. If it’s a large company, it may be a team of accountants.

    A lawyer may also be involved in preparing the financial and legislative content. A professionally trained editor knows how to work with subject-matter experts, such as lawyers and accountants.

    Editors won’t edit the financials in an annual report. Instead, they’ll leave queries for the accountant and/or lawyer if something doesn’t look correct or appears to be missing.

    This is the most important annual report writing tip because meddling with accountant’s numbers will get you into a world of mess.

    Pulling it all together without errors

    Figure number 6 above a highrise building.

    With so many people contributing to an annual report, it’s possible that a single company employee will struggle to pull it all together at the end of the writing process.

    A company employee can overlook, for example, the text on the spine of their company’s annual report. They might even send it to the printer unchecked. Yes! Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen.

    More than 1000 copies were printed with the wrong date on the spine because the designer hadn’t updated the template from the previous year.

    Spine errors are one of the commonest mistakes in publishing, and the consequences are always embarrassing and expensive.

    This is why a professional editor is invaluable. Their checklists cover every aspect of the publishing process and they perform an extensive prepress check for you.

    When they sign off your annual report, you’ll be confident it’s error-free and ready to publish. That last-minute check of the spine has been done too!

    Before you go

    I hope you’ve found these annual report writing tips useful.

    For more information on the requirements of an annual report go to the CPA [Chartered Practising Accountants] website.

    If you’d like to read more great tips on editing reports check out How to edit an annual report.

    You might also want to read about the unique method I use when editing reports in How to copyedit like an expert.

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  • How to make your writing more powerful

    Superman opening his cape to show how to make your writing more powerful.

    How to make your writing more powerful

    By Sharon Lapkin

    Weak words and phrases decrease the authority of your writing and drive your readers away. 

    But you can make your writing more powerful by following a few simple tips.

    There are three main types of words and phrases that can damage your writing. 

    They are filler words, redundant words and adverbs ending in ‘ly’.

    We’ll look at all three below.

    What are filler words in writing?

    Filler words are words that add no value.

    They’re words you need to eradicate from your writing before your readers give up on you.

    Do you receive emails that commence with ‘I just wanted to write …’?

    When you use just in a sentence, you undermine your credibility and minimise your authority.

    This is because just is an apology word.

    ‘I’m just checking in,’ and ‘I just called …’ and I’ll just let him know.’

    Now look at how much stronger your writing could be without it.

    I’m checking in, I called and I’ll let him know.

    More wavering weasel words

    Other meaningless words are so and such.

    ‘It’s so healthy and such a great healthy snack.’

    Remove them and you have a strong sentence that communicates authority.

    ‘It’s healthy and a great snack.’

    Very and really also dilute and weaken your writing.

    They’re timid words that reduce the strength of sentences.

    ‘The book was really good’ – or the stronger version: ‘The book was good.’

    Really, very and quite are sometimes called intensifiers, but they weaken writing rather than enhance it.

    Jars of pencils and an eraser on a notepad demonstrating the importance of making your writing more powerful.

    Mark Twain disliked the word very, and offered the following advice:

    “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write very;

    your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

    Instead of think, feel and believe, use research to make your writing more powerful

    A writer doesn’t  need to tell their readers what they think, feel or believe about the topics they’re writing on. 

    Using these words makes it appear writers are trying too hard to impress their readers.

    For example – I believe content marketing is the most successful marketing strategy at the moment.

    A better version – According to a HubSpot survey, almost 80% of companies have a content marketing strategy. 

    Using proven examples, statistics and research makes writing stronger.

    To win readers’ trust and to build credibility always use research to support the ideas you’re writing about.

    Instead of ‘I think the federal budget will show a huge deficit,’ insert authority into your writing.

    ‘Economist Ken Henry said the federal budget will show a big deficit.’

    Jerry Weissman, in the Harvard Business Review, demonstrates some clever ways to Replace meaningless words with meaningful ones.

    Teal-coloured fabric strip divider.

    Keep your focus sharp by eliminating redundant words

    Redundancy is when two or more words are used together that mean the same thing.

    Using redundant words is a sure way to weaken your writing.

    For example: Let’s briefly summarise the story.

    Did you pick the redundant word?

    ‘Let’s summarise the story’ avoids repetition, and makes your writing more powerful.

    Examples of redundant words

    end result

    close proximity

    circle around

    difficult dilemma

    complete circle

    very unique

    new beginning

    free gift

    absolutely certain

    final outcome

    first began

    A result occurs at the end, so ‘end’ is unnecessary. 

    ‘Proximity’ is already close to something.

    Circle and around mean the same thing.

    Dilemma means ‘difficult’ so ‘a dilemma’ works fine.

    A circle is always complete.

    ‘Unique’ is an absolute’ so it can’t be modified by ‘very’.

    A beginning is always ‘new’.

    If it’s not free, then it’s not a gift.

    ‘Absolutely’ doesn’t add anything to certainty.

    An outcome should be final.

    If you begin it, then it’s the first time.

