WRITING IN THE ACCOUNTING MAJOR Peter Cal
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Page 2 CHAPTER ONE: REVIEW OF EXISTING LITERATURE --------------------------------- Page 5 CHAPTER TWO: GENRE INVESTIGATION ------------------------------------------------ Page 11 CHAPTER THREE: INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL QUBENA ----------------------------- Page 22 CHAPTER FOUR: PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE ---------------------------------------------- Page 28 CONCLUSION -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Page 35 WORKS CITED ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Page 39
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INTRODUCTION When I arrived at the University of Denver, I knew what I wanted to major in, accounting. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose to attend the University of Denver is its stellar accounting program which is ranked amongst the top 10 in the country. Not bad, huh? Of course, not only did I know what I wanted to major in, I also knew what I wanted to do upon graduation and where I would be in 10 years. Since I’m still at the age where I know everything, this was all easy for me to come up with. Despite some peoples’ best efforts to scare me away, I’m still convinced that I want to be an accounting major, I know my future career goals, and I know exactly where I am going to be in 10 years (rich, famous, and on my own private island). Unfortunately, despite knowing everything, something’s have remain hidden to me (note to self: blame someone else). When I signed up for accounting, no one bothered to tell me about the writing in accounting. Believe it or not, some people had the audacity to expect that I would figure out the writing in accounting on my own. The nerve! Let’s face it, writing is hard. It’s even harder when you don’t know what’s expected of you. And when you first sign up for a business major, that’s exactly the situation you’re going to be in. You may think you know everything there is to know about business writing, but you couldn’t be more wrong (unless, of course you decide to begin to doubt the wisdom within this book). Don’t you worry. Fortunately for you, the reader, I’ve done all the hard work. That’s right, no longer will you remain blind to the writing found in accounting. Now, simply by reading this
book, youâ€™ll gain a better understanding of what is expected of accounting majors, both in the classroom and in the professional workforce. For legal purposes, I cannot promise that this book will solve all your problems and answer all your questions when it comes to accounting (even though it undoubtedly will). What I can (legally) promise is this; this book is broken down into four chapters, each one focusing on a different aspect of writing in accounting which can often times be applied to business majors in general. The first chapter, which from here on will be referred to as Chapter One, is the result of an exhaustive study on what academics and business professionals claim constitutes good business writing. In Chapter One are several helpful points which all business writers should take note of along with several which my research failed to turn up but are nonetheless important to good business writing. Chapter Two builds off the first chapter by taking those major points and seeing how they can be applied to a variety of accounting writing, both in school and in the workforce. Of course, to truly understand a subject, especially writing, it is not enough to simply research it. To gain a fuller understanding, you must actually speak with people who have dealt with your specific type of writing to get their interpretation on the issue. For this reason, chapter three is based on an interview I had the opportunity to conduct with a gentleman named Daniel Qubena. Through his insights, I developed a better understanding of where my research was proven right and areas where academia fell short. But more on that latter. In the course of writing this book, I found a serious flaw in the way business writing tends to be taught. Chapter Four identifies this flaw and offers a solution that you, the noble reader, can implement in an effort to solve this problem. Or, if youâ€™re too lazy to implement my ingenious solution, you at least know of the flaw and can do your best to work around it.
If youâ€™re sitting there asking â€œWell Peter, this is all fine and great, but how does it apply to me?â€? then I have two things to say. First, thanks for taking the time to remember my name. Secondly, as it should become clear in this writing, businesses want good writers. Good writers are able to clearly and concisely communicate their ideas to a variety of people, and, in a day and age when college graduates are struggling more and more with the fundamentals of good business writing, understanding how to write can give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace or when finding a job. Still not convinced that this book is worth your time? Then I implore you, start reading and if you are not fully satisfied, feel free to never pick it up again (sorry, no refunds).
CHAPTER ONE: REVIEW OF EXISTING LITERATURE Writing in accounting can take many forms; memos, sales pitches, or a report for upper management. Despite their differences, these all have several things in common. I’m using them as examples, and there are some basic rules of business writing which apply to these examples. But what are these basic rules? After years, well, weeks, of research, I’ve come up with several important features which experts in the field of writing for accounting claim are important (that’s why they’re called “important features, clever, right?), along with some major things that did not seem to be addressed by these experts. Clarity, grammar, and accessibility of your writing are all considered to be important by the experts, however they do not address formatting or the purpose of the writing. By reading this chapter, you will gain a better understanding of what business writing is supposed to include so that you might implement it into your own writing. Business writing needs to be simple and to the point. No exceptions. In “The 7 Deadly Sins of Report Writing” Joanne Feierman notes that too often, business writing is confusing and requires re-reading in order to be understood. Ms. Feierman offers an example from an internal audit of the New York Office of the Commissioner on Prohibition. Not only is the example a paragraph-long “sentence”, but I was forced to read it several times to understand that $50 million was wasted on unnecessary legal fees (Feierman). While the content is simple enough to understand, the way it is worded creates unnecessary difficulty in understanding the report. For business, this is unacceptable. Businessmen are very busy and do not have time to try and
decipher reports. Reports which are confusing will only waste time and lead to frustration as businessmen work against deadlines to finish projects and tasks. To help combat confusion, Ms. Feierman suggests that business writers incorporate three major points into their writing. First, know the audience. Remembering that businessmen lack spare time and only care about the bottom line, what point is being made, can help eliminate unnecessary complex sentences. Second, keep the sentences short. Long sentences will confuse the reader and are more likely to be unnecessary complex. Shorter, easier to understand sentences are easier for the audience to quickly scan and understand. Finally, keep the writing clear. You can have the most brilliant idea in the world, one that could revolutionize an industry, but if you cannot clearly present it, then no one can evaluate it (Ragins). I will admit, this last one seems rather obvious, but it is one that many people seem to overlook. Ms. Ragins offers a rather simple tip to make sure your writing is clear. Give the writing to a friend or coworker and ask them to quickly scan it. If they understand the point, congratulations, give yourself a pat on the back (but not in the office, people will give you strange looks, trust me). If not, find out where they got confused and rewrite those parts (Ragins). Overtime, you should come to the point where you can identify problems in your writing on your own. Another common theme is to make the writing accessible. Not physically accessible, rather, make sure that it can be understood by a diverse audience with different backgrounds and differing levels of English comprehension. As FĂŠlix VĂĄsquez notes, in an increasingly globalized world, international business is becoming something that businessmen deal with on a daily basis (VĂĄsquez). Not only do many companies deal with foreign nations and firms, but they will often have departments in other countries with local employees who might not speak English as a first language. Even businessmen from the United States or other English-speaking nations have
different experiences, backgrounds, and ages. It cannot be assumed that certain clichés or vernacular that is understood by one group of people will translate well when trying to deal with entirely different groups. For this reason, clichés and local vernacular to name a few, should rarely be used in business writing. Even business specific phrases and terms can be confusing to people outside of the industry. As a result, they should only be used for inner-industry communication and should be avoided or clearly explained when writing for a broader audience, such as stockholders, clients, or public reports (Feierman). Business writing is not the time to display genius through wit or complex writing, display genius through the content of the piece. It was the Monday after midterm papers were due that my junior year English teacher wrote “there, their, and they’re” on the whiteboard. Upon finishing, he threw the marker onto the ground and, slamming his fist on the whiteboard, yelled “Learn them, dammit!”. Most of the class was shocked. Apparently, there was some confusion on their part on how they’re misusing homophones. As unfortunate as it might be, too often businessmen struggle with homophones and basic grammar diminishing their credibility and distracting the audience from the content in their writing. Ms. Feierman notes an example when a college was giving a presentation on the “affects of technology in the classroom” to a school board (Feierman). Although everyone understood the content, this seemingly minor detail diminished the credibility and strength of the presentation. To this day, Ms. Feierman states that it is the one thing she remembers most from that meeting. Similarly, Kyle Wiens, a guess writer in the Harvard Business Review, states that he is unwilling to “hire qualified applicants if they can’t pass a basic grammar review (Wiens)”. The argument is, if in the past twenty odd years an applicant either does not know the difference between “its” and “it’s”, they are too sloppy to pay attention or they are not smart enough for the job. Even if the writing is just sloppy, why is grammar so important? In a Forbs article, journalist
Helen Coster notes “you want the audience analyzing the idea, not the writing (Coster).” As elementary as it might sound, proofread writing and makes sure that it does not contain grammatical errors. While good grammar is no replacement for good content, it shows a level of professionalism and allows the audience to dedicate their attention to analyzing the content. Make every word count. “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence (Ragins).” This may sound harsh, but it’s true. Many forms of writing encourage writers to make sure each and every word is effective and has a purpose, but business writing takes it a step further. If something can be simplified, do so. Nothing should be long. The shorter, the simpler, the better. Sorry Hemmingway, maybe business reports aren’t for you. Flowery, elaborate descriptions only distract from the writings purpose, to inform the reader and to suggest a course of action. If something does not prove a point, if it does not convince someone, if it can be cut without affecting the bottom line, then it should not be in the final draft (Coster). If something does not convey new information or convince someone, then it is not needed. Talk about downsizing. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the articles mentioned the importance of using page numbers, headers, and other numerical devices to break apart and identify parts of reports. Nonetheless, every example I have read, from IRS documents to articles in The Economist had headings, page numbers, and in some cases, paragraph and line numbers. These provide a simple yet effective form of identifying what part of a writing piece information is located in for easy future reference. Clearly, such a system is hardly necessary for short, one or two page memos, but longer reports demand that such a system be included for them to be fully effective. Simply
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including the numbers makes it possible to quickly find sections of documents or reports in the future and it also provides a convenient way to reference parts of the document for personal use or when giving a presentation. For example, look at the U.S. tax code. It is much nicer and easier to simply “look up 401(K)” than it is to “find that section, about half way through that talks about retirement accounts.” Even if I have never read the document before, even if I open to a random section, I can easily find section 401(K) by flipping through until I find subsection 401 and then I go to part K. Of course, if such a system seems just a little too easy, feel free to search through all 73,954 pages of the U.S. tax code until you find the section referring to personal retirement accounts. Just don’t forget to keep up on your reading since the tax code averages one change per day (Internal Revenue Service). Obviously, the U.S. tax code and 401k is an extreme example. Nonetheless, business and business reports can often be long and wordy, so providing an easy reference method can not only improve productivity, but it can improve the quality of business writing. Unfortunately, none of the sources mentioned a major component of business writing. Not only is business writing supposed to inform a reader, but often times it needs to suggest a course of action and convince people to follow said course. Some writing will simply be informative, reports for example, but this is not often the case. Often times, be it a sales pitch or presentation on the company’s future, a point needs to be made, and opinion has to be expressed. What is the best way to go about doing this? First, make the point clear. It should be obvious what the course of action needs to be. It might be the title of a section, or the first few sentences, but no matter what it should be so blatantly obvious that it should be nearly impossible for someone not to notice and understand it. Next, bring in supporting facts to defend the course of action. Explain why it should be done that way, what benefits there will be, and why the
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alternatives are not as good. Whenever possible, use facts and data to defend a point. Nonetheless, be wary that the audience does not become overwhelmed with data. The idea is to use data as a compliment to the argument, not as the argument itself. By now, it should clear that writing in accounting has a lot of components (and just think, there are more than I listed here). Nonetheless, at the risk of seeming condescending, let me recount the main points. Remember your audience, make sure your writing is easily accessible, and keep your writing simple and use proper grammar (you really don’t want to be known around the office as two dumb too work here)1.2 In addition, even though the “experts” don’t mention it, please use proper formatting to make things easy to access and make sure that you know the purpose of your writing. And now I’m sure that you know everything and are ready to go on your merry way into the world of accounting. Nonetheless, how about you take a moment and see some examples of business writing. Let’s take a quick look at several different genres to see just how these ideas you just learned about can be applied to a variety of different genres.
1 NOT that I know from experience. It’s just a really, really close friend who HAPPENS to have a similar name. 2 HA I’m just messing with you. That never happened. But seriously, let’s avoid it happening to you.
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CHAPTER TWO: GENRE INVESTIGATION “Live long and prosper.” That’s sci-fi. “It was a dark and stormy night.” Horror. The Beatles. Clearly rock and roll. Most people are able to hear these key words and immediately identify what genre they belong to. But what exactly is genre? Why do I care about genre theory? Is business writing really a genre? Can I have a cookie? Calm down, calm down, I’ll get to those, just give me a moment to finish the introduction. The last chapter focused on what is in good business writing. Of course, this does not mean that you should attempt to apply all those aspects to every genre of business writing. Sure, some of them are applicable all the time, think of the grammar for example. Nonetheless, there are others which need to be carefully applied to different genres. But now I’ve spoken a lot about genre without actually explaining what genre is. Let’s start at the beginning, as it’s usually the best place to start. What exactly is genre theory? For the purposes of this book, genre theory focuses on identifying genres and being able to dissect them. It does so by identifying several main things, audience, expectations, and formatting. Knowing the audience means that the author is able to better reach them and keep the writing relevant to them. Expectations are also important because an author needs to understand what is expected from the writing. For example, think of a text versus an email. Do you expect the same thing in each one? You shouldn’t. A text is a quick, informal way to keep in touch or to let someone know that you want to meet up with them. I really wouldn’t use it for trying to catch up with a long lost friend. In the same way, when people see different genres of business writing, they will have different expectations as to what it will tell them, and they will be quite
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disappointed if it fails to deliver. Finally is the format that the genre is written in and how it connects to the content of the writing. Graphs are a version of format that connect to the content of data and can be appropriate in certain genres. Several terms that you should know. Typified features are going to be aspects of a genre which is common across different pieces for a genre. Antecedent refers to the genre which came before the genre being studied. Social action focuses on what the genre is trying to accomplish and why one genre might be more effective than another for certain tasks. Now, without further ado… The Syllabus Unless you’ve missed the first day for every one of your classes, odds are you have been introduced to a syllabus at least once. Across all disciplines, for all majors and minors, every class has a syllabus. Some are long and wordy, but fortunately, most business classes do not make students suffer through ten or more pages of “important” information. Regardless of the class, there are certain typified features for syllabuses. Most syllabuses start off the same way. At the top is the nice, bolded, possibly underlined, title of the course. Usually, it consists of the official course name, number, and quarter. Very useful for students who don’t recall which classes they’re taking. In addition, the professor’s contact information will be in a prominent place at the very beginning or very end of the syllabus. The contact information includes the name of the professor, their school email address, and office hours and location. Occasionally, the professor will substitute the official school email for a personal email or phone number. This does not seem to be as common, but the few
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professors I know who do this tend to be younger and more likely to check their text messages instead of email. The first page of the syllabus is typically what the student will first see, and it seems to be the most consistent across all classes. Beyond including the previously mentioned information, they have information on required materials for the course, any labs that are associated with the class, and the Course Introduction. Course Introductions tend to vary from professor to professor. Some will be simple, several brief sentences going over what the course will cover while others try to be more engaging and convincing for students who have doubts about just how fun supply and demand models can be. For those of you who don’t already know, they are not all that fun. In addition, every teacher includes some information on class policies. Sometimes, they are put under a single header appropriately named “Class Policies” as is the case for Professor Urquhart’s ECON 1020 syllabus. Finally comes the only part of the syllabus that students actually care about, grading and due dates. This part is straight forward, with a list of assignments and when they are due, and how much the assignments are worth. And before I forget, there’s the dreaded “University Honor Code.” While some syllabuses will simply paraphrases it and provide a link while others will quote the entire code, every single syllabus includes it. Not only do they include it, they will caps, underline, and bold important phrases such as “MINIMUM SANCTIONS” to help draw attention to the severity of cheating and academic dishonesty in the classroom3. Interestingly enough, many professors have begun to take advantage of technology when making their syllabuses. Professor Meyer’s Introduction to Business syllabus was only available
3 It’s a big deal.
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as a PowerPoint which could be accessed from his online course page. In other classes, the syllabus will almost always be available online and in some cases, exclusively online. Class Presentation PowerPoint Let’s start by looking at what these PowerPoints do not have. They do not have “fun” transitions, nor do they have sounds. These serve no purpose. They do not help convey information or demonstrate competency. They may look nice and be fun, but all they are is a distraction. Besides, unless one is very well rehearsed (which one usually isn’t, having just finished it the night before), it is easy for these animations to distract not only the audience but also yourself as your presenting. No one is impressed when you’re trying to move on as that last bullet point shows up on a slide. “Oh, yea, and one more thing I forgot” fails to inspire confidence almost as much as jumping at your own “whoosh” sound effects. I know that I just killed just about every great thing about PowerPoint, from “whoosh” animations to using it as a substitute to actually memorizing a presentation. Well, get used to it. Welcome to the world of business. Okay, is that shock over? Good, now I’ll continue with typified features found in good PowerPoints. The slides are very simple. They will have a visually pleasing background across all slides, a consistent format, and large, easy to read letters in a color which can be seen against the background. The best PowerPoints will have short one or two word bullet points on each slide to help guide the presenter along. These are supposed to act as road signs, reminding both the presenter and the audience of the themes and subthemes in a presentation. If slides contain sentences or long, lengthy paragraphs, you are more likely to lose the audience’s attention. They can read faster than you can speak, so they will stop listening to you, read the slides, and become
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bored when you keep droning on about what they just read. You may as well save everyone a bunch of time by writing everything in a memo (coming soon!) and emailing it to everyone. For this reason, you must have notecards or, ideally, have the presentation memorized. The PowerPoint will remind people what the subject is while they are forced to listen to you to learn the information. Don’t think that PowerPoints are nothing more than glorified road signs. Many example presentations do an excellent job of using PowerPoint to its fullest potential. PowerPoint gives the speaker the opportunity to use graphics and visuals to help engage the audience. Graphs, charts, and perhaps a humorous picture can help to keep the audience focused and helps to illustrate your point to them in a new way. But remember, talk, then show. The audience will see and understand the entire graph before you’re finished talking about it. Then, the audience will be bored. You don’t want your audience muttering “Why are you telling us this? We just saw the graph.” The antecedent for the PowerPoint is the humble projection or perhaps the poster board. PowerPoints’ advantages lay in how much easier it is to make changes to PowerPoints and how it is easier to quickly create an impressive presentation. No more glue and cutting out shapes. With just the click of a button, you can have something far more professional. PowerPoints serve a very important social action, to convey information in a professional manner during a presentation. They can be simple to follow and helps to force the audience to pay attention to you. Simply speaking can be fine at times, but people tend to enjoy visuals as well. In addition, PowerPoint is a valuable teaching tool since it displaces information in an organized, manageable manner with visuals. If someone is trying to teach customers about a product or needs to update their team, a PowerPoint can be the way to go.
