What is in the background statement?

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Last month, I held a 1.5 day class on audit reporting in Austin.  One of the state agency internal auditors asked me this question via email a few days later:

Question:

Hi Leita,

X and I are preparing our brief for X about our Audit Reporting Class last week. (ROI for training dollars!) We are want to sell to him and our work leads that our standard audit report format could be improved.  We found ourselves with a question that we don’t know the answer to. Why do you/ should you include background in the report at all? And, how deep should the background information be?

We also reviewed my last (also my first) audit report. It was painful, but X was a real champ at giving me feedback (and he didn’t use red ink!) We both really enjoyed your class. We are bubbling with ideas and annoying the heck out of our colleagues.

Awaiting your wisdom as we attempt to communicate vertically, horizontally, laterally, and diagonally.

Response:

I am glad you guys enjoyed it!  And I am so glad you have a great sense of humor!

Background is designed to help give readers context.  Many of our key readers don’t need it at all because they are already acquainted with the subject matter.  For that reason, I think it should go in an appendix.  In a small box or space near the front of the report, you can pose the question, "Want to know more regarding the size, purpose, and funding source of this program?  See page X" 

I would think the background would seek to answer a few key questions that could be posed as headers:

  • What is the purpose of the program?
  • What is the scope/size of the program? 
  • How is this program funded?
  • What is changing about the program?  Any interesting threats/developments?
  • Why did we choose this program for audit?
  • Maybe… just maybe… the history of this program.  That is almost always guaranteed to bore a reader…
  • Other info the reader should know…. Again, posed as a question.

I am just doing that off the top of my head, you realize.  :)

Let me know how the team takes it!

All the best!

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