by Ian Herbert
A key skill in accounting is the ability to clearly communicate information
to management. Consequently, it is skill that examiners will expect
candidates to demonstrate in answering examination questions.
By the end of the article you should understand:
- the importance of clear communication;
- the advantages of written communication;
- what is meant by plain English;
- different formats and styles of communication in business;
- how to present answers and gain marks in examinations.
Effective communication only exists when a message is received, understood,
accepted and correctly acted upon. The process is about transferring
knowledge, changing opinions and issuing instructions.
A message must be clear, unambiguous and understandable to the receiver.
It is important to understand the position and background of the person(s)
receiving the message. It is essential to direct the message to the
right person(s) – in a form that allows them to access it physically
It must also be psychologically acceptable. Cultural background plays
an important part in communications as what is acceptable in one culture,
may be taboo or even illegal in another.
Feedback should evaluate whether the message has been received, understood
and has generated the desired response.
Communication may be spoken, written, or consist of overt or coded
signals. The latter can be anything from simple smoke signals (still
used by the Vatican to announce the appointment of a new Pontiff) to
the complex and often subtle body language that we all use to reinforce
our spoken words (from shaking our fists to a quizzical raising of the
Written communication is important since it allows us to communicate
our thoughts very precisely over distance and through time. Writing
creates a permanent record that can be stored, filed, cross-referenced,
Text can be read selectively, if the reader is already familiar, or
not concerned, with parts of the text. Lengthy reports will often contain
an executive summary, which people will read before making a decision
on whether the report is relevant to them and thus, requires further
reading. For example, the Managing Director may only wish to read the
conclusions and recommendations for action, whereas others might wish
to acquaint themselves with all the details of how and why the investigation
Sometimes, people who otherwise talk quite normally, assume that they
should revert to a stuffy Victorian-style of English when they write.
Sentences such as “please be referred to your communication of the 14th
instance” can more effectively be written as “see your letter on the
14th”. You should always try to use what is called “plain English”,
particularly, if your audience is from different cultural or linguistic
Plain English is defined as:
“something that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon
the first time they read it. Plain English takes into account design
and layout as well as language”.
The plain English campaign exists to promote the use of crystal-clear
language against jargon and other confusing language. It has an extremely
good website at www.plainenglish.co.uk
A subsection of the site is dedicated to common financial terms, good
for reference or as a revision aid! Go to www.plainenglish.co.uk/FinanceA-Z.html
The following examples of ‘gobbledygook’ are reproduced from the Plain
High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for
facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further
particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may
be required by telephone.
If you have any questions, please ring.
It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information
detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior
to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.
Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send
it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.
Formats and Styles
It is very important to appreciate to whom the report is being addressed
to and to understand their outlook and background. For example, an accountant
must take care to explain technical terms to people outside the finance
function. If you are writing to people higher up in the organisation,
or outside it, the style you adopt in your language will tend to be
more formal than it would otherwise be for, say, a close colleague or
In business, written communication takes different forms and styles,
dependent on who exactly is being addressed and the context of the message.
In examinations there may well be specific marks within the marking
scheme for careful presentation of answers in the required format. The
following formats have all appeared in Question requirements in ACCA
papers in recent years.
- briefing notes;
We shall now look at an example of each paying attention both to layout
and style.Note how these formats are quite Note how these formats are
quite distinct from the traditional essay-style format that tends to
be the normal in junior and secondary education. Examiners tend to frown
on answers where candidates merely produce lists. This is mainly because
candidates often simply give headings or state key points without supporting
explanations that demonstrate they clearly understand the item.
You should now understand that good communication is about understanding
the needs and background of the recipient and presenting information
in a form that is appropriate to those needs, the context of the situation
and the objectives that you wish to achieve.
There may well be specific marks within the marking scheme for careful
presentation of answers in the required format. So read the requirements
carefully, answer in plain English and in a style appropriate to the
To: Managing Director
Date: 1 January
From: Chief Accountant
Copy to: Production Director
How can XYZ produce more effective reports?
The external consultants have suggested that we improve the quality
of our communication. This report examines the problem and suggests
What is a report?
A report is usually a formal clearly structured document, often
a lengthy summary of an investigation of a problem culminating
in a conclusion and recommendation. Reports will use:
- itemised lists where appropriate – but with a sentence of
explanation where necessary;
A number of past reports were analysed. When questioned, recipients
had often misunderstood what authors were trying to say.
Staff do not know how to write effective reports.
Run some workshops on report writing next month.
To: Site Supervisor
Date: 1 January
Purpose of memos
These are documents for people within the organisation. Often
shortened to ‘Memos’ they tend to be only a single page of paper
the purpose of which is to give instructions or to provide or
request information. Nowadays, the memo is usually in the form
of an email.
Please pass this on to all your workers.
If I can be of further assistance please contact me on extension
Briefing notes for Chief Accountant’s presentation
Subject: All about briefing notes
Purpose – gives information to someone in a form that can
be referred to in a meeting or during a presentation.
Preparation – intended to be prepared quickly and easily
in a form that can be referred to whilst talking or presenting.
Length – usually short conveys key facts/concepts only.
Style – bare minimum of words and punctuation.
Used by examiners – gets a lot of information from students
when time is tight.
Ian P Herbert
Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby