Usage tips for portfolio performance commentary writers

It’s almost time for quarter-end investment performance reporting. I have some tips for you.

1. Use the past tense.

Why? Because portfolio performance commentary discusses historical performance.

2. Describe benchmarks’ key characteristics, when appropriate.

The general public doesn’t know the difference between the S&P 500 and the S&P 400. They may think one is a subset of the other, like the Fortune 50 and the Fortune 1000. So specify “the mid-cap S&P 400.”

3. Be consistent in how you spell and punctuate terms.

For example, choose between “indexes” and “indices.” Decide whether you’ll use “small cap” exclusively without a hyphen or hyphenate it as “small-cap” when you use it as an adjective.

4. Limit your references to the time period.

Once you establish that you’re writing about the second quarter, don’t repeat that information frequently. However, if you shift between discussing the second quarter and the month of June, name the periods often enough that your reader follows your transitions.

5. Don’t go crazy replacing “returned,” as in “the fund returned 3%.”

There are plenty of other ways to convey the information in the sentence. However, I believe too much variety is counterproductive in a paragraph that consists mainly of returns. Instead, the variety distracts from the reader’s ability to compare returns. If you’re citing many index returns, perhaps you should insert a table.

Do you have grammar, punctuation, or other usage tips for people writing about investment performance? Please leave them as comments below.

2 replies
  1. Jeff McLean
    Jeff McLean says:

    Dear Susan,

    Most financial writers are smart enough not to repeat time-frame information ad nauseam.

    In regulatory and reporting documents, however, it is the lawyers, compliance people, and regulators who require this time-frame information. They do so to prevent readers from keying in on a phrase like “outperformed the benchmark index” and mistakenly assuming that it applies without restriction to the history of the investment. This is particularly important when the last reference to the intended time frame (say, the second quarter) appeared three paragraphs back.

    I believe that securities law is pretty clear on this point. So while I agree that copy in regulatory and reporting documents often reads like it’s overkill, whether to include time references for performance is often out of the writer’s hands.

    If you want the copy to “read better,” talk to the SEC and the NASD. As I understand the matter, this is a case where clarity trumps style specifically to protect investors from misreading.

  2. Susan Weiner CFA
    Susan Weiner CFA says:


    Thank you for commenting!

    I see your point. I haven’t read the securities law.

    Sometimes I read commentary that names the period more than once in a paragraph that’s all about one period. That is overkill.

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