20 January 2022

What to look for
when proofreading
an annual report
(or other business
document)

Why proofreading is important...


Annual reports, reviews and other business documents need to be factual, accurate and error-free. They also need to be concise in order to make them readable. That’s why proofreading and copyediting your document before publishing online or sending it to print is essential.



When designing an annual report or other business documents, proofreading is an essential part of the quality control process.

Five things to look for during your proofreading checks

While employing a professional to copy edit and proofread your report will ensure consistency in style and tone, as well as impeccable spelling and grammar, if you do wish to undertake this task in-house, the following list shows some of the key things to look out for…

 


1. Spelling, punctuation and language

Of course, the first thing to check is for spelling mistakes and typos. But, it may surprise you to find that these do not occur as frequently as you might expect. By the time a report reaches the proofreading stage, a word processor will have already picked up on most errors, even auto-correcting them in the background as the original author types.

More frequently, there will be inconsistencies that creep in throughout the report, especially if there are multiple authors working on different sections of the document.

This is where it’s important to have one person check for consistency throughout after all the chapters have been compiled. Having a dedicated style guide can also help ensure consistency across all reports and other creative outputs. If your business does not yet have one, it is good practice to create one as you go through the report.

That said, there are several common issues which we see crop up time and time again. When checking for inconsistencies, it’s important to pay specific attention to:

  • Capitalisation, or not, of job titles
  • Hyphenation usage, i.e. ecommerce or e-commerce
  • Language differences, i.e. UK and US English
  • Symbols, i.e. ‘%’ or per cent
  • Similar words, i.e. effect/affect, compliment/complement

One area where inconsistencies are acceptable is in quoted content, where you should quote the original source verbatim.

 


2. Headings and bullets

Another area where inconsistencies often creep in is chapter headings and subheadings. Headings will often feature a combination of sentence and title cases throughout the report. This may not seem important but can cause a report to look unprofessional, which will negatively affect your organisation.

The difference between sentence and title case

Sentence case and title case are both popular methods for headings. The difference between the two is easy to spot by looking at the first letter of each word.

Sentence case is written as if it was a regular sentence in body text, with the first word capitalised along with any proper nouns.

E.g. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

Title case capitalises every word, apart from articles (‘the’, ‘a’, ‘an’, etc.), conjunctions (‘and’, ‘but’, etc.) or prepositions (‘in’, ‘at’, ‘to’, etc.).

E.g. The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog.

Sentence case is often more popular – possibly because it’s simpler – but using one style throughout your writing is more important than which style you choose.

Bullet points are another area that can cause problems. Some people capitalise the first letter of bullets, while others don’t. Likewise, each bullet can be completed with a full stop, a semicolon, or none of the above.

Some style guides recommend treating longer bullets as full sentences, complete with a full stop, while fragments, or incomplete sentences, do not have the full stop. If adopting this approach, it’s important to be consistent with the sentence style for each bulleted list to avoid a mishmash of sentences and fragments in the same list.

Bulleted list styles

  • When writing in full sentences, bullets are often finished with a full stop.
  • Fragments often aren’t
  • Some styles suggest ending all bullets with a semi-colon;
  • Whatever style you choose, it is important that all bullets in a list follow the same convention to avoid them looking messy and unprofessional.

 

 


3. Numbers

Because we can write numbers out in full or in numerals, the potential to mix styles is high. A standard rule is to spell out numbers up to and including ten and write anything above that in figures. This system may differ from business to business, so it’s important to follow the style guide.

Large numbers may also cause confusion. Do you write one billion, 1bn or 1,000,000,000? Percentages are another area where styles may be mixed up. Whether using the ‘%’ symbol or writing out the word, be consistent.

Having a dedicated style guide can also help ensure consistency across all reports and other creative output.


4. Acronyms

Acronyms are a useful way of increasing the readability of a report. For example, ESG is a lot easier to read than ‘environmental, social and governance.’

When using acronyms, it’s important to write the acronym out in full the first time it is used, followed by the acronym in brackets. After this, just the acronym should be used.

As before, when authored by multiple sources, you may find several examples where each section has an acronym used for the first time. This only needs to be done once per report and can be easily spotted by using a CTRL+F search.


5. Contents page, diagrams and footnotes

Sometimes overlooked, it can be easy for page numbering to become incompatible with the contents page as the document is changed over time.

Likewise, as diagrams and footnotes are added/removed, these can become out of sync.

If referencing a figure in the document, it’s important to check that the reference is correct. Occasionally, a paragraph of text referencing a table or chart may refer to its location in the report (such as: see above, see opposite). Checking this instruction is correct can help the reader and keep the document looking professional.


Tools and techniques to help when proofreading an annual report

Proofing an annual report can be a time-consuming and sometimes laborious task. There are, however, some useful tools and techniques which make the process easier. If possible, proofread a Microsoft Word document rather than a PDF. Because it’s a dedicated word processing tool, Word (or Google Docs) can automatically spot spelling and grammar errors, and allows the proofreader to ‘track changes’, so any amendments made can be easily accepted or rejected.

Often, the proofreading stage will come after the first draft of the report has been designed. While not as easy to make changes, Adobe’s built-in comments tools allow for errors to be highlighted and corrections suggested. Sticky notes, strike-through and highlight are all useful ways of highlighting errors on a PDF document.

For spotting more advanced grammar issues, Grammarly is a great tool with a useful free option that will spot common issues. Of course, automated tools should only assist a human proofreader, whose own eyes will be attuned to spotting grammar, spelling and consistency mistakes as they come across them.

 


JDJ Creative are annual report design specialists

At JDJ Creative, we’re experienced in designing reports and whitepapers for businesses in all sectors. Before supplying you with your files, we always carry out in-house quality control checks which should find many obvious errors. But for maximum accuracy, we recommend undertaking a full proofread of your report.

If you require proofreading of a report, please do get in touch with our team today.

CONTACT US

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