April 30, 2006
Professor Dale Sullivan
North Dakota State University
320 Minard Hall
Fargo, ND 58105
Dear Professor Sullivan:
Enclosed is my final report of discourse practices and their use in the accounting field for the web-based section of English – 320 Business and Professional Writing at North Dakota State University.
The report explores the informal lines of communication within the accounting profession. Through written and web-based research, a professional interview with an individual practicing in the field, and personal experience, I have given an explanation of the informal techniques and patterns of communication. I also examined a document important to the success of an accounting firm as well as individual success within accounting. My research has better prepared me for the transition into the professional world of accounting.
If you should need any additional information or questions, feel free to contact me via e-mail at Jeffrey.Aller@ndsu.edu. Thank you for your time.
DISCOURSE PRACTICES OF ACCOUNTING
English 320 – Business and Professional Writing
North Dakota State University
April 30, 2006
Prepared for Dale Sullivan
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LITERATURE REVIEW…………………………………………………… 2
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION……………………………………………. 4
WORKS CITED…………………………………………………………..... 10
APPENDIX A: SAMPLE PROGRESS SHEET…………………………… 11
This report examines the field of accounting and explains the discourse practices used within the profession. The desired purpose is to generate a background that will make the entrance into the field an easier transition. There is commonly known to be a correlation between success and communication. Knowing this, it can be said that to become successful, one must learn how to communicate effectively. The accounting profession requires both formal and informal communication on a daily basis. This report will place emphasis on the informal lines of communication. It will discuss their importance and effectiveness in attaining the desired goal of the business.
This report will examine the different types of informal communication within the accounting field. This is a report of research to answer the question of how accountants communicate with each other and the public informally. It will identify unique methods used by individual professionals as well as common traits that occur daily in every type of accounting business. It will also examine and interpret the importance of one document used in the profession. The research is necessary to provide myself with a background and insight into the profession which I will be entering after graduation. The goal is to make that entrance and transition smooth and effective.
In the accounting profession, communication is a daily activity. Whether it is between like-minded professionals or with the outside world, there are many instruments used to accomplish these tasks. Management accountants prepare journal entries, which in turn, produce financial statements that communicate to stakeholders a measure of the company’s success or failure. The accountant’s job is to fairly reflect what is truly happening within a company in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. These very formal lines of communication are critiqued and reviewed by the company’s stakeholders and general public. What the public is not aware of are the many other forms of informal communication that occur within the accounting community. This communication is important to keep accountants up-to-date with changing GAAP standards, solving problems and questions, and completing related financial services. To analyze these forms of communication I must first identify what I’m looking to accomplish.
This report will focus only on the informal lines of communication to produce the more formal documents that are known to the world. I will research in-depth, the use of online forums, telephone, e-mail, and fax communication and their importance in the profession. Through online and literature research as well as a professional interview, I will be able to explain the vehicles of communication and how they are utilitized to produce a successful business.
In Audience and Rhetoric, James Porter describes the credibility of people who speak/write in forums and who they are speaking/writing to(1992). It continues to describe the topics that are discussed, along with the forms and styles in which the forums are held. Online postings, e-mails, memos and letters are used on a daily basis to answer the questions that arise within the community. To make these mediums of communication effective, Porter believes the speaker and listener must be credible in order for it to serve its purpose.
In Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power, Berkenkotter and Huckin write “Written communication functions within disciplinary cultures to facilitate the multiple social interactions that are instrumental in the production of knowledge” (1995). This statement will be beneficial when I discuss the use of forums within the accounting field. They continue on to discuss Form and Content. The importance of Form and Content in written work is “what is appropriate to a particular purpose in a particular situation at a particular point in time.” When I researched the written forms of communication both web-based and on paper, it was very important that the information be relevant and serve the same purpose for all those involved.
When Bartholomae wrote on Teaching Academic Discourse, he spoke a very honest and correct statement of the problem with students’ written discourse that “learning becomes more a matter of imitation or parody than a matter of invention and discovery”(1986). The solutions are that students should be instructed clearly to “think,” “argue,” “describe,” or “define” rather than to just imitate or parody the works of others. These opinions and writings will be beneficial in my research and writing.