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The Memo No, it’s not a fish (you’re either thinking of minnow or Nemo), although I’m sure that neither the fishing industry nor Finding Nemo would be the same without these important documents. Memos are short documents with fulfill several social actions. Typically, memos are used for inner office communication, for coworkers to keep one another informed. It’s also likely that a manager might use a weekly memo to keep his employees current with the direction the company is taking. But why use memos? Thanks to the advent of email, a memo can quickly be sent to numerous people, they’re quick and easy to read and write, and they have a constant format which people are accustomed to. This makes it very easy for them to find pertinent information in a short amount of time. Memos are simple in nature in large part due to their typified features. The top of a memo has, on separate lines, “To, From, Subject,” and the date it was sent, very similar to a professional email or letter. Since memos are written by busy businessmen to busy businessmen, it is uncommon for them to have pleasantries, or a lengthy conclusion. Unless they are company or department wide, they will often be written in a casual tone. Casual is easier to understand and there is really no need to impress you coworker when you’re up against a deadline. It should also be noted that memos are not burdened by graphs or data. Those can be saved for presentations and official reports. If one is trying to convey data, a simple summary will suffice. A memo is a more formal version of some quick notes. It should quickly state what you want the recipient to do and how you want them to go about doing it. For this reason, it is often
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very short, rarely exceeding one or even two pages in length. The writing tends to be simple, and industry specific terms will be used. Acronyms and abbreviations are also common, since they are simple and quick ways to convey meaning. Often times, after a brief introduction, the memo will have bullet points. Adding bullet points makes it easier to break apart different ideas and shows exactly what needs to be done with very little confusion. The antecedent for the memo is most likely word of mouth communication. Employees talking amongst one another and bosses simply asking their workers to get something done. As companies grew, this became less and less practical so a new form of communication was needed. This is where the memo came about. Memos took everything that used to be communicated orally and put it on a paper, making it possible to communicate within companies with hundreds of people. Financial Reports If you want to work in finance, then youâ€™re going to have to learn to love, or at least, deal with financial reports. Lots and lots of them. Relatively short and simple, financial reports have the ability to show break down massive multinational corporations onto several simple sheets of printer paper, or illustrate titanic fortunes in one single little pie chart. Yes, many details will vary from report to report, but there are many typified features for these invaluable reports. Most financial reports start with a cover page, often with the companyâ€™s logo, a short title stating what the report covers and for what time, and the major persons involved with writing the report. A quick glance will tell you exactly what the report is going to be about. Inside the report, there is a table of contents making it easy for a reader to find information relevant to them. Like most other business writing, it has short paragraphs with bullet points to make important
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takeaways obvious, and the writing is to the point. Heading and numbering is also extremely important. Every section begins with a nice brief header preparing the reader for what is ahead and subheadings make it easy to refer back to specific sections in the future. Graphs, charts, and other visuals often dominate a report. They are designed to be easy to follow and pleasing to look at. Nonetheless, the graphics are designed for a business audience, so they will often have abbreviations and business phrases which can make the report inaccessible to the average person. But thatâ€™s okay. Reports are written for the professional audience, not the average person. Additionally, graphics are usually preceded or immediately followed by a short summary of the graphic and the key takeaways from it. Although it may seem trivial, it is not unusual for reports to have information in long rows and columns. For many people, trying to follow an item across a long row using only their eyes can be challenging as they will often accidently end up reading the information for the wrong row. A simple solution which many reports use is to have a slight color differentiation for each row. Odd rows might have a green background while even rows have a light green background. Simple, yet effective. The writing in a report is very simple. Short, basic sentences. Semicolons are practically nonexistent, and run on sentences are strictly prohibited. In addition, apart from business terminology, the majority of the diction consists of common, basic words. Nothing too complex. Why on earth is business writing so dull? These reports are written for professionals, who often have very little time. They do not have the luxury of sitting down with some hot coffee in their favorite easy chair to fully understand a report. Professionals need information to be convenient and easy to access, and simple sentences and vocabulary are the best way to give professionals the information they need. Good business report writers know this, and as a result, most business reports follow this format.
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Financial reports serve a variety of social actions, the most obvious being to inform individuals as to their financial health or as to the financial health of a company. Not only are reports used to inform investors in a company, they are also important if a company is interested in buying out another firm. The purchasing company will want to know if the firm is worth buying or not. Also, financial reports can serve as a way to maintain confidence with customers. A businessman entrusted with others’ money might send out a report to help instil confidence that he is remaining vigilant with their money. Sales Pitch How do you convince someone to purchase something they don’t even want? If you’re smart, then you’ll use a little something called a “sales pitch.” Hi, I’m Peter Cal here to tell you about a revolutionary new product, the sales pitch4! Like just about every other type of business writing, they vary in style and design, but good sales pitches incorporate several typified features which are time tested and proven to work. Most business writing can be simple and to the point. For sales pitches, this is not always the case. Often times, there is a need to create credibility with the customer. They must see you, the sales man, not as a greedy corporate tool looking to raise your commission, but rather as a trusting, knowledgeable person who will give them honest advice. For in person presentations, this can be achieved through small chat, however it is much harder to do solely on paper in large part because the entire presentation needs to remain business formal. In some of the examples I found, the writer overcame this by offering a clear, concise, yet though background on the items in question. Often times, especially on the corporate level, it is done with pictures of smiling customers and constant reminders that their priority is the customer. While this may seem cheesy 4 No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot beat Billy Mays. That guy was a genius when it came to the sales pitch.
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and inauthentic, especially if it is overdone, companies keep using this tactic. Clearly someone finds it effective. Sales pitches are designed to make products sound exciting. As a result, most sales pitches are not written in the exact same language as the rest of the business writing in this chapter. Although some basic fundamentals remain the same, keep it simple and get to the point, the audience has changed. No longer can business terminology be applied, now everything needs to be written in layman’s terms. Fancy terms and phrases, while sounding impressive, only serve to confuse the consumer. For example, in the Merrill Lynch example, the company clearly states which stocks they predict will go up and offer a brief explanation to encourage people to take advantage of this. They do not bore the audience with information on EPS, Q4 results, IPOs, or EBITDA (which to this day I still do not know what it stands for). Any investor who wants that information will find it on their own, and Merrill Lynch offers financial reports catered to these types of investors. But this example was for the average investor, the average person who cannot afford or does not want to spend hours looking over charts to try and analyze everything. Even in the field of finance, sales pitches fulfil social actions. Customers must be convinced to use your service or accept your advice on money planning. If you want to be successful at getting their business, you’d better be able to write a good sales pitch. And even if you cannot convince people to use your service immediately, a sales pitch should spread your company’s name so that, when people are looking for financial services, your company is the first one they think of. Still not convinced? Well, the lessons learned here can be slightly modified and work just as well when you’re convincing the jury that you really had no idea it was illegal to skim a little extra off the top. Conclusion
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Although this chapter is exhaustive, it does not cover every genre of business writing out there, nor is it supposed to. The whole purpose of this chapter was to provide you with a better understanding of genre theory and a breakdown of several major business genres. By having a better understanding of genre theory, I hope that you can better identify different genres. Once you have identified the genre, break it down in much the same way I broke down the five genres here. This should give you all the information you need on the genre; audience, expectations, and formatting. Now that you’ve unlocked your genre’s secrets, you know exactly how to be an effective writer for that genre. And that cookie you asked about5, well go ahead and have it now.
5 Page 11. Double check if you don’t believe me.
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CHAPTER THREE: INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL QUBENA Up to now, I’ve focused on business writing from a theoretical point of view. Questions such as “what constitutes good business writing,” “what are some different genres,” and “just why did the chicken cross the road6?” have been answered through extensive research and by reviewing existing literature. But all this is rather meaningless if it’s never applied to the business world. Why should we care about good grammar, being concise, or speaking to the reader? Does it really matter? According to the research these are all important, but I decided to get a second opinion. To get this second opinion, I went to Daniel Qubena, an MBA student at the Daniel’s College of Business at the University of Denver. Despite the entire interview being incredibly helpful, I decided to focus on two main topics. First are the student produced works for school. For this, I included information on length, topics, and features found in the writing. From there, I transition into the problems that Daniel sees in the way that schools teach writing. This topic includes personal experiences from Daniel’s life along with areas that he feels schools could improve. The interview was very interesting. I was not disappointed, and I’m sure if you read on, you won’t be either. Although he earned his bachelor degree from the University of Colorado Boulder, Daniel was drawn to the University of Denver in order to earn his MBA. Following his graduation from CU, he worked at Xcel Energy where he saw opportunities for people with MBAs. Hoping to further his career, Daniel decided to return to school. Since his undergraduate degree was earned 6 Actually, I’m not sure I’ve answered that one yet.
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at CU, I assume that some of his experiences were different from what I will encounter. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that my overall academic experience will share many similarities with Daniel’s. To add to my optimism, many of Daniel’s graduate professors at DU are heavily involved with undergraduate courses, so it is possible that I will take a class from one of these professors during my time at DU. I decided to begin the interview with an easy question. “So,” I began, “do your professors make you do a lot of writing?” In response, Daniel laughed. “Oh, h*** yes the make you write a lot, which kind of sucked.” It didn’t take me long to realize that Daniel does not like writing. But make no mistake, Daniel is not lazy. He knew there would be a lot of work in order to earn a degree in accounting. What he didn’t count on was the amount of writing he would have to do. In introductory classes, especially Introduction to Marketing, professors would assign lengthy papers and reports. Unfortunately, Daniel noted, many of these classes seemed to be tailored for certain degrees, accounting not being one of them. Once he began taking more advanced, accounting specific classes, Daniel realized that his writing troubles were far from over. “I thought my accounting classes would be using, uh, excel and equations all the time... I never realized just how much writing I would do.” Just how much writing did Daniel do? According to him “the worst classes would give three or four [papers]... But they were long. My final one for that class was close to twenty pages.” Not all of Daniel’s classes were quite so writing intensive. The average class only made him write one or two papers, around “ten-ish” pages long. When I pointed out that none of my business classes have made me write anything so long yet, Daniel laughed. “Just wait, the fun’s only getting started.” As the classes become more and more advanced and major specific, the workload picks up and professors demand more in depth and longer essays.
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As the interview progressed, I became confused and a little worried. How could accounting require so much writing? And how am I going to survive (after the interview, I still don’t have an answer to this question)? Most of it accounting numbers based, so what’s there to write about? Fortunately, Daniel was able to fill me in. Part of being an accountant requires writing many, many financial reports and analyses on business accounts or customer accounts. First, the accountant must analyze numerous documents, oftentimes hundreds or thousands for large corporations. After analyzing them, the accountant must come up with a spreadsheet that clearly illustrates all the expenses, income, etc. for a specific amount of time. Usually, the accountant will have to go a step further and write a report. In our interview, Daniel mentioned that his professors emphasized the importance of reports. Based off my previous research, I knew a little bit about reports, but I still had no idea just how much writing goes into them. To solve this conundrum, I asked how much writing goes into a financial report. Daniel laughed (he seemed to be doing this a lot, but hey, he’s an upbeat, positive guy who always looks on the bright side of life). “Oh, geez, way too much… but it’s important stuff.” Many of his professors considered financial reports to be the “bread and butter of every good accountant” and demanded that students master writing financial reports. To help students master reports, many professors assigned numerous report related papers. Of course, not every assignment was identical. Different classes and different professors emphasized different parts of a report. For example, a Professor Myers emphasized the basic foundations of reports, such as being clear and concise while using graphics and charts to help illustrate a point. Other classes were more concerned with analyzing reports while still others tested students’ abilities to create solution to various scenarios.
