Audit Report Writing Guide

This guide establishes some guidelines for the design, style and content of
the reports published by the External Audit Directorate of the Audit and
Review Branch, PSC, in order to make them useful and easy to read.

A Practical Guide B .Table of Contents Introduction Audit Report Users Audit Purposes Communication Channels Readership Motivation Outline Design Background Visual Appeal Reading Efficiency Design Techniques Format Specifications Summary Writing Style Definition Terminology Sentence Length Passive Voice Intensifiers Bullets Summary Report Content Outline Structure Model Level of Detail Commentary Wrap-up and Conclusion Wrap-up Conclusion Bibliography Appendices A .Quotations and Bibliography .Elimination of Stereotypes .

Personnel audits also identify for clients the need to create or change policies and procedures.Introduction This guide establishes some guidelines for the design. the Public Service Employment Act and personnel policies and procedures flowing from those acts. The auditee is the Deputy Head of the department being audited. there are a variety of readers with quite different needs:  executives with a general knowledge of personnel systems and terminology who are mainly interested in results in their areas of accountability . summarizing the main topics of the report. Audit Report Users Audit reports must meet the varying information needs of users: the clients. briefing notes and operational unit reports to managers and specialists. the auditee and their officers. audits have the ultimate goal of improving personnel management in the Public Service. advise departmental representatives on better ways to administer the personnel functions and recognize and reinforce activities that correct shortfalls. PSC. This guide covers the formal audit report only. In addition. style and content of the reports published by the External Audit Directorate of the Audit and Review Branch. Readership To be effective. a formal report to the clients. a letter to the deputy head. administrative documents should focus on the needs of a defined readership. the auditee and their representatives. exceed client standards and suggest and recommend corrective actions when personnel functions do not meet clients' standards. In the case of audit reports. The representatives are: managers and specialists responsible for personnel functions in the client organizations and departments. in order to make them useful and easy to read. The clients are: the President of the Public Service Commission and the Secretary of the Treasury Board. formal briefings and discussions with responsible officers on the findings. Communication Channels Audit teams use a number of channels to influence the quality of personnel management: informal suggestions to client representatives during the planning phase and to departmental staff during on-site reviews. Audit Purposes The primary purpose of a personnel audit is to inform clients whether the department adheres to the conditions for exercising the authorities delegated under the Financial Administration Act.

There is competition for their attention and time. Recognizing these barriers is the first step in developing effective audit reports. Outline To help make audit reports attention-getting. summary. In addition. table of contents. Motivation With the exception of consummate bureaucrats. findings.  the auditee's senior personnel officer who must respond to audit recommendations  specialists concerned mostly with findings in their area of expertise. introduction. wrap-up and bibliography. Note: Audit reports are not written for professional auditors. writing style. even in university graduates. the following sections cover: report design. They are desensitized to printed material due to the sheer volume that crosses their desks each day. there is evidence that the level of literacy is not all it could be. Audit report writers must therefore take into account the needs of these various readers and the information already provided through briefings and operational unit reports. report content (title page. appendices). most readers are going to read as little as possible. This guide describes an approach that will encourage the target audience to read audit reports and take action to improve personnel management and resource use in the Public Service. readable and credible. .

particularly the reader who is not motivated. Effective design increases visual appeal and reading efficiency. writing style and content should be able to maintain this attention. we mentioned the intense competition for reader attention and time. The proposed design is interesting. featuring plenty of white space and easy-on-the-eyes lettering. comprehension and retention. Reading Efficiency An audit report should not appear long. writing style and content. It tells them the subject is important. Design Techniques The following techniques have been selected to enhance the visual appeal and reading efficiency of audit reports:  type size and style are easy to read  line length is limited to 4. Audit reports should be closer in appearance to the annual report. Design may be the key to attracting readers .5 inches for eye travel that is not tiring  blocks of text are limited to 8 lines or so to prevent skipping and to provide frequent rest points  the amount of white space is not only more comforting to the eyes but also provides the reader with room for notes .Design Background In the Introduction. Once attention is captured. Visual Appeal An audit report has visual appeal when it looks professional and easy to read. The talent and effort that have obviously gone into the report's appearance send strong signals to readers. Efficient reports use design techniques to make it easy to find a particular piece of information and increase reading speed. dull or tedious. It also tells them the readership is important enough to warrant a quality product. Report writers can control three factors critical to gaining and keeping attention: design. There is a big difference between a memo and the annual report of the Commission. The design encourages the potential audience to read. That means the reader should develop positive feelings about the report at first glance.

