Research Summary 5: Auditors’ Multidimensional Knowledge Structure and Computer Performance.

An investigation of how EDP auditors’ thought processes affect their work.

esearch has explored the ways in which auditors perform internal control reviews and the skills necessary for expert performance. The auditor’s “knowledge structure”—the way accounting and auditing knowledge is organized in the auditor’s mind—is thought to affect performance through its role in recall. Is it easier, for example, to recall relevant control procedures by thinking about control objectives or by thinking about transaction flows? The current study evaluated whether a control-objective or transaction-flow knowledge structure led to higher performance in the review of internal controls by EDP auditors. EDP auditors, using control reviews and computerized auditing systems, are responsible for evaluating the integrity of data processed by computers. They support financial auditors, who have primary responsibility for the audit of financial statements.

In the current study, researchers found that EDP auditors’ knowledge structure of transaction flows and control objectives was positively associated with their performance in evaluating internal control weaknesses and potential financial statement errors. Experienced EDP auditors tended to use transaction flow as the dominant knowledge structure; in contrast, prior studies had found financial auditors employed control objectives as their dominant knowledge structure. Thus, despite common training programs and audit decision tools, it appears EDP auditors’ strategic outlook diverges from that of financial auditors.

The researchers also found an EDP auditor’s educational background could influence the strength of knowledge structures: EDP auditors with more traditional accounting education exhibited enhanced control-objective structure while auditors with greater computer training showed enhanced transaction flow structure. This finding suggests that, again, despite common training, an EDP auditor’s educational background and experience have a continuous effect on his or her job focus. The findings also highlighted the importance of having firms include both internal control objectives and transaction flows (such as checklists) in auditor training materials.

For the full text, see Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory, Fall 2000, vol. 19, no. 2..

RMARY B. CURTIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. Her e-mail address is . RALPH E. VIATOR, PhD, is associate professor at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. His e-mail address is .  

This series, which began in the September 2000 issue of the JofA, is based on work published in Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory. The intent is to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners by offering concise practice summaries of cutting-edge research in the field of auditing.


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