When I began my career as an auditor, writing audit programs and other technical documents was NOT my favorite part of the job. I loved getting into the nitty-gritty of an audit; doing fieldwork, interviewing auditees, and uncovering fraud and errors. Getting down in the trenches made me feel like I was making a difference at my company. But, as my career progressed, I slowly realized the importance of a well-crafted audit program, a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet workpaper, and a meticulously worded letter. In fact, these documents formed the foundation for all the successful fieldwork I had accomplished.
Now, much of my job is creating and reviewing the documents, articles, and templates that hundreds of The Audit Library subscribers use every day. I often get asked, “What is the secret to writing a good audit program?” or “How do you make sure you have all your bases covered when creating a document for The Audit Library?” The real answer is: It is a process that has taken a long time to develop and perfect.
Olivia and I have years of experience as Certified Internal Auditors and spent an extensive amount of time developing a process for creating and reviewing documents to ensure that they are the best possible product for our subscribers. So, I think the best way for me to answer the question, “What is the secret to writing a good audit program?” is to share the 10-step process that Olivia and I go through each time we create a document.
If you’d like, you are more than welcome to replicate our process for your own audit shop. But, if you stick around until the end of the article, I’ll explain why I think it makes more sense to let us do “the dirty work” for you!
Step 1 – Get an Idea for a Document
Everything starts with an idea, right? When I was an auditor at a large financial institution, the idea for a document would likely come from our risk-based audit plan, regulatory guidance, or a best practice I had recently discovered. So based on this experience and Olivia’s expertise as a former Chief Audit Executive, we brainstormed a list of documents that every auditor needs. From programs and the workpapers that support them to policies, procedures, and administrative documents.
Once we began growing our subscriber base, we knew that there had to be more documents out there our fellow Internal Auditors needed. So, we decided to open it up for suggestions. To this day, requests from subscribers are the largest source of document inspiration we receive. We receive at least 3 document suggestions a month and 95% of the suggestions we receive make it into the Library for all of our subscribers to benefit from! Consequently, we have grown our Library to include over 240 documents, and counting!
Step 2 – Write a Basic Outline
Once I have a topic for a document, I always start with a blank Word document or Excel workbook, and write a basic outline of what I think the template should eventually be. I trust my instincts, but don’t depend on them. (Just like the old adage says, “trust but verify!”) Sometimes it’s a simple bullet point list. Other times a phrase or idea hits me like a lightning bolt and I try my hand at a first draft. Often, it’s one fantastic paragraph that I write down in the moment of inspiration, saving the rest for later. I give myself a lot of leeway here. Usually, the end result looks quite different from the basic outline, but getting started is all part of the process!
Step 3 – Google
I believe in Googling. Once I have an idea of the document’s purpose, structure, and contents, I search Google for what’s already available. I’ll be honest, some free documents are already out there. Since we are asking a price for ours, we must make sure we are offering a big added value. So, I scour the internet and compare and contrast all of this free content with what we create. This research takes a lot of time. Google, for all its wonderful qualities, can be quite overwhelming. Many of the documents are outdated, only in a PDF format, and I cannot always be certain of the author’s qualifications. So, for that reason, I reference Google but don’t rely on it.
Step 4 – Incorporate Best Practices
I follow several reputable Accounting and Auditing blogs to make sure our ideas and offerings are in line with current trends. If there is a writing aide or tool from a reputable source available, I’ll take a look. The Auditing forums I am a member of also help me keep a pulse on what auditors are looking at and how they are thinking across various issues.
Most importantly, I talk with our clients often and hear about the issues they are having, how they are trying to improve their audit department, and what keeps them up at night. This serves as one of the best resources for how to create a high quality document that will benefit our subscribers.
Step 5 – Laws, Regulations, and Professional Guidance
At this point, I compare the outline I have, and the third-party examples I have seen, with professional guidance, regulations, and applicable laws. I’ll leaf through the Red Book, Sawyers, regulatory guidance, etc. I also have several Google alerts set up for when regulatory bodies issue new guidance so I can provide assurance that all the information I have is the most up-to-date.
