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How to Get to the Carnegie Hall of Internal Audit​

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Writing is hard.

One of the reasons audit reports are so hard to write is that internal auditors and their customers really expect a lot from them. Recently, I addressed two of those issues in my blog here and here. But those comments only scratch the surface. We want audit reports to do a whole lot. And we want every report to satisfy every possible customer.

Next, let’s throw in that whole thing about delivering the perfect audit report. A major reason for delays in the report writing process is that we are constantly trying to fix that one last thing that will take the report from almost perfect to unassailable. We work under the misconception that our credibility will be irreparably destroyed unless all mistakes are eradicated.

Delivering value in various ways, being all things to all people, issuing perfection — writing audit reports is hard.

Yet, I will argue that the thing that really makes writing hard is that none of us are ever given the chance to practice our writing skills. Report writing is the ultimate on-the-job training for internal auditors. “We have another assignment for you Mr. or Ms. New Auditor. You’ve done some testing, you’ve done some interviewing, you’ve done some analysis. Take a look at these samples, feel free to use our template, and write that audit report.”

There is no practice; there is just throw the auditor into the report-writing lake of fire and hope they don’t get too badly burned. Then, after a best effort, the brand-new auditor, learning many ropes at the same time, is deluged by a soul-crushing volume of review notes. Some may be beneficial, but far too many relish telling the neophyte everything that was done wrong, consist of nothing more than rewrites, or use the ominous phrase “I don’t know what is wrong; I just know I don’t like it.”

Imagine taking your very first voice lesson in front of a packed house. That is the report writing experience in internal audit. We practice report writing while creating in front of the entire world.

Now, there are problems in the process of report issuance. But I want to talk about how each and every one of us can take charge of our own writing skills.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do you get better at writing? Practice.

To become a better write…write. Write every day. Write thirty, fifteen, five minutes each day – whatever you can spare to improve an incredibly important and valuable skill. Just write…anything.

Maybe it’s a journal of the day’s activities. (Note: many effective leaders say they use this technique to help summarize the day’s accomplishments and prepare for the coming challenges.) Maybe it’s your own blog. Maybe it’s a book review. (You are reading, aren’t you?) Maybe it’s an article for Internal Auditor magazine. Maybe it’s that novel you’ve always had in the back of your mind. Maybe it is for no other purpose than to practice putting coherent thoughts down as words on paper. (Okay, maybe pixels on computer screens. You know what I mean.)

Practice writing. Have an idea what you want to say, and then write it down in a way that best delivers that message — how your day went, your opinion on something darned important, how you get work done better, the further adventures of Buck Ridley: Internal Auditor to the Stars.

Practice writing.

And there’s one more thing — an incredibly important part. Once you get done, ruthlessly edit the results. (Here’s a quick homework assignment. Look up “Kill your darlings.” Not the movie; the quote attributed to William Faulkner, among others.) If you have a friend or colleague you respect and trust, ask them to edit it with you. Learning to write better is actually accomplished in the transformation that occurs between drafts.

Report writing is an area where all internal audit departments seem to struggle. But amazing strides can be made if auditors will just sit down and practice communicating their thoughts in a written medium.

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