If you think that accounting is just about the numbers, think again. Today, accountants must do more than master and apply generally accepted accounting principles. They must also demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through the letters, reports, emails, and memos they write for clients, co-workers, and superiors as well as in the descriptive footnotes that make up the bulk of the financial statements that CPAs prepare for publicly traded companies to file.
In fact, many accountants spend almost as much time writing about numbers as they do analyzing them. While no one expects an accountant to write like a Pulitzer Prize winner, the accounting profession takes the communications skills of its members very seriously.
For proof of the importance placed on written communication skills, you only have to turn to the CPA Exam – on the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section, 15% of the score is based on your ability to communicate effectively in writing.
On the BEC section of the exam, you need to complete 3 written communications tasks, one of which is a pre-test question. Each task requires you to read a situation and then write an appropriate “constructed response” relating to it. The exam instructions dictate what form the document should take— either a memo or letter, for example— and its focus. To score well, you must be able to respond with correct information in a clear, complete, and professional manner.
The exam instructions as they appear on the CBT-e tutorial at aicpa.com, say, “Your response will be graded for both technical content and writing skills. Technical content will be evaluated for information that is helpful to the intended reader and clearly relevant to the issue. Writing skills will be evaluated for development, organization, and the appropriate expression of ideas.”
Maximize points on written communication tasks
Just like with multiple-choice and task-based simulation questions, doing well on the written communication tasks takes strategy and a clear understanding of how the communications will be graded.
To strengthen the skills needed to score well on the exam, the AICPA recommends consulting books specific to business writing. Some well-respected books include The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (Macmillan Paperbacks) and The Business Writing Handbook by William Paxson (Bantam Books). Also consider Effective Writing for Accountants, by Cos Ferrara. Many web-based resources of varying levels of sophistication and usefulness also exist.
Are you planning to sit for BEC soon—what are your strategies for tackling the written communication tasks?