Last weekend my wife and I watched the movie Genius. It is the story of how book editor Max Perkins worked to helped shape author Thomas Wolfe's success. Now, Perkins was no slacker. He was also the editor who basically discovered and developed F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Not too bad. But the focus of the movie was on the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe.
A good movie. Not necessarily a great movie, but worth the time.
But I'm not here to be your Siskel and Ebert. No, I want to talk about internal audit, report writing, and editing.
One point the movie emphasized was that, as an editor, Perkins did not rewrite his authors. Instead, he strove to help each author find and better articulate what they were trying to say. His approach was to talk the author through what had been written to determine what, if anything, each sentence, paragraph, or page was adding. And through that discussion, determine if that sentence, paragraph, or page was really fundamental to telling the story the author was trying to tell.
For a long time, I have believed that a major part of the problem internal auditors have with report writing is they are not sure what they are really trying to say. Yes, they know a background, purpose, and scope is required. And, of course, there has to be an opinion. And, if they have studiously studied their CIA materials and memorized the appropriate mnemonics, they know that every finding must contain the five Cs (condition, criteria, cause, consequence, and corrective action, in case you were wondering).
But do they really understand the message that all this detail is meant to convey? Can they articulate, without expending pages and pages of written words, what internal audit has achieved during the audit and how their work will help the organization, operation, department, or process better achieve its objectives?
And therein lies the role of the really good lead auditor/manager/director/individual responsible for reviewing and improving (let me emphasize that word again — improving!) the product that has been produced by the auditor.
It is not the reviewer's role to rewrite the report. It is not the reviewer's role to ponder and pontificate over grammar and spelling errors at the exclusion of all else. It is not the reviewer's role to utter the most hated phrase in all of auditdom: "I don't know what's wrong; I just know you have to rewrite it." And, contrary to popular opinion, it is not the reviewer's role to ensure the final product is a bloated conglomeration of details that concern few, if any, readers, including changes put in place to serve no other purpose than to make the reviewer feel secure that he or she has "done something."
The reviewer's role has nothing to do with the actual report. The reviewer's role is to make the author a better writer, so that, as report after report is written, less and less work is needed for that final product — a product that succinctly and accurately conveys the most important messages regarding what the audit has accomplished.
At one point in the movie, Perkins is discussing the struggle of being an editor. He asks himself the question every good editor asks him or herself. "Am I making it better or just different?"
It is no different for the reviewer of an audit report. It is the question every reviewer must ask him or herself with every comment, review note, or rewrite. "Am I making this report better or just different?"
If it is only different, then stop and let the writer speak.