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Reviewer:Duncan Williamson
Publisher:Pearson Education
Topic:Fin Accounting
Publication Date:01/11/03
Review Date:01/05/05

Accounting for non accounting students - 6th ed

by - John Dyson

Publisher - Pearson Education: Harlow, UK - March 2003

ISBN: 0 273 6838 53

For more details see the Prentice Hall/Pearson Education website

Interested in buying a copy? Visit the website.


Given the number of editions this book has now gone through we have a right to expect that this book is technically competent but also readable and well structured, and so it is! The materials Dyson presents are exactly what one would expect of a text of this level aimed at the market at which it is aimed - the full course undergraduate market where an introduction to financial accounting, corporate reporting and management accounting are required. The discussions and illustrations are sound, and link the book with the web site, and a good teacher, and it would be difficult for that diligent student not to get to grips with the contents of this book.

The fact this text is in its 6th edition plays clear testament to the value of Dyson's approach, however, there are still a number of areas some users may find his explanation not how they would prefer to present the material and some small areas where over generalisations are made that may be confusing to, or even could mislead, novice readers.

In summary, however, this is a very worthy book for use by students who need a grounding in the different aspects of accounting but who are never going to be specialist accountants themselves.

Layout: The book is split into four sections:

  1. Introduction to accounting

  2. Financial accounting

  3. Financial reporting

  4. Management accounting

This layout is sensible, logical and they are the topics that one would readily associate with a general introduction to accounting for the market at which this book is aimed. The separation of financial accounting function from the reporting outcome is particularly welcome ? and an important distinction for non-specialists who are more likely to need only a passing familiarity with the former but much more confidence in dealing with the latter. In many other texts these are merged - often to the point of seamlessness ? I prefer this way.

Chapter structure: Dyson has structured his chapters along what have become familiar lines for basic textbooks in this area - including learning objectives, development of the material, conclusions and end of chapter tutorial questions; but he has added a number of features that are innovative and are worth a special mention. Each chapter contains the basic materials and then these:

  • A news story related to the material in the chapter

  • Explanation of why this chapter is important for non accountants

  • Questions non accountants should ask about the chapters' contents

  • A news story quiz

  • Web links related to the chapter

News story and news story quiz: At the beginning of each chapter there is short news article from a newspaper or magazine aimed at the contents of the current chapter: these articles are by way of a warmer or opener setting the context for the material by grounding it in business reality, not just theory. At the end of the chapter there are questions relating to the article: in the case of chapter 9, for example, the article is taken from the CA Magazine and concerns new rules for UK accountancy. The article discusses whether an auditor should offer their clients services in addition to auditing: accounting, IT, management consultancy. The news quiz questions at the end of chapter 9 are good questions in that they ask the reader to consider whether parliament should lay down detailed legislation for the preparation of accounting statements; whether the reader agrees with the idea of a 'single regulator to govern accounting standards'.

This isn't, however, done quite as well in all chapters. For example, the news quiz questions at the end of chapter 16, indirect costs, are similarly useful but they don't entirely connect with the article on which they are ostensibly based.

One issue with this approach is that the articles included in the book are short and that the questions can often be asked and answered without having read them! The other problem is that the articles and questions are removed from each other: there is a chapter between them. I am not convinced that every reader will read the article and keep it in mind as they read the chapter that follows.

I do like Dyson's approach in general, though: I am a big supporter of linking the real world with the academic world; and especially so when the topic is meant to be technical but being presented in a non technical way. This approach works on the whole in achieving this although it would be interesting to hear if adopters of the book find their students use the quiz elements at all.

As far as the two sub sections Why this chapter is important for non accountants and Questions non accountants should ask are concerned, I wasn't especially convinced that the importance section worked. Dyson could perhaps just as easily have covered those aspects in general at the beginning of the book rather than by dragging it all out on a chapter by chapter basis. Perhaps the constant reaffirming of relevance is what the author is trying to achieve here?

The questions non accountants should ask, though, are very useful. I'll illustrate this with a couple of examples:

From chapter 12, interpretation of accounts

How reliable is the basic accounting information underpinning this report?

Have consistent accounting policies been adopted throughout the period covered


Were there any unusual items in any year that may have distorted a comparative analysis?


From chapter 8, cash flow statements

Why has there been an increase or decrease in cash during the period?

What are the main items that have caused it?

Did we anticipate them happening?

What caused them?

What did we do about any likely problems?


There is a lot of 'food for thought' in these questions and that is really useful for focusing the minds of the student users of the book on the practical application of the techniques and tools they are learning.

