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 (1989) study as well as two other examples (Bruns and McKinnon 1993; 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.

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