Why Accountants Should Be Able to Write

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The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword: here’s why it helps when accountants can wield one comfortably.

Generally speaking, accountants and finance professionals are known to be fairly “left-brained” – that is, exhibiting a strong head for numbers, good problem-solving skills and high analytical intelligence.

While many accountants are blessed with strong verbal-linguistic intelligence, which entails ease with reading and writing, others may feel less comfortable with the written word. But even though writing is rarely listed as a formal job requirement, most accounting or finance positions will require at least some written communication. And that means you’ll be expected to be able to string together a coherent sentence or two (among other things).

So if the last book you read was J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for your grade twelve English class, or the last piece of formal writing you produced was the essay you were assigned on it, you’ll do well to brush up on those literary skills. Because there’s no getting around it: as an accountant, you need to be able to write.

Basic communication calls for clear writing

We might think of accountants as dealing mostly with numbers, but their jobs actually require a fair amount of basic communication with others. As an accountant, you need to answer clients’ queries, as well as pose them questions of your own. You may have to communicate with the government – preparing notices of objections, voluntary disclosures, and other special letters – and ensure proper documentation of purpose.

While none of these tasks necessarily require a high degree of eloquence, they do call for writing that’s clear and concise, and that conveys the desired messages effectively. No one expects prose worthy of a Pulitzer Prize; they do, however, expect that writing that meets professional standards of intelligibility.

But while writing is rarely listed as a formal job requirement, most accounting or finance positions require at least some written communication.

You need to translate financial language

A financial statement might make perfect sense to you. All the technical data and terminology will, after all, be crystal-clear to someone trained and versed in the principles of accounting. But for most of your clients, these documents will probably read like gibberish – as indecipherable as a foreign language.

Sure, you might find it easy enough to explain this kind of complex financial and tax information to your clients when you’re able to sit down and chat with them. But your job also requires that you provide lucid and comprehensible explanations in writing. For example, some financial statements and special reports, as well as certain tax forms for authorities, demand inclusion of written commentary or opinions from the firm.

In order to make this complex data accessible, you’ll need to strip away the jargon and convert the information into terms that a layperson can understand. That means honing a writing style that’s simple, succinct, and coherent.

Changing modes of communication

Gone are the days when picking up the phone and calling their accountant was the only way clients communicated (outside in-person meetings). As modes of communication continue to evolve and proliferate, extending to various forms of social media and ever-more miniaturized mobile devices, the written word is increasingly pervasive. People are writing more today than ever before, even if they are doing so in less conventional ways or through non-traditional mediums.

Whether it’s by e-mail, texting, or instant messaging, your correspondence with clients, co-workers, and supervisors will throw a spotlight on your ability to compose readable sentences. What’s more, you need to adopt the appropriate tone for each platform, while maintaining a consistently professional and straightforward idiom – neither too formal nor overly casual.

People are writing more today than ever before, even if they are doing so in less conventional ways or through non-traditional mediums.

Promotion and marketing

Now more than ever, building your brand – either your own or that of your company – is an indispensable component of professional life. It’s a requirement for getting ahead in any industry.

If you run your own accounting practice, you will, like most professionals, be compelled to raise your online profile across various social media, so that you don’t miss out on any important networking opportunities. When you’re first building your practice, you’ll need to commit a lot of time and labour to writing newsletters, marketing material, website content, or even a blog, to help get your name out there and drive traffic to your site.

In short, you’ll find that writing is a valuable skill to be able to draw upon when you’re looking to build your capital (or that of your company) and generate promotional materials. Whether you’re trying to craft a killer LinkedIn profile, a pithy Twitter status update, or a thought-provoking blog entry, the ability to write well can make all the difference for your efforts.

Sure, everyone and their grandmother has a blog or a Tumblr these days. But that’s all the more reason and incentive for you to separate yourself from the crowd. The cream rises to the top: readers will always favour something that’s been elegantly and compellingly written, over the woefully inarticulate or grammatically challenged jottings that dominate the blogosphere.

In the final analysis, clients want accountants who can crunch the numbers and understand tax laws. But while a facility with the written word won’t clinch their judgments of your expertise, an inability to write competently or to convey your points clearly will tell against you. Poor writing makes you look unprofessional and unimpressive; good writing, on the other hand, can command respect and confidence. Make sure that every word counts, then.

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