Cross-Sectional Field Studies in Management Accounting Research - Closing the Gaps between Surveys and Case Studies

39 Pages Posted: 12 May 2005

See all articles by Anne M. Lillis

Anne M. Lillis

University of Melbourne

Julia Mundy

University of Greenwich


While empirical researchers in management accounting frequently address overlapping research issues using a variety of methods, there is little evidence of productive dialogue addressing the uncertainties and ambiguities raised within each stream of research. For example, survey researchers frequently call for deeper field-based insights into conflicting or ambiguous findings. Case study researchers convey rich organizational stories of management accounting in context. However, these field-based findings are rarely used to resolve the ambiguity in construct definition, measurement and inter-relationships that plague our empirical research bases. In this paper we seek to regenerate interest in a method that has been implemented in the past to promote productive field-based dialogue on issues related to complex constructs and their interrelationships. The method is best illustrated by the cross-sectional field study approach adopted by Merchant and Manzoni (1989) to study budget target achievability. By considering the Merchant and Manzoni study as well as two other examples (Bruns and McKinnon (1993) and Abernethy and Lillis (1995)) we identify the range of questions suited to this method and how the method contributes significant insights to the management accounting literature. We also articulate the design attributes of cross-sectional field studies by explicitly linking the rationale for these studies with the complexity of the phenomenon under study, sampling logic, instrument design and data analysis protocols. The insights produced from the relatively few published studies using a cross-sectional field study method suggest that opportunities for the application of this method may be underexploited.

Keywords: field studies, qualitative analysis, research methods

JEL Classification: M40, M46

Suggested Citation

Lillis, Anne and Mundy, Julia, Cross-Sectional Field Studies in Management Accounting Research - Closing the Gaps between Surveys and Case Studies. Available at SSRN:

Anne Lillis (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne ( email )

Parkville, Victoria 3010

Julia Mundy

University of Greenwich ( email )

30 Park Row
London, SE10 9LS
United Kingdom

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