3-8-1 Streamline Your Writing Using the Nine-Step Process

How long does it take you to get your reports out? And how painful is it?

Have you ever seen a fat doctor eating a bacon cheeseburger, drinking a scotch, and smoking a cigarette? Disturbing, isn’t it?

Have you ever seen an audit shop with crazy, mixed-up, inefficient processes that don’t make any sense? Even more disturbing!

Physician, or auditor, heal thyself!

No one knows better than an auditor that most crazy processes grow crazier over time. Someone adds a step here and a step there, and before you know it you have a dozen silly steps that take three months to do.

In order to reduce the pain of the reporting process, you need to spend a little time now thinking about what you are doing and why. That will lead to ideas for streamlining your reporting process.

I recommend that you sit down with key members of your team and administrative staff and put each step of the reporting process on its own sticky note. Then stick all of the steps of the process on the wall, in order. Then ask the team to come up with ideas for streamlining the process.

The nine-step process will guide you in covering all of the bases. The nine-step writing process actually has 4 phases:

  • Planning
  • Drafting
  • Editing
  • Formatting

In the planning phase, you decide what you are going to say. In the drafting phase, you create full sentences to fill in your plan. In the editing phase, you hone your document to perfect it. And in the formatting phase, you make your document visually appealing.

In our nine-step process, the first three steps are the planning phase. Steps 4 and 5 make up the drafting phase. Steps 6 through 8 are the editing phase, and step 9 is the formatting phase.

Planning

1. Outline an initial objective, scope, and methodology section
2. Outline the detail section

    a.Get your thoughts on paper
    b.Fill out the finding form
    c.Evaluate and reorganize
    d.Evaluate evidence gathered

3. Outline an initial executive summary

Drafting

4. Draft the objective, scope, methodology, detail section, and executive summary
5. Draft the remaining pieces of the report

Editing

6. Edit the entire report for organization
7. Edit the entire report for readability
8. Edit the entire report for mechanical correctness

Formatting

9. Enhance the format of the report

Ideally, you spend about 45% of your total writing time in planning, 15% in drafting, 35% in editing, and 5% in formatting.

Here’s another way of looking at the writing process:

  1. Gather information
  2. Freak out
  3. Organize
  4. Flesh out
  5. Tweak
  6. Beautify

In this six-step process, gathering information occurs in the audit phase (see Chapter 2), while freaking out and organizing take place during the planning phase. Fleshing out your outline is the same as drafting your audit report. And after you tweak, or edit, your document, you need to beautify, or format, the report.

3-8-2 Tips for Using the Nine-Step Process

3-8-2A Make it Easy on Yourself: Do Each Step Individually

Treating each of these steps as separate and distinct will help you write faster and help you create more logical documents. It is also a lot more fun.

If you combine any of the phases together, you get chaos and frustration.

For instance, if you plan what you are going to write as you draft it, you end up rambling on; you start one place and end up another. This makes editing excruciating!

If you edit while you draft, you may never finish. You may write the same sentence four times. And usually after that much rewriting, you need a coffee break…and then you start again, and break again, and start again…At the end of the day, you have finished a whopping whole paragraph. EW!

Each phase in itself is manageable and contains a little bit of fun. Do each task individually, as the nine-step process recommends, and the process will be much easier.

3-8-2B Delay Creating Full Sentences for as Long as Possible

This is one of the biggest time saving tips of all time! Don’t rush to the concrete. Once you write a sentence, you become married to it, and you may not be able to see its flaws. You have spent time and effort choosing each word and arranging the words intelligently. Woe be it to the jerk that puts a red pen to your masterpiece!

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 the piece. Talk about PAIN. Whole families of sentences would get wiped out!

Eventually, I figured out that if I asked the team to submit an outline of their report or finding to me before they wrote full sentences, we minimized the pain considerably. No one cares much if you move a single phrase around or eliminate it and replace it with something else. There isn’t that much attachment to the phrases in the outline; the staff is still flexible at this point.

In our step-by-step process, I recommend that you show a reviewer an outline (STEP 2) before you draft (STEP 3). By planning first and drafting and editing later, you allow yourself and your reviewer more flexibility.

Don’t you just hate it when someone rewrites your sentence? Don’t give your reviewer more than a few chances to do that. First, show them a rough sketch outline and hold off showing them your draft with full sentences until they have agreed to the logical organization of your document.

To reiterate, get agreement from staff, supervisors, managers, directors, and the client at the outline stage before writing full sentences. Try it, you’ll like it!

3-8-2C Get Buy-in Along the Way

Turn in deliverables to your reviewer or supervisor as you go. This way, you reduce the possibility that the supervisor will be surprised or displeased with the final product.

At a minimum, you should present the following items for approval before you proceed to the next step:

  • objective, scope, and methodology
  • finding form
  • outline or draft of the executive summary
  • outline or draft of the standard letters
  • outline or draft of each detailed issue

3-8-2D Share with Others

You shouldn’t go this alone. As scary as it is to share your ideas and your writing with others, it always helps to clarify your thoughts and improve your message. Before you draft, find someone whose opinion you respect, and let that person read your outline. Ask:

  • Do you like my approach to this finding?
  • Do you think the recommendation is sound? Is this something the client will implement?
  • Should I be happy if the client implements this recommendation? If the client does what I am asking, would I be able to leave them alone about this issue on the next audit?
  • Can you think of another effect for this issue? An effect that may have more impact on the reader?
  • What changes do you suggest?
  • Do you think I am ready to proceed to creating full sentences for this issue?

Evaluate the advice you receive, and follow it judiciously.

This blog

Governmental auditors unite! Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of “The Yellow Book Interpreted” and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors. Whether you are an internal auditor or monitor for a government entity or a CPA doing grant audits, you will enjoy Leita’s humorous take on the complexity of auditing in the government environment.

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