    Drawing of woman standing with sign that reads 'Why use two words when one will do?' How to make your writing more powerful.

    What's a redundant sentence?

    It should be easier now to identify words or phrases that say the same thing twice.

    For example – ‘Many homeless men, who had nowhere to live, were at the soup kitchen.’

    But don’t fall into the trap of repeating a concept or idea expressed in one sentence in another sentence.

    Powerful writing is concise in both words and ideas.

    The following two sentences say the same thing using different words.

    The survey was composed of questions with multiple-choice options.

    Survey recipients selected one of a series of answer options.

    If a single sentence lacks essential detail go back and insert more information, rather than adding a second sentence that duplicates part of the first sentence.

    The survey recipients selected one of the multiple-choice options.

    Powerful writing is learned through reading the work of strong writers and practising it yourself.

    In his book, The Elements of Style, Cornell University English Professor William Strunk Jr. wrote:

    “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

    A good writer, he added, should “make every word tell”.

    Teal-coloured fabric strip divider.

    Avoid adverbs ending in 'ly'

    Author Stephen King said “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the hilltops.”

    Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. 

    Often adverbs end in ‘ly’.

    For example – happily, thoughtfully, slowly, easily and patiently are adverbs.

    These adverbs are usually formed by adding ‘ly’ to the end of an adjective.

    So, we’ve just formed adverbs from the adjectives – happy, thoughtful, slow, easy and patient.

    But technically, not all ‘ly’ words are adverbs.

    For example, in the sentence: ‘The lonely boy was sitting by himself,’ lonely is an adjective that modifies the noun ‘boy’, so it is not an adverb.

    Now that we know what an adverb ending in ‘ly’ is, let’s look at how we know these words weaken writing.

    Photograph of Ernest Hemingway sitting at a table writing while at his campsite in Kenya. How to make your writing more powerful.

    Hemingway used few adverbs

    Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway’s novels and short stories serve as a good model for business writing.

    After high school, Hemingway went on to train as a journalist and he applied those skills to his fiction writing.

     

    In research for his book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal about the Classics, author Ben Blatt used statistical tools to analyse text from 1500 books.

    Blatt found that books considered ‘great’ had fewer than 50 adverbs in every 10,000 words.

    Hemingway used only 80 ‘ly’ adverbs per 10,000 words. His writing includes both short and long sentences – but they are always simple, unadorned, direct and clear.

    “A writer’s style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

    – Ernest Hemingway

    Abolishing adverbs from your writing is easy when you know how.

    ‘She smiled happily, for example, is redundant because a smile is an expression of happiness.

    Jane was unhappy, she said angrily.

    Removing the adverb angrily makes your writing stronger.

    Strike out other adverbs from your writing such as definitely, truly, really and extremely and see how much stronger your writing is.

    Occasionally, you’ll use an adverb in your writing that works tremendously (yes, that was an adverb).

    By all accounts keep it if it’s the perfect word.

    But remember to use adverbs wisely and review your writing to check whether they can be removed. 

    Teal-coloured fabric strip divider.

    More tips to make your writing more powerful

     You might also be interested in reading How to be a good content writer, which shows how authentic storytelling is the best way to successfully promote your goods or services.

    For more writing tips read 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    If you’d like to chat to me about writing or editing please send me an email via the button below.

  • 9 common errors every writer should know about

    Woman reacting with shock to common errors every writer should know about

    9 common errors every writer should know about

    By Sharon Lakin

    Hitting the wrong key can explain away a typo, but using the wrong word can damage your credibility as a writer.

    Here are nine common errors every writer should know about.

    Unfortunately, I come across them regularly in my work as a professional editor.

    You’ll find explanations and examples to help you use the correct words from here forth!

    1. Do I use 'I' or 'me'?

    This is one of the most common errors in English usage.

    TIP – A pronoun is a word used instead of a noun. For example – using she instead of the name, Louise.

    RULE – If the pronoun is the object of the sentence, then use I – otherwise, use me.

    EXAMPLE – Could you join Louise and me for dinner?

    TEST  How do I tell if the example above is correct? Simple. Take Louise out of the sentence and it reads – Could you join me for dinner? It wouldn’t have worked as ‘Could you join I for dinner would it? That’s because I is never the object of a sentence.

    2. Who or that

    Another common mistake is using who when that should be used – and vice versa. It’s an easy error to make, but once I demonstrate why it’s wrong you won’t do it again.

    If we’re writing about a person such as your sister, a teacher or any other human, then you would not use that.

    We use who when we’re writing about a human.

    Remember who = human.

    EXAMPLE  The actor, who was my sister’s friend, said he would help raise money.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the actor a human or an object?

    If we’re writing about an object, such as a car, tree or office building, then who is not the word you should be using. 

    We use that when we’re talking about an object.

    Remember that = object.

    EXAMPLE – The car was a bright colour that I loved.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the car a human or an object?

    Ready for more common errors every writer should know about? Great! Keep going.

    3. Between or among

    The general rule is that between is used when comparing two distinct items, people or events.

