A cow in Willesden

Public psychotherapy for a veteran auditor

How to write an Audit Report – an holistic guide

In my experience, guides on how to write audit reports tend to be idealistic, often ignoring signifcant external factors. I have prepared the notes below with this in mind, and attempted to step back from the detail to provide a(n) holistic view rather than literal. Some readers might find it more useful, but I appreciate that for those of you who are not in a state of karmic balance, this guide might overlook some of the more mundane but necessary steps. Those people might consider this an addition to, rather than replacement of, the traditional process description

It is dawn. Your mind has an acorn within it. The acorn is made up of swirling thoughts about the audit you’ve just completed, tentative conclusions, potential issues, and gut feelings about the people you’ve dealt with and the processes you’ve reviewed. The acorn is tiny and inert. You must nurture it and protect it, give it good soil to grow in, feed it with your calm contemplation, and water it with the raindrops of your passion and dedication.

It is late morning, you are weary from your labours. Your acorn has become a sapling. It has developed structure; the branches shoot off in all directions from the trunk, as the many issues you have raised relate to the central conclusion. But it is small and easily bent; it is not yet a tree; it is a representation of a tree in miniature. You must make a choice now whether to develop this perfection in a small accessible form, to make it a concise representation of everything you want to communicate. You have an option to keep it in a small pot or tray on your window sill, to nourish it, but to restrict the root system so that it becomes a perfect scale model of a mighty tree, with all the features, the leaves and branches, the majesty and the beauty. Or you can plant it in the open, and cover it with manure, encouraging it to become an epic, mammoth tree.

If you choose to develop your sampling in the bonsai style, your manager makes you take it to the park and cover it with manure anyway.

Noon arrives. The sun is high, bringing light and warmth to the land. Your sapling has thrived in the open space, it has sucked the nutrients from the manure and made itself big and strong. It has become a towering oak, a monument to your audit, an immovable object, threatening to bring to a dead halt all the unstoppable projectiles of excuses and objections. It is beautiful and proud; it dominates the skyline and casts a shadow on all below it. It is a beacon proclaiming your achievement, and you relax in its shade, admiring the awesome wonder of creation.

At peace, the afternoon passes slowly. You open the park gates and invite passers-by to behold your oak, a tree that will stand for a thousand years. These passers-by wear collars. They sniff your tree and they pant with excitement, they wag their tails. They do what comes naturally, and they mark the tree as their own. You feel honoured that they care and want to share in your work. They each do this in turn, sometimes going back and forth several times, sometimes around in circles like a Spring dance. They call their friends to do the same. Every dog in the pack must mark its territory at this sacred site. And as every action has a reaction, so your tree begins to change.

It is quiet, you are again alone in the park in the quiet evening. You look at your tree. It saddens you to see it so distressed. Its branches have been trimmed and chopped, stripped bare of its leaves – the canopy of cover is no more, only patches of shade remain. The bark is peppered with graffiti, where members of the pack have carved their initials in love hearts. The carving has cut through the bark and sap is leaking through. The earth has been disturbed around it, and the roots are exposed and damaged.

It is night. The Big Dog comes, the final encounter. You hide, frightened and confused. Terrible howls resound through the sky like a thunder storm, and then silence.

As sunrise breaks, you return to the place your tree once stood. Your tree has been ground up into pulp and made into chipboard. The chipboard has been covered in mahogany-effect laminate, and made into a sideboard and coffee table. You dismantle it into a flat pack and deliver it to the customer. You get drunk and you cry.

You begin your next audit, and the circle is complete.

Feel free to take part in this survey, let people know if this is a useful description of the report writing process.

10 responses to “How to write an Audit Report – an holistic guide

  1. Sofia July 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    I think this is relevant to not just audit reports but a whole variety of internal and external reports. Beautifully written 🙂

    • A Cow in Willesden July 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Thanks for the support Sofia.
      I was hoping the combination of humour and tragedy would strike a chord. Much of life runs along that intersection, and I thought it might be an interesting approach for an audit manual.
      I also want to boost my reading stats by writing a title and first paragraph that gets people from Google onto my website. I’m the third option now if you search for stuff like ‘audit staff retention’. This post is on the second page of audit report writing searches, hoping to see it shoot up over the next couple of months… I can’t get enough of it.

