An audit report outline will save you so much time and heartache you will wonder later why you didn’t always create one!
Outlines are comprised of only topics and summaries of ideas: they are not comprised of fully-fleshed-out sentences and paragraphs.
Here are four solid reasons to add an audit report outline to your process and to delay writing full sentences for as long as possible:
1. Less drama
Once you write a sentence, you become married to it, and – just like in love- you can’t see the flaws because, as the Platters sang, smoke (in the form of lots and lots of words!) gets in your eyes.
You spend time and effort choosing each word of each sentence and trying to arrange the words intelligently. You may even think it is your best work ever.
And then SLASH! Your editor or reviewer critiques your grammar, word choice and sentence structure. They may even go as far to move things around and eliminate your precious sentences all together!
All of this drama is completely unnecessary during the early stages of developing an audit report. In the early stages of developing an audit report, the focus shouldn’t be on the sentence structure, the team should be focusing on the structure of the argument itself.
2. Clearer logic
Because of the volume of words, full sentences and paragraphs usually obscure the logical structure of the argument. And both you and the reviewer could lose the forest for the trees.
What I often found in my role as editor at an audit office is that whole paragraphs would disappear after I had come to a big-picture understanding of a completed and fully-written finding.
Talk about pain and drama when I edited fully written findings! Whole families of sentences from a carefully crafted finding would get wiped out! Beloved little sentences were either wounded or left for dead.
Eventually, I figured out that if I asked the audit team to submit an outline of their report or finding to me before they wrote full sentences, we minimized the pain considerably and almost always enhanced the strength of the finding.
Because I was working from an outline, my edits now focused on the logic of the finding instead of nit-picking the word choice and grammar. And on top of that, because the audit team could easily see from the simple outline how my suggestions strengthened their reports, they didn’t get their nose out of joint if if I moved a single phrase in the audit report outline or eliminated the phrase and replace it with something else.
3. Easier editing
An outline including a condition, effect, cause, criteria and two recommendations doesn’t leave room for anything extraneous unlike a fully written text, which is usually riddled with extraneous, unnecessary details.
Anything that isn’t an element of a finding should either be eliminated or threatened with elimination! Every sentence in a finding needs to have compelling reason for being included.
Obviously, the less content or text there is to edit, the less fodder an editor has to work with which reduces their workload and, again, reduces the opportunity for drama.
4. Discourages procrastination
Sometimes auditors wait until the end of the audit to draft their audit report. Maybe because they dread all the work that goes into crafting full sentences?
When auditors delay thinking about their report until fieldwork is completed, they find out they don’t have the evidence to back up what they really want to say.
Instead consider outlining the finding as you plan and conduct fieldwork.
That’s exactly what my team did on a recent peer review. We were only on-site for a week and knew that we had to get a draft to the client by the end of that week. So, for each finding that we developed, I outlined the elements on flip-chart paper on the wall.
Morning, noon, and night I talked to my team about the outline of the findings. I’d ask them, “Is this really what we want to say? Do we have evidence to back up everything we want to say?”
The outlines on the wall also also allowed me get the client’s input as we progressed.
As a result, creating the final peer review report on Thursday night was a breeze because we had planned throughout the engagement what we were going to say.
The rest of the audit report outline
Findings are by far the hardest component of an audit report to craft. But your audit report outline could include the objective and matching conclusion and the scope and methodology as well. An executive summary isn’t mandatory, but is very powerful. Most of the components of an audit report can be outlined at the end of the planning phase of the audit.
To find out more about writing solid findings, please join Leita for the September Audit Reporting Clinic.