The accounting information generated by the accounting process is communicated in the form of reports, statements, graphs and charts to the users who need it in different decision situations. As already stated, there are two main user groups, viz. internal users, mainly management, who needs timely information on cost of sales, profitability, etc. for planning, controlling and decision-making and external users who have limited authority, ability and resources to obtain the necessary information and have to rely on financial statements (Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss account).
Qualitative characteristics are the attributes of accounting information which tend to enhance its understandability and usefulness. In order to assess whether accounting information is decision useful, it must possess the characteristics of reliability, relevance, understandability and comparison. Reliability means the users must be able to depend on the information. The reliability of accounting information is determined by the degree of correspondence between what the information conveys about the transactions or events that have occurred, measured and displayed. Reliable information should be free from error and bias and faithfully represents what it is meant to represent.
To ensure reliability, the information disclosed must be credible, verifiable by independent parties use the same method of measuring, and be neutral and faithful. To be relevant, information must be available in time, must help in prediction and feedback, and must influence the decisions of users by,
1. Helping them form prediction about the outcomes of past, present or future events; and/or
2. Confirming or correcting their past evaluations. Understandability means decision-makers should interpret accounting information in the same sense as it is prepared and conveyed to them.
The qualities that distinguish between good and bad communication in a message are fundamental to the understandability of the message. A message is said to be effectively communicated when it is interpreted by the receiver of the message in the same sense in which the sender has sent.
Accountants should present the comparable information in the most intelligible manner without sacrificing relevance and reliability. It is not sufficient that the financial information is reliable and relevant at a particular time, in a particular circumstance or for a particular reporting entity. But it is equally important that the users of the general purpose financial reports are able to compare various aspects of an entity over different time period and with other entities. To be comparable, accounting reports must belong to a common period and use common unit of measurement and format of reporting.