  2. ITauditSecurity July 23, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Beautifully written! Well done!
    The differences that I experience from what you outlined:
    1) The acorn is watered early on, but with my tears. They begin falling much earlier, but I disguise them as tears of joy so my manager thinks I appreciate the comments.
    2) The process usually takes at least 2-3 days to draft (8 times of course), even though I’ve sent each issue out in a weekly report as I find them.
    3) I experience a good fight from the auditees who failed to mention in week 3 that they gave me the wrong info and meant to give me something else that would change all my conclusions. I end up redoing half the audit in 20 hours based on “new” information. Where’s the manager’s backbone?
    4) My management insists on changing all my active voice to passive, abbreviates what I’ve spelled out, and wants the issues listed in reverse alphabetical order according to the timezone in which the issue was identified, cross-referenced by spoken language of the host country. In short, I redo all 4 reports in different formats for each select audience without adding any value and going over my budget by 22%.

    I like your Google strategy. People love how-to posts. Cheers.

    • A Cow in Willesden July 26, 2011 at 7:49 am

      Thank you IAS – I’m quite happy with this post, probably in my top 3 personal favourites. Also my 3rd attempt at putting in a poll, finally worked out that you have to embed the poll int he post, not just create it. DId make me wonder how I managed to fail every single poetry assignment I ever had in school.
      Had a referral from google just this morning, someone searched for ‘how to audit report’ and ended up clicking through to this post. I hope it was exactly what they were looking for.
      Very sad to hear that your tears go into your reports so soon in the process. I fairly well always cry at the end, but so early in the piece must be traumatic. Your enlightened manager must think himself lucky to have such passionate auditors.
      I knew i was pushing it with the day-long metaphor. I was thinking of the day as a decent representation of the lifecycle of an audit rpeort, and I was pleased with the dark night idea of the final review, which hints at the absence of a transparent or understandable process. But 2/3 days sounds fair to draft something good. Mark Twain once wrote “Sorry for sending sucha long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one” (or something like that, probably with better grammer). I think sometimes people forget that the process is creative, that we don’t sit on a production line churning out sausages by pulling a handle.
      Your third comment is something I’ve experienced many times. Have you considered a holistic approach at that stage? I have often tried the way of balance through those stages of report discussion. For example, in your case, have you thought about changing the conclusion as suggested, and to compensate raising an issue about the lack of risk awareness/understanding of their control environment – and directed at the person who withheld the information from you? Another phras tha tI wish I could use more : “I’ll look into that int he follow-up audit”
      As regards 4, if you don’t mind me saying, your manager probably shouldn’t be reviewing your reports, it sounds like he is not smart enough. Perhaps you should mention that to him…

  3. ITauditSecurity July 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    #3 – Usually, the guilty witholder gets in plenty of trouble as the audit hours pile up, but I like your holistic approach.
    #4 – This is more of a case of a manager not being confident, and always having to exercise his authority and “add value” where none was needed. He’ll grow up eventually. A couple times, I’ve asked him directly, but respectfully, “How will this add value? And if it does, is it worth 4 hours of my time and an hour of yours to review it again?” I’ve won a few of those….

  4. The Man of the Hazel Gap July 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Interesting post, I would never have consider the capabilities of auditors to extend to anthropomorphism.

    • A Cow in Willesden July 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you for the compliment – I would probably not be representative of the audit profession overall, but I like to think that I can speak for a significant and otherwise silent minority.
      Still didn’t help me in poetry when I was at school though. I wonder if its too late to submit this as coursework and ask for a re-mark.

  5. The Man of the Hazel Gap August 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I suppose being in the silent minority is better than being part of the silent majority!

  6. ITauditSecurity August 14, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Hey Cow,
    I’m ready for some new content…How about something on how IT auditors and other auditors view the world, vacation, CAE hairstyles, mobile device loss?

    • A Cow in Willesden August 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

      Hey IAS,
      I have 3 or 4 amusing posts on the boil, just a busy period at the mo, and its so darn cold that my free time is mostly spent shivering. I should have a fresh one for you later today.
      Thanks for the suggestions, I’ll see if I can come up with something close …

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