Many grew up hearing the adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” as a nod to communication skills, specifically writing skills, being the most effective tool one can use to advance a cause. When some think of accounting, they think of number-crunchers who use magic to manipulate data into desirable outcomes with their tool of choice – the wand. And there are those studying accounting that think the spreadsheet is their tool to go to battle with every day to help their company achieve its objectives – creating a path for professional advancement. I’m here to share my insight that writing skills are the most valuable skill an accountant can have, both in terms of professional advancement and in helping your company meet its goals.
A little piece of information that flies under the radar about accounting – you do a lot of writing! No matter what field in accounting you’re focusing on, you will be writing.
External Audit: You have reports to write, emails to compose (This, by the way, is very important for all accounting professionals that goes underappreciated. There is immense value in a well-worded email) and presentations to give.
Tax: You’ll be writing memos and opinions on different topics and word-smithing emails constantly.
Internal Audit: These guys love their reports – from process documents to audit findings and the final report. And let’s not forget our favorite: Email – there are a lot of emails.
These activities and necessities go on through to other various corporate accounting roles as well. As you can see, no one is safe from the requirement to write and it shouldn’t be scary – it is an excellent way to set yourself apart and to better display those accounting skills you’ve been so keen on developing. And here’s another secret: as you move into the manager position, you’ve now become responsible for reviewing other’s work papers. How useful would it be to have amazing writing skills? That’s right, you can improve the quality and efficiency of your whole team!
So how do writing skills better help the company achieve its goal? It’s all about communicating the most useful information in the most efficient and effective manner. Professionals are busy; they don’t have time to read a five-page accounting report that you could have written in two. While technical skills are important, you’ll accumulate them over time. But being able to take the most important pieces of information and being able to compose an impactful, executive summary will go a long way to making your team, function and company more effective.
You see it often: Many worried about building an expansive and in-depth knowledge of accounting standards and their applications. There are many that try to know all there is about accounting right out of the gate. While some of this might be useful to pass the CPA exam, I think it’s more valuable to take the time to cultivate the ability to take what you do know and express it in writing effectively. You’ll get the technical experience and knowledge in time. But putting what you do know into words will have immediate impact and value. Want to know an easy way to set yourself apart? Showing mastery in putting your technical knowledge and experience into words in an impactful and easy-to-understand way. It might be easy to do one or the other, but being able to be both clearly and concisely can take practice. You’ll become instantly recognized if you display great writing skills. You’ll be asked to compose reports more frequently and even become involved in your intercompany presentations. These are excellent ways to build these important experiences to get ahead and be noticed.
Writing isn’t scary – it can be quite enjoyable. It’s a way to show everyone what you know, and doing so in an effective and efficient manner can really make you look impressive. My advice to you would be to spend some time cultivating this skill. You’ll be surprised how much it will benefit you in your professional endeavors.
Justin Hogue served as teaching assistant for accounting communication courses. He is taking part in the IAEP (Internal Audit Education Partnership) program at his university and has seen the importance of great writing skills in his experiences during this time. He is seeking his MS of Accounting degree and will be graduating December 2016.