Research Skills: A Fundamental Asset for Accountants

Article excerpt

The 21st century accountant is more of a consultant than in the past, and needs to be able to locate both financial and nonfinancial information. Accountants need to know what databases and other resources to access, how to extract the relevant data, and how to organize and analyze the data and develop recommendations. Accounting educators are responsible for teaching students the skills that are essential to this research.

Importance of Research Skills for Accountants

In "Position Statement Number One, Objectives of Education for Accountants" (Issues in Accounting Education, 1990), the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC), appointed by the American Accounting Association (AAA), stressed the importance of research skills to accounting students. According to the AECC, as part of having the appropriate skills, accounting graduates should possess the "ability to locate, obtain and organize information." Accounting graduates must have a strong:

[A]bility to identify, gather, measure, summarize, verify, analyze, and interpret financial and nonfinancial data that are useful for addressing the goals, problems, and opportunities ... the focus should be on developing analytical and conceptual thinking, not on memorizing professional standards.

As the result of a more recent study, "Accounting Education: Chartering the Course Through a Perilous Future" (W-S. Albrecht and R.J. Sack, American Accounting Association, 2000), the profession urged educators to focus on teaching more critical-thinking skills rather than more content. In order to prepare students for the complex business environment, instructors were encouraged to help tiiem acquire research skills.

Research Skills and the CPA Exam

The AICPA acknowledges that accounting graduates need to be proficient in conducting research. The CPA examination now tests the research skills of accounting candidates. According to the AICPA'S "Skills for the Uniform CPA examination" (available at www.cpa-exam.org/download/CBT_skills_weights_fi nal.pdf, 2003), which details the most important skills-based competencies that accounting students need for the profession, candidates must demonstrate their ability to conduct research: to search the professional literature, identify relevant information, and form conclusions. According to the AICPA, candidates are expected to demonstrate the "ability to review current rules, regulations and interpretations in a particular context" for accounting, auditing and attestation, and tax literature. The following is a specific example provided by the AICPA on a question that would assess this skill:

Use the Financial Accounting Research System (FARS) research materials available under the RESOURCES tab to find the answer to the following question in either the Current Text or the Original Pronouncements. Copy the appropriate citation in its entirety from the source you have chosen and paste it into the space provided below. Use only one source. (AICPA Skills 2003, p. 2)

According to the AICPA's "Core Competency Framework to the Skills Tested on the CPA Exam" (available at: ceae.aicpa.org/Resources/Education+and+C urriculum+Development/Core+Competenc y+Framework+and+Educational+Compete ncy+Assessment+Web+Site), the specific question might concern an issue involving the revenue-recognition or matching principle. The candidate could be required to come to a conclusion about the appropriate accounting treatment based on the research material chosen. As stated by die AICPA:

Many accounting profession functions depend on obtaining information from within and outside of an entity. Accordingly, the individual preparing to enter the accounting profession needs to have strong research skills to access relevant guidance or other information, understand it, and apply it. (AICPA Core Competency, p. 4)

Computers and Research Skills

Being computer literate is not the equivalent to being research literate. …