Writing in Accounting
Here are some tips to help you with the various kinds of writing you'll be expected to do in accounting.
What do accountants write?
All accountants write internal memos to supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates to request or provide information, letters to clients, agencies, and a variety of readers, technical reports and memos, and narratives of financial statements.
Accounting Writing Tutorial
This site from the University of Iowa's Henry B. Tippie College of Business offers tutorials and resources for writing in accounting and other areas of business.
Plain English Handbook
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Office of Investor Education and Assistance published the Plain English Handbook in 1998 to help writers orderly and clearly present complex information.
Sources of Accounting and Financial Information on the Internet
Tips for Effective Writing in Accounting
Content: be sure that the accounting content is correct and complete. Have you addressed all the relevant accounting issues?
Critical Thinking: Think carefully and critically about the issues with which you're dealing. Anticipate questions and objections your readers may raise.
Appropriateness for Readers: Write the document with a particular reader in mind. Check that issues are discussed on a level the reader can understand. For most documents, it is better to focus on practical, explicit information and advice related to the case you are discussing rather than on general accounting theory.
Conciseness: Write as concisely as possible, given the reader's needs and the issues to be addressed.
Clarity: Develop a style that is clear and readable. Choose words that convey your meaning with precision and clarity.
Coherence: Structure the document so that it is coherent. The organization should be logical and the train of thought easy to follow. Summarize main ideas near the beginning of the document, and begin each paragraph with a topic sentence.
Revision: Revise the document so that it is polished and professional. It should be free of all spelling errors and typos; grammatical errors should not detract from the message.
Types of writing in accounting
Memos and E-Mail. Memos are often used for communication within an organization. Memos may be of any length, from one sentence to several pages. They may be less formal than letters written to people out side the organization, but well-written memos have the same qualities as good letters: clarity, conciseness, coherence, and courtesy. Many memos are now written in the form of e-mail messages. E-mail is especially convenient, so several special considerations should be observed when using e-mail:
- Address messages carefully
- E-mail may be read by unintended recipients
- E-mail can be saved and used as proof of communication
- Avoid sending junk e-mail
Letters. Accountants may write letters to a variety of people including clients, government agencies, and fellow professionals. They may write letters seeking data about a client's tax situation or information needed for an audit. They may also write letters to communicate the results of research into a technical accounting problem. Other letters an account might write include engagement letters and management advisory letters. Effective letters contain correct, complete information, and they are usually written with specific readers in mind. They are also written in an active, direct style. They are coherent, clear, and concise. They are also neat and attractive with a professional appearance.
Reports. A report usually involves analysis of an accounting problem and application of accounting principles to a particular situation. It may also require some research of professional literature or other material. Reports vary in length, but all reports should meet basic criteria:
- Accounting content should be accurate
- Organization should be coherent
- Report should be presented attractively
- Writing style should be clear and concise
summarized from May & May, Effective Writing: A Handbook for Accountants (2003)