Accounting research examines how accounting is used by individuals, organizations and government as well as the consequences that these practices have. Starting from the assumption that accounting both measures and makes visible certain economic events, accounting research has studied the roles of accounting in organizations and society and the consequences that these practices have for individuals, organizations, governments and capital markets. It encompasses a broad range of topics including financial accounting research, management accounting research, auditing research, capital market research, accountability research, social responsibility research and taxation research.
Academic accounting research "addresses all aspects of the accounting profession" using the scientific method, while research by practicing accountants focuses on solving problems for a client or group of clients. Academic accounting research can make significant contribution to accounting practice, although changes in accounting education and the accounting academia in recent decades have led to a divide between academia and practice in accounting.
Accounting research is carried out both by academic researchers and by practicing accountants. Academic accounting research addresses all areas of the accounting profession, and examines issues using the scientific method; it uses evidence from a wide variety of sources, including financial information, experiments, computer simulations, interviews, surveys, historical records, and ethnography.
Research by practicing accountants "focuses on solving immediate problems for a single client or small group of clients" and involve, for example, decision-making on the implementation of new accounting or auditing standards, the presentation of unusual transactions in the financial statements, and the impact of new tax laws on clients.
Accounting research is also carried out by accounting organizations such as standard-setting bodies. For example, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) may initiate research projects for certain issues, the results of these may inform its decision whether to move the issues to its active agenda.
Accounting research has undergone significant changes in the past decades. In the 1950s, an accounting academia was established that adopted the requirements of social science academia, such as PhD qualifications and research papers. The mid-1970s saw a shift from the dominance of normative research to:
- positive research "that uses methods from finance [and] economics",
- behavioral research drawing on psychology,
- interdisciplinary research that has adapted methods from a wide variety of social sciences,
- public interest accounting research that examines the public interest consequences of different accounting practices, and
- critical research using Marxian and other critical theory perspectives.