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A key skill in accounting is the ability to clearly communicate information to management. Consequently, it is a skill that examiners expect candidates to demonstrate in answering examination questions.

To whom it may concern

A key skill in accounting is the ability to clearly communicate information to management. Consequently, it is skill that examiners will expect candidates to demonstrate in answering examination questions.

By the end of the article you should understand:

  • the importance of clear communication;
  • the advantages of written communication;
  • what is meant by plain English;
  • different formats and styles of communication in business;
  • how to present answers and gain marks in examinations.

Communication
Effective communication only exists when a message is received, understood, accepted and correctly acted upon. The process is about transferring knowledge, changing opinions and issuing instructions.

Communication Model
A message must be clear, unambiguous and understandable to the receiver.

It is important to understand the position and background of the person(s) receiving the message. It is essential to direct the message to the right person(s) ' in a form that allows them to access it physically and psychologically.

It must also be psychologically acceptable. Cultural background plays an important part in communications as what is acceptable in one culture, may be taboo or even illegal in another.

Feedback should evaluate whether the message has been received, understood and has generated the desired response.

Communication may be spoken, written, or consist of overt or coded signals. The latter can be anything from simple smoke signals (still used by the Vatican to announce the appointment of a new Pontiff) to the complex and often subtle body language that we all use to reinforce our spoken words (from shaking our fists to a quizzical raising of the eyebrow).

Written communication
Written communication is important since it allows us to communicate our thoughts very precisely over distance and through time. Writing creates a permanent record that can be stored, filed, cross-referenced, duplicated, etc.

Text can be read selectively, if the reader is already familiar, or not concerned, with parts of the text. Lengthy reports will often contain an executive summary, which people will read before making a decision on whether the report is relevant to them and thus, requires further reading. For example, the Managing Director may only wish to read the conclusions and recommendations for action, whereas others might wish to acquaint themselves with all the details of how and why the investigation was undertaken.

Plain English
Sometimes, people who otherwise talk quite normally, assume that they should revert to a stuffy Victorian-style of English when they write. Sentences such as 'please be referred to your communication of the 14th instance' can more effectively be written as 'see your letter on the 14th'. You should always try to use what is called 'plain English', particularly, if your audience is from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds.

Plain English is defined as:
'something that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it. Plain English takes into account design and layout as well as language'.

The plain English campaign exists to promote the use of crystal-clear language against jargon and other confusing language. It has an extremely good website at www.plainenglish.co.uk

A subsection of the site is dedicated to common financial terms, good for reference or as a revision aid! Go to www.plainenglish.co.uk/FinanceA-Z.html

The following examples of 'gobbledygook' are reproduced from the Plain English site.

Before
High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

After
Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Before
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

After
If you have any questions, please ring.

Before
It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

After
Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Formats and Styles
It is very important to appreciate to whom the report is being addressed to and to understand their outlook and background. For example, an accountant must take care to explain technical terms to people outside the finance function. If you are writing to people higher up in the organisation, or outside it, the style you adopt in your language will tend to be more formal than it would otherwise be for, say, a close colleague or a subordinate.

In business, written communication takes different forms and styles, dependent on who exactly is being addressed and the context of the message.

In examinations there may well be specific marks within the marking scheme for careful presentation of answers in the required format. The following formats have all appeared in Question requirements in exams for various qualifications in recent years.

  • reports;
  • briefing notes;
  • memos.

We shall now look at an example of each paying attention both to layout and style. Note how these formats are quite distinct from the traditional essay-style format that tends to be the normal in junior and secondary education. Examiners tend to frown on answers where candidates merely produce lists. This is mainly because candidates often simply give headings or state key points without supporting explanations that demonstrate they clearly understand the item.

You should now understand that good communication is about understanding the needs and background of the recipient and presenting information in a form that is appropriate to those needs, the context of the situation and the objectives that you wish to achieve.

There may well be specific marks within the marking scheme for careful presentation of answers in the required format. So read the requirements carefully, answer in plain English and in a style appropriate to the intended reader.

Report

To: Managing Director
Date: 1 January
From: Chief Accountant
Copy to: Production Director

How can XYZ produce more effective reports?
Introduction

The external consultants have suggested that we improve the quality of our communication. This report examines the problem and suggests a solution.

What is a report?
A report is usually a formal clearly structured document, often a lengthy summary of an investigation of a problem culminating in a conclusion and recommendation. Reports will use:

  • itemised lists where appropriate ' but with a sentence of explanation where necessary;
  • diagrams;
  • appendices.

The problem
A number of past reports were analysed. When questioned, recipients had often misunderstood what authors were trying to say.

Conclusion
Staff do not know how to write effective reports.

Recommendation
Run some workshops on report writing next month.

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