Spacing: single space between lines. Printing: The Branch will produce a camera-ready copy of the audit report. left and right margins: 1. the standard format quickly becomes familiar and is easy to scan  in addition to providing information.5pt (serif). "Styles" exist for headers and footers. size and arrangement of text on the page. This results in an inside margin of 1.5" and 0. the header and footer lines "frame" the text  complete topics are placed on one page wherever possible  the text is laser-printed off desktop publishing software  capital letters are not used for emphasis or to highlight key words and phrases because they slow up the reader  the text is unjustified with flush left and ragged right margins. Tabs: Tabs are set at: 2. headings and subheadings helps readers to search for specific information. This guide identifies the following elements of format: Fonts: body: Times Roman 12. and bound. double spacing between topics. Summary . .  the location of page numbers. 2 space ahead of bullets. The report will then be printed back-to-back. For ease of use.8". Format Specifications Format is the shape. to encourage smooth eye flow  there are no broken words at the end of lines  there are no broken sentences at the end of pages  there are no single lines on the top or the bottom of a page.headers: Helvetica 14pt (sans serif) .0" and 3.0". headers and footers: not bold .footers: Helvetica 9pt (sans serif).5" and an outside margin of 1.4". The following two sections deal with writing style and content . Margins: top and bottom margins: 0.2". the format described here is available through the Directorate computer system. 3.Design This section describes design techniques that will help audit teams produce efficient audit reports.25" with the binding set at 0. recommendations and compliments: bold.25".the keys to effective reports.

functions. style is defined as the way content is written. vocabulary."Have something to say. like the outside and the inside of the human body: both go together. and say it as clearly as you can." (English Proverb) Writing Style Definition For audit report purposes. Guidelines The following guidelines are not presented in order of importance. staffing and resourcing. the bibliography lists a number of excellent references. Purpose This guide is not intended to train auditors in the basics of style. Generally. activities. purpose and goal. Inconsistent terminology demonstrates an unprofessional approach in business writing. and also: who the readers will be. style consists of tone. and content is the inside of style. What this guide can do is provide auditors with a standard for editing their own reports. . That can be accomplished through courses and on-the-job coaching. what is important to the readers and what the readers need to do after reading the material. objective. areas. That is the only secret of style. human resources management and personnel management. personnel disciplines." (Jean-Luc Godard) "Too much of a good thing is worse than none at all. aspects and practices. It may cause readers to interrupt their reading rhythm to interpret the changed term and misunderstand the message. syntax and grammar. style is the outside of content. look for inconsistencies such as the following examples of interchangeable terms: personnel administration. Terminology Audit reports must transmit information with precision . Good style presupposes a writer who knows the subject well. When reviewing reports. sort of an audit guide to writing style." (Matthew Arnold) "To me. they can't be separated.precision that starts with consistent terminology. For those readers interested in pursuing the subject in greater depth.

