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Writing in Accounting

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

Introduction

While it may seem that accountants work only with numbers, they are often required to develop pieces of writing. Accountants need to communicate with their clients and co-workers in order to effectively complete work-related tasks. Hence, writing in accounting is characterized by conciseness and clarity for ease of reading. As an accounting major, you may be asked to compose various types of written documents, such as memos, letters, and written financial statements. Writing in accounting is not limited to descriptive works, but also includes argumentative and/or analytical pieces. In other words, you may be asked to apply concepts learned in class to specific accounting situations and/or develop an argument around accounting strategies.

Elements of Successful Accounting Writing

There are several things to consider when composing text within the accounting field.

Audience Awareness
The intended audience will have an effect on what you include in the writing and the tone or level of formality. For example, a report to a client will come with different expectations than an email to a coworker. When onsidering your audience, ask these questions: What is your relationship with them? What do they know? What do they need to know?

Clear Purpose
Writing in accounting needs a clear purpose. It should be clear to your audience what and why you are writing.

Organization and Navigability
Writing in accounting needs to be clearly organized and easy to navigate. Information should be easy for the reader to locate, and it should come at a point at which the reader would expect.

Clarity
Writing in accounting needs to be clear and easy to understand. Again, think about the reader: Who are they? what do they know? What do they need to know? Why are you writing to them?

Concision
Your writing should also be concise. Provide only relevant information, and write it as simple as you can. Don’t get caught up in fluffy language; focus on making your point as simple and clear as possible.

Good Mechanics
Polished writing is very important in the business and finance world. Your writing has a potentially large audience and should be free of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Proofread everything!

Common Types of Accounting Writing

As an accountant, you will be expected to compose several types of texts, which serve different purposes and exigencies. No matter what you are writing, for what purpose you are writing, or to whom you are writing, the above elements should be present. It’s also important that you are familiar with the expectations and conventions—either set from your professor or the firm for which you work.

Letters
Accountants often compose letters to clients, government agencies, and colleagues. These letters establish connections and relationships with clients and others in the accounting field, respond to requests and appeals, and introduce changes or recommendations for action. The formality will vary depending on the audience, the purpose for the letter, and the relationship between the writer and audience. Once sent, letters also become records, which are often referred to at a later date; the content and format of these letters will often be set by the firm for which you work.

E-mails and Memos
E-mails are the most common form of communication in the business world. As an accountant, you will send emails for in-house communication and to communicate with clients and other parties. You may be asked to compose a memo, which is an informal letter that generally introduces a new policy or procedure or provides a conclusion or solution. Memos are most commonly sent via e-mail. The formality of the writing in your e-mails and memos will be largely dependent on to whom you are writing and for what purpose you are writing. Emails and memos should be organized based on the most important information. This information should come first.

Reports
Accounting reports analyze a financial issue using accounting principles. Reports, generally, are done in response to a specific request or issue. Reports require outside research into the market and professional scholarship. They also should be broken up into clear and well-organized sections, ending with an executive summary. Reports are usually used in house or are sent to clients.

Papers
Types of commonly assigned accounting papers include summary and analysis papers, which synthesize someone’s argument and evaluate its importance; opinion papers, which describe your own position on a given subject; and research papers, which support and investigate a proposed argument with evidence.

Preferred Bibliographic Style

Because writing in accounting does not require a specific bibliographic style, please refer to your professor’s assignment requirements for more information on how to format your writing.

Helpful Resources

Online Sources

  • The University of Iowa’s Tippie provides an overview on the types of writing assignments accounting majors can expect to encounter. They also provide tips on formatting.

  • George Mason University’s page on Writing in Accounting proposes tips for constructing effective writing in accounting. Topics include conciseness, clarity, and revision.

  • Purdue OWL’s page on “Workplace Writers” details various types of business writing that accountants may utilize, such as resumes, and offers suggestions for considering audience and effective workplace writing.

  • The University of Montana’s Writing Center has a great document on writing for accounting. There is information on what the accounting field values, what is expected of writing in the accounting field, and many tips on things to avoid.

Books

  • The following book is geared towards students in universities and describes written and spoken communication skills.

    Crosling, Glenda M. Writing and Presenting in Accounting. Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2004. Print.

  • Each chapter of the following book provides a section on “Managing Your Writing,” in relation to the topic of the chapter.

    Heintz, James A., and Robert W. Parry. College Accounting. Mason, OH: Thomson/South-Western, 2008. Print.
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