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Accounting research is research on the effects of economic events on the process of accounting, and the effects of reported information on economic events. It encompasses a broad range of research areas including financial accounting, management accounting, auditing and taxation.
Academic accounting research "addresses all aspects of the accounting profession" using the scientific method, while research by practicing accountants focuses on solving problems for a client or group of clients. Academic accounting research can make significant contribution to accounting practice, although changes in accounting education and the accounting academia in recent decades has led to a divide between academia and practice in accounting.
"Accounting has been a craft that has had no essence. It has changed significantly across time, adopting new forms, methods, and roles. Likewise for accounting research. [...] Indeed the very role of accounting research is in part to make both accounting and our knowledge of it different, to move forward our understandings of accounting and, at times, the practice of accounting itself. "
|—Anthony Hopwood, in his address to the 2006 American Accounting Association annual meeting|
Accounting research is carried out both by academic researchers and by practicing accountants. Academic accounting research addresses all areas of the accounting profession, and examines issues using the scientific method; it uses evidence from a variety of sources including financial information, experiments, and computer simulations.
Research by practicing accountants "focuses on solving immediate problems for a single client or small group of clients" and involve, for example, decision-making on the implementation of new accounting or auditing standards, the presentation of unusual transactions in the financial statements, and the impact of new tax laws on clients.
Accounting research is also carried out by accounting organizations such as standard-setting bodies. For example, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) may initiate research projects for certain issues, the results of these may inform its decision whether to move the issues to its active agenda.
History of accounting research
Accounting research has undergone significant changes in the past decades. In the 1950s, an accounting academia was established that adopted the requirements of social science academia, such as PhD qualifications and research papers, and the mid-1970s saw a shift from the dominance of normative research to positive research "that uses methods from finance, economics, and other established academic disciplines".
Academic research and accounting practice
Contribution of academic research to practice
The contribution of academic accounting research to accounting practice includes the assessment of current accounting practices, the development of new practices, and the development of university curricula:
- "Academic research has an important role to play, both in assessing the extent to which existing practices are ‘fit for purpose’ and in developing new practices to address changing business, economic and societal needs. Research also informs the teaching curricula in universities, thus affecting the range of issues of which future generations will become aware and consider important."
For example, academic accounting research "can improve the understanding of how stakeholders actually use the information accountants provide", and prior academic studies have contributed to fraud risk assessment, the future direction of the profession, and the impact of changing accounting standards.
Gap between academia and practice
Several publications, including the recent accounting literature, have suggested a divide or gap between the academic and professional communities in accounting. Aspects of the divide have been suggested to include criticisms of academics for speaking with their own jargon and aiming to publish research rather than improve practice, and criticisms of practicing accountants for being resistant to changes to the status quo and reluctant to disclose data.
The divide between accounting academia and practice was originally centered on whether a broader education or just technical training was the best way to educate accountants. From the 1950s, accounting academia and practice grew further divided due to the accounting academic community adopting requirements from social science academia, while practicing accountants "maintained an emphasis on professional qualifications and technical skills".
Aside from accounting academia and practice valuing different skills and requirements, a variety of factors have been proposed for the divide. One view is that a lack of training in reading academic research may lead practicing accountants "to dismiss what could be very helpful information as either too complicated or too disconnected to be useful"; while another view points to fundamental failures in academic research in business and economics in general—for example that researchers have failed to effectively question prevailing economic and business models.
Types of academic accounting research
Academic accounting research covers a wide range of related topics that can be classified into several areas, including financial accounting, management accounting, auditing, taxation, governance, and accounting information systems (AIS) research:
- Financial accounting research
- Examines financial accounting and the financial markets, and focuses on the relationship between accounting information and the decision-making of external users of the accounting information in the capital markets.
- Managerial accounting research
- Focuses on the relationship between accounting information and internal users of the accounting information, for example examining the allocation of resources and decision-making within an enterprise.
- Auditing research
- Studies related to the audit function, including auditor decision-making and the effects of auditing on financial reporting.
- Taxation research
- Examines taxation-related issues such as market reactions to tax disclosures and taxpayer decision-making, and the relationship between accounting information and tax authorities.
- Governance research
- Examines the overall corporate management of organizations.
- AIS research
- Examines issues related to accounting information systems, such as system security and design science.
Academic accounting research can be classified by methodology into archival, experimental, and analytical studies:
- Archival research
- Research that examines "objective data collected from repositories", including data collected by the researchers;
- Experimental research
- Research that examines data "the researcher gathered by administering treatments to subjects"; and
- Analytical research
- Research "based on the act of formally modeling theories or substantiating ideas in mathematical terms".
- Oler, Derek K., Mitchell J. Oler, and Christopher J. Skousen. 2010. “Characterizing Accounting Research.” Accounting Horizons 24 (4): 635–670.
- Gordon, Teresa P., and Jason C. Porter. 2009. "Reading and Understanding Academic Research in Accounting: A Guide for Students." Global Perspectives on Accounting Education 6: 25-45.
- The Relevance and Utility of Leading Accounting Research (PDF), The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, 2010, retrieved December 27, 2013
- Guthrie, J., Roger Burritt and Elaine Evans. 2011. "The Relationship between Academic Accounting Research and Professional Practice," in Bridging the Gap between Academic Accounting Research and Professional Practice, eds. Elaine Evans, Roger Burritt and James Guthrie. (New South Wales: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia).
- Research projects, IFRS Foundation, 2013, retrieved December 27, 2013
- Laughlin, Richard. 2011. "Accounting Research, Policy and Practice: Worlds Together or Worlds Apart?," in Bridging the Gap between Academic Accounting Research and Professional Practice, eds. Elaine Evans, Roger Burritt and James Guthrie. (New South Wales: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia).
- Coyne, Joshua G., Scott L. Summers, Brady Williams, and David a. Wood. 2010. “Accounting Program Research Rankings by Topical Area and Methodology.” Issues in Accounting Education 25 (4) (November): 631–654.