Prior research shows that ghost ticking, or documenting audit work not actually performed, is a persistent threat to audit quality. We examine whether requiring self-references in audit workpapers (i.e., “I” performed the test) can effectively curtail ghost ticking, compared to other workpaper language that can be used in practice. We also design and test an alternative to tick marks (symbol-based notation commonly used in workpapers to describe the results of audit procedures), in which auditors select the same description of the procedure performed, but from a prepopulated drop-down list. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that using both self-references and descriptions (as opposed to tick marks) jointly reduces ghost ticking, compared to when only one (or neither) of these are used. Overall, we demonstrate how two simple and easily implementable changes to language and tick marks can significantly curtail ghost ticking and therefore reduce its threat to audit quality.
JEL Classifications: M40; M42.