I Had This Thought

I just completed William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust which I picked up shortly after reading his novel The Sound and the Fury (but didn’t get to reading until about a year later), a book that is infinitely more confusing/challenging/insert-your-own-word-for-having-to-do-just-a-little-more-than-read-the-words-to-get-the-idea-of-what-is-going-on-in-the-book because, while Intruder in the Dust has a very stream of consciousness approach to its writing (and, not being an English major, there is a good chance I have used the wrong name for this style, but I think you can understand the style I mean), The Sound and the Fury not only uses this approach but applies it to four different characters, making it even more confusing, particularly because it starts from the perspective of Benjy, a grown man with the mind of the child, which means the stream of consciousness is even more confusing as past blends with present with sensations that have nothing to do with the moment; but with both novels, the readers’ struggle to understand what is occurring, rather than distracting from the enjoyment of reading the novels, actually enhances it because the approach adds a richness along with the struggle that would not have been there had it been a straight narrative; which all got me to thinking about obfuscation and an inability to say what we mean and how often we write audit reports as if we are building a puzzle for the reader – hiding content and meaning in a plethora of words and phrases that we feel make the report “professional” but really only make the reader furrow their brow in needless concentration, consternation, or, even worse, frustration that causes him or her to throw the whole thing away (delete the e-mail or whatever method of destruction best matches the way you submitted the report for their attention) in a fit of pique because we are so busy saying things like “The purpose of this audit was to ensure that assurance has been provided through the proper application and development of efficient and effective controls” or “We found that the department has taken strong positive steps towards eliminating potential areas of risk but feel that the overall assessment of the control structure is that it is inadequate for the purposes to which it is meant to address” or even the use of words that are there for no other reason than to make us look smart (by which I mean every time we say “we utilize” or “they utilize” or “someone utilizes” don’t we just mean “use”; but “utilize” seems so much more official and professional and” so-fisticated” [yes,  the word “utilize” is one of my big pet peeves, just like “mute points” and “irregardless” and “they took Frank and I” and any other grammatical faux pas or preponderance of words that are used to just look smart when a perfectly small word exists out there] and just use those perfectly good small words unless the larger one actually says better what it is you want to say which “utilize” seldom does) - and it all comes together in 25/50/100 page opuses/paeans (yes I used the more complicated word on purpose because it has a deeper meaning I mean to convey)/thud-producing reports that prove that we are doing “important work” because look how many letters/words/pages/trees we used in conveying this information to our auditees; all this in spite of the fact that the only thing the auditees want to know is “what is going on” and, rather than give them the information, we surround/enmesh/bury it in our own auditing version of stream of consciousness writing (whether it is our insistent use of auditing jargon or our propensity of laying out everything we think they need to know [let’s get real and reassess whether every report really needs a background, purpose, and scope – really needs it – that including it adds such valuable information we cannot live without its existence] or just fill it with professional sounding stuff like I’ve already mentioned) so they just can’t understand if things are going well or things are not except for that one line we might add that begins with “In our opinion the control structure is …” and we call it effective or kind of effective or darn close to effective or effective with a chance for scattered improvements or needs improvement or needs some more improvement or needs quite a bit of improvement or needs half improvement and half left alone or is ineffective or is kind of ineffective or is ineffective in part or is ineffective with a side of mayo or any other litany of opinions that are so confusing in themselves that even the part of the report that should be most easily understood becomes Navajo code talk to the reader; none of which stops us from going blithely on under the assumption that our approach to writing reports where more is better, where words are power, where an opinion is worth (and often supported by) ten thousand words, where, Kerouac-like, we type our reports on full rolls of telegraph paper to ensure we capture every fleeting auditor nuance, which really gets us all the way back to the point that, while Faulkner (and Kerouac and others) can use this as a method to snare the reader and force them into a better understanding of the world they are creating, a morass of information and Sargasso Sea of words does nothing for the audit report but confuse and frustrate the reader (shoot, even confusing and frustrating the auditors as they try to build this house of sticks on a bedrock of sand – yes that is a mixed metaphor), and my whole point has been to use such an approach (in a particularly untalented manner) to prove the point that writing that uses such approaches does not get to the point, but rather spends a lot of time (shall we say, sound and fury) accomplishing nothing; just as, rather than writing all this, I might have instead said…

Reports should be clear and concise so the reader understands the message you are trying to convey.
Which would you rather read?

Posted on Mar 25, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. I think that's the longest sentence I've ever read. Love it!

  1. Pat, I'd like to buy a period.

  1. Knowing full well who "Allen E" is I can only respond "I've read your audit reports"

  1. The question should be "Which sentence DID you read?".

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