Art of Accounting: Writing better

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Accountants are not known as writers; however, most of what we do is written. Except for income tax preparation, the large volume of everything we do is with writing. Just look at the notes to financial statements along with the audit report, management and representation letters, and related engagement letters, confirmations, file memos and review notes. We are writers.

I cannot recall any continuing education courses on writing, and my interactions with young staff indicate a less than adequate mastery of the written word. Obviously we all learn and things work out, but it is a process that has a rocky start.

I thought about this recently when I was transferring some material from speech handouts into PowerPoint presentations. I am condensing material from 40 or so pages into about 40 or 50 slides. Doing this forces me to be concise and succinct and to identify and emphasize the important points. It also provides me with a new look at some excess verbiage I could have done without. I am ending up with a ton of information in a stream of bullet points on slides that are being orchestrated to maintain attention and interest. I am also enjoying going through the previous handouts since I like the topics and sometimes remember something that has escaped my conscious state.

This process got me thinking about the plethora of things I read — from books, newspapers and magazines to memos, emails and blogs. It doesn’t matter if I read hard copy or digital, I am still reading writing. I’ve also become sensitive to writing styles, long-winded or concise sentences and paragraphs, how quickly the writer gets to the point, and this is making me a better writer.

As a guide I use Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which was 270 words, while the primary speaker that day used 15,000 words to say the same thing. Oops, I could have left off “that day” from the previous sentence. See what I mean about excess words?

A technique I use once I choose a topic is to write whatever is on my mind as quickly and as long as it is necessary to get my thoughts down. I then relook at it, removing what’s unnecessary, repetitive or redundant, and then organize it in a more coherent manner. I also look at my opening remarks to make sure I am clear about my point, and then close with an emphasis on that point. A final look determines if I think the reader will get what I want him or her to understand and that they will benefit from it. Remember, the purpose is to communicate to readers and clearly articulate what you want to tell them and then cause action or change, or sometimes teach or just entertain them.

This method works for me and, if you are not a seasoned writer, I suggest you try it and see how what you write comes out. And if you want any help, contact me; it will be my pleasure.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.

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Client communications Ed Mendlowitz Practice management