General Division of Methods
To answer the question of how accountants communicate with each other and the public informally, I needed to use multiple methods of research including:
A vast majority of research in the age of technology is found through use of the internet. As I found, it is sometimes difficult to judge the credibility of information that is attained. To minimize any potential problems with credibility, my emphasis was with professional organizations involved with the accounting field such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Accountants World, and Federal Accounting Standards Board. I used search engines to also search for popular documents used in accounting firms and accounting discussion boards and forums. Because I chose informal communication within the field, I was unable to use a majority of the public information published regarding companies and their practices. It presented a challenge and a true, unanswered question.
Searching through periodicals, magazines, and written material can be a time consuming and exhausting activity. Narrowing the information down to what I was truly looking for was much more difficult than when I actually found it. I did find helpful magazine articles and other generalized written material that was helpful in the creation of this report.
The most helpful piece of information was gathered by conducting an interview with Mr. Kent Busek. Mr. Busek owns a tax preparation firm in Fargo and took a bit of time to answer questions I had prepared before hand. His experience in the practical application of the concepts we are researching made for an interesting conversation and helpful source of information.
After much collaboration of the information I had collected, I feel I have a better idea of what the informal lines and methods of communication in the accounting field are. The following is a compilation of my findings.
Results and Discussion:
To understand what communication is necessary in accounting, one must first define the term. According to Dictionary.com accounting is defined as “the bookkeeping methods involved in making a financial record of business transactions and in the preparation of statements concerning the assets, liabilities, and operating results of a business”(Dictionary.com, 2006). This definition can vary from source to source as Wikipedia defines accounting as “the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about information that helps managers and other decision makers make resource allocation decisions” (Wikipedia, 2006)
There are many fields within the accounting profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies four main areas of accounting. These areas are public, management, government accounting and internal auditing (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004) The practices in each field are extremely different as well. Public accountants prepare taxes, conduct audits, and offer financial consultations. Management accountants are concerned with the daily operations of a company and controlling the documentation of these activities. Government accountants work in the public sector and maintain financial records of government agencies along with auditing businesses who are involved with the government. Finally, Internal Auditors check the accuracy of an organization’s internal records while looking for mismanagement and fraud. Knowing a basic background of the specific fields lets me determine where discourse practices would differ. Where a public accountant preparing taxes for individuals, corporations, and partnerships would have to communicate directly with many people on a daily basis, a management accountant may only communicate with one individual on a weekly basis. These differences are important in choosing which profession is best to research their discourse practices.
The forums, genres, and discourse communities used to convey this information can be found wherever one would choose to look. Accountants use online discussion forums to ask questions to other accountants and also provide personal background and situations. While conducting an interview with Mr. Kent Busek, a practicing Certified Public Accountant, he mentioned that he makes use of various online, membership based accounting websites. He went on to describe the benefits of having secondary opinions from qualified individuals who may have better insight regarding one’s individual situation. He continued with the mediums of communication that are most used in the profession and how much of his time he felt was spent using each. The telephone occupies a majority of his communication at an estimated 70%, followed by e-mail at 20%, finishing with mail and other forms of online communication comprising the last 10%. Although the amount of time spent using online communication was not as great as I had thought it would be I wished to look further into the forums we had talked about.
A forum is defined as “a public meeting or presentation involving a discussion usually among experts and often including audience participation.” (Dictionary.com, 2006) As Mr. Busek said in our interview and has mentioned several times through the course of my employment with his firm that he uses Accountants World forums to ask tax and accounting questions for further knowledge from other accountants. After accessing their website and viewing some of the discussions he was involved with I was quite surprised at how helpful other accountants were in answering tough dilemmas. They would give proper documentation and research to explain the question asked and also describe personal experiences (Accountants World, 2006).
As described in previous literature research, accounting involves much of the “imitation” and “parody” described. The nature of the business is to follow the rules and guidelines provided by governing bodies and to research what was written before making decisions. The informal communication in accounting has very little creativity and a large amount of research and parodied communication. The postings in online forums are very well documented and researched findings rather than instant opinions. The margin for error has been eliminated with proper research but the window for innovative thinking has been shut.
