Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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One, two or three experiments in one paper

Over my time as an accounting academic I have seen lots of trends in accounting research. Capital markets readers probably recognize the era of the “toy model”, where every capital markets paper had to feature some linear algebra! (Yep this actually occurred in the late 1990’s in partial response to the Feltham Ohlson work on accounting valuation models!)

In experimental research ( in the 1990’s when auditing was the main area of experimental research) we had a two experiment minimum that by the early 2000’s became one experiment with exactly the right subjects/participants to do the task. Experiments in the 1980’s tended to feature three or more experiments depending on whether you counted the 3a and 3b experiments as one or two!

Today we are in the era of an single experiment plus a mediation or moderation model often done using the Preacher and Haynes macro! But I am beginning to sense this era too is passing, that while models are still invited, we are slowly seeing the norm move back towards the multi- experiment paper. While this observation is still somewhat tentative, I think I am spotting a new trend.

But did you ever wonder WHY? Is it merely a matter of taste? Mimicking? Or I something deeper at work?

Writing a good paper introduction

Having just spent seven weeks on a grand trip to New Zealand and Australia, I have been privileged to read, or be consulted on, many young scholars’ manuscripts.

Today I want to address a common problem I observed that I call ” Guess the topic of my paper “!!! A senior colleague of mine, now nearly retired, suggests that every paper begins with “the thesis of my paper is . . . . “. This is a play on words that makes a point, one should not have to guess what the paper is about after the first paragraph.

Bill Kinney suggests that all positivist accounting research should be planned using variants of his three paragraph approach. The three paragraphs should address:

  • What is the problem or issue that I am attempting to address in this paper?
  • Why is it important that the problem is addressed? Or whom are you attempting to inform with the findings of your research into the problem? ( this makes ” gaps in literature” NOT a reason for writing a paper as a gap is not a person you are informing).
  • How are you addressing the problem? ( the methods you will employ and why they are appropriate)

Finally, when writing the results of a project up there is one more paragraph to add.

  • What did you find and how does it inform us about the problem or issue you intended to address?

At the end of the four to five page introduction, all of this should have been explicitly covered (and NOT much more or you are writing the paper in the introduction)!

The need for consistent editor engagement

As we expand our editor set ever wider to deal with manuscript volume and diversity, we as a community need to better understand the role of the manuscript editor. I will return to this topic from time to time but today I deal with one issue: editor engagement in the process.

First, the editor is not merely a scribe that summarizes the review comments. The editor must be engaged with the manuscript and the reviews. (This is problematic where private journals randomly assign papers to editors, but all association journals attempt to assign based on editor expertise).

The engagement on the first round, and likely others, should include

  • Careful reading of manuscript by the editor PRIOR to reading the detailed reviews. In earlier days I would recommend prior to reading reviewer recommendation but Editorial management software makes that nearly impossible to do.
  • Editor reading of reviews with care in light of reading manuscript.
  • Editor consideration if there is a potential path that could lead to publication. If not, and if giving a revise a resubmit on the first round, ensure you convey the speculative nature of the revision (I.e. outcome risk remains as high as an initial submission).
  • Finally, write a decision letter that reflects what needs to be done that lays out potential choices for authors in light of the editor’s and the reviewers analysis.

Second, and above all, remember – the editor is not merely a scribe for the reviewers but an active participant in the process. For those being asked to be editors, ensure you are comfortable with this engagement, at least in principle, before agreeing to such a role! For if you are not comfortable, then you as an editor, the reviewers you enlist and most of all the authors will suffer excessively during what is already a rigorous process!!!

Another crafty class

Finished my version of the craft of accounting at UNSW late last week! Great set of junior faculty and HDR’s (I.e. PHD students)!

The “skipping meals” test of devotion and passion to research gave many of them food for thought! That test is are you so engrossed in your research work that you skip meals without realizing it! Then you are passionate about your research topic.

Just to show that old dogs can learn old tricks, this week I had that experience with a much younger co-author. We were so engrossed in planning our research that lunch moved well into afternoon coffee break time before we realized it!

That’s the passion that most readers of this blog live for.

From Sydney, G’day mate!

Still “crafty” after all these years

Back in the dying days of the 1990’s two things happened at roughly the same time, I started teaching the craft of accounting research with Professor Dan Simunic (soon to be joined by Professor Gordon Richardson) while at the same time learning about knowledge management including the differences between tacit and explicit knowledge. I quickly made the link between the two!

Explicit knowledge is what we learn in stats and methods classes as well as surveys of research in any domain. Tacit knowledge is what we try to develop in students as we teach them to critically evaluate research and help them make the first steps in original research. However most formal doctoral classes are more about explicit than tacit knowledge!

That is where the “Craft of Accounting” workshop comes in. It focuses on conveying tacit knowledge about the research discipline of accounting. We attempt to shed light on embedded practices and knowledge that one needs to learn to be a successful researcher but is hard to (and hardly ever) taught in the classroom. As the knowledge is by it very nature difficult to codify and transmit in writing it requires face time with an open mind!

Congrats to the University of Queensland doctoral students and junior faculty who participated in this year’s version of Steve’s Development of the Crafty Accounting Researcher!

Teaching positivistic field research

Last week I finished a teaching gig that focused on teaching about field research through a positivist lens! Further, it was challenging to do so at one of the top critical/interpretive/social constructionists shops in the world – Sydney University!

But the appeal of the field was small but mighty. An experimental researcher, several markets researchers, and a couple of interpretive researchers showed up for six hours of classes during the busy last week of term! While six hours can only scratch the surface of a method, it can provide pointers to relevant material for self study!

Congrats to my Sydney U students who join my University of Florida students from my last sabbatical as “graduates” of An Introduction to Positivistic Field Research in Accounting and Auditing!

Researchers and/or as administrators

As I wander around Australia and New Zealand I ponder why mid- to top- rank researchers often go into administration. Yes, there are notable exceptions, but it seems all too often we see the best researchers take on Department Chair/Head, Associate Dean, and indeed higher level positions like a Dean, vice-Provosts or deputy/vice chancellors as they call them down under.

Is it their being tired of trying to stay on the cutting edge of research? Is it their desire to build to try to build something lasting? Is it being tired of less talented people evaluating their work especially in these days of increasing performance metrification? Maybe it is the perceived returns to research, which are usually intrinsic not extrinsic, that change in value as one matures?

Whatever the reason, it happens it seems to most of us!

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