Readability of Introductory Financial and Managerial Accounting Textbooks

Article excerpt


Selecting a textbook for use in introductory accounting courses can be a weighty and challenging task for faculty. Since business and accounting majors and minors generally must take the introductory accounting course sequence, a large number of students are impacted by their decision. But the text selection process is complicated by the large number of text attributes for faculty to consider. Such attributes may include: a text's pedagogical approach; coverage of material; exhibits, charts, and vignettes; end-of-chapter material; student and instructor supplements; authors' reputations; and, instructors' past experiences with the text. Faculty may also wish to consider a text's readability.

Readability may be defined as the degree to which a class of people finds certain reading matter compelling and comprehensible (McLaughlin, 1969). "Readability" should not be confused with "legibility," which refers to the ease of being read. Readability, in this context, refers to the qualities of writing which are related to reader comprehension. A variety of techniques have been used to predict readability, including several readability indexes (or formulas) which have been used widely since the 1950s.

Information on readability can be helpful to faculty when making textbook adoption decisions. One of the criteria to which faculty attach the most significance in those decisions is textbook comprehensibility (Smith & DeRidder, 1997), which can be predicted, at least in part, using a readability index. The adoption decision also affects students. Research (using a readability index) indicates that the less readable a textbook used in a core business course (including introductory accounting), the lower the grade average in that course (Spinks & Wells, 1993).


Little study of the readability of accounting texts has been undertaken over the last 25 years; only six such studies were identified. Three of the studies, Razek et al. (1982), Adelberg and Razek (1984), and Flory et al. (1992), concerned intermediate and/or advanced accounting texts. The other three studies, Traugh et al. (1987), Sullivan and Benke (1997), and Davidson (2005), concerned (at least in part) introductory accounting texts.

The Traugh study analyzed accounting principles texts (the traditional introductory text of the period) and found no significant differences in the readability level of the textbooks considered. Sullivan compared introductory financial accounting textbooks in terms of attributes (e.g., teaching aids and supplements), readability, and philosophy/approach. Davidson considered the long-term trends of the readability of accounting textbooks, including that of 50 introductory books published over the past 100 years.

Since the Davidson study investigated trends over many years, it did not compare the readability of individual texts. The Sullivan study was limited to introductory financial accounting texts. Traugh investigated principles of accounting texts (which include financial and managerial accounting), but the most recent textbook included in that study was published over 20 years ago. Since the most recent readability study of individual introductory accounting textbooks is now 10 years old (and included only financial accounting texts), and since the most recent analysis of introductory financial and managerial ("principles of accounting") texts is now 20 years old, an update of the readability of introductory accounting texts appears to be in order.


In the typical first-year introductory accounting course sequence, the apparent trend in the last 20 years has been away from the use of a traditional principles of accounting text (2/3 financial, 1/3 managerial) and toward the financial and managerial accounting text (1/2 financial, 1/2 managerial). Given that trend, this study focuses on the readability of introductory financial and managerial accounting textbooks. …


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