To read this content please select one of the options below:

A theoretical framework of external accounting communication: Research perspectives, traditions, and theories

Doris M. Merkl-Davies (Bangor Business School, Bangor University, Bangor, UK)
Niamh M. Brennan (College of Business, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 20 February 2017




The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretical framework of external accounting communication in the form of a typology based on perspectives, traditions, and theories from the discipline of communication studies. The focus is accounting communication with external audiences via public written documents outside the audited financial statements, i.e., annual reports, press releases, CSR reports, websites, conference calls, etc.


The theoretical framework is based on two broad research perspectives on accounting communication: (A) a functionalist-behavioural transmission perspective and (B) a symbolic-interpretive narrative perspective. Eight traditions of communication research are introduced which provide alternative ways of conceptualising accounting communication, namely (1) mathematical tradition, (2) socio-psychological tradition, (3) cybernetic/systems-oriented tradition, (4) semiotic tradition, (5) rhetorical tradition, (6) phenomenological tradition, (7) socio-cultural tradition, and (8) critical tradition. Exemplars of each tradition from prior accounting research, to the extent they have been adopted, are discussed. Finally, a typology is developed, which serves as a heuristic device for viewing similarities and differences between research traditions.


Prior accounting studies predominantly focus on the role of discretionary disclosures in accounting communication in the functioning of the relationship between organisations and their audiences. Research is predominantly located in the mathematical, the socio-psychological, and the cybernetic/systems-oriented tradition. Accounting communication is primarily viewed as the transmission of messages about financial, environmental, and social information to external audiences. Prior research is mainly concerned with the communicator (e.g. CEO personality) and the message (e.g. intentions and effects of accounting communication). Research from alternative traditions is encouraged, which explores how organisations and their audiences engage in a dialogue and interactively create, sustain, and manage meaning concerning accounting and accountability issues.


The paper identifies, organises, and synthesises research perspectives, traditions, and associated theories from the communication studies literature in the form of a typology. The paper concludes with an extensive agenda for future research on accounting communication.



Merkl-Davies, D.M. and Brennan, N.M. (2017), "A theoretical framework of external accounting communication: Research perspectives, traditions, and theories", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 433-469.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles