Do Accountants need good written communication skills?
Communication skills are core competencies required of accounting professionals throughout the world (Albrecht & Sack, 2000; American Institute of Certified Public Accountants [AICPA], 2005; Hancock et al., 2009; International Accounting Education Standards Board, 2010). The AICPA Core Competency Framework, for instance, lists communication as a fundamental personal competency “needed by all students entering the accounting profession, regardless of the career path they choose (public/industry/government/nonprofit) or the specific accounting services they will perform” (AICPA, 2005).
The International Federation of Accountants echoes this demand for communication competency in its International Education Standard 3 (IES3): “Individuals seeking to become professional accountants should acquire the following skills: (a) intellectual skills, (b) technical and functional skills, (c) personal skills, (d) interpersonal and communication skills[italics added], and (e) organizational and business management skills” (International Accounting Education Standards Board, 2010, IES3 Professional Skills and General Education, para. 13).
Effective business writing is singled out in the AICPA Core Competency Framework as a required skill (Sharifi, McCombs, Fraser, & McCabe, 2009). Accountants desiring to achieve U.S. certified public accountant (CPA) status must demonstrate that they can write effectively by successfully passing the written portion of Uniform CPA Exam (AICPA, 2009). For the global accounting community, the International Federation of Accountants expects accounting professionals to demonstrate the ability to “present, discuss, report and defend views effectively through formal, informal, written and spoken communication.”
What is not clear from the literature is what the profession means by “effective writing” or what should be included in the accountant’s written communication skill set. Although some research has been conducted to identify which specific written communication competencies accounting employers consider important, that research is dated (Christensen & Rees, 2002). Furthermore, previous research focused primarily on traditional communication skills with little attention, if any, to computer-mediated communication such as microblogging or social networking (Marshall, Cardon, Norris, Goreva, & D’Souza, 2008). Little is known regarding which computer-facilitated written communication skills employers expect of new hires or whether selected computer-mediated skills have displaced traditional written communication skills such as spelling correctly. Using a survey methodology, this research examines those employer expectations. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed:
Research Question 1: What specific written communication skills do employers expect from accounting graduates? Are some skills more important than others?
Research Question 2: Do employers place the same importance on communication skills that are computer mediated as they do on basic writing mechanics or effective business writing?
Research Question 3: Are there are gaps between employer expectations
and the communication skill levels of new accounting graduates? For purposes of this research, computer-mediated communication is defined broadly to include all forms of human communication that rely on computer systems for messaging (Dupin-Bryant, 2004). The article begins with a review of the relevant U.S. and international literature exploring the importance of written and computer-mediated communication in accounting practice and then examines previous survey research on communication skills for accountants. The literature review is followed by a discussion of the research methodology and the development and administration of the survey instrument. Survey findings, beginning with a respondent profile, are then discussed; results are presented in research question order. In the final section, the conclusions are summarized and implications for accounting curriculum posited.
The main contribution of this research is a current employer perspective on the composition of the written communication skill set in the accounting workplace, with special attention to the role of computer-mediated communication.