My Report's Suckier Than Your Report

This is a blog post in search of an answer. This is a blog post about how everyone thinks there is this one thing they cannot do right. This is a blog post about how everyone thinks they are the only ones who cannot do it right. This is a blog post about everyone thinking someone else has the answer. This is a blog post about writing reports.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in report writing training a while now. And there is one thing I’ve learned. Nobody thinks they do it right; everybody is looking for an answer. (Actually that makes two things, but I’m going to use that semi-colon as my excuse for it being one thing.)

I invite you to sit back while I ask the following questions and watch as the virtual audience nods its head knowingly, laughs uncomfortably, and grimaces through its smile. Familiarity with a painful subject will do that. How many times have you written a report, made changes based on your direct report’s comments, then had to change it again because of that person’s direct report? How many times did it result in changes back to what you had the first time? What is the largest number of rewrites you’ve personally experienced — one (Liar), Five, Twenty-five? After a number of revisions, have you ever then submitted your first draft as if it were a rewrite? Did it get accepted? Are changes made to your reports without any apparent rhyme or reason? Have you given up trying to please anybody with the first draft and started just slapping something down to let them rewrite it the way they want it? Does it take as long for a report to get from rough draft to issuance as it does for all the rest of the audit process?

And the weird solutions I’ve seen. One group had established weekly meetings for the entire staff where the CAE would provide input on every report that was in draft status. Another group used an internal discussion board to post the edits and review notes that had appeared in report reviews (sometimes contradictory edits and review notes.) Another group hired an English teacher to review all reports prior to issuance, adding one month to the issuance process. And none of that even begins to scratch the surface of such things as the government employees who had additional scrutiny because their reports were public, or another government group who had to have their reports approved by the state legislature, or the group that had to have all their reports approved by their legal department, or the group that was required to write all reports in English even though the large majority of their customers (and the auditors) only spoke Spanish, or the department that was required to remove every use of the passive voice, or…

I believe I’ve made my point.

So, ultimately, this is not a post about solutions. Rather it is about camaraderie. It is a post meant to provide these words of wisdom: You are not alone. And it is also a post about a request …

What ideas have you seen that helped? Most of us have given up on any silver bullet solutions. But if you have anything that has worked for you, please pass it on to the rest of us. 

And, beyond the good ideas, feel free to also share your own audit report horror stories.


Posted on Apr 4, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. What to do about editing ad nauseum? Here are three things management can do, based on my years of teaching audit report writing: 1) Help your auditors clarify their thinking. Much sloppy writing stems from sloppy thinking. Keep asking the writers: What’s the issue? What’s the risk? If they can’t answer that in simple English, they are not ready to write the first draft. 2) Provide examples of well-written findings. Everyone says that findings should be clear and concise, but what does that really mean? Providing “before” and “after” (pre- and post-edit) findings from prior reports supplies the answer. 3) Limit edits to those that make a significant difference. Resist the impulse to change everything! Joanne Feierman
  1. Some great points, Joanne, that reminded me of some thoughts.

    1)  One of the biggest problems I see is when people try to solve sloppy audit skills with report writing training.  It is surprising how often I find the root cause of the report problem is that the auditor never understood the root cause of the problem in the process.

    2)  I agree that examples are great.  One caveat -  make sure that people undertand it is an example.  It scares me how often I have seen people given an example who then think they can use that example as a fill-in-the blanks report.

    3)  My rule (and the rule I gave anyone I supervised) NEVER make a change unless you can explain why you made it.  And "it just sounds bettr" is not an explanation.

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