Internal audit need an appropriate report template to help them gain in clarity. When internal audit reports are wrongly structured, trying to explain rather than giving facts, they end up being ignored by management.
1- Start with the conclusion.
It is the auditors job to make the main concluding idea appear immediately within the first sentences of a new section or paragraph. This applies to all levels of the report: from large sections to the small sub-sections or paragraphs.
Internal audit report template should be setup at the opposite of the school methods. It must drop the reasoning order: “introduction – development- conclusion”. Audit reports should not try to lead the reader like in novels.
Starting sections of the audit report with the key conclusion makes the reader job easier. He will immediately understand where the report wants to go. It will help him to further verify if he agrees the facts. Such a method will also help the fast readers who read only the beginning of sections or paragraphs before deciding to continue reading.
2- Report organized in “Russian dolls” in order to gain in overall consistency.
Wherever in the report the ideas must be presented in identical order. This is a key to a good audit report template. The goal is to insure a good consistency among the usual 3 main parts of an internal audit report: executive summary, detailed findings, recommandations. Indeed each of these 3 parts will carry the same ideas with different levels of details. The bad news is that redundancies have a negative effect on clarity. When redundancy cannot be avoided, which is the case here, it is then crucial to guarantee the consistency.
As a general rule, all lists of items should be sorted with the most important item first and the least important at the end.
For instance, if a major weakness is identified in the purchasing process, auditors should present it first in the executive summary, first in the findings and first in the recommandations. The same principle applies to the smallest ideas. They always should appear in the end of each of the 3 parts of the report.
3 – Express the same ideas with the same words and the same numbers
Unconsciously, the reader is relying heavily on words and numbers to follow ideas within a document. It is therefore very important to use the same words to relate to the same ideas. For instance, it is an error to express an amount of 1.2M$ on one part of the report and to find it at 1200k$ in another part. Similarly, if one sentence of the report is relating to ‘technical services’, another part should not relate to ‘ technical interventions’.
4 – Write short sentences and avoid passive voice
Short sentences (less than 3 lines or less than 20 words) will make the report easier to read. Also the passive voice tends to make reading more difficult. Lastly, in order to know if a report is of good quality, several readings will be necessary. When you reach a level of “small modifications” it means your report maturity has been achieved.
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