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What is “Bookkeeping”? Accounting Explained

Michael Bush

Bookkeeping, a fundamental aspect of accounting, is the systematic recording and organising of financial transactions in a company. It involves the recording of financial transactions, including purchases, sales, receipts, and payments by an individual or organisation. The complexity of bookkeeping can vary significantly depending on the size of the organisation and the number of transactions that are conducted daily, weekly, and monthly.

Bookkeeping is a critical step in the accounting process as it helps in generating the data required for preparing financial statements. It is a legal requirement for businesses to maintain accurate financial records and ensure that these are updated and processed periodically. A bookkeeper uses various accounting tools and techniques to maintain these records and ensure their accuracy.

History of Bookkeeping

The practice of bookkeeping dates back to ancient times, where methods were primitive and based on simple counting systems. However, the modern system of bookkeeping originated during the Middle Ages and was first documented by Luca Pacioli, an Italian mathematician and Franciscan friar. Known as the father of accounting and bookkeeping, Pacioli published the first known description of the double-entry bookkeeping system, which is still the basis of today’s accounting systems.

Over the centuries, bookkeeping has evolved from a manual task performed with paper and pen to computerised systems that can process large volumes of data quickly and accurately. The advent of technology has significantly transformed the way bookkeeping is conducted, making it more efficient and less prone to errors.

Double-Entry Bookkeeping

Double-entry bookkeeping is a system of bookkeeping where every entry to an account requires a corresponding and opposite entry to a different account. The double-entry system has two equal and corresponding sides known as debit and credit. The left-hand side is debit and right-hand side is credit.

For instance, if a business takes a loan from a bank, it will debit its cash account because the amount of cash at its disposal grows. But at the same time, the business will credit its loans payable account because the amount of loans it has to pay back grows. Thus, a credit to one account can be offset with a debit to another.

Importance of Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is essential to businesses as it helps in managing finances and ensuring legal compliance. It provides detailed information about revenue and expenses, which can be used for financial analysis and forecasting. Moreover, it assists in making informed business decisions by providing data about profit margins, cash flow, and other financial parameters.

Furthermore, bookkeeping is crucial for external users such as investors, financial institutions, and government agencies. Investors and financial institutions require financial statements to understand the profitability and financial health of a business. On the other hand, government agencies like the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) require businesses to maintain financial records for tax purposes.

Financial Analysis and Forecasting

Bookkeeping provides the data necessary for performing financial analysis. This involves the use of financial ratios and statistical measures to assess a company’s financial health and its operational efficiency, liquidity, profitability, and solvency. Accurate bookkeeping records ensure that the analyses and forecasts are reliable.

Moreover, bookkeeping records can be used to identify trends in business performance over time. This can be particularly useful for forecasting purposes, as past trends can often provide an indication of future performance. This information can be invaluable in helping businesses to plan for the future and make strategic decisions.

Legal Compliance

Businesses are legally required to maintain accurate financial records, and bookkeeping is the most effective way to achieve this. In addition to fulfilling the legal requirement, accurate bookkeeping also helps to ensure that businesses can provide evidence of their financial transactions, in case of auditing or dispute resolution.

Moreover, accurate bookkeeping enables businesses to fulfil their tax obligations accurately and on time. It ensures that businesses can provide accurate information about their income, expenses, and profits, which is necessary for calculating tax liabilities.

Bookkeeping Methods

There are two primary methods of bookkeeping: single-entry and double-entry. In single-entry bookkeeping, each transaction is recorded as a single entry in a ledger, while in double-entry bookkeeping, each transaction is recorded as two entries: a debit and a credit.

Single-entry bookkeeping is simpler and more straightforward than double-entry bookkeeping, but it lacks the detailed information provided by the latter. For this reason, most businesses, particularly large corporations, prefer to use double-entry bookkeeping, which provides a more comprehensive record of business transactions.

Single-Entry Bookkeeping

Single-entry bookkeeping is a method of bookkeeping relying on a one-sided accounting entry to maintain financial information. It’s a straightforward, simple form of accounting that forms the core of a manual accounting system for small businesses. Single-entry bookkeeping is easy to use, less time-consuming, but provides a lower level of detail compared to double-entry bookkeeping.

It is ideally suited for small businesses that do not have a high volume of transactions. If a business is very small, such as a sole proprietorship or partnership, single-entry bookkeeping may be the most feasible option. However, as a business grows, the shortcomings of single-entry bookkeeping, such as the lack of financial control, become more apparent.

Double-Entry Bookkeeping

Double-entry bookkeeping is a method of bookkeeping in which each transaction is recorded in two accounts, debit and credit. This method is complex but provides a more detailed record of transactions and allows for more accurate financial analysis.

Double-entry bookkeeping also provides a check on errors because the sum of debits should equal the sum of credits. Therefore, if the two totals do not agree, an error has been made, either in the journals or during the posting process. This system can be used by businesses of all sizes and is universally accepted as the most efficient method for accurate bookkeeping.

Bookkeeping Tools and Techniques

There are various tools and techniques used in bookkeeping to keep accurate records of financial transactions. These include ledgers, journals, financial statements, and computerised bookkeeping systems. Each tool has its own purpose and is used in conjunction with others to ensure that the bookkeeping process is as accurate and efficient as possible.

Moreover, the advent of technology has led to the development of software and applications that have made bookkeeping quicker, easier, and more accurate. These tools have not only automated the process of bookkeeping but have also reduced the chances of errors that can result from manual data entry.


A ledger is a book or other collection of accounts in which account transactions are recorded. Each account has a balance, or amount, that is increased or decreased by the transactions recorded. The ledger is where you see the end result of all the journal entries.

There are three types of ledgers: the general ledger, the accounts receivable ledger, and the accounts payable ledger