It’s so easy to change a single word … and so easy for that simple change to impact a sentence, a paragraph, or an idea. Rock musician Warren Zevon wrote an amazing song titled “Carmelita,” which includes the line, “I pawned my Smith Corona. …” For those who don’t know, a Smith Corona is a typewriter: a tool that, before the proliferation of computing power, was widely used by writers everywhere — even internal auditors. In that simple phrase, Zevon describes a man who has reached the end of his rope, pawning a valuable tool of his trade.
American pop singer Linda Ronstadt, in a typically incredible performance, covered the song. However, she made a small but significant change — “I pawned my Smith & Wesson. …” Again, for those who don’t know, Smith & Wesson is a brand of firearms. Ronstadt’s alteration seems minor, yet it changes everything about the lyric, its impact, and the story told by the song. It significantly modifies what was originally written.
And it is with no less impact that some reviewers make changes to audit reports, far too often altering those reports without ensuring that the change is necessary or appropriate. Words are precise, and when audit management assigns auditors to write those reports, management should expect the auditors to use the precise words that mean precisely what they mean to say.
Yet many audit report review processes seem designed to take away the auditor’s responsibility for that precision. Far too often, the lead, manager, chief audit executive, etc. doesn’t like what is written (“I can’t say why; I just don’t like it”) and starts editing. The process often results in a report the auditor no longer recognizes and, in the worst situations, it says something the auditor never intended it to say.
Report reviewers everywhere, here are three lessons you should take to heart:
- Do not change anything without ensuring those who actually did the work have a say in those changes. That is the only way to ensure the report is still accurate.
- Never make a change unless you can explain why that change is necessary. Otherwise, you are just changing for personal preference.
- Always explain the reasons for any change to the person who wrote the original drafts. Only by understanding the reason for the changes will that individual ever learn how to do a better job.
However, there is a fourth and just as important lesson that seems counterintuitive in a discussion about the preciseness of words. Don’t dither.
Internal auditors work hard to find the exact wording when something close will do. And our focus on that unnecessary precision results in a deluge of rewrites, delays, and frustrations. Get it right, but don’t worry about being perfect. And when all is said and done, make sure you haven’t turned a typewriter into a gun.