    EXAMPLE – Two days elapsed between his arrival and his departure.

    TEST – How many days elapsed? Two? Good.

    The rule is that among is used when there are more than two people,  items or events.

    EXAMPLE – The choice was made from among four qualified candidates.

    TEST – Were there more than two candidates?

    4. Affect or effect

    These two words function both as nouns and as verbs. They’re also commonly confused because they’re so similar.

    To simplify matters there’s a simple rule of thumb that can be used to avoid most errors.

    Affect as a verb has two meanings.

    The more common use of affect is to exert an influence, have impact or bring about change through an action.

    EXAMPLE – Rising interest rates affected the company’s bottom line.

    In other words, the rise in interest rates had an impact on the financial position of the company.

    The second meaning of affect is to simulate or fake an attitude or behaviour.

    EXAMPLE – For this particular role, the actor affected an Oxbridge accent.

    By contrast, you should generally use effect with an e as a noun to signify the thing that was impacted, influenced or changed.

    Returning to our example we used above, we would say ‘the company’s lower profits are the effect of increased interest rates.’

    5. Practice or practise

    Don’t let the US  spellings confuse you. Americans use practice as both a noun and a verb.

    U.S. EXAMPLE – Doctor James practices medicine at his medical practice in New York.

    In Australia and the UK there are different spellings for the noun and the verb.

    AUSTRALIAN EXAMPLE – Doctor James practises medicine at his medical practice on Phillip Island.

    Practice is a noun and practise is a verb.

    6. Using i.e. and e.g.

    Both i.e. and e.g. are Latin abbreviations that are often confused.

    We write i.e. to mean that is.

    EXAMPLE – I am a vegetarian, i.e. I do not eat meat.

    By contrast e.g. means for example.

    EXAMPLE – Citrus comes in many forms, e.g. oranges, lemons and limes.

    Note: These two abbreviations are not generally used in sentences, but are used in tables, captions and brackets.

    7. Insure, assure or ensure

    These three words have one thing in common, but they’re not interchangeable.

    What is it that they all share? It’s ‘making an outcome sure’.

    To insure means to guarantee against harm or loss.

    EXAMPLE – My partner and I will insure our house.

    To assure means to earnestly declare or promise something.

    EXAMPLE – I assure you she’s going to arrive on time.

    To ensure means to make sure or certain something will come.

    EXAMPLEEnsure the papers are posted please.

    8. Compliment or complement

     It’s surprising how often you see these two words written incorrectly.

    It’s probably more accurate to say that some people use compliment to mean both compliment and complement. 

    Let me explain the difference between the two.

    Compliment is a commonly used word that is used as both a noun and a verb. It can be used as an expression of praise, and also to praise or express admiration for somebody.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – Penny paid me a compliment when she said my hair looked nice.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – Nick complimented the chef on the meal.

    On the other hand, complement means something else that completes something, or makes it perfect.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – My mother used complementary medicine for her allergy.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – The two colours complement each other.

    9. En dash or hyphen

    This is one of my bugbears.

    If you want your writing to look truly professional, learn the difference between a hyphen and an en dash.

    There are three types of strokes and dashes – hyphens (-), en dashes (–) and em dashes (––). Let’s forget the em dash because it’s rarely used these days.

    A hyphen is a short stroke that’s used within words that are divided.

    EXAMPLE – My ex-husband was wearing a suit.

    A hyphen is also used between words that make up compounds.

    EXAMPLE – Her manager asked for a one-on-one chat.

    Note: Over time hyphenated words become established and the hyphen can disappear.

    EXAMPLE – We used to write co-ordinate, but now we write coordinate.

    En dashes are the length of an N and are also versatile punctuation marks. They’re used in the following examples in text.

    En dashes are used in number spans in numerals, time and distance.

    EXAMPLES: 

    The date was 13–15 May this year.

    Kate arrived at 5–5.30 pm.

    The road was about 20–25 kilometres long.

    En dashes are also used to demonstrate an association between words that retain their separate entities.

    EXAMPLES:

    They performed a cost–benefit analysis.

    He was holidaying in the Asia–Pacific.

    You can use a set of en dashes in sentences to replace the commas around non-essential clauses.

    EXAMPLE: 

    The street was closed – which seemed strange – so I took a shortcut through the park.

    That’s it, all nine of them! It wasn’t a conclusive list of common errors every writer should know about, but it was a good start!

    Where to go for extra help

    Dictionaries offer great guidance on grammar and sentence structure.

    The Macquarie Dictionary is used by publishers, newspapers, magazines and journals  across Australia. They also have a great blog.

    The Australian Government Style Manual has the most recent styles and usages, as well as comprehensive explanations.

    If you’re after an American style guide, you can’t go past the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Are you done with common errors every writer should know about?

    We hope this list will be useful in your writing.

    You might also enjoy reading Which is that pronoun.

    Have an annual report coming up? Read our 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me if Textshop Content Writing Services can help you with your writing or editing.