Can you make an estimation on how much time is spent for writing an audit report? A more important question could be, “What is the percentage of good quality and effective ones to the overall number of reports generated?”.
The most precious and maybe the only known product of an audit function is the audit report. Yet, the effort and time spent on writing is not always justified with the quality reached at the end. I am quite sure that most of the auditors will admit: Writing a report is a challenge. Even the exceptionally good and experienced auditors may find it difficult to write what they have successfully identified during an audit. There are many reasons for the poor-quality audit reports. Good news is there are some considerably basic and simple solutions for better results.
Set your audience
One of the critical aspects is to know the audience. Audit function should clearly determine and define who the readers are, and furthermore, which parts of the reports are prepared for which audience. Based on the definition made for the audience, the requirements of writing different parts of the report should be clearly set. Executive summary, for example, is solely prepared for the top management of the company. It should give the essence of the assessment with a focus on overall risks to the operations and the business, while giving high level information on investment needs. Suffocating executive readers with too much details, numbers, and data, would deteriorate the overall quality of the report. All details should be kept in the body of the report and help the operations to take actions for each finding accordingly.
Plan and Prepare
A high-quality report is never generated because of efforts spent only during the last day of the audit. Writing requires a good planning and preparation. A seasoned auditor would know that a discipline is required to write the findings every single day of the audit. There are two main reasons for this to happen. First of all, auditors need to write the findings daily with the fresh mind as they may forget what the notes they have taken meant the other day. Secondly, the audit is planned and built on the facts from the previous day. Postponing the writing could lead to more efforts to type the same amount of information and failures in making the right judgement. A good audit report template will give the structure of the executive summary as well as the body, while giving directions on what is required for each section of the report.
Focus on the right things
One of the most difficult parts of an audit is to establish a discipline to manage time and the pressure. Auditors, even the experienced ones may fall into the trap of unsatisfied curiosity. There is no limit to where an auditor can go with the questions he/she raises. Audit as well as the report should focus on the most important findings and risks. A well-written report is a result of well-managed time and pressure. I personally have seen auditors finding it difficult to write a report, when they have no real focus on the most important aspects of the audit. When you have an exceedingly long list of findings with no real value, it would never be possible to generate a good-quality report. Auditing is an absolute art of focusing on the right things.
Keep it simple
It is extremely important for the auditee to understand what actions to be taken to address the findings from the audit. This could only happen when the findings reflect the facts, include enough information and are actionable. This requires a good balance between providing enough evidence and details and overcomplicated writing. Auditors keeping their sentences short and simple, providing evidence with necessary details, and defining the risks to the operation with solid information are the authors of the high-quality reports. It is always clever to put yourself in the shoes of the auditee and read the report from their point of view. A good suggestion would be to ask one of your colleagues to read your draft findings to check whether they are clear, simple, risk-focused, and actionable.
If you were a salesman, what would you be doing to sell your product better? An audit report is the product of an entire audit function and it should talk to the customer. A high-quality report shines with its impact on the business. What is the impact you leave with your audit reports?
By Tülay Kahraman
June 30, 2020