Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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The day before the deluge

Setting here in hot and muggy Washington DC after doing my first event of the AAA.  The joint journal editors/publications committee meeting.   One of the key messages is that there is a strong likelihood of a major disruptive event in academic publishing over the next X years, where X is a small number greater than 6 months and less than 60 months.  I think most editors in the room were oblivious to this trend or the potential importance of it to academic publishing. But then again, as the old saying goes “it is hard to remember the objective was to empty the swamp when you have alligators biting your butt!”  I will let you make the analogy.

What would this event be? It will be likely to be around the integration of data sets, analysis code, video technology and a change in the publishing platform of record – the traditional PDF file towards a technology that easily integrates these other aspects.  Hearing this I am glad that my current research team is working on a video version of our latest research – on audit research knowledge transfer to standard setters.  I thought it would be a good means to communicate our message to the standard setting community but it may indeed become part of the version of record of our final article if these trends move as fast as expected.  Hope to unveil the video by mid-September!!!

At the American Accounting Association

In one of my rare visits to Trump’s America, I will be attending the AAA meeting in Washington next week. I look forward to seeing the ABO executive in person at their meeting on Monday morning, meeting with editors, editorial board members, and authors/potential authors!!

I will be speaking at the panel on field research on Monday morning right after the plenary. My doctoral student, Yi Luo and I, have a paper on the program and she will be presenting it.

I also will be attending the Senior Editors meeting with the AAA Publications Committee. There are lots of issues to discuss but in typical AAA style it appears that the communication will all be one way. Not only has there been no agenda announced, there has been no call for input on issues that the editors might like to discuss.

So if you see me say hello! If you want to chat longer and you know so in advance email me to fix a time!

An unbalanced GMARS – year 2

No I am not talking about the state of mind of the organizers, albeit with the amount of work they have to put into this every third year (just long enough to forget the details from the last time they hosted it) they may well feel that way at the time!  No what I am talking about it the virtual absence of archival management accounting research at the conference.

If my memory serves me correctly, a few years ago the unbalancing was on the side of field research – where it was relatively rare to have more than one or two sessions of field work.  In the last two GMARS the absence of archival management accounting research has been striking – not even enough papers for one full session.

On the plus side, GMARS is a beacon for diversity in management accounting research with experimental economics, psychology experiments, survey research, and all flavours of field research (positivist and interpretivists with the odd critical paper). Nonetheless, just as a few years ago when I saw the lack of field work a drawback, I am now seeing the lack of archival based economics work as a constraint to the success of what I think of as the best management accounting conference in the world.

(As an aside to a certain Texan, note that my defense of diversity is not based on my preferred methods being better represented but rather on the basis of what is needed to allow for an excellent exchange of ideas across research approaches.)

Order and accounting writing

Back in the day when there were lots of experimental economics papers in accounting – an unfortunately dying breed of papers it seems – there was an interesting order of presentation of the experiments.

Motivation or grand issue – description of the experimental setting and what the various features represented – a theory section that made both point predictions (that rarely worked) and directional predictions (that often worked – at least in published papers) – results – supplemental results and conclusions.

I think that most good interpretive work would do well to follow this approach, especially when grand concerns lead the researcher into the field, not specific theorizing ex ante.  My suggested ordering:

The global concerns and what motivates that concern – a description of the case or field setting (rich enough so that nothing new needs to be added later in the paper – just more depth) – a section introducing the theory that will allow the case setting to be analyzed/interpreted – a description of the research methods if not done in the descriptive section –  an analytical section where theory is used as an interpretive lens and a discussion section that draws us back to the global concern that motivated the work.

I think too many interpretive researchers are falling into the trap of writing as if they were positivists – concern, theory, methods, case, analytical and discussion.  It makes no sense to have an up front theory section in a paper where the theory followed the emprics.  Nothing wrong with that if theory did guide the emprics – but that is relatively rare or so I am told by my interpretivists’ friends (which may decline in number after they read this analogy).

Retrofitting theory in qualitative research

In qualitative research the goal of going into the field is often to gain a deeper understanding of what actors and systems in the field actually do and mean through the eyes of the actors.  Sometimes one enters the field with a well developed theory in mind, some times one has multiple potential theories at ready and the third results in a theory being developed on the basis of field observations (a neo-grounded theory approach).

I worry about research that is then written up as if the theory was present all along.  Only in the first case is that approach appropriate.  Otherwise one is engaging in writing creative fiction.  Editors and reviewers who insist that the paper must be written with the theory being presented as if it guided the research is intellectually dishonest.  However, an author does not have to “die on this hill” but ensure that the discerning reader understands how the theoretical perspective was born in the research process.

“it’s in the paper” is not an answer

Again in my trip to Europe I noticed a lot of younger scholars answering questions with “it’s in the paper.”  I was not clear whether it was a language barrier of not understanding the question, not being able to formulate an answer to an unexpected question on the fly (due to language or other barriers) or not understanding the purpose of a conference presentation and a Q&A.

Let me be clear, “it is in the paper” is NOT an appropriate answer to any question.  The response should be either to seek further understanding of the question if it is not clear or understood OR a brief explanation/answer with the invitation to find further details in the paper and/or ask the participant to ask a followup question to narrow down the focus of the question further.

 

Losing your voice as a young researcher

I have been surprised in my time in Europe at the prevalence of young authors ceding almost complete control of their papers to reviewers and editors.  I have lost track of the number of times that questions about choices made in the paper were justified solely from the point of view “the reviewers/editor made me do it.” Period – nothing more about what the author learned from what the reviewer or editor said; nothing more about whether their view changed (indeed it often seemed the opposite – they still held their original view); just slavish acceptance and an instrumental response to making the change.

The future of academic research in accounting is highly threatened by letting reviewers and editors write your papers.  The only thing you have as a young scholar is your “voice” and if you are prepared to sell your “voice” for the sake of a easy route to publication, the long term prognosis for your research, your self-esteem and your ability to bring an independent view of the world is decreased substantially.

That is not to say that you ignore the reviewers and editors. Rather, you critically evaluate their suggestions, and where they are helpful, adopt them; where they require added explanation, explain it; and where they are not acceptable, explain why.  Often, given thoughtful analysis, a much stronger paper will emerge from a thoughtful integration of the reviewers ideas with yours as the author.

So it may be faster and easier route to short term publication in the end if you lose your “voice” you have almost lost your “soul”. The short term success will lead to long term pain –  you become like the salesman in “Death of A Salesman”.

mRe

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