One of the bottlenecks of audit reporting is the editing part of the release process. Frequently, I hear how many auditors write an audit report and then rely heavily on the audit manager to correct their grammar, punctuation, and formatting problems.
If this sounds like you (or a member of your team), know this: your audit manager does not have time to edit your stuff. Of course, managers will continue to review content, but the onus of editing for grammar and punctuation must reside with you, the author.
Self-editing isn’t easy, you say. And you’re right. Words and phrases that sound fine to you might come across as confusing to others. It’s easy to overlook your own grammar errors.
But you’ll be a better writer if you become mindful of your writing and correct your own editing mistakes. Below are five common editing mistakes we all make or might have questions about. Maybe a couple will resonate with you.
- Passive voice
- Parallel structure
- Tense mix-ups
- Use of i.e. versus e.g.
- Hyphenation faux pas
Passive voice is when the action verb (highlighted yellow below) is placed before (instead of after) the doer of the action (subject noun – highlighted green). In other words, we don’t know who completes the action until the end of the sentence. For example,
✗ Passive voice. Energy conservation practices have not been developed by Transportation.
Who hasn’t developed energy conservation practices? It was Transportation, but we didn’t figure that out until the end of the sentence.
Try this: To fix, just put green (subject noun) before yellow (action verb) in the sentence.
✓ Active voice. Transportation has not developed energy conservation practices.
If you want to focus on the conservation practices, you can easily do this. Just create a sentence where the conservation practices (subject noun) commit the action (verb):
✓ Active voice. Well-defined energy conservation practices outline fuel usage for the snowplow team during winter months.
When you write a list, keep the grammar consistent. In other words, each list item must begin with the same part of speech: a verb (in the same tense), a noun, or an adjective. For example,
✓ Management will send an invoice, recognize the revenue, and record the trade receivable.
In this list, each item is a verb in the present future tense, with an understood (will) as part of the second and third verbs, which share the helping verb of the first: will send, (will) recognize, and (will) record.
Sometimes, our lists deviate from proper structure and use the wrong verb tense or a completely different part of speech.
✗ Management will send an invoice, recognize the revenue, and trade receivable.
The first two list items follow a verb/direct object parallel structure. However, the final item—trade receivable—is missing the verb. This item is no longer parallel to the rest of the list.
Bulleted lists should also follow a parallel structure. Your bullet points should each begin with the same part of speech (noun, verb, or adjective). As a side note, frequently used words diminish meaning, so try to vary your word choice. For example,
✗ The team will:
- Create a document
- Create a process
- The process will include x, y, and z.
This is a simple example, but there are two problems in this list: overusing a word (create) and throwing in a sentence that’s perfectly good but not parallel to the list. You can edit the list as follows:
✓ The team will:
- Document the process.
- Include x, y, and z in the process.
- Train the staff to follow the process.
Try this: It might be easier to edit your bulleted lists first, because all you have to do is scan the first word of each list item. The first word of each list item in your bulleted list should be the same part of speech (all verbs or nouns or adjectives). Locating your own parallel problems in sentences can be tricky. Try asking a colleague (not your manager) to do a quick edit of your document, focusing on parallel lists.
Similar to parallel structure, verb tense changes can create confusion for your reader. This is a mistake I personally overlook in my writing over and over. So maybe if I write about it, I’ll fix my own tense problems, right? That’s what I’m hoping for.
Sometimes, our poor tense use is subtle:
✗ We deviated from proper structure and use the wrong verb tense.
See what I did? I used a past tense verb with a present tense verb in the same sentence. Ahhh, I do it all the time! Instead, commit to a tense—either present or past for both verbs:
✓We stay with proper structure and use the same verb tense.
✓We stayed with proper structure and used the same verb tense.
It’s the same in auditing though:
✗ Sales submitted incomplete checklists and forgets to sign the final page.
✓ Sales submitted incomplete checklists and forgot to sign the final page.
Try this: There are always exceptions to the rules, but below is a quick guide to typical tenses used for each portion of an audit issue in a report:
*Note that conditional future sets a condition on whether or not an action could take place. This is why we use the helping verbs could or might in risk sentences. These verbs alert the reader that the future isn’t definitive, but that risk is possible—it could (or might) happen if the problem isn’t remediated. If you want to geek out more over tenses, University of Washington has a good article that goes into greater tense detail.
Use of i.e. versus e.g.
This editing error trips auditors up all the time, because i.e. and e.g. don’t mean the same thing but people think they do. To clarify something you’ve said, you use i.e. Use e.g. to add color to a story or idea by sharing an example. And always abbreviate and use a comma to separate from the rest of the phrase.
✓The Company uses a single platform (i.e., LinkedIn) to share social media content, but could branch out to other platforms as well (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
Try this: These two abbreviations stand for something in Latin, but I’m going to eschew Latin here and give you a couple of tricks to remember the differences instead:
i.e. might stand for “in essence” (clarifying something you’ve already said)
e.g. might stand for “eggs-sample” (providing depth through an example)
In audit, we use a lot of abbreviations and hyphens. We sign on with a login, have a log-in (or login) name, and we log in to the computer. Why do we hyphenate end-user verification but don’t hyphenate end user? The rules about hyphenations are more like guidelines, so you’ll want to keep your dictionary handy. The AP style often defers to how words are used in each industry.
Try this: The following isn’t a perfect rule, but it’s a quick-and-dirty fix for simple hyphenation issues (when you don’t have a dictionary handy). Hyphenating different parts of speech is like mixing oil and water: they don’t mix.
For example, if end user is used in a way that user is the noun and end is the adjective describing the noun, this is an oil and water problem. The words are different parts of speech; they won’t mix well, and therefore should not be hyphenated.
However, if end and user are both used as adjectives to describe the noun verification (e.g., the end-user verification), then adjectives mix with adjectives and end and user can be hyphenated.
Here’s my parting editing advice for today: you’re human, and so am I. If you try to overhaul your next report completely, you’ll just feel overwhelmed. But also, don’t just leave all the editing to your managers. They don’t like it.
So take a page of your report and spend an extra few minutes going through that page, editing a couple of points that you want to improve. Make this part of your audit report writing routine, and you’ll gradually discover that you can catch your mistakes early. Or better yet, you’ll discover you’re not making them anymore! (But since we’re human, we’ll just make different mistakes instead. That gives us all a bit of hope, and me a bit of job security.)
Interested in learning more? Visit the upcoming Audit World Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida!