Writing About “The Company”

This practical question came in regarding how to refer to a company repeatedly in a document.

We are struggling with an audit report writing issue. We use the business’s legal name, for example, Joe Smith Trucking Inc. We are not sure whether we should repeat the name every time we mention the company in the audit report. Our opening paragraph might read like this:

Joe Smith Trucking Inc. was audited for the period June 1, 2006, through May 31, 2007. They are in the business of hauling dry goods. Mr. Joe Smith is the president of the company, and Ms. Jane Smith is the secretary. We determined that the company has not been complying with the requirement to maintain withdrawal logs for their bulk fuel facility.

Should we use "Joe Smith Trucking Inc." in every sentence? Or should we refer to "the company" and use them and they after the first reference, as we have in the example above?

Although I have never written an audit report, I am glad to offer advice based on general writing principles. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Do not use the name of the company in every sentence. If only one company is the subject of the audit, it is not necessary to continually name it. The constant repetition of the name would be monotonous.
  2. Use the phrase "the company" in place of the company name, as in the example above: "Mr. Joe Smith is the president of the company."
  3. Use the pronouns it and its to refer to the company: " . . . to maintain withdrawal logs for its bulk fuel facility." I suggest the singular it and its rather than the plural they, them, and their. The plural forms might point improperly at Joe and Jane Smith. The audit is of the company (it), not of Joe and Jane Smith (them).
  4. Use the company name now and then in the report. That way, no reader will forget which company is being audited.

If you are an auditor, please share how you handle this issue.

Thank you, Arkansas auditors, for your question.

Lynn

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

7 COMMENTS

  1. “If in doubt, prefer geniality to good grammar.” Can’t remember who said it but repeating the full name of the company is like putting speedbumps and roadblocks in the text and you’ll end up doing lots of passive voice to get around “…was audited” etc. Grim. I know it’s a long shot and unlikely in a formal document, but couldn’t you say “we…”

  2. “We”–yes. Normally I would love it. But this auditor was part of the government and was auditing a company. I shied away from “they” because it felt too personal (and, ironically, less genial) when talking about a company and its business records.

    Thanks for commenting, Matthew.

  3. I edit audit reports, and it’s our practice to refer initially to the company’s name and then use ‘the company’ thereafter. We also use the pronouns ‘it’ and ‘its’ whenever ‘the company’ has already been used in a sentence to maintain an easy flow. Additionally, I discourage writers from using ‘we’ to mean “we as a company” so as not to confuse when writing ‘we’ meaning “we internal auditors.”

  4. Caralee, thanks for commenting based on your audit department experience.

    CC, I can’t confirm a US/British difference about “company,” but I can say that “company” is sometimes plural in the U.S. too. Thanks for raising that point.

  5. Hello all,
    Being an auditor, I would recommand you to first write the complete name of the company and then go for the term “the company” for repeatedly usage.
    I must discourage using pronouns in any kind of long reports and an audit report comes in long reports category.

    Feedback is highly appriciated.

    Thanks

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