Writing across the Accounting Curriculum: An Experiment

By Riordan, Diane A.; Riordan, Michael P. et al. | Business Communication Quarterly, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Writing across the Accounting Curriculum: An Experiment


Riordan, Diane A., Riordan, Michael P., Sullivan, M. Cathy, Business Communication Quarterly


To improve the writing skills of accounting students, we developed a structured writing effectiveness program across three junior level courses in the accounting major: tax, cost, and financial accounting. Writing counted for approximately five percent of the grade in each course and accounting professors discussed grammar, sentence structure, and word choice. A consulting expert on writing also contributed to the program. We tested the results of our program empirically through both a pretest/posttest design and a control/treatment group comparison. The results provide evidence that our writing across the curriculum project significantly improved the students' writing skills.

Keywords: Writing across the curriculum, writing in accounting, assessment

WRITING IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS are an essential educational research topic, according to the American Accounting Association. (Williams, 1988). Researchers have found that graduates of accounting programs need to improve the quality of their written and oral communication skills in order to be successful in the profession (Hirsch, Jr., & Collins, 1988; Brown & Paapanen, 1996). Interviews with our alumni and their employers confirm the trend reported in the literature: students need additional writing skills to perform well in the work place. Changes in both the Uniform CPA Examination and the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) reflect the need for skillful writing in the business environment.

Writing across the curriculum is considered one of the most successful education reform movements in the United States (Carson, 1992). Proponents of this approach contend that incorporating writing assignments into an academic area helps students learn the material of the particular area and expands students' writing skills (Stocks et al., 1992). Ekroth (1990) notes, "Professors are now expected not only to 'cover the material,' but also to help students to think critically, write skillfully, and speak competently [italics supplied]" (p. 1). Writing activities in the accounting curriculum help students to understand accounting issues, concepts, and procedures and to analyze problems while reinforcing writing skills taught in English composition and business communication courses. This article describes the structured writing program we developed across three junior level courses in our accounting major.

Writing Projects in the Accounting Curriculum

Studies in accounting education describe the value of writing across the curriculum, the types of writing assignments, and the use of an outside writing expert. May and Arevalo (1983) report on a communications program within the regular accounting program at the J. M. Tull School of Accountancy at the University of Georgia. The program involved writing in-class memoranda on previously unannounced accounting topics and six- to ten-page technical papers outside of class. The written assignments, part of the three-quarter intermediate financial accounting sequence, were graded on both accounting content and effective writing and presentation. A writing consultant provided the skills necessary to teach writing and grade assignments on effective writing and presentation. Although an objective measure of improvement was not used, accounting faculty believed student writing improved.

DeLespinasse (1985) reports the results of letter-writing assignments in the accounting program at Adrian College. Students were instructed to use proper business letter format in a variety of situations to communicate technical answers to unsophisticated clients. Letters were heavily marked and returned to the students. Again, no objective measure of writing improvement was used. However, these and other kinds of on-the-job writing assignments were believed to have positive results on student performance. Writing quality in senior accounting classes was judged to be improved. Student interest in additional writing courses appeared to increase, and graduates reported increased confidence in written communication tasks required on the job.

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