Despite the significant emphasis that most instructors place on textbooks in introductory accounting courses, little research exists to describe how students interact with their textbooks. Using learning journals, 172 undergraduate students provided detailed, real‐time accounts of their experiences with 13 chapters of an introductory financial accounting textbook. Using the method of grounded theory, supplemented with quantitative tests of association, this study begins to characterize textbook use from a student perspective. Results indicate that, for students, reading is a motivated behavior, with the specific motives varying across different groups of students and leading to different consequential actions. Academically strong students appear to read with the primary goal of understanding assigned material, as evidenced by their willingness to (1) engage in reading before the related material is covered in class, (2) persist when material becomes difficult, and (3) establish defined action plans that promptly resolve confusion. In contrast, weaker students appear to read with the primary goal of reducing anxiety, by deferring reading and terminating it when comprehension becomes difficult. The findings of this study are used to create instructional guidance that instructors can provide to students and to direct future research by outlining important and interesting questions requiring further investigation.

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