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/ Topics in Advanced Communication in Accounting
MCOM-GB.6205 – Sample Syllabus


Office and Mailing Address:Office Hours: by appointment

Management Communication Program

KMC 3-100



Required materials

1. Selected readings, Writing for Accountants by Jeremiah Sullivan (to be distributed in class.)

2. A Plain English Handbook by the Office of Investor Education and Assistance, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (available free online at:

Course overview

Effective communication is now seen as an essential aspect of employability in any business setting. But in recent years, the specific communication tasks that new CPA accountants encounter early in their careers have become much more demanding. Young recruits can no longer remain in back-office cubicles crunching numbers. They must now be prepared to join with more senior members of a firm and interact with clients as well as take responsibility for important documents that will circulate internally or go out to clients.

The activities and assignments in this new course will help staff-level accountants improve their ability to write industry-specific documents, compose effective messages to clients, develop the interpersonal skills to successfully participate in client interviews, probe and listen to obtain requisite information, and importantly, to engage comfortably and appropriately in all client interactions. The course has been developed with the help of Ernst & Young LLP.

Reading assignments will be based entirely on materials distributed in class or posted to Blackboard “Course Documents.” PowerPoint lectures, class videos, and any handouts that are available in electronic form will also be posted to our dedicated Blackboard site. You will be directed to post some assignments to specific Blackboard locations; in addition, sometimes paper versions are needed for in-class work, so you may be asked to bring “hard copy” to class.

Learning objectives:

By the end of this course, students will understand how staff accountants:

  • Obtain information from clients in an timely, efficient and effective way
  • Engage clients in interpersonal modes, using interview formats and techniques
  • Prepare, analyze, and review documents that will serve organizational goals and activities.
  • Present complex accounting information in formal settings


Grading is based on points awarded for written assignments, both individual and team performance on the final oral presentation, teamwork, and class participation. Improvement is relevant in determining final grades, and is factored in by having later assignments worth more points. A detailed description of assignments with grading criteria will be distributed at the first class session.

You can accumulate up to 100 points in this course. The higher the number of points, the higher the course grade will be. The exact break points for A, B, C, etc. will be determined at the end of the course. For example, if the highest point total accumulated by any student is 95, then a 95 is an A and the ranges for each grade level will be set from there. Don’t forget that participation and attendance are part of the point system.

Participation guidelines

Participation is a key factor in this course. Regular attendance, thorough preparation for class discussions, on-time arrival in class, and timely submission of all assignments will be factored into your participation grade. The class involves many in-class workshop activities that can’t be made up. Participating in your team is also required, and poor team participation will result in lower grades. Late assignments, lack of preparation for class discussion or presentations, or any unexcused absence during the 5-session sequence of classes will result in a lower grade (family emergencies and illness requiring a doctor’s care are considered acceptable excuses). As in any professional situation, explain any absence to your instructor in advance or as quickly as possible.

Document assignment guidelines:

How your documents are prepared and delivered is very important. Follow these guidelines explicitly:

  1. All written assignments (memos, reports, emails, etc.) must be in the designated format for each assignment.
  2. Documents will be “turned in” by posting to Blackboard. Some documents will also be submitted in print form in class.
  3. All document assignments must be in a font size of at least 12 points with margins of at least 1 inch.
  4. Business documents assigned for this course should follow business style (single-spaced, no indented paragraphs, double-spacing only between paragraphs, etc.) rather than standard academic style (double spaced with indented paragraphs.)
  5. If you submit an assignment on Blackboard, always include your name and your team’s name and number, when appropriate, as part of the filename! Name your document with your last name first—like this: “Seinfeld Document.”
  6. No hand-written documents will be accepted.

Written assignments will be returned as promptly as possible, with comment sheets attached.

