There’s a lot more to accounting than numbers. Good storytelling is vitally important and a highly-prized skill in a field where making the connection between numbers and language is a true art.
What’s key is to make people care about your writing. While this may sound tricky in a world that appears to be more about spreadsheets than semi-colons, money is a deeply personal topic. Which means there are many ways to engage the audience.
“Accountants need emotional intelligence and empathetic reasoning to connect to others,” says Monash professor of accounting Nick McGuigan.
“But we use a language that is technically demanding and numbers that are not comfortable for everyone. This requires translation,” McGuigan explains. This means being able to explain the numbers’ context and being able to convey a situation’s emotional and human elements.
“We need to be able to process complexity and technical jargon that explains what we mean in everyday language,” he adds.
A great example is TJ Accountants’ web site. Its excellent use of language clearly explains what the business does:
We love all our clients, but we have a special place in our hearts for women in business and growing small to medium enterprises (SMEs). We’ve been there, and we’re impassioned to help other women succeed. If you’re a woman in business and you want to grow your business to the next level, get in touch. We can add value and insight into your financial circumstances and help you craft your financial goals for the future.
The power of T J Accountants’ copy is its ability to tell a story. “Stories persuade a client to do something because they don’t trigger resistance. We relax and open our minds when we hear stories. A storyteller isn’t challenging our opinion; they’re simply relaying what happened to someone else,” explains Steven Lewis, director of copywritingagency Taleist.
<subhead> Seeing the world through numbers
Stories are just one tool in an accountant’s writing arsenal. Being able to use graphs and diagrams to represent complex ideas is equally important. This is an area known as data and information visualisation. As the name suggests, data and information visualisation is an interdisciplinary area that concerns the way data and information is represented graphically. It requires accountants to see the bigger picture, McGuigan explains.
“It allows us to see a problem or the world through multiple perspectives. We can learn the technicalities of data and information visualisation through software applications and upskilling programs.”
He says what’s critical is to emphasise thought processes. “Integrated ways of thinking open narrow viewpoints and enable us to see the bigger picture. We learn to value critical approaches, integrate the different components of a problem and appreciate the holistic nature of business decision-making.”
This involves three components:
- Complexity: seeing the complex nature of problems and practice viewing this from multiple perspectives.
This means we are able to recognise complex relationships, visualise them and appreciate ambiguous, contradictory and incomplete information. To achieve this, diversify work teams and encourage debate, discussion and multiple views of data to inform problem solving.
- Adaptability: learning to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
This involves looking at problems in new ways and recognising different approaches are required.
- Open mindedness: this involves a willingness to see another viewpoint, showing openness to different interpretations.
<subhead> Back to basics
Diagrams and number representation must also go alongside great use of English to properly grab your audience’s attention.
While many people learnt writing rules at school, the good news is there’s lots of ways to break them to make your words meaningful. Use of conjunctions is one.
“Starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ is completely acceptable these days, when used in moderation, and will allow you to create shorter, snappier sentences,” recommends branding strategist Kat Elizabeth.
In fact, Elizabeth says shorter sentences can be really short, even one word. Really.
“Paragraphs can and should, in the case of emails and social media, also be short. Bullet points can be incorporated to help with this, too. Varying the length of your sentences breaks up the monotony of long-form content and creates a rhythm that’s pleasant to read and fun to write.”
She says if you come up against writer’s block, try using voice notes and record yourself saying what you want to get across. Then, listen back and transcribe your words.
“This is also helpful if you’re used to writing in a formal tone and you are trying to sound more conversational.”
Finally, before you start writing, create a brief for yourself that answers three questions: who is my reader, what do I want them to know and what do I want them to do?
Says Elizabeth: “This helps you get straight to the point. Once you’ve finished drafting, read your words back and see if anything has slipped in that doesn’t fit your brief, then cut it.”
As author George Orwell once said, above all, don’t use clichés, avoid using a long word where a short one will do, cut words where possible and break these rules rather than write anything that’s outrightly barbarous.