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Mind of Jacka: The Words We Write

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Apr 06, 2023

I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink in this forum discussing report writing. In particular, I’ve spent a lot of time pushing the fact that, once we get to the report writing stage, we should already know everything — what we want to say as well as the client’s responses.

However, I need to back away from that a little bit. There is nothing like the black and white of the printed word to bring things into new focus. We’ve all lived through those situations where we are in total agreement with the client until they see those spoken words put into print. The ambiguity of language means that what I thought I was saying does not necessarily match what you are hearing. And a report brings that into sharp focus.

But it is also true that, in spite of thinking we know everything we want to say, writing a report isn’t as easy as just throwing it all out there and moving forward. Putting our thoughts down on the page can cause our blurrier ideas to come into sharp focus, but it can also cause the thoughts we believed to be under our control to become half-baked at best. This is part of the reason using electronic workpapers to complete a report — using existing documents to fill in the reporting blank — isn’t as successful as we might wish. It is a good start (as is AI, but we won’t go there right now), but it will not result in a good or even mediocre report. Instead, it results in a hash of ideas, styles, and shtuff.

In spite of already knowing exactly what we want to say, the process of writing helps us focus on what we have done, are doing, and will get done. And, just as a client comes to a new realization as they read words in print, we similarly gain deeper insights and realizations as we put down those words. It should seldom change the message, but it may, at the very least, give us a deeper understanding.

In a piece from Farnham Street called Why Write?the author notes: 

“Writing is the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about. Importantly, writing is also the process by which you figure it out.”

It would be nice if we did actually understand everything we were writing about when we start a report. But there is always something more. And writing the report should be the process by which we figure it out.

Again, it won’t necessarily change the message, but it will make you, as the message deliverer, much more prepared.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.