Two auditing standards boards and an association of accounting academics are moving forward with a research project that could lead to significant changes in the content and phrasing of audit reports, perhaps even in the procedure of the audit itself.Concerned that investors and others may be misinterpreting the typical three-paragraph audit report, the boards are seeking a better understanding of what people think they're reading. In many cases, according to the American Institute of CPAs' director of auditing and attestation, Chuck Landes, some readers of audit reports are apparently seeing things that aren't there.

"We have quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of users perhaps misunderstanding what an audit is," Landes said. "I have talked with people who believe that a clean auditor's report means the company would be a good investment. Some have even thought that the report means the auditor thinks a company's strategic plan would be accomplished in the future. Some think that a clean opinion guarantees the company will be a going concern in a year."

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