Becoming an expert: Developing expertise in an applied discipline

Diane Orlich Kuhlmann, Alexandre Ardichvili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Purpose – This paper aims to examine the development of expertise in an applied discipline by addressing the research question: How is professional expertise developed in an applied profession? D/methodology/approach – Using a grounded theory methodology (GTM), nine technical-tax experts, and three experienced, non-expert tax professionals were interviewed regarding their experience in developing technical-tax expertise. Using GTM procedures, a core concept and variables (categories and properties of categories) were identified. A theory is advanced which explains the interaction of the core concept and the variables. Findings – This theory proposes that expertise in applied disciplines occurs through years of engaging in the high-value, non-routine work. Professionals with an intelligence matched to the discipline and willingness to work hard are more likely to be successful in this non-routine work. Professionals who find the discipline fascinating and who revel in ambiguity are likely to repeatedly seek this non-routine work. Finally, professionals in organizations with complex client issues are more likely to have opportunities to engage in non-routine work. Research limitations/implications – This study proposed a theory related to a very specific profession – tax accounting. Future research would be appropriate to determine whether other applied disciplines have a similar dynamic in developing expertise. Originality/value – Based on existing theories of expertise, this study developed a new theory of how professional expertise is developed in an applied discipline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)262-276
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Training and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 5 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


  • Applied disciplines
  • Expertise
  • Grounded theory
  • Human resource development
  • Tax accounting


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