Cases: Dyson presents a series of case studies in the book for the reader to work through: three after section two, two after section three and three after section four. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for readers as to the 'solutions' to these cases and I have been unable to find any direct evidence on the book's website that such answers or guidelines exist. Such guidance would be useful feedback however for student users of these cases as well as acting as instructional pointers for teachers.

The accompanying web site, however, does have play a useful role in conjunction with the text as it contains a large glossary of accounting terms and it contains additional questions for readers ? with solutions available for lecturers.

The lack of availability of solutions and guidelines may concern anyone working alone with this book: they will have no one to turn to once they have attempted the cases and the additional questions that the web site contains. Perhaps some route for these users to access this material could be found?

Activities: There are a large number of good and well presented activities liberally sprinkled throughout the book. However, at the end of the solution to each activity is the invitation Attempt Example x.x above without looking at the answer! Putting that before the answer makes more sense! Maybe even separating answers onto different pages would help this - as is often the case in books where these are collected at the end of chapters or even of the book itself. Again, I prefer this, albeit more traditional, way as it helps encourage the self learner to do the exercises without sneaking a peek at the answers.

General Comments: Since this book is aimed at non accountants, Dyson has been able to strip out some of the more technical/specialist material - which is very welcome - but this does sometimes lead to generalisations that aren't necessarily helpful or may be misleading even, on occasions, for some readers. To illustrate with a couple of examples -

There is nothing to stop anyone in the United Kingdom calling himself - an accountant - Page 15

While this is technically true, the definition of an accountant has traditionally been someone who is a qualified member of one of the chartered accounting bodies and there is little evidence that there is systematic, or widespread misleading of the business community in this way in the UK as could perhaps be inferred from this comment.

Nevertheless it [the ASB's Statement of Principles] is a considerable landmark in the history of accounting. Page 39

Landmark of UK accounting history maybe, however, this a bit of an overstatement as written as the IASB's Framework document precedes the Statement by around 10 years, is more comprehensive and was the foundation on which the ASB Statement was based!

I am sure these do not cause major problems with the book however, and many novice readers will not spot these kinds of anomalies at this level of course.

Who can (really) use this book: this book is aimed at one semester or one year courses for, say, engineers or marketing specialists who need some financial knowledge. I can imagine DMS and early MBA students also finding the book very useful. I can even see a place for this book in the hands of A level accounting students. The one, two, three etc day finance for non financial manager's course is probably not the natural home for this book, however, although I can imagine recommending it to a delegate to such a course who says he would like a more detailed review of the materials he has just worked through at the fast pace these courses often are run at. Do note, though, the comment I made earlier about independent students and the problems they could face with this book.

The books that Dyson is in competition with. This is a popular section of the accounting market for UK authors - with a growing presence being noticeable from the best (mostly US based) imports too now. Dyson, however, is very well established in this market and no doubt has a loyal following who will want to use this newest edition of the book just as they have obviously widely used previous versions given the life of this text.

For those new to this area of teaching however, what else should you consider? Here are a couple of examples but I recommend you take a look at a range of books to try and find the one that best matches what elements of this domain you most want to emphasise, and also importantly, how you want to bring this material to your students. Dyson may be this text for many of you, for the reasons I have explained above, but other choices may include:

  • Atrill & McLaney series - for example Accounting: An Introduction - Prentice Hall, £34.99. This longstanding authoring partnership has produced a series of excellent texts. This particular text covers much of the same area as Dyson and would be a good comparison text for the same style of class I believe Dyson is best suited for. If you are looking to focus more on Financial Accounting however, for example, the authorship team have another new book - Financial Accounting for Decision makers - that may work better for you than Dyson. They also have a Management Accounting text (Management Accounting for Decision Makers) newly available if your emphasis is to be more in this area of accounting instead.

  • Leslie Chadwick's Essential Financial Accounting: For Managers FT Prentice Hall at £25.99 is partly a match for the financial aspects of Dyson's book but since it is aimed at managers and executives on short management courses, and then for undergraduate and postgraduate students needing a pre-course introduction. It may be the one for those of you looking more at the short course market which, as I discuss above, I don't think Dyson is that well suited to. Chadwick also has a similarly focused book on Management accounting.

  • A more specialist book in on the financial reporting area would be Interpreting Company Reports and Accounts - Pearson Education and £34.99. This book, authored in the newest edition by Geoffrey Holmes, Alan Sugden, Paul Gee, is one of the best in this market and is equally as well (if not even better) established as Dyson is in his more general introductory market.

Duncan Williamson Freelance author & lecturer

May 2005

bit10 ltd.