5 Must-know Techniques to Minimize Your Risk When Writing

I’m hot off a tour of Europe delivering four International Audit Report Writing workshops back-to-back. A common theme amongst workshop participants? How to minimize the risk that readers don’t arrive at the same conclusions we did. If we can minimize that risk, we stand a good chance that our recommendations will be accepted. And that makes it worth the time and effort we put in before and during the writing of the report.

Communicating in writing is a challenge

In several workshops, participants shared that after their on-site audit missions, they spent days, even weeks in some cases, drafting and editing their audit reports. The goal was always to deliver value-added recommendations to the audited entity and the organization in general. The challenges were writing clearly, concisely and persuasively.

If they didn’t, endless discussions and disagreements arose with auditees. Multiple meetings and calls followed; edits and sometimes rewrites were necessary. At times, this resulted in watered-down recommendations, escalations, and in the end, a less effective report.

To make it even more complicated, there were reviews and edits by four or five reviewers up the line once the initial reports were drafted. Some participants protested that the result looked nothing like the original text, and others were pained that someone else’s style was imposed over their own. Sound familiar?

Minimize your risk

There are numerous things you can do to minimize the risk that your readers won’t come to the same conclusions you did, and to ensure your recommendations are accepted. And it starts BEFORE you write!

Before you put pen to paper:

During the writing process:

  1. Write in short, digestible sentences. If you aren’t sure if your sentences are ‘the right length’, run the readability check available in MS Word to find out your average sentence length.
  2. Use plain English. There’s no need to use mysterious jargon, complex connecting words, and complicated verb structures. KISS is still a popular acronym for a reason.
  3. Interpret for your reader. Yes, the facts must be stated and ideally be indisputable. But facts aren’t enough. Interpret those facts for the reader, or they will do it for you.
  4. Structure your arguments. In audit, we use criteria, condition, cause, risk and recommendation as the desired structure. Not an auditor? Other structures work, too, to take the reader by the hand in a logical, persuasive fashion. The point is to have one.
  5. Make an action-oriented recommendation. One of the most frustrating things for readers is to plough through a long report and then not have a clear recommendation to act on. Tell your reader what you want them to do. Find out more here.

How do you minimize the risk when writing your reports? Share your writing strategies and techniques in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you every success in your writing.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S.: I’m launching an Audit Report Writing webinar soon! One-hour of coaching for YOU from the comfort of your office or sofa. So stay tuned!


Why your audience is critical to your success

No matter which workshop I’m teaching, we always talk about ‘the audience’ of your communication. Because the audience is relevant, whether you’re delivering a presentation, crafting a report, giving an update in a meeting, or writing an email.

In fact, if you’re communicating anything – to anyone – you have an audience, which is fantastic: It’s an opportunity for you to share, connect and add value to others.

And when you do that, you can create positive change and growth: for your audience, for you, for your company, for the world.

Take advantage of the opportunity

Your audience wants something from you. They want you to give them wisdom, insight, facts and figures, results of research, a recommendation, details on the new process, etc. And they want you not to waste their time, because they are all busy.

In business, your audience might be a set of stakeholders that you communicate with regularly. Do you know exactly who they are and what they need from you?

A real-life stakeholder conundrum

In a recent presentation I gave to a group of audit executives at the Audit Challenge in Frankfurt, we talked about audit report stakeholders, and how knowing their needs drives audit’s success in an organization.

Case in point: There were 12 participants in one my audit report writing workshops earlier in the year. I asked two questions at the beginning of the first day of the workshop:

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What do they need from your audit reports?

I got eight different opinions, not just on stakeholder needs, but on who those main stakeholders were. (Nope, not kidding!)

Why were there so many different opinions, especially since all of the participants worked for the same company?

Blame it on poor communication

I believe it was a communication issue, or to be more precise, a ‘lack of communication’ issue.

This team couldn’t agree on who their main stakeholders were because they had never discussed it before. They had assumed it was clear within the team, but that wasn’t the reality.

Not having agreement on who their main stakeholders were created the follow-on challenge of trying to identify the most critical information to include in the audit reports.

As a result, this team’s reports were not as effective as audit management wanted. Their department was not adding the desired value to the organization. And that can spell disaster for long-term trust, confidence and growth.

The lesson learned

This team learned that they needed to regroup and ask some questions, both internally within their department and externally within the company.

  • Who are the potential stakeholders of their reports?
  • Of those, who are the main stakeholders?

Then they put themselves in the shoes of those main stakeholders and asked:

  • What would I need from the audit reports to do my job better?

The department then took a very important step:

  • They asked these stakeholders what they wanted from the audit reports.

