Outstanding Dissertation Award
The winner of the 1999
ABO Section Outstanding Dissertation Award is John A. Barrick,
currently an assistant professor at Northeastern University.
John's dissertation, entitled "The Effect of Experience on
Tax Professionals' Knowledge Structure and Performance in a
Research Task," was completed at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. Paul Shoemaker supervised the dissertation. Both
John and Paul will be honored with plaques at the ABO Section
Meeting at the American Accounting Association's Annual Meeting in
The 1999 ABO Outstanding
Dissertation Award Selection Committee was composed of: Richard W.
Houston, University of Alabama; Laureen A. Maines, Indiana
University; Brian C. Spilker, Brigham Young University, and Sandra
C. Vera-Muñoz (Chair), University of Notre Dame.
Congratulations from the Committee to both John and Paul for a job
1999 OUTSTANDING DISSERTATION
Effect of Experience on Tax Professionals'
Knowledge Structure and Performance in a Research Task
John A. Barrick, Ph.D., Northeastern University
Dissertation Chair: Paul Shoemaker, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Tax professionals, like
other accountants, work in an environment where both the content
and organization of knowledge are expected to affect performance.
While a positive relationship between tax professionals' knowledge
and performance has been identified, relatively little evidence
examining the organization of tax professionals' knowledge in
memory, or "knowledge structure," exists. This study
examines the effect of experience on tax research performance in
order to make some inferences about tax professionals' knowledge
The question is
important because in order to better understand and improve tax
research performance, research is needed that describes the
structure of tax professionals' technical knowledge and how
experience accumulated over time is associated with changes in the
organization of knowledge. While the extant literature suggests
that tax professionals' knowledge is structured topically, this
representation ignores the institutional feature of the Code.
Because professionals use the Code in searching for relevant
information, providing support for their decisions, and
communicating with other professionals, this study posits that
experience develops a more complete or better cross-referenced
knowledge structure that is also organized by Code section.
Forty-one graduate tax
students and 33 tax professionals from three "Big 5"
firms searched an Internet-based tax service to locate authority
relevant to a complex property transaction. The subjects were
partitioned according to experience and randomly assigned to one
of two search indices, topical or Code section, to access the tax
database. The between-subject information search manipulation was
designed to test whether using a search index that complements the
subjects' expected knowledge structure results in higher
performance than using a search index that creates a mismatch
between them. Subjects' ability and task-specific knowledge
content were measured to control for their effects on performance.
The results are
consistent with the hypothesized predictions and make several
contributions to the accounting literature. First, the results
indicate that knowledge structure, in addition to knowledge, is an
important determinant of tax information search performance.
Specifically, the results corroborate previous findings that
technical tax knowledge is initially structured topically, but
also indicate that experience develops or strengthens a Code
section structure as well. Second, while prior research reports
that ability indirectly affects only task performance where
learning is impoverished, this study is the first to document that
ability affects performance in tasks that offer opportunities for
information search or on-task learning. Finally, this is the first
accounting study to use Internet-based technology for data
collection. This technology allows future researchers the
opportunity to gain access to subjects where travel is difficult
or impossible and allows subjects to complete the experiment at
their convenience. The results have implications for the education
of new and continuing tax professionals as well as the
organization of the information search services used by these