April 2002

How Writing Across the Curriculum Can Be Incorporated into Accounting Programs

By Eric Rothenburg

Accounting has attracted many bright, energetic individuals well versed in accounting, taxation, and even technology. However, many employers have noticed that many accountants lack basic verbal skills, in particular writing skills. The writing skills of many accountants are quite deficient. The accounting field has never really seriously addressed this issue. A possible solution could be "writing across the curriculum." While this concept has been around for 20 years, it remains quite relevant today.

Traditionally, a college accounting student would take two semesters of English writing in her freshman year. After that, the student's exposure to writing essays in other course work would be quite limited.

Most accounting courses do not emphasize writing skills. Upon graduation, a successful accounting major might not have the writing skills required by an employer (either in public or private accounting). It could be extremely difficult for a new graduate to draft a letter to a vendor, let alone a government agency, regarding a tax or accounting issue.

Writing across the curriculum may solve this problem. The college or university would incorporate writing throughout all disciplines and not hold only the English department accountable for a student's writing. Papers would be assigned in each subject area and exams would use essay questions. As we have peer review for public accounting entities, students could exchange their writing assignments among themselves. Another alternative could be for students to keep a log. Term papers might be turned in piecemeal so that a student's writing could be assessed, modified, and improved on an interim basis, rather than waiting for feedback at the end of the semester.

Although traditionally the student writes to the professor, in the workplace the accountant writes to different audiences: a particular company, a past-due account receivable, a stockholder. Students would benefit greatly from learning how to vary the audience of their writing. Accounting programs should start examining how we can incorporate writing across the curriculum into our programs. Educators should send accounting graduates into industry knowing that they possess not only the traditional accounting skills, but also the necessary communication skills.

Eric Rothenburg, CPA, is an assistant professor of business at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York. Much of the information in this article was given in a "Writing Across the Curriculum" seminar held at Kingsborough Community College in June 2001.

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