action . Sentence Length Another style element that can blur the precision and clarity of text is long sentences. tiresome reading faster than the passive voice. One sentence: "The roles. activities." (13 words in each) Literary writers can use longer sentences without worrying about clarity. The course defines the roles. Passive: "Based on the information available.object (agent . reflect personal values and fill space for no real purpose. Some grammarians recommend a limit of 15 to 18 words in business writing. If it is not there. consider a rewrite.object) sequence.verb . focus attention. The short example that follows demonstrates the difference between passive and active sentences. one should look closely at sentences with more than 20 words. There may be room for improvement. ." (33 words) Two sentences: "All managers who were to receive sub-delegated authority attended the departmental staffing course. save words and improve logic and flow. look for a subject ." When reviewing reports. responsibilities and accountability of managers and staffing officers. responsibilities and accountability mechanisms of managers and staffing officers are clearly defined in the departmental training course on sub- delegation which was given to all managers about to receive sub-delegated staffing authority. Intensifiers Intensifiers are words like: clearly. samples. special. Intensifiers raise questions such as "significant compared to what?" and "clearly according to whose criteria?" Bullets Report writers can use bullets as punctuation in front of points to break up dense text and shorten sentences. But they do not have to write audit reports! Passive Voice No shortfall in style produces dull. In editing reports. facts and results. no irregularity of operation was found. The use of bullets is highly recommended when findings are lists of standards. The following example from the second paragraph of a section on Sub-delegation of Staffing Authority demonstrates the clarity of shorter sentences.The results are particularly noticeable in managers with only a general knowledge of personnel functions and terminology." Better Still: "The audit team found no irregularity. key. significant and very. well." Active: "The audit team found no evidence of irregularity in the available information. reasonable. Their use should be limited because they frequently lack precision.

" With bullets: "The Department has mechanisms to ensure effective employment equity programs. crisp sentences. However. including:  an identified responsibility centre  action plans and reporting systems  consultative committees for target groups  an Affirmative Action Steering Committee. the active voice. Summary . These mechanisms which include action plans and reporting systems adequately ensure the effectiveness of employment equity programs. and rhythm are just a few. They can be evaluated against readily observable criteria. Branch audit reports should be reviewed for the use of consistent terminology.Example Without Bullets: "The Department possesses control mechanisms such as a clearly identified responsibility centre. consultative committees for target groups and an Affirmative Action Steering Committee.Writing Style Writing style has many other elements not included in this guide: tone. word economy. The nature of audit reports makes the technique particularly useful in enhancing clarity and readability." This guide takes every opportunity to demonstrate the use of bullets. . appropriate intensifiers and bullets. the elements covered here have one thing in common.

The title page also indicates the names of the audit team members. introduction. These items are repeated at the bottom of each page. introduction. a report's content is responsible for its effectiveness.Report Content Outline The sections on Design and Writing Style described ways audit reports can gain and hold attention and promote efficient reading. Cover and Title Page Audit reports use a standard cover. the department's name and the report's date of issue (month and year). with a window showing: the title: "Staffing Audit" or "Personnel Management Audit". . findings (by audit field) amd appendices (as required). two elements enhance effectiveness. To a large degree. table of contents. summary (including the recommendations). Where a basic personnel function is not included in the audit. Summary The summary gives a quick overview of the state of the department at the time of the audit in light of the main issues covered by the report. including the recommendations. a note of explanation should be included. findings and appendices. Structure Personnel audit reports include the following sections: title page. In addition to logic. Table of Contents The table lists the sections and sub-sections with page numbers as follows: summary and recommendations. consistent structure and level of detail. It does not normally exceed three pages.

