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Understanding Common Record Types: Annual reports

Guide to understanding common types of archive documents: abstracts of title, accounts, annual reports, charters & letters patent, constitutions, diaries, household books, land deeds, letters, manorial records, maps & plans, minutes, photographs, & wills.

Introduction to annual reports

Documents containing statistics and statements, sometimes illustrated, relating to an organisation's achievements in the preceding year.

Why they were created

Created to apprise stakeholders of an organisation's progress, thus serving an accountability purpose.

Who might have created them

Created at the direction of the management board or officials responsible for overseeing the running of an organisation, i.e. a charity, business, society, education establishment, etc.

Where you might find them

Usually found with official minutes of meetings held by an organisation, or with series of publications issued by an organisation. Commonly found in the following collections:

  • Charities
  • Societies
  • Pressure groups
  • Businesses
  • Schools and universities
  • Hospitals and asylums
  • Children's homes

Period from which they most commonly survive

Commonly appear from the 19th century onwards.

Key features

Physical features

  • Paper, multi-leaf
  • Typescript or printed
  • Usually stitched, stapled or glued together in booklet format

Informational content

  • List of management board and committee members
  • List of office holders, where applicable
  • Message from president or similar office holder
  • Overview of the year's achievements
  • Photographs documenting key events (usually in post-19th century examples)
  • Sometimes incorporate printed financial statement for the year, although this may be separate

U DCW/2/4

Extract from the annual report of the Cooperative Women's Guild, 1901-1902

U DIVS/3/12

Annual report produced by the International Voluntary Service for Peace, 1954

U DBV/3/10

Extract from the annual report of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 1965

U DCL/73/1

Extract from an annual report produced by the National Council for Civil Liberties, 1980

Note on critical analysis

Things to consider:

  • Annual reports are published by an organisation for circulation to stakeholders as a record of the organisation's achievements and developments in a given year
  • Continued external financial and political support for an organisation might be determined by the perceived success or failure of that organisation in the preceding year
  • Given the semi-public nature of these documents we can surmise that an organisation might omit certain pieces of information to create a positive image, we should therefore consider other records in conjunction with annual reports to get the full picture of the position of an organisation in a given year

Potential research uses

Annual reports can be useful when undertaking research into the following areas:

  • Activities, values and interests of a particular organisation in a given year
  • Progress over time of a particular organisation
  • Individuals associated with a given organisation
  • Comparison of progress and/or interests of similar types of organisation in a given period

Specialist skills and knowledge

Further reading in the following areas will help researchers when using these sources:

  • Imperial weights and measures system, to understand currency values in older reports which include financial statements

Resources at Hull History Centre

Search for further examples of annual reports using our online catalogue. Try using search terms such as annual report, half yearly report, etc.

Alternatively, if you prefer to browse, the file below contains a list of annual reports held at Hull History Centre. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but represents key examples of the document type.

Further help

The following secondary literature provides a detailed look at the annual report as historical evidence, and explores how annual reports have been used in research: