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W. R. Edge & E. J. G. Wilson


While not readily reported, problems with microcomputer spreadsheets are rampant and frequently involve large dollar sums. These spreadsheets traditionally have fewer controls than those used on larger computers. Also, the users of these spreadsheets often do not need and do not have extensive computer knowledge.

For managers who are concerned with the integrity of information produced in the management reporting function, 3 solutions exist:

  • Adopt a design methodology that will promote completeness and accuracy of the spreadsheet.
  • Implement ongoing controls that will maintain the integrity of the spreadsheet.
  • Audit and test the spreadsheet to assist in the detection and prevention of errors.

Much of the problem stems from a lack of built-in controls. One alternative is to use a more specialized software that has such controls.


Well-designed spreadsheets should include some or all of the following features:

  • Heading, date, final name, author, and approval - basic documentation to allow appropriate identification.
  • Table of contents, particularly because most spreadsheets cover multiple screens.
  • Assumptions and input data; should be isolated so that alterations are automatically posted to all relevant cells in the spreadsheet.
  • Control check tables which display the results of customized audit tests.
  • Instructions, relating to the operation and interpretation of the spreadsheet, particularly to allow others to use the spreadsheet and to allow for personnel changes.
  • Spreadsheets which are designed in logically related blocks, so that amendment of rows and columns does not invalidate legitimate rows and columns in the spreadsheet.
  • Protecting cells, both data and macro instructions (once a spreadsheet is complete) to prevent accidental amendment. Of course, cells that hold variable data must remain unprotected.
  • Spreadsheets which are small and easy to digest; small spreadsheets can be linked together.


1990, The Internal Auditor, Volume 47, Number 2, April, pages 35-39

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