Writing in plain English.

Author:Danziger, Elizabeth
Position:Writing principles for accountants

If you are like most CPAs, you do not consider yourself a natural writer. In fact, you may have chosen accounting as a profession in the fervent hope that you would never have to write again. However, clients need written explanations of the numbers you work so hard to produce. So here you are, an avowed nonwriter, trying to communicate complex, numbers-based information to people who know a lot less than you do about accounting. You also want to avoid any potential liabilities that may come from a misinterpretation of your writing. It's no wonder that CPAs in large firms and individual practitioners alike spend dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of hours preparing proposals and reports only to find that clients still consider their writing dense and difficult.

Fortunately, you do not need to be a natural writer to produce correct, client-friendly documents. If you follow five basic writing principles, your clients not only will have a better grasp of your services and responsibilities but they also may even look forward to reading your letters.


Verbs move your message -- they are the motors of language. Without them, your message sits, just waiting to bore your reader. Use verbs whenever you can. Here are some ways to increase the content of verbs in your writing.

* Choose the verb form. Look for words such as "thought," "use," "request" and "need," which can be used either as verbs or nouns. Use them as verbs.

For example: Write "we thought" instead of "careful thought was given" and "as you requested" instead of "as per your request."

* Eliminate "-ation" words and needles noun phrases. Find words that end with "-ation," "-ibility" and similar endings. Cross out those ending and ask yourself what verbs you can form from the roots. Use the verb instead of the noun.

For example: Take the sentence "After careful consideration, we have made a determination that fiscal prudence dictates that we refrain from taking action at this time" and rewrite it: "We have thought carefully and determined it would not be fiscally prudent for us to act at this time."


Verbs have more impact when you use them in the active voice; that is, when the actor in a sentence comes before the action. For example, "The manager wrote the report" is active, and "The report was written by the manager" is passive. The passive voice robs your work of energy and could blur your clients' sense of who is doing what. If you suspect you've written in the passive voice, here's how to change it to the active:

* Check for "by" phrases and forms of the verb "to be" that often indicate the passive voice. "The work was done by Mr. Jones" can be changed to "Mr. Jones did the work."

* Rewrite the...

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