Magazine article The CPA Journal

End of the Myth: CPAs Do Have to Write

Magazine article The CPA Journal

End of the Myth: CPAs Do Have to Write

Article excerpt

The importance of writing and communication proficiency in accounting cannot be overemphasized. Most employers consider this skill set to be crucial when hiring, often viewing it as more important than a high grade-point average. Effective writing is vital when dealing with customers, authorities, and other professionals. The need for precise and clear language also serves as a response to investors' concerns about the ambiguity and complexity of professional documents. Alan Reinstein, Thomas R. Weirich, and Donald A. Nellermoe, commenting on an SEC ruling on simplifying the language of financial language, in "Implications of US Securities and Exchange Commission Rule #33-7380 in the Improvement of Accounting Students' Writing Skills" (Managerial Auditing Journal, December 1999), said: "The SEC, denouncing dense writing styles, legal jargon, and repetitive disclosures in various prospectuses, issued Rule #33-7380 entitied 'Plain English disclosures,' which requires registrants to use 'plain English' in a prospectus's cover page, summary and risk factor sections."

CPAs Michael Devlin, of Grant Thornton, and Paul Ferreira, of Ercolini & Co., say they spend about three hours a day producing documentation, and feel it to be an important part of their professional lives. According to Devlin and Ferreira, the primary written documents that most CPA firms are involved with include:

* Financial statements and other special reports, which include a firm's opinions;

* E-mail correspondence with clients and firm personnel;

* Workpaper review comments for follow-up by managers and staff; and

* Various tax forms for tax authorities and clients.

The SEC requires accountants to follow six principles when writing professional documents:

Active voice. According to experts such as Elizabeth Danziger ("Writing in Plain English," Journal of Accountancy, July 1997), verbs in the active voice leave a stronger impression on the reader and remove possible ambiguities. Devlin recognizes this as one of the biggest mistakes in the writing he sees on a daily basis.

Accounting journalist Glenn Cheney ("Word Crunching: A Primer For Accountants," Journal of Accountancy, March 1990), however, argues that sometimes the passive voice is appropriate in professional writing. He says it could be done to "make an accusation less pointed, to avoid responsibility and to avoid implying personal relationships. …

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