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Despite having taken different classes with different professors, Daniel noted that several elements of writing were applicable to all his classes. Most notable was the requirement that all writing to be turned in be written in a professional manner. This requirement applied to all business classes with no acceptations, and often times it applied to what many students might consider minor details. According to Daniel, “Page numbers, section headers, were all required. You might get away without them in Econ 101, but for degree specific classes, forget about it… you’d be leaving points on the table.” Often times, Daniel’s writing was never supposed to include the first person. One of Daniel’s professors was so passionate about avoiding the first person that he would penalize students several letter grades if they made the unfortunate mistake of including “I think” in their writing. In addition, proper grammar was required in every assignment. All this discussion on formatting and grammar got me wondering, why are business professors so demanding in the field of writing? Isn’t business worried more about good ideas than a missed comma in a document? As Daniel said, “it just looks bad, if I don’t care enough about my writing, then people will wonder if I even care enough to do good work.” Interestingly enough, I’ve already had a professor who made a similar point. There must be a conspiracy. As my interview with Daniel progressed, he spoke at length about the value professors placed on ethics. Not only were Daniel’s professors concerned about plagiarism, cheating, and other ethical issues commonly found in academia, they were also passionate about workplace ethics. The emphasis on ethics for accounting came as a surprise for Daniel. “I know lawyers and doctors have codes of ethics, but I never knew accountants did” Daniel stated. In the course of learning about workplace ethics, Daniel was assigned essays on real ethical issues, such as
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Enron7, Worldcom8, and the 2008 market crash9. Although some professors were more passionate about ethics than others, Daniel said that all his professors noted ethics’ importance in business. One example Daniel gave was a Professor Myers. Even though Professor Myers focused more on the bottom line and profitability, he also mentioned that income needs to be earned in an ethical manner. Otherwise, the government tends to get involved and that’s just bad business. During my time at DU, I have come to realize that business schools have shortcomings when it comes to teaching their students good business writing. Daniel feels the same way. His main complaint is thus; most students simply are not good writers. Daniel had the opportunity to witness just how serious the issue is during an internship with 84 Lumber. Many of the salesmen could not write good emails to clients or their coworkers. “I’ve never been great at English and writing, but most of their stuff was bad” Daniel lamented. Basic grammatical errors with apostrophes, spelling, and punctuation were commonplace. In fact, the situation got so bad that the manager, Mr. Hill, required all salesmen to email him first. He would review their emails and, if they passed, he would allow the salesmen to send the email to the client. Although Daniel was hesitant to assign blame to business schools, he did note that it is a serious issue when English departments cannot produce students who “know the difference between ‘know’ and ‘no’.” In addition to being bad writers, Daniel stated that many students graduate unprepared for common forms of business writing. Sure, students might do fine on big reports or presentations, but the smaller day-to-day operations was what students were unprepared for. In fact, Daniel 7 Company “forgets” to include certain big debt items in public filings. Hey, are our stock prices going up because no one knows just how much in debt we are? Fantastic! 8 Company decides not to mention that revenue is declining. Stock price stays steady until someone finds out. 9 NINJA (No income, no job or assets) loans are given out left and right. Unfortunately, people can’t pay them back.
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knows firsthand the kinds of problems that result from this shortcoming. Several months into his first job, he was working on a project with a small team. Communication was key, and the manager would demand memos and updates on the direction of the project. One time, Daniel had the unfortunate duty of sending the memo updating the supervisor. Unknown to Daniel, the supervisor had a meeting with his superiors in several hours. In Daniel’s own words, he ended up sending “more a report than a memo.” The “memo” was 10 pages long and burdened with graphs and charts. “I thought it was really good and I spent tons of time on it so I was shocked when he [the supervisor] called me up and started screaming at me… that dude was pissed off.” Although his dilemma with the supervisor worked out okay, Daniel is convinced that the entire situation could have been avoided had he simply known how to write a decent memo. “And that’s one thing they [business schools] never taught me.” I wish that our interview could have been longer, but Daniel did have a class to get to. Most everything he said was thoughtful and insightful, giving me a greater insight into what I can expect in the next several years and how I can better my own writing to meet the expectations of the teachers. The one thing that worried me was the issues that Daniel pointed out, students not being prepared for workforce writing. Many students will not be warned ahead of time as I am, and I fear that it could cause students to be less effective and less valuable in the workplace. Clearly something needs to be done about this. Clearly, someone needs to create a proposal for change.
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CHAPTER FOUR: PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE There are numerous problems in our world today; rush hour traffic, business school criteria, and a full DVR. Unfortunately, in the course of your lifetime, you’ll only be able to address one of these issues. Traffic will always exist, and heavens forbid we don’t have every single episode of our favorite sitcom on our DVR. Who knows when you’ll have to suddenly sit down and watch several days’ worth of television in one sitting. But this chapter is not about what we can’t fix, it’s about what we can. That’s right, this chapter is about the problems with how writing is taught in business schools and how you can get people to fix this problem. Throughout the course of writing this book, I came across many major points which are very important to writing in accounting. They are all useful, helpful, and incredibly important to writing in accounting. Unfortunately, they are also not taught. It was not until my interview with Daniel Qubena that I began to see this issue. It was at this point that I decided to write about the failure of business programs to make sure their graduates are prepared for the workforce when it comes to writing. Do not despair, I have also taken the time to present to you a solution to the problem. What you do with it is up to you, but rest assured that I’ve given you the tools for success10. 10 You’re welcome America.
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As of now, I’ve taken five business classes and each one of them has been the same. The writing is minimal, yet when the writing is assigned, the professors do not help students with the basics of business writing. Students are expected to understand what good business writing is, and when the writing does not live up to the expectations, the professors simply comment that the piece does not constitute good business writing. No one bothers to try and help students become better business writers. For the students, writing quickly becomes trial and error. Either a student gets it or they have to keep trying until they miraculously get it (or they never get it, which is a real shame). Now, I’m not blaming the professors (let’s see if this attitude changes post final exams). The professors focus on what they’re supposed to teach, which is good. That’s not the problem. The problem is that none of the professors are supposed to teach good business writing. Arguably, this is not a problem for the University of Denver to address. With so many different disciplines within business, it is almost impossible to teach a writing course for each of them. Besides, how is it the business school’s problem if students have never been taught good writing? Isn’t that the job of English departments and K-12 education? I’m not an expert on the writing of Daniels College of Business graduates, but I do know that, across business schools as a whole, graduates are unprepared for the workforce. Sure, they can create reports with few errors and create really fancy graphics, and yes they might understand their material and subject matter, but how does this help if they cannot express their ideas in writing? How can they persuade anyone to do anything if other people cannot understand the graduates’ writing?
