You probably use jargon every day without even realizing it. We talk about our audit scope and objectives, we build an RCM, perform a test procedure using a judgmental sample, and write an issue that explains the criteria, condition, cause, and effect. While all of this makes perfect sense to an internal auditor, these terms may mean nothing to an outside observer. Using jargon undermines our message and weakens our ability to provide effective communication in internal audit.
Internal Audit Communication Skills Are a Core Competency
When we discuss audit skills and abilities, internal audit communication skills are considered one of the most critical, but unfortunately they are often the most overlooked. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) even identified communication skills as the most important general competency for auditors. As a best practice, we can improve our communication skills by replacing jargon with common terminology, reinforcing these skills with training, and delivering our message in a concise manner. Focusing on all three will increase our overall internal audit effectiveness.
1. Replace Jargon with Common Terms
To illustrate the need to replace jargon with common terms, we can examine the words we use in an audit report. The audit report is the best example of a customer-facing document produced by the audit team, but the audience is not always top of mind when we write the report. Senior management may be fine with audit jargon after years of exposure, but the report is likely also provided to the team we audited and in some cases also to their staff. Some industries like higher education or government auditors routinely post their reports to websites for public review. The table below provides a comparison of common audit jargon to possible terms we could use as replacements.
2. Reinforce Communication with Training
Many internal audit functions design training around technical skills instead of soft skills, lessening the priority of effective communication in internal audit. We cannot overlook communication skills training. Departments should provide regular training sessions on communication for the auditor skill set, and one of those areas should include avoiding jargon. If we practice effective communication in internal audit, we should assess the amount of jargon we use and develop alternative terminology that best suits our organizations. The training can then focus on using common terminology to improve our audit communications.
3. Focus on a Succinct Message
IIA Standard 2420: Quality of Communications requires that communications be “clear, easily understood, and logical, and provide significant and relevant information.” To help the team develop their audit skills and abilities, the training session can include exercises on being concise and avoiding jargon. As a basic principle, convey your message in as few words as possible. Make your point clearly and directly, whether you are communicating to someone in person, on the phone, in a meeting, in an email, or in a report.
Going back to the audit report example, issues are sometimes written with jargon to give too much background information. Here is an example:
During the accounting audit, the internal auditors selected a random sample of reconciliations. They observed the accounting director had approved all account reconciliations without performing an analytical review of the source documentation prior to approving the reconciliations. The blanket approval is the result of a policy put in place five years ago that has not been revisited since a new systemic control process to automate the manual account reconciliation, thereby rendering the manual review redundant. (75 words)
The wordy issue can be rewritten as follows:
Internal auditors observed the accounting director approving account reconciliations without reviewing. The existing account reconciliation control should be updated to reflect the current automated reconciliation process. (26 words)
Getting to the Point
When you evaluate internal auditor skills and competencies for the department, consider assessing the jargon in use by auditors. Avoiding jargon dramatically improves our ability to provide effective communication in internal audit. Developing an action plan and training sessions to limit the amount of jargon we use can improve our audit communication by addressing stakeholders with common terminology they can actually understand — especially in the audit report.
Sarah Goff, CPA, MBA, is a Manager of Product Solutions at AuditBoard. Prior to joining AuditBoard Sarah spent 5 years at Deloitte in their internal audit and risk consulting practice, and she started her career at ExxonMobil in their Finance function.Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.