Corporate annual reports typically include a narrative section and a financial section. The narrative section is not scrutinized by auditors as the financial section is, yet many readers rely heavily on its graphs to estimate the firm's financial situation. However, the graphs often misrepresent the financial data. To better understand annual report graphs' important role, this article examines more than 25 years of literature related to these four areas: (a) the ways financial graphs are prepared, used, and misinterpreted; (b) differences by country; (c) regulatory influences for accountants; and (d) the parts formatting and media selection decisions play in communication interpretation and persuasion. Across the literature, the author notes consensus that annual report graphs are widely used in many countries and that there is rampant disregard for the guidelines for their accurate, non-misleading presentation. The article concludes with seven proposed directions for future research.
Although business communication relies heavily on the visual, current approaches to graphics and text design are prescriptive and unsystematic. A 12-cell schema of visual coding modes and levels provides a model for describing and evaluating business documents as flexible systems of visual language. Emphasizing clarity and objectivity, the 'information design' movement has generated guidelines for creating functional visual displays. However, visual language in business communication is seldom rhetorically 'neutral' and requires adaptation to the contextual variables of each document, a goal the writer can achieve by com bining visual and verbal planning in the same holistic process.