To even better understand the discourse of accounting, I have identified common informal documents used in the profession and chosen a single document to analyze closer. Tax preparation firms may send out tax organizers for individuals or corporations. Many e-mails and letters are sent reminding clients of the upcoming year and steps they should take to make the formal filing easier. Notes are passed within offices as a means of written communication and are usually dated and signed for formal documentation.
For an example of such a document, I have chosen a Progress Sheet used on a daily basis at Busek, Olson and Associates, Inc.(see Appendix A). This form is for internal communication, providing all office members a very detailed explanation of the progress of each return. Characteristics of this document are the status of the return, who has completed which task throughout the process of the return and what amount of time has been taken for each. The “notes” section at the bottom of the document is rarely empty, even with the easiest of returns. This is a way of letting each person working on the return know if there were any issues or information missing and how to get a hold of such information. In the tax preparation field, writing down information is extremely important. The volume of returns each preparer completes in a week is so great it would be impossible to remember the status of each return and information about each client without physical documentation.
The progress sheet has great use of ethos. To review a return and suggest corrections, one must have good reasoning. If there is truly a mistake, the individual will record the mistake in the notes and give it back to the preparer to fix. This means that there must be a claim, grounds, warrant, and backing for the correction, along with room for a rebuttal from the preparer (Introduction to Ethos, 2006). The document also has examples of logos. With the signing of the document by those who prepared or reviewed the return there must be a trust factor. The individual who corrected the return and found a mistake must have a credible background to rely on along with the trust of his audience (Logos, 2006).
The structure of the progress sheet is meant to be in a chronological order. Each return begins with the bill from last year and progresses through to completing the return and receiving the payment for the current year’s return. This structure makes the document easy to follow and instantly determine the status of any return. It is also very simple and easy to access quickly. An informational form is meant for quick access and comprehension and the progress sheet satisfies both requirements.
These characteristics of the document are important for situations that arise after the return as been prepared. When a preparer signs off that they have reviewed the return and it is acceptable in their opinion, they will be held to that opinion if problems arise with the Internal Revenue Service or clients and will have to provide supporting evidence to defend their claim. Many other firms have similar documents that help colleagues to understand what is happening with returns as well as assuring the quality of the work is sufficient to abide by the standards of GAAP.
After much research and analysis of both written and oral discourse in the accounting profession it is fair to say that the much overlooked informal lines of communication have an important role in the success of accountants. They are necessary in producing the formal documents that the public is familiar with in a way that is both legal and sufficient to withhold the high standards of practice accountants have. The use of online forums, in-house documents, the telephone, e-mail and fax communication all have very different purposes while still generating the same results.
As education has allowed students to learn the proper ways of formally communicating in the accounting field to produce proper documents, this research analyzed the practical application of discourse in the field that is not available through education. I believe the research that has been done proves informal communication is the basis that makes the profession as highly skilled and prestigious as it is.
Accountants World. Discussion Forums. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.accountantsworld.com
Bartholomae, David. (1986).”Inventing the University.” Journal of Basic Writing 5: 4-23.
Berkenkotter, Carol & Huckin, Thomas N. (1995). Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 25.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2004). Accountants and Auditors. Retrieved April 3, 2006, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos001.htm
Busek, Kent. (2006). Professional Interview Conducted April 3, 2006.
Dictionary.com. (2006). Accounting, Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.dictionary.com
Introduction to Ethos. (2006). Retrieved March 30, 2006 from Dale Sullivan’s web site: http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndsu/dasulliv/320/ethos.htm
Logos: Basic Helps for Practical Reasoning. (2006). Retrieved March 30, 2006 from Dale Sullivan’s web site: http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndsu/dasulliv/320/logos.htm
Porter, James E. (1992). Audience and Rhetoric. Prentice Hall, 144-145 Appendix II, Figure 2.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (2006) Accountancy. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accounting
Sample Progress Sheet