Accountancy isn’t just about punching in numbers; you’ve got to explain complicated concepts, such as accruals, or why profit isn’t the same as cash.
As with all technical subjects, this can be intimidating to the non accountants whom you deal with on a daily basis. Especially when dealing with time-poor individuals, you need to be able to get to the point quickly and clearly when it comes to your writing.
These are the nine points to follow to master good writing. Some are our own, but the last five come from George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.
George Orwell’s writing rules may date back to 1946, but they still ring true today, no matter what you’re writing.
1. Practise, practise, practise
You may or may not be intimidated when it comes to report-writing but, no matter what your writing ability, the truth is that, as with any skill, you’ll get better the more you do it.
Make time to write, and review your work to see how you might be able to improve it.
2. Make a draft
Use Word (or whichever software you have) to write a draft before putting together your final report. This allows you to constantly edit and rewrite.
It really helps with spelling and grammar too.
3. Speak as you write
Read your words in your head and imagine saying them out loud.
4. Mention the obvious
Assume your reader doesn’t know anything. Write clearly so that anybody can understand you.
5. Avoid clichés
Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print. They clutter up your writing, and are overused to the point of being boring.
6. Keep it snappy
Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always do so.
7. Keep it ‘active’
Never use the passive voice where you can use the active – so ‘he beat’ (active) rather than ‘he was beaten’ (passive). This will make your writing clearer.
8. Ditch the jargon
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
9. Break the rules
Orwell said: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” What he meant is that no rules are hard and fast in writing. Ignore the rules if doing so makes what you’re writing easier for the reader to understand.
Take advantage of AAT’s e-learning module to help improve your writing skills
These tips were written by AAT tutors Gill Myers and Cath Littler.
AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.