David J. O'Regan: The Auditor's Companion

The Auditor's Companion is the only comprehensive and up-to-date dictionary covering the concepts and language of auditing. Read on for a Q&A with the author about the importance of having a reference focused on auditing, rather than treating it as a subsection of accounting; and the process of updating this new edition.

Was there a specific moment when you realized something like The Auditor’s Companion was missing from the auditing world?

It was around the turn of the millennium that the notion of preparing a dictionary of auditing first occurred to me. Wiley & Sons published the first edition of my dictionary in 2004. Before that time, auditors consulted dictionaries of accounting, as though auditing were merely a subset of accounting. I felt that auditing had developed into a cluster of disciplines, some of which were totally independent of accounting, and it seemed to me self-evident that the subject of auditing warranted its own dictionary.

What was it like to reflect on the first edition of this book and rework it to become more comprehensive and relevant to the current times?

After the passage of two decades, the time for a second edition had arrived. The most obvious reason was the fast-moving nature of auditing’s disciplines, resulting in changes to the auditing lexicon—many new terms have appeared since the turn of the millennium, while others have declined in usage or even disappeared. But something else prompted me to reflect on the need for a second edition. Auditing has been challenged in the early twenty-first century on the grounds that it possesses no enduring essence. Rather, it has been described as a socially constructed activity that reflects evolving conditions, serving the power interests of certain sections of society, to the detriment of others. I found these arguments strong and convincing. But something troubled me: was auditing really only nothing more than a constantly shifting, arbitrary tool of social dynamics, or did it possess something more solid and enduring?

I gradually came to see that auditing is flanked on one side by its role as a relatively unstable, socially constructed phenomenon, and on the other by the enduring, timeless methodologies of logic. Its social dimensions are certainly invented rather than discovered. But its foundations in applied logic are discovered (or perhaps verified), rather than invented. This dual aspect of auditing opened my eyes to deeper aspects of its terminology, and I extensively rewrote the book for its second edition.

What was the process of trying to write with clarity about such ambiguous terms?

All dictionaries seek the clarification of terms and I found it fascinating, while writing the Companion, to consider how best to reduce ambiguity in defining the individual terms of auditing. Many terms lend themselves to what I consider to be straightforward lexical definitions, achieved by paraphrasing the meaning of the terms by using different words. In these cases the clarity of the definition can be assessed by an “interchange” test: if the definition can substitute the original term in typical usage without a loss of meaning, it is a reliable definition. But in many cases a simple lexical definition is unsuitable, typically because an “interchange” test might cover only one sense of a term that possesses several meanings. We see in Plato’s dialogues many examples of Socrates tying people in knots over trying to define ostensibly simple terms, and this reflects the challenges to comprehension arising from ambiguous terms. In cases like this, clarifying explanations (including the use of examples) are called for, and for this reason the Companion adopts conceptual analysis for many of its terms. The Companion therefore combines succinct lexical definitions with more extensive clarifying definitions. My aim in taking this dual approach was to provide the clearest overall possible definition of auditing terms. The reader will decide to what extent I have succeeded!