Academic journal article Global Perspectives on Accounting Education

Using Student-Centered Writing Assignments to Introduce Students to Accounting Research and Facilitate Interaction with Accounting Practitioners

Academic journal article Global Perspectives on Accounting Education

Using Student-Centered Writing Assignments to Introduce Students to Accounting Research and Facilitate Interaction with Accounting Practitioners

Article excerpt


In this paper I describe two research papers that I use when I teach financial auditing. The first paper requires students to critique articles from a practitioner journal and an academic journal. The second paper requires that students interview an accounting practitioner using questions they developed from the first paper. I describe why I believe these papers are an innovation, what their educational benefits are, and how the papers would be easy to adapt by other educational institutions or to other situations. The research papers have been implemented in my auditing classes, and have been well received by my students and interviewees. Excerpts from my syllabus regarding the two papers are included.


Both practitioners and academics acknowledge the importance of writing skills to accounting professionals and the importance of the accounting curricula that emphasize written communication skills (Ashton, 2004; Reinstein et al., 1999). For example, the AICPA revised the Uniform CPA Examination to assess writing skills (VanZante, 1994). Nellermoe et al. (1999) find that accounting practitioners spend about one third of their time on writing activities. A joint study of the Institute of Management Accountants and the Financial Executives Institute also stressed the importance of accounting educators teaching writing skills (Siegel and Sorensen, 1994). In a recent survey of accounting professionals, writing skills ranked third in importance (out of 19), but eighteenth in terms of the effectiveness of the business curriculum for developing those skills (Ulrich et al., 2003). Similarly, employers of MBA graduates from prestigious programs gave the majority of their new hires poor grades for oral and written communications skills (Barr and Harris, 1997). This is particularly alarming when considering that a company with 5,000 employees typically produces 78 written communications per minute (Ashton, 2004)!

The purpose of this paper is to describe two writing assignments that I have developed and used in the classroom to introduce students to accounting research. These assignments also are useful for developing students' critical thinking skills, as well as written and oral communication skills; and facilitate their interaction with accounting practitioners. These assignments respond to the 1990 report of the Accounting Education Change Commission that states written and oral communication skills and critical thinking skills are necessary for accounting graduates to become successful professionals (AECC, 1990). In addition, these assignments enhance students' auditing knowledge through a combination of their research and interviews with practitioners. I am not aware of other accounting professors that have taken this approach, particularly with regard to the interviews.

The assignments are consistent with an active student-centered learning approach (Huba and Freed, 2000; Levenson 2004) or constructivist learning approach (Molenda, 2002), in that students are engaged in finding their own research articles, developing questions about what they have learned, and finding a working professional to interview. The professor acts as a facilitator in this process by taking a consultative teaching approach (Bonk and Smith, 1998). For example, the instructor may suggest potential sources of information for the students to consider or questions they may wish to ask a professional. However, the learning process is primarily the students' responsibility and they must make their own choices about how to conduct their research, including the sources of information they consult and the questions they choose to ask.


Written Communication Skills

The bulk of previous accounting research shows that writing assignments can improve accounting students' written communication skills and also may help students learn accounting (e.g., Stout et al., 1991; Bird et al. …

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