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If business schools really do care about their graduates’ success, as many of them claim to do, then writing is a business school problem. Businesses do not want unprepared employees. Remember Daniel from the last chapter? Our, well, my graduate student friend? If you don’t I’d suggest you skip to page 40 right now11. Anyway, Daniel mentioned that “companies don’t want to hire someone if they’ll have to hire someone else just to help them. If a new employee has to ask his boss if his work makes sense, then he’s wasting valuable time and resources from the company. And companies don’t hire drains on their resources.” Students who cannot write are drains on resources. And if business schools are not helping their students become proficient writers, then the schools are simply creating more drains. If would be nice if students came into college knowing how to write, much in the same way it would be nice to wake up one day and find someone left you a billion dollars. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t the case and I doubt it ever will be (the writing I mean, there’s still a chance with the money). As a result, colleges need to deal with students who cannot write. They need to retrain students and teach them basic writing skills. It may take up an elective or replace an existing introduction course, but Business Writing 101 needs to become an integral part of the Daniels College of Business’ curriculum. Besides making sure students understand basic grammatical concepts, their vs. there, and too vs. too, for example. If a student does not understand these differences, then they must be forced to learn. Sit the student down with a grammar book, test them on these concepts, and mark the student down when these mistakes appear in writing. This solution may seem juvenile and elementary, but let me pose a question, which is worse? Having students unable to write proposals to their boss and clients, or having students endure four credit hours of a “juvenile” 11 What? There’s no page 40? Ha! Serves you right for not paying attention to my previous chapters.
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class? If you like the first solution, then you can stop reading right now, nothing else I’m going to say will apply to you. Clearly you’ve decided to keep on reading. Congratulations, you’re well along on your path to success. Not only would this class reinforce basic grammar, but it would focus exclusively on the different types of writing found across business disciplines. Students would learn to master the memo, report, sales pitch, and other writing which is the bread and butter of the business world. Not only would students learn about the form and norms for each of these types of writing, they would also master the writing style demanded of businessmen. Students would learn how to be clear and concise in their writing without wasting the audience’s time. Some might argue that this class would be unfair to foreign students. Isn’t a class where grades depend on grammar and vocabulary unfair to these students? Perhaps. Foreign students might struggle more with this class, however such an argument should not discredit the class. Simply ignoring a class because it could be harder for certain students does these students an extreme disservice. Companies don’t care about learning curves and personal struggles; they care about results. If you cannot offer results, you have no place in their organization. While difficult, students who apply their selves will end up better off and more prepared for the harsh, unforgiving world of business. Going about this change will not be easy. Unfortunately, schools can be resistant to change, especially when the change would affect the ever-sacred core curriculum. After all, if it wasn’t the best, then the school would never have allowed it in. Right? Oh, and did I mention that you’re a student? That means that you’re going to get the majority of your initial support
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from your fellow classmates, and while they may be passionate and vocal on some issues, I’m going to (correctly)12 assume that the majority of them are not that interested in the core curriculum. As far as they’re concerned, just take the classes, pass, and graduate. While changing the core-curriculum to include business writing classes would be the ideal fix, this would take far too long. Even if you can get it changed, there is next to no hope that you would stand to benefit from it. Nice for succeeding classes, but it really won’t help you. And that’s what this book is all about, helping you become a better writer. But do not fear! All hope is not lost. You still have options. Preparing yourself, compensating for the shortcomings of the university requires lots of work. Lots of self work. Nothing that is assigned to you in class, rather, things that you must do during your spare time. In the course of my time at DU, I have actually found books, yes books, to be extremely helpful. Obvious classics such as Dale Carnegie’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People” are good places to start. In addition, look at the bookstands at major airports. Millions of businessmen go through airports daily, and airport bookstores often have entire sections dedicated to helping the businessman. Even if I only write down the title and rent the book from the library, I have found these books to be incredibly helpful. Also, speak with a professor. Many business school professors once worked in the private sector and were successful in their fields. Most of them love students who express a genuine interest in success and improvement. Ask them for advice and help. They all have office hours and I have yet to encounter a teacher who would not help dedicated students via email. If you’re willing to make the first step, most professors are more than willing to help. In fact, many of them want you to reach out to them and ask for help. 12 I never incorrectly assume anything.
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At this point, you might be thinking “Well, gosh, this seems like a bunch of extra work”. Well, gosh, being successful tends to take a bunch of extra work. Get used to it. Sure, it’s probable that you could go to school, take your accounting classes and graduate without following up on this advice. If you’d like, you can ignore everything in this book, change your personal motto to “C’s get degrees!” and try and compete in a workforce with millions of people just like you. But before you resolve to live life on these terms, let me try to persuade you otherwise. We live in a competitive world. Perhaps ten or twenty years ago, it was not so difficult to find a good job upon graduating from college. That is not the case anymore. Now, not only do you have to compete with your classmates, but also people who might have been laid off or fired and are looking or a new way to get into the workforce. By offering you a way to improve your writing, I’m giving you a competitive advantage. Not only can you improve your grades in school, which could quite possibly be enough for you to be considered for a job, but these skills will live on long past graduation. You might forget chemistry, never need to know about the different Treaties of Paris, but you will always be expected to be a good writer. By becoming one now, you can set yourself apart in the workforce. Your writing can stand out (in a positive way), and, when your work stands out, people tend to take notice. Sure, you might be able to argue that thousands of others have learned business writing just fine without these tips, but is that really true? No. They still had to learn the exact same skills in this book, but instead of learning them in a controlled academic setting, they had to learn them in the brutal, merciless arena which is the work force. Take advantage of your opportunities today so that you can be more prepared when your turn to enter the ring comes. Trust me, it’s more fun to deliver blows than it is to take them.
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Chapter One mentions the importance of using good writing. In fact, more than mentions, it shows just how important good writing is, with prominent businessmen openly stating that they will not hire applicants if their writing is not good. No, I didn’t say good enough, I said good. In addition, Chapter Three shows just how embarrassing it can be for individuals who fail to master the art of good writing. Sure, those who fail to master good writing might be in good company, but I’d much rather stand out for being a good writer than blend in with the crowd, wouldn’t you? Now, don’t think that this chapter alone is your key to success. Rather, this chapter is a part of your success, and, should you choose to embrace it, your writing in the accounting major will improve tremendously. The more work you put into the proposal which this chapter sets out, the more successful you shall be. And if you apply the same dedication to all elements of your life, you will have a huge head start on all your peers in all aspects of life.
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CONCLUSION If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to this book, then you now completely understand life, quantum physics, and the “logic” behind solving Sudoku puzzles13. If you’re like the average reader, then all you will take away is a greater understanding of writing found within accounting. But that’s okay, I only expect the average reader to be reading this book. The whole purpose of this book is to help you get a better understanding of what writing in the accounting major and business majors as a whole requires. Going into accounting, I was completely in the dark about the type of writing that I could expect to encounter. Make no mistake, I did not intend for this book to deter people from majoring in accounting. Please, if you feel intimidated by the writing covered in this book, please do not be. Regardless of your current level or proficiency in writing, everything in this book can be learned through a little hard work and practice. Each chapter has a point and acts as a base for the next chapter to be built off. Looking back at Chapter One, we have a better understanding of what academics say of business writing. Some of the main points made here carry on throughout the book, especially those relating to grammar, focusing on the details, and the formatting of the writing. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to note that, although Chapter One and subsequently Chapter Two focus on the importance of being clear and concise in your writing, this does not appear to be a major theme in Chapter Three. Why? Well, it’s possible that Daniel Qubena, the gentleman I interviewed, never really had a problem with being clear and concise. Perhaps it comes naturally to him, so he never had to think about it in his writing. In addition, none of the interview questions put too much 13 Guess and check against the answers in the back of the book.
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emphasis on clarity and conciseness. Once again, this theme does not appear in Chapter Four largly because I did not identify it as being the most serious problem. Perhaps it is an issue amongst accounting graduates. Nevertheless, during the course of my research or interviews, clarity and conciseness never came across as the most pressing issue which needs to be addressed. As the reader, you have the opportunity to do several things with what you learned by reading this book. You can choose to ignore everything in this book, major in accounting, and realize firsthand that everything I wrote is right. But I wouldn’t suggest this path. No, rather, you should put this book to use. Why not make the most of what you’ve learned? This book is a tool, use it to your advantage. Unfortunately, despite what my ego is telling me, this book is not some one-stop shop for success. Simply reading this book will not magically make you a better writer. In order for this book to be useful, you must take advantage of the lessons taught in it. For example, think of this book as advice. It will tell you some things to look out for, it will give some ideas on how you can improve, but in the end, you need to find ways to apply these lessons into your own writing. There is no magic formula which can automatically tell you the best way to write, nor is there an answer page which tells you if your writing is good or bad. If you wish to improve as a writer, then you must keep the lessons learned in this book in mind when writing, but you must also take responsibility for becoming a better writer. Unless you send me a substantial amount of money, I will not look over your shoulder and edit your every essay. But then again, that’s not what this book is for. This book is a roadmap, it can tell you how to get from where to are to success, but ultimately, you must do the driving. Ignoring the roadmap will get you somewhere, but odds are it’s not where you want to be. In addition, you cannot simply sit there and read the roadmap the
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whole time. Sometimes roads are closed or construction forces you to take a detour. If you blindly follow the map, youâ€™ll only get lost. For this reason, you cannot simply hope to insert the ideas from this book into your writing. Everyone has a different style, and you must take time to interweave the ideas from this book into your writing. There might be times where your writing is wildly different from what this book suggests. You cannot hope to insert a couple ideas here and there and be done with it. You must take your wildly different writing and the ideas in this book together, and find a way to connect them. Once again, despite what I said earlier, this book is far too small to be considered a fully exhaustive review. It only focuses on a select few parts of writing, it uses a few examples, and it only deals with my perspective on the matter. When writing this book, I did not look for similar literature and compare that authorâ€™s ideas with those of my own. Not only did I not have the time, but I never really thought about doing this until now. Yes, Chapter One is a review of existing literature, but I only focused on what makes up good writing according to a select few people. Many of them had similar ideas, but itâ€™s also possible that some of the information is dated or only applicable for certain situations. I did not have the opportunity to compare what For a more exhaustive review of writing in accounting, I would suggest that you people within accounting. This does not have to be a very formal process, but speaking with several people, ideally academics, students, and business professionals would give you a
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Coster, Helen. "Ten Tips For Better Business Writing." Forbs (2010): n. pag. Forbs. Forbs LLC, 5 Mar. 2010. Web. Apr. 2014. Feierman, Joanne “The 7 Deadly Sins of Report Writing” December 1, 2012, Journal of Government Financial Management. Winter2012, Vol. 61 Issue 4, p50-52. 3p Gaertner-Johnston, Lynn. "Better Writing = Better Business Ties." Administrative Professional Today. Business Management Daily, Mar. 2014. Web. Apr. 2014. Lentz, Paula. "Implications for Business Writing Pedagogy and Workplace Practice." Business Communication Quarterly 76.4 (2013): 474-90. Business Communication Quarterly, Dec. 2013. Web. Apr. 2014. Pratt, Michael G. "FOR THE LACK OF A BOILERPLATE: TIPS ON WRITING UP (AND REVIEWING) QUANITATIVE RESEARCH." Academy of Management Journal 52.5 (2009): 856-62. Academy of Management Journal. Academy of Management Journal, Oct. 2009. Web. Apr. 2014. Ragins, Belle R. "Editor's Comments: Reflection on the Craft of Clear Writing." Editorial. Academy of Management Review Oct. 2011: 490-501. Academy of Management Review. Academy of Management Review, Oct. 2011. Web. Apr. 2014. Riley, Tracey J., and Kathleen A. Simons. "Writing in the Accounting Curriculum." Issues in Accounting Education 28.4 (2013): 823-71. Issues in Accounting Education. American Accounting Association, 2013. Web. Apr. 2014. Vásquez, Félix S. (2013) "Differences between Academic and Business Writing," Global Business Languages: Vol. 18, Article 8. Wiens, Kyle. "Your Company Is Only as Good as Your Writing." HBR Network. Harvard Business Review, 30 July 2013. Web. Apr. 2014. Zoerner, Cyril E., Jr. "MBA Writing Courses: A Total Communications Perspective." Journal of Business Communication 6.4 (1969): 5-13. Journal of Business Communication. Journal of Business Communication, Dec. 2006. Web. Apr. 2014.