On a Logical Structure for the Authoritative Accounting Literature: A Discussion of the FASB's Codification Structure
Fisher, Ingrid E., McEwen, Ruth Ann, Issues in Innovation
As early as 1965, Goldberg asserted: "it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the problem of communication is the axial problem in accounting" (Goldberg 1965). Despite that assertion, research into how formal accounting communications, such as the financial accounting standards (FASs), can and should be effectively articulated is conspicuously absent. This paper aims to address the significance of document structure in the drafting of the FASs. Improved document structure promises to more effectively communicate the information contained within documents and to enhance the capabilities and performance of a document retrieval system (Sumita et al. 1993)
FASs, as historically drafted, are organized across standards by standard setter and type of standard. However, within standards, the text lacks a consistent and sound structural arrangement, which impedes digital storage and retrieval methods and is not conducive to accounting research by most users (Fisher 2004). For example, markup languages such as the eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML), which represent the structure and content of documents, are predicated upon a hierarchical document structure that includes pre-defined sequencing and nesting. Further, despite the fact that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (AICPA) special Task Force on standards overload recommended the development of systems to "facilitate access to the professional literature and improve the understandability of that literature" (Burke 1997) (emphasis added) little has been done to apply digital methods and technologies to the structure of FASs and the development of digital libraries of FASs.
The Financial Accounting standards Board (FASB) Codification and Retrieval Project has been engaged in a comprehensive effort to codify the authoritative accounting literature (AAL). The literature has been reorganized to present it in topical order, as opposed to the current presentation of the AAL by standard number where standards are classified under one of four possible levels of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles Hierarchy as originally defined in statement on Auditing Standard number 69. The FASB Accounting Standards Codification[TM] was launched online on January 15, 2008 beginning a one-year constituent verification period during which users are provided free access to the codification. Free access is intended to enable the FASB to obtain feedback on the codification prior to its final acceptance and approval.
While the FASB has not publicly announced the technical underpinnings of its retrieval system, we suggest that as the codification project progresses, the FASB should employ an XML-based logical structural model. This paper proposes such an XML structure for the FASs.. The role of structure in facilitating digital communication and manipulation of textual information is highlighted throughout.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Prior research and related work are examined. The results, to date, of the FASB Codification Project's efforts to structure the AAL are discussed. suggestions for additional consideration of document structure are offered along with a logical model for FAs structure. Finally, concluding remarks are provided and future research opportunities are mentioned.
PRIOR RESEARCH AND RELATED WORK
"The written document whether delivered in a printed or online medium is often essential to a product or service's success and ultimately to an organization's success" (Smart et al. 2001)
Increasingly, researchers indicate professional communicators should focus on issues of information design citing the design of information as critical to the usefulness and usability of information (Redish 2000; Schriver 1997; Smart et al.). Eunson (2005) states that communicators must focus both on writing and structuring the content of documents as well as on their appearance and navigability. …