documents. Specific initiatives that the auditors wish to mention as examples should be described in detail. Appendices: Appendices can be used when they are essential for understanding the report... if applicable. significant pressures on personnel management during the period under review . They usually include comprehensive statistics. The model illustrates how the various elements of findings are to be presented. the locations visited and the on-site dates.. and references. Level of Detail The depth of coverage for issues should normally reflect the significance of the findings.personnel disruptions .Sub-headings should be limited to paragraphs of approximately eight lines. It should include the following elements: Context: This sub-section briefly describes conditions in the audit entity during the period under review.particularly to a non-personnel executive or manager. for instance: the entity's role. Findings: Findings constitute the main part of an audit report. the introduction should not repeat details. implement." Recommendations should be stand-alone statements that can be read out of context and still make sense . Situations representing a high degree of risk or indicating shortcomings that are serious enough to justify a recommendation should be treated extensively. Example: "We recommend that the Deputy Minister" put in place a mechanism for monitoring staffing activities and take appropriate corrective action.. results of internal audits or follow-up to our previous audits. Introduction Since readers will read the summary. It also identifies any weaknesses in the methodology to allow the client and auditee to make informed decisions as a result of the such as the following should be noted: organizational changes . data collection techniques and the basis for auditors' opinions... Methodology: This section briefly describes sampling. Purpose: This sub-section is a short description of what functions and special programs were audited and the clients' authorities. size and organization especially with regard to human resource management.changes in roles and programs. etc. while issues where the department meets the expectations and there is nothing specific to mention should be dealt with briefly. the issues covered in each function and program.. Scope: The scope lists the period under review. Recommendations should be listed under a lead statement such as: (example) "We recommend that the Deputy Minister: amend. establish. They result from the examination of each audit issue in the context of established objectives and clients' expectations. quotes from publications.. .

Graphics should be used when they add to the understanding of the text. few intensifiers and a point system using bullets as punctuation  presenting essential content under standardized headings and sub-headings. Percentages should not be used when referring to small samples (less than one hundred). . Wrap-up and Conclusion Wrap-up This guide supports the External Audit Directorate approach to developing consistent audit reports. the number of transactions and the period of time provide that context. the active voice. an effective audit report will encourage managers to improve the use of human resources in the Public Service.Commentary Where a recommendation and a compliment are made under the same issue. In addition. experience and initiative of audit teams. The size of the population. However. it does provide the basis for consistent and professional reports that meet the needs of both clients and auditees. Conclusion The Audit Report Writing Guide deals with the very basic aspects of report writing. Statistics need to be used consistently throughout the report. It includes the following elements:  a definition of report users  report purposes  a discussion on the readership  a design that attracts readers and increases their reading efficiency  a writing style with: consistent terminology. Otherwise. It cannot replace the skill. they should be in separate paragraphs. they may confuse the reader and reduce the impact of one or the other. Sample size and error rate mean more when they are given in context. crisp sentences.

H.). Secretary of State. Dundern Press. Richard A.Volumes 1 & 2. The Elements of Style. PSC. D. Foresman and Company. An Approach to Comprehensive Audit. Joseph M. W. . Williams. Editing Canadian English. The Audit Branch Manual.Bibliography Audit Branch. Canadian Comprehensive Auditing Foundation. The Technology of Text . Office of the Auditor General. Lanham. A Writer's Handbook. Charles Scribner's Sons. The Canadian Style. Jonassen. Components and Characteristics. Revising Business Prose. E. Douglas McIntyre. Strunk. Freelance Editors' Association of Canada. Scott. (Ed. Conducting Operational Reviews: A Generic Approach.B. Ten Lessons in Style and Grace. Office of the Auditor General.Concepts. Comprehensive Auditing . The MacMillan Co. & White. Canadian Comprehensive Auditing Foundation. Educational Technology Publications.

1992. in a footnote. Document Title: written in full. in parentheses.Footnote The five main elements of a footnote are: 1. The source of the quotation can be provided briefly. placed immediately after the cited text. Reference . Functional Writing is Writing that Works. in superscript 2. place and year of publication (in parentheses) 5. Quotations A quotation is a fragment of text.Duffy. or more completely. R. or "a word or a passage reproduced from a book. T. paragraph or section number. and underlined or in bold 4.A Practical Guide Purpose The purpose of this guide is to provide auditors with some useful information on how to present quotations and bibliographical references in reports. . a statement" (Webster's New World Dictionary).). and Waller. The Project Resource Group. PRG. APPENDIX A . Facts of Publication: publisher. Reference Number: an arabic numeral. Designing Usable Texts. that is included in a new text and identified by quotation marks. followed by a comma 3. Academic Press. Note: The bibliography at the end of the French version lists a number of other valuable reference books.M. (eds. Author's Name: first name and/or initial(s) and surname. Text Location: specific location of the text source: usually the page.Quotations and Bibliography . as in the previous paragraph.

