The annual report
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Clarification of the concept
- 3. Function and reception of annual reports
- 4. Structure and contents of annual reports
- 5. Layout and style of annual reports
- 6. Historical development of annual reports
- 7. Conclusion
Annual reports are corporate-communications tools. This fact allows us to deduce the two main perspectives from which they are usually discussed: (applied) linguistics and communication science, on the one hand, and business administration on the other, each including various sub-disciplines and focuses (e.g., terminology research and discourse analysis, as well as accounting and public relations). However, these are not all the disciplines interested in annual reports; the variety of research approaches ranges from company law and cultural studies to graphic design, photography and IT applications. Yet, regardless of discipline, viewpoint and aims, studies of such documents unfailingly come up with two statements.
The first refers to the significance of annual reports, which - according to the unanimous opinion of all authors - exceeds that of the other types of text used in corporate communications. Some characterisations are relatively neutral, such as “key communication instruments]” (Garzone 2004: 314), “integral part[s] of a firm’s promotion” (Anderson and Imperia 1992: 113), some use superlatives such as “the most important external documents and the most used channels for communication between organisations and stakeholders” (Wang, Lixin, and Cao 2012: 55) or “the highest form of corporate communication” (Keller 2009: 19), and some even metaphorical expressions such as “a company’s business card” (e.g., Ditlevsen 2002: 81) or “a company’s handshake” (Leu 2010: 7).
The second recurring statement refers to the annual report’s complexity and diversity. It is seen as a “complex genre” (Ditlevsen 2010: 163), the heterogeneity of which is reflected in practically all relevant dimensions, including authorship and readership, function and content, as well as the form in which it is presented. Oddly enough, the same authors (e.g., Rudolf 2011) who emphasise the complexity of this type of text often use the term annual report in its most restricted, financial meaning. On closer examination, therefore, it turns out that the term is far from unambiguous.