Speaking the language of Citizens

How should audit reports be worded?

The wording of reports should be precise and clear so as to enhance accessibility to stakeholders. Some general guidelines can help auditors draft reports in a way that is understandable by the average citizen:

  • Use plain, concise language.

    Technical jargon and obscure words should be avoided and unnecessary details omitted. Because the public is generally inexperienced in auditing, complex language can distract them from the key issues raised in the reports.

  • Provide a clear overall structure.

    As with any other document, audit reports must follow a logical, coherent structure and offer a number of entry points to their messages. An index or table of contents should be included, as well as an executive summary.

  • Avoid long sentences and paragraphs.

    Readers more easily understand and remember facts when information is divided into short sentences. Bullet points should be used when detailing multiple facts relating to the same issue. Similarly, topic sentences should be concise and provide an overall idea of what the paragraph is about.

  • Include graphic elements to support information.

    Illustrations, charts, diagrams, and other visual resources help to keep the reader interested in the topic and to enhance further understanding of the statements in the text. Titles, labels, and references should also be used.

  • Provide information of past audits from the same entity.

    Reports can be of great value when monitoring the adequacy of audit recommendations over time. Results from previous audits include strong evidence that supports past work, and they help to attract attention from other stakeholders that could be potential partners, which may enhance the response to the issued observations.

  • Sum up the key findings into a brief conclusion.

    The evidence collected from the audit process must be accurate and the way in which it is used in a final report must be practical. The report should clearly explain areas in which the entity can improve its management and how those improvements can be achieved.

  • Make audit recommendations that are clearly visible and comprehensible.

    Given that the main challenge is promote the use of reports to enhance the effectiveness of their observations, drawing attention to the findings is important so as to encourage corrective action and monitoring. Recommendations should be stated in understandable language and included in boxes, charts, or a bulleted list. What needs to be done (detailing why, where, when, and how should it be done) has to be mentioned clearly, and, most important, the report must highlight who will undertake those tasks.

  • Get colleagues on board.

    Report writing should be a team effort, so partners should read drafts and even ask an outsider—someone not directly involved in the technical duty of auditing—to edit or revise drafts. An external reviewer is more likely to see what works and what does not read well.

“How to increase the use and impact of audit reports”

Consult the guide for SAIs developed by the INTOSAI Capacity Building Committee, which does the following:

  • Explores the practices that can be introduced to enhance the use of audit reports
  • Explains how consultation can promote the use of audit reports
  • Discusses how SAIs can interact with the main recipients of the audit report, and how that interaction can be fine-tuned to make audit reports more relevant and useful to auditees and other key stakeholders
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