I've got a weird experiment for you. Full disclosure — I've never tried this. In fact, I just came up with the idea Monday morning after reading a quote from May Sarton that comes from her book, Journal of Solitude:
"I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose — to find out what I think, to know where I stand."
There are a lot of things that delay, destroy, and defeat our report writing efforts. But one of the biggest problems is our constant striving for impossible perfection. We build ourselves the formidable task of having to get the grammar exactly right, understand the impact and ramifications of everything that has occurred during the audit, please every single customer (including the CAE), and, ultimately, verify that every duck is in every row. And we are convinced that we have to have all these ducks (as well as their associated feathers, down, and other fundamental body parts) in their various rows before we can even think about putting that first quill to papyrus, pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. Then, to top it all off, we have to begin the report writing process with the Damoclean Sword of multiple rewrites hanging over our heads.
The delay and paralysis that sets in at the outset of the report writing process really comes down to one thing — each and every one of us is striving to write the perfect audit report in that first draft. (And don't give me that shocked "not me" look. Whether we want to admit it or not, it is what every one of us, in the back of our minds, is really trying to achieve.)
Now, there is not necessarily anything wrong with striving for this nigh on impossible accomplishment, as long as we keep it all in perspective. You know, I know, your boss knows, your auditors know, and even the audit customers know that the reality is that it ain't gonna happen. No how. No way.
We know that what is being written is a first draft — a first draft — and that it will be changed (more than likely, changed multiple times.) But we still write that draft as if we were living in the fear that every review note and correction is a black mark that will be scorched onto our permanent record, eventually keeping us out of the best colleges, jobs, marriages, and rest homes, until we find ourselves living in a dumpster and lamenting the fact that we forgot the difference between "affect" and "effect."
It's a first draft. It's a first attempt. It's a first encounter with trying to express what is actually going on. No one expects perfection, just professionalism.
So why aren't we using the freedom of the first draft to strive for something more. Maybe the act of writing can actually help us put our thoughts together and, in the process, learn what it is we are really trying to say.
Allow me an aside before I get back to the experiment I mentioned at the start of this whole thing. When I put these blog posts together, I'm not always sure what I'm going to say. (And I'll ignore those wags who are now questioning if I ever know what I'm saying.) Effectively, I use these blogs to find out what I think. Very often, I'm not sure what my final opinion/thought/concept is until I get knee-deep in the writing process. And I'm often surprised by what I find. To paraphrase Ms. Sarton, I write these blog posts to find out what I think, where I stand.
So, finally, here's the experiment. When the audit work is pretty much done — when it is time to write that dreaded rough draft — sit down and start putting your thoughts down without concern for the petty things that keep us from thinking. With your thoughts only partially formed, use the act of writing to help form them. Stand aside as the thoughts and concepts flow from your brain, through your fingers, and onto the page. Write to find out what you think, where you stand.
Don't worry about grammar, don't worry about perfect structure, don't worry about a perfect report. Just start writing down what is important and, ultimately, what the message is that needs to be delivered. If you have to call it something, call it the preliminary first draft. And, yes, I know the phrase "preliminary first draft" is a linguistic nightmare. But that is the point. Don't worry about anything but letting your mind think and express itself as you throw the ideas down on the paper.
This won't be for everyone. It may not be for anyone. But I'm willing to bet it will help a significant majority of you really explore what you're trying to say in your reports.
Then again maybe not. I don't know. That's what an experiment is. But I ask you to try it and let me know how it goes.
Because there is one thing I do know for sure. You can think things through internally, you can talk things out with others, you can get feedback from everywhere, but until you actually start to write it down, you don't know what it is you need to say.