Finally, the department compared this information to their own ideas, and made minor modifications to the audit report template and guidance to ensure their stakeholder needs were being met – and ideally, exceeded.

Applying these lessons to your communication

You may not be an auditor, but there may be takeaways for you, too, in this tale.

Every time you communicate with an audience, learn who they are and what they need and want from you. Then make sure you give it to them.

You may want to give them more, but don’t give more without giving what’s truly needed. And don’t give them so much that they can’t find what they need because of excess information.

And remember: Your stakeholders’ needs can change over time. So if you have an audience you communicate with regularly, make sure to build in a mechanism to find out if their needs and wants have changed. The information you provide will stay relevant, and so will you!

Wishing you every success in your communication!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

International Audit Report Writing Workshop


September 25 & 26, 2017, in Frankfurt, Germany

A two-day workshop where participants will learn audit report writing best practices and will apply these tools, techniques and strategies to write stakeholder-focused, action-oriented audit reports that achieve better results.

See more information

The Secret to Maximizing ROI on Your Training Investment

I’ve been working with one particular client now for a year and a half. That may seem like a long time, but the results for the team have been nothing short of inspiring (and measurable!).

Two significant contributing factors are the commitment of the head of the department to creating positive change, and the willingness of team members to step out of their comfort zones and really implement the techniques and strategies I present to them. This client happens to be an internal audit client, but the concept can work for any team that writes reports.

Understanding the starting position

This internal audit team has 15 auditors from multiple countries including Germany, Russia, and China. The team audits around the world at the company’s international subsidiaries and joint ventures, and writes about 35 audit reports per year.

I was asked to provide report writing training, and as as part of this process, assessed the quality of their audit reports. This meant looking at structure, style, language, and content, as well as assessing whether the reports were written in a clear, concise and consistent manner. Stakeholder needs also had to be considered, because different readers have different content needs.

Identifying the pain points

Discussions with management and an assessment of their reports indicated that:

  • The reports were too long, too wordy, and the main points were unclear in many cases.
  • The varying levels of English meant inconsistent use of vocabulary, spotty grammar, and a tendency to write overly long sentences.
  • The head of the department was spending at least 8 hours reviewing and editing each report, taking her time away from other core responsibilities.

Implementing a customized strategy

We began with a two-day workshop, International Audit Report Writing, during which we focused on writing with the stakeholders in mind, implementing best practices in professional writing, and drafting audit findings and recommendations using an agreed and approved scheme. We also addressed formality, tone and cultural impact of language used in the reports.

The next phase of our work together was individual report writing coaching, which we conducted by email. And then we moved on to team report writing coaching, conducted by email and telephone.

We also created and maintained a style guide for the team that they can continue to update and use going forward. It’s a valuable tool for new hires as well, giving them insight into what is expected when writing audit reports.

Celebrating the results

The team has successfully achieved its objectives of writing more clearly, concisely and consistently:

  • Stakeholders eagerly accepted the changes to report style and structure because it takes them less time to read and understand the content.
  • The head of the department has reduced her review time by over 50% and has noted that the findings, risk assessment and recommendations have become more focused and add more value to the business.
  • Team members are relieved at their being less back-and-forth discussions during client meetings, which results from writing only what is needed to provide support the audit finding, risk assessment and recommendation.

Maximizing the ROI on your training investment

The best way to ensure you get the biggest return on investment for your training dollars is to develop a plan for AFTER the workshop ends. Because that is really where the journey begins: The team must be motivated, encouraged and supported as they begin to implement the tools, techniques and strategies to achieve significant improvement in their report writing abilities.

It takes time, it takes effort from everyone involved, and yes, it costs money. But think about it: How would you feel if you could free up 8 hours a month, almost 100 hours per year? That’s almost 2 and ½ weeks! Then you’ll be able to focus more on your core responsibilities to the business. How great is that??

All the best,


Tracie Marquardt, CPA and owner of Quality Assurance Communication, is Europe’s leading audit communications specialist. She is a trainer, coach and consultant to audit teams operating around the globe. Tracie empowers internal audit professionals to communicate their key messages more clearly and concisely so they can be more successful as they create positive change in their organizations. Connect with her today to get your free communication skills assessment.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Join the ONLINE International Audit Report Writing Workshop

International Audit Report Writing Online Workshop by Tracie Marquardt

Announcing the first ever, online only International Audit Report Writing Workshop, held by me, Tracie Marquardt of Quality Assurance Communication.

Jump over to the Registration Page to learn about the benefits, the dates of the workshop and the bonus call for all attendees.

Summer school is not just for kids: improve your writing skills and make an impact in your international organization.

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