Collation: length of the work. When a document is published on behalf of a government. Effective Business and Technical Presentations. Reading. Prentice-Hall Inc.J. can be put in bold characters 3. George L. but without parentheses 4. Terminology Bulletin #194. with no abbreviation. Rosenblatt.Bibliography A bibliography is a list. Massachussetts. Watt.. Addison- Wesley Publishing Co. Facts of Publication: publisher. N. the name of the legal depositary or the standard book number. of documents consulted or suggested for consultation.. Translation Bureau. Secretary of State.. EXAMPLE Bibliography Mornissey. the country (province or state) and the responsible entity are cited as author. the additional names are written in the regular order. Title: written in full. as in the footnote. 370 p. EXAMPLE Bibliography Canada. It may also be useful to add some information such as the edition number. Public Administration and Management Vocabulary. Richard T. 1977.. Bernard S. Englewood Cliffs. then the first name or initial. usually in alphabetical order. or of sources that have influenced or helped the author. Minister of Supply and . Cheatham. 143 p. It is usually placed in a separate section at the end of the document. the surname is written first.. Author's Name: contrary to the reference footnote. Basic Elements A bibliographical reference contains four basic elements: 1. 1968. place and year of publication. as in the second example below 2. Communication in Business. James T. if there is more than one author. expressed as the number of pages or volumes.

775 p. the PSC officially approved guidelines to ensure the equitable portrayal of women. United Nations. Background In August 1992. ISBN 0-660-55655-3.Services of Canada 1990. such as "Blacks". Reference: Corporate Management Manual (CMM). PSC. Chap. "handicapped". men and minorities in communications. we should continue to avoid the use of terms that may be considered offensive or discriminatory.Elimination of Stereotypes Guidelines Guidelines concerning the representative depiction of minority groups and the elimination of sexual stereotyping. New York: United Nations Publications. etc. 4: Communications Management. Observations No problems were identified in audit reports regarding the equitable depiction of minority groups. 1963. In tables as well as in text. This appendix concerns the application of these guidelines to our reports and other documents. Bibliographical Style Manual. Dag Hammarskjold Library. . 58 p. APPENDIX B .

Mr. with a little effort and attention. his. she) or possessives (his. but as a guide. Basic Rules  The guidelines must not be seen as a cumbersome and unnecessary constraint. it is possible to create non-sexist documents that are neither too wordy nor too heavy. by varying the position of references to males and  females. it is usually easy to avoid sexist grammatical forms. the principles of equality apply. In many cases.  When referring to men and women. Paul X. such as "man-year. and by avoiding unnecessary distinctions between sexes.)  Use gender-neutral occupation and position titles: "representative". conciseness and elegance. etc.. adjectives. "police officer" rather than "spokesman". (See the French version of this appendix for more details. pronouns.  Writing must remain clear and precise. The guidelines focus mainly on eliminating certain language forms that have a sexist connotation. her).In French. Suggestions (See CMM Guidelines.  Avoid using the word "man" to refer to people in general ("the man in the street". the equitable depiction of women and men is a rather complex issue. him) to represent both women and men. mainly due to gender differentiation that applies to nouns. pages 23-26 for details. "policewoman". by using equal forms of salutation in correspondence. .  Treat persons of both sexes equally. "man-year") or the masculine form (he. using the plural or passive form will be sufficient to avoid the difficulties of subjects (he." Following are a few basic rules and suggestions. policewoman. and Mrs.) In English. The main challenge is finding the proper balance between the equitable representation of women and language clarity..

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