So, have you gotten sick of me providing you links to Seth Godin’s blog yet? Sorry, but I think he has a lot to say that, while not normally the way we think of things (he is a marketing guy after all), speaks to how internal auditors can get better. As an example, Monday’s post titled “Writing Naked (nakedr than Orwell)”.
I’ve talked about it, my fellow bloggers have talked about it, I know you’ve talked about it, I know everyone in you department has talked about it. How in the world can we make the report writing process and the reports themselves better? Well, Godin’s blog provides another in the various hints, ideas, and recommendations we have all received on this topic. And he is trumpeting a call to arms that you may have heard before. But he speaks that call more precisely and with more impact than I have seen before.
(As with any link to a post, go read it first. What I have to say cannot replace your need to see what he has written. Go there now; then come back.)
To quote from the post, “If the goal is to communicate, then say what you mean.” Which points to the biggest problem I’ve seen with almost every audit report I’ve read (or written.) We only seem to be comfortable when we obfuscate our communications. We use clichés, we use auditese, we use too much passive voice, we use “the rules”, we use too many words, we use words like obfuscate.
And the net result is that, in our attempt to sound important or hide our ignorance or sound educated or hide our fears, we write reports that no one – not our bosses, not our auditees, not our peer reviewers, not even ourselves – wants to read.
What does it tell us that one of the best practices for report writing is to put the findings at the beginning of the report? (Why at the top? Because that is the main thing the executives care about.) But the point is lost on us. We still issue multi-volume reports that are seemingly intended to bludgeon all readers into submission. And yet we cry and rend our garments lamenting that we do not understand why people aren’t excited about what we do.
Here is my suggestion. Go to the six rules Godin has laid out and apply them to the report you have on your desk this very moment. Then go back and revisit rule 6 (perhaps the most important.) “Better to be interesting than to follow these rules.”