I’m hot off a tour of Europe delivering four International Audit Report Writing workshops back-to-back. A common theme amongst workshop participants? How to minimize the risk that readers don’t arrive at the same conclusions we did. If we can minimize that risk, we stand a good chance that our recommendations will be accepted. And that makes it worth the time and effort we put in before and during the writing of the report.
Communicating in writing is a challenge
In several workshops, participants shared that after their on-site audit missions, they spent days, even weeks in some cases, drafting and editing their audit reports. The goal was always to deliver value-added recommendations to the audited entity and the organization in general. The challenges were writing clearly, concisely and persuasively.
If they didn’t, endless discussions and disagreements arose with auditees. Multiple meetings and calls followed; edits and sometimes rewrites were necessary. At times, this resulted in watered-down recommendations, escalations, and in the end, a less effective report.
To make it even more complicated, there were reviews and edits by four or five reviewers up the line once the initial reports were drafted. Some participants protested that the result looked nothing like the original text, and others were pained that someone else’s style was imposed over their own. Sound familiar?
Minimize your risk
There are numerous things you can do to minimize the risk that your readers won’t come to the same conclusions you did, and to ensure your recommendations are accepted. And it starts BEFORE you write!
Before you put pen to paper:
During the writing process:
- Write in short, digestible sentences. If you aren’t sure if your sentences are ‘the right length’, run the readability check available in MS Word to find out your average sentence length.
- Use plain English. There’s no need to use mysterious jargon, complex connecting words, and complicated verb structures. KISS is still a popular acronym for a reason.
- Interpret for your reader. Yes, the facts must be stated and ideally be indisputable. But facts aren’t enough. Interpret those facts for the reader, or they will do it for you.
- Structure your arguments. In audit, we use criteria, condition, cause, risk and recommendation as the desired structure. Not an auditor? Other structures work, too, to take the reader by the hand in a logical, persuasive fashion. The point is to have one.
- Make an action-oriented recommendation. One of the most frustrating things for readers is to plough through a long report and then not have a clear recommendation to act on. Tell your reader what you want them to do. Find out more here.
How do you minimize the risk when writing your reports? Share your writing strategies and techniques in the comments. I would love to hear from you!
Wishing you every success in your writing.
P.S.: I’m launching an Audit Report Writing webinar soon! One-hour of coaching for YOU from the comfort of your office or sofa. So stay tuned!