When I started out writing, I would begin at this step, which to an outsider may seem like the most logical place to start. But many of my early documents ended up in the recycle bin, because like many laws and regulations, they were hard to follow! Now, I like to start with my own version and then fill it in with requirements rather than let the requirements dictate what goes into the document. This allows the documents to be much more intuitive, easier to read, and simpler to execute. If I start with someone else’s concept of a document, and try to make it mine, I lose a bit of the special sauce that makes The Audit Library’s documents stand out.
Step 6 – Read it Out Loud or Print it!
When I am writing a document, I read the entire thing out loud once it is complete. Maybe it is my experience in theatre that makes this step so fun and useful, but I always catch mistakes or get a new idea when I read it aloud.
I’ll be honest; reading a document aloud doesn’t always work for everyone. Olivia likes to print and re-read the document from paper. She says she always catches stuff that she just doesn’t see on a computer screen. Regardless of your preferred method of proofreading your document, make sure that you proofread it in a different way than you wrote it.
Step 7 – Sit on it
Once a document is basically complete, I let it sit for a couple days. Then I re-read it with a fresh set of eyes and consider whether anything reads poorly or doesn’t make sense. I try to do this early in the day when my mind is fresh, I have high mental energy, and most importantly, a cup of coffee in hand. No matter how much I’ve worked on the document, I always change something at this step! Two days perspective, having stepped away from a document, is invaluable. Sometimes there is a rogue sentence or a half-baked idea. Often there is a spelling or grammar error that I missed before. Sometimes I added a point, without properly transitioning from idea to idea. This step is where a technical document becomes something publishable.
Step 8 – Review
Every document written by me gets reviewed by Olivia, and vice versa. We check each other for basic spelling, grammar, and technical proficiency. We also consider whether any steps are missing or could be expanded on, check to ensure that all the regulatory guidance has been taken into consideration, determine if the average user needs a little more background information, etc. The review process yields much better documents. It also means that each document in the Library has the approval of two Certified Internal Auditors. At the end of the review process the writer either incorporates the reviewer’s feedback into the document, or strengthens their own ideas about what a document should contain.
Step 9 – Publish It
This is my favorite step! We publish the document in a Word or Excel format in The Audit Library for all our subscribers to use. If the document is one that a subscriber recommended, we will send them an email with the document and ask for their feedback to ensure that it fulfills their needs! I just love watching to see how many subscribers download a new document and put it to use.
Step 10 – Review Again
The thing that makes The Audit Library stand out, besides the expert care and attention to detail we put into our documents, is our guarantee that each document in the Library will be reviewed every year. So, we go back up to Step-3 and begin the process again! Thankfully the yearly review process doesn’t take as long as the initial creation of the document, but a thorough review is crucial to ensuring that the Library is full of the highest quality documents available on the market!
Doing the Math
The method for creating an audit document is really that simple. So, now that you know our process for creating high quality documents, you can go create your own from scratch, right? Right, but is it really cost effective and time efficient for you to do all that work yourself? Let’s do the math…
If you divide The Audit Library subscription fee by your hourly pay rate, you will find out how many hours you need to save in order to gain value from a subscription. I estimate that most of you need to save less than 7 hours a year for The Audit Library to pay for itself. And my guess is that we will save you much more time than 7 hours a year!
For us, the average document takes 16 hours to create from start to finish, and that doesn’t even include the time we spend to keep up-to-date on general auditing trends, best practices, and read articles from the IIA, ACUIA, Internal Audit 360, etc. Olivia and I often say that this is the website we needed when working in the industry. We couldn’t find it, so we created it ourselves! Why not let us do some of the heavy lifting for you?! Click here to subscribe!
Olivia and I have authored a lot of documents during our corporate careers. We were quite good at it and those documents were very respectable, but I think these are much better! In our old lives, writing was something we had to fit into a day booked with meetings, personnel issues, fieldwork, workpaper review, answering emails, etc. Now, we write templates and have the time to do it right.
I hope this glance behind the scenes of The Audit Library was insightful. Transparency is our goal, so if you have any other comments or questions about the template creation process please leave a comment!