Concluding on working papers

So what?

I sometimes review a working paper and think by myself: “So what?” Not in a derogatory, dismissive manner, rather in a silent sigh about an unfulfilled expectation.

A well written working paper without a good conclusion is like a good short story without a proper ending. It leaves me wanting more but not in a good way, and that’s a pity. Worse, it’s not very effective as I will need to develop the conclusions myself, immersing me more in the work than is strictly necessary during a review.

Four components to good conclusions

A good conclusion should tell me what I need to know in the most concise manner possible. A good conclusion needs the following four components to it:

  • An adequate basis for conclusion: “Based on …” followed by a concise description of the basis of the conclusion is what I expect to find here. Essential is adequacy of the basis. The question to be answerd by this part of the conclusion is whether the conclusion is based on adequate evidence, analysis or testing work.
  • A competent person concluding: often forgotten, I need to read who is concluding on this evidence, this analysis or this testing. “We” does not do it. The reason is simple: as I reviewer, I am looking for assurance the person who drew the conclusion has adequate competency to come to the specific conclusion. If it is a conclusion on a highly technical matter, I don’t want a staff assistant with a couple of weeks of experience to draw the conclusion. That is not credible.
  • A relevant conclusion: the wording can be highly diverse, but a conclusion itself needs to show clear relevance as to the purpose of the working paper itself. It needs to be clear that the conclusion can be reasonably reached based on the work done, given the basis and the competence of the person concluding.
  • Clear next steps: what needs to be done next needs to be clear as well. Most often, in case of conformity, this would be a phrase such as: “We pass further work.” In case on non-conformity, it needs to be clear what will happen next, because that part will likely not be part of the work program.

An example

So, a good conclusion would, for example, be:

Based on the reconciliation testing done on the ERP/SAP ledgers and the sales system data for two months selected at random, the IT auditor concludes there are no material discrepancies between the ERP system information and the sales system information. We pass further work.

As your audience is the senior auditor, the manager and the Chief Audit Executive or the audit partner, you need to ensure each of them at their level can glean the relevant information from your conclusion as quickly and as completely as relevant and possible.

And that’s why it’s important to properly conclude on working papers.