Friday, March 13, 2020
How to write for non-accountants How to write for non-accountants Finance is a murky place for many people. Money comes into the bank account and it goes out again. And the process in between is something of a mystery. But even if your clients are financially savvy, it can still be difficult to explain money matters. Accounting has its own language and is often riddled with jargon that even experienced business people can sometimes find difficult to understand. (I know: Im one of them.) Writing financial information in accountingese can waste time and money. If your clients are unclear about what your figures mean, theyll ask for further clarification. A single document could lead to several hours of unnecessary (and frustrating) follow-up phone calls. Thats one reason why the tide is turning in the financial industry. Leading firms such as Deloitte, Ernst Young and Grant Thornton have commissioned specialist writing training programmes. And more accounting firms are following suit, adopting plain English in all their written communications. The other is that the Financial Services Authority keeps a watchful eye on adverts for financial products and services that are misleading. So as a finance professional, you still have to make sure your writing is not just legal, but effective. Here are six steps to clear client communication. One: put your reader first Many accountants overestimate the knowledge their clients have. Even if you have been working with a client for many years, theres no guarantee they really understand the nuances of finance. Get back to basics by asking yourself the following questions: What is the document about? Who will read it? How much do they already know about the subject? What do they absolutely need to know? How important is the subject to them? How interested are they in the subject? Use the answers as a guideline for the amount of detail that you need to include in your document. Two: avoid a mind-dump of ideas Whether youre writing an email, contract or report, do plenty of ground work before putting pen to paper. Brainstorm all your ideas using a mind map and then put your points in order of importance. If youre having trouble getting started, ask yourself the questions: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? Becoming clear in your thinking helps you to create clearly structured documents that are easy to follow. Three: communicate technical terms in plain English Financial abbreviations and other technical terms can be useful when communicating with colleagues but they can confuse clients. For example, the term accrual rate may seem simple but it still needs to be accompanied by an explanation of how the interest is built up. Similarly, never assume that your clients will understand terms such as smoothing, arbitration and cap and collar rate. You dont need to dumb down your writing, just make sure you provide clear, concise explanations. Four: avoid verbosity Often though its the words in between the jargon that cause the problem. Never add in redundant words into your writing. For example, I herein enclose details of your asset classes for the aforesaid investment, as requested sounds complicated, archaic and stilted. A much simpler way of writing it is, I enclose details of your investments, as requested. Five: opt for verbs instead of nouns Verbs help to give sentences movement and life. So write, We will decide on our next steps on Monday, rather than A decision will be made on our next steps on Monday. The word decide is more powerful than decision. And the first sentence is also written in the active voice, so it is punchier. Six: keep sentences short and sweet Aim for your sentences to be a maximum of 20 words. If you make your sentences longer, its likely your readers will have trouble making sense of what you mean. Remember, clear language makes sound business sense. It sends out the message that you have nothing to hide and that your words are as transparent as your financial dealings. Robert Ashton is the Chief Executive of Emphasis.