Course Assignments and Maximum Point Values

Assignment / Due / Points
  1. Pre-class Information Sheet with memorandum

Midnight Friday, May 20, posted in BB “Assignments”

/ 5
  1. Prepared Agenda and Questions for “Walkthrough” Client Interview (team)
/ May 31 before class, posted to BB in “Assignments” / 15
  1. Completed EY Template Summarizing “Walk-Through” Interview Findings (individual)
/ Midnight June 4, posted to BB in “Assignments” / 20
  1. Final Team Presentation (individual)
/ In class June 5 / 15
  1. Final Team Presentation (team)
/ In class June 5 / 20
6. Class participation (attendance, on-time submission of assignments, class discussion, teamwork) / N/A / 25
/ 100

Stern Honor Code

This course adheres to all of the tenets of the Stern Honor Code, which may be referenced on the Stern website.

Getting help

Your team may be a major resource for help—and, of course, you will also be able to get help from your instructor in person, by email or via Blackboard; and from a variety of NYU and internet sources. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Class-by-class Overview

Class # / Date / Activities / Assignments Due
Due in Bb “Assignments” at midnight on May 20, 2011 / WRITE: Assignment #1: Student Information Sheet with Memo
1. / Tuesday / Focus #1: Introduction to the course:
Why are high-level communication skills important for first-year CPA accountants?
Focus #2: How do accountants communicate? Choosing channels of communication: inter-active exercise and discussion
  • Common forms or channels of communication used in corporate settings
  • Oral Communication: channels and challenges when you work with clients
  • Internal and external communications

Focus #3: Student Introductions
Share with the class a little about your personal background and where you will be working after graduation
Focus #4:Communication Touch-point: The “ASAP” Exercise
Simulation and discussion of a prototypical accounting task involving client services
Focus #5: Overview of Final Team Project
2. / Thursday / Focus #1:The real-life experiences of a new staff accountant
What did you learn on the job about communication? / READ: Chapters 6 and 8,
Writing for Accountants
PREPARE:to submit your company choice for the Final Team Presentation
Focus #2: Common forms of written communications in the Accounting field—an overview
Discussion of writing style and the language of accounting
Focus #3: Email do’s and don’ts for accountants—best practices for writing to external audiences
Focus #4:The “nudge” email—in-class writing exercise
Focus #5: Preparation for next class—Interpersonal Communication/readiness for the Walkthrough in Session 4.
Class # / Date / Activities / Assignments Due
3. / Tuesday / Focus #1: Getting ready for the Walkthrough—Interview
Preparation. Discussion of the sales process case; preparing questions for your client. / READ:
Chapters 15 and 16,
Writing for Accountants;
EY documents PM 2.1 – 2.8, locatedin “Walkthrough Documents” folder in BB
Focus #2: Interpersonal Communication in the Accounting field—listening to and interacting with clients
Focus #3: In-class exercises—practicing listening and probing
Focus #4:Discussion and preparation for Final Team Presentation with Q&A
4. / Thursday / Focus #1: The Walkthrough
Everyone will first meet in the main classroom for last-minute instructions.
For this exercise, we will divide the class into two groups of—let’s call them Group A and Group B. Two “rounds” of interviews will take place in a breakout room (location TBA). Each Group will consist of smaller interview teams of 3 or 4. Students will serve as auditors; four professionals from Ernst & Young will role-play the client Sales clerks or Accounting clerks. All will be familiar with the Walkthrough scenario as well as the case.
Each small group will interview an Accounting clerks and a Sales clerk—role-played by visiting professionals from Ernst & Young. Groups that are not conducting interviewswill remain in the main classroom and use the time to prepare for the Final Presentation or begin to work on their Walkthrough Template for Assignment #3.
After conducting two interviews in the breakout room, those groups that have not yet performed interviews will go to the interview room and those that have completed interviews will return to the main classroom. A precise schedule will be distributed with exact timings and locations.
Finally, after a break, the entire class will debrief the exercise in the main classroom with the E&Y representatives and instructor. / WRITE:
Assignment #2: Prepared Agenda and Questions forWalkthrough Client Interview Exercise. Post to BB “Assignments” before class begins.
Assignment #3: EY Template Summarizing Walkthrough Interview Findings (individual).
Post to BB “Assignments” by midnight.
Focus #2:Final preparations for Sunday’s class
Class # / Date / Activities / Assignments Due
5. / Sunday,
Morning / 9:00 – 9:15 AM:Meet in your main classroom for instructions
9:15 - 10:45 AM:Teams prepare and rehearse for the Final Presentations. Breakout rooms will be available
10:45 – 11:00 AM: Break
11:00 AM – 12:15 PM: First round of presentations (2 teams X 30 min.)
12:15 – 1:15 PM: Lunch / PREPARE: Final Team Presentation
6. / Sunday,
Afternoon / 1:15 – 2:45 PM: Last round of presentations (3 teams X 30 min.)
2:45 – 3:00 PM: Break
3:00 – 4:00 PM: De-brief of the presentations and course summary


Assignment #1: Pre-course Information Sheet with Memo (Individual)


To enable students to analyze personal communication strengths and weaknesses as well as set specific, personal objectives for the course.


Fill out the Student Information Sheet and save it as a Word file. On the sheet, you are asked to include a short “memo” to me describing:

  1. Your personal strengths and weaknesses as a communicatorin a professional environment
  2. Describe onepersonal communication challenge you faced during your internship. Include specific details about your role, the situation and other people involved, and how you handled it. Be as thoughtful and candid as possible.


Upload your completed Student information Sheet file to Blackboard “Assignments.” You will find a link in the assignment itself that will allow you to upload directly to BB. Be sure to click “Submit” after you attach your file.

Due: Post to Blackboard “Assignments” by midnight


Assignment #2: Prepared Questions for the Walkthrough Client Interview (Team)

To prepare for the Walkthrough Client Interview Exercise in Session #4. All team members will use the same questions for the exercise, even though not all members will be in the same room for the actual interview.

Task and Deliverable

Read over the Walkthrough Client Interview Case supplied by Ernst & Young and posted in Blackboard Course Documents.

In your team, outline the questions that you will need to ask of your client in the interview. Think of your audience as your manager. She has asked you to compile a list of questions for her review before the client interface.

While the format of this document is not important, as it will be for your use only, your manager wants your team to be fully prepared BEFORE the interview takes place. You may want to group questions under specific, relevant headings for example, to ensure readability and assist you in making the interview as efficient and productive as possible.

Due: Post to Blackboard “Assignments” before class begins


Assignment #3: Completed EY Template Summarizing “Walk-Through” Interview Findings (Individual)


This is a very important document that staff accountants frequently write. It serves as a permanent written record of a client interaction and in this capacity, records information that will be used in the subsequent audit. Consequently, this will be the most important written assignment completed during the course.

Task and Deliverable

Complete the template summarizing the information you received in the Walkthrough Client Interview Exercise. This document will demonstrate your mastery of effective writing in the Accounting profession.

Grading criteria:Demonstrated audience understanding; content completeness; logical flow/organization; document design; concision; style and tone; correctness; and timely submission.

Due: Post to Blackboard “Assignments”

Assignments #4 and 5: Team Presentation

Project Overview: Working in teams, you will choose a company to serve as your “client” and submit your choice by Class #2. Then, you will design a 15-minute presentation for your client audiencebased on the results of your “audit.” Each team will choose from a list of topics and scenarios.

There will be two aspects to the Final Team Presentation;

1)At the end of any audit engagement the auditors are required to provide those charged with governance with the required communications about the results of the audit. You will be given a scenario and you will be required to present the required information to management. The scenario may involve delivering a difficult message and you will need to be prepared to clearly communicate the issue and why the resolution you recommend is necessary.

2)The team will also be required to research a new or emerging accounting topic and communicate the issues and implications to management.

Audience for your presentation: Since this class intends to prepare you for communicating in a professional environment, you will present to management of your client firm—many of whom may not be well versed in the technical language of accounting. It is very important that young staff accountants acquire the ability to explain complex information to such an audience.

The presentation will be interactive and require the team to be prepared to answer up to 15 minutes of questions—both during and following the presentation.


Accounting Communications