Beyond the Mechanics of Spreadsheets: Using Design Instruction to Address Spreadsheet Errors

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Given that the usage and complexity of spreadsheets in the accounting profession are expected to increase, it is more important than ever to ensure that accounting graduates are aware of the dangers of spreadsheet errors and are equipped with design skills to minimize those errors. Although spreadsheet mechanics are prevalent in accounting curricula, less attention has been given to design considerations that can reduce the incidence of spreadsheet errors. The extant literature provides evidence of the most common types of spreadsheet errors and explanations as to why they occur. Using the work of Panko and others, this paper outlines a three-step approach for introducing spreadsheet design practices to novice spreadsheet developers. To facilitate design instruction, this paper provides a summary of foundational readings related to spreadsheet errors as well as specific teaching strategies for addressing the most common spreadsheet errors identified in the literature.