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​Salvador Dali on Report Writing​

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Rewrites. One reviewer doesn't think the report is strong enough. Another reviewer thinks we better tone it down a little bit. Another reviewer wants to shy away from certain words that are the client's hot button. Another reviewer requires changes that are based on his desire to show he was involved in helping edit the report. Another reviewer is a grammar Nazi who insists on the elimination of dangling participles, the execution of perfect parallel construction, and the total and complete eradication of any hint of passive voice. And another reviewer can't explain what is wrong, he just knows you need to change it.

For some reason, we are willing to let our reports be delayed (sometimes significantly delayed) by insisting on rewrite after rewrite. And I have a theory about why we let this happen.

We rewrite from a place of fear.

Internal auditors strive for perfection. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone should strive for perfection. However, the dark side of this striving (at least for our profession) comes from an unstated misconception we have about ourselves.

We are the ones who are supposed to understand controls; we are the ones who are supposed to find the errors; we are the ones who are supposed to make things run better, smoother, and error-free. Therefore, we think we have to be the best at applying controls, we have to be the best at making things run better, and we have to be the ones who do…not…make…mistakes. The result is that we live in the constant fear that someone will actually catch us in some error. It doesn't matter how small, inconsequential, or unimportant that mistake may be, we just know we do not want it to happen.

And, because about the only tangible thing anyone gets from internal audit is the report, there can be nothing worse (in our weirdly tormented minds) than writing a report that contains an error. We wake in a cold sweat after dreams of reviewing a draft report with a client when he suddenly gets this disgusted look on his face, holds up the report by the corner like he just found last week's leftover liverwurst, and says "Do you people even know the difference between a compound and a complex sentence?!"

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't care about the really bad things. The information in the report should be correct, that facts cannot be misstated, glaring grammatical issues should be eradicated (if the word irregardless appears, it should be mercilessly struck from existence, as should the offender who inserted it into the report), facts cannot be misstated, and the conclusions have to be well-founded. ("Oops, I guess it wasn't a control breakdown" is not acceptable.) And, ultimately, we all realize that it is no easy task putting together written documentation that explains to an executive that the process for which he is responsible looks like it should be put in a bag, placed on someone's porch, and set on fire.

So, rewrites will be required.

But we have to realize that no report will ever be perfect. And we have to quit rewriting with the purpose of doing nothing more than trying to please the entire world and make sure every jot and tittle has been appropriately jotted and tittled.

Salvador Dali once said "Have no fear of perfection —​ you will never reach it."

That should be one of the most freeing things you ever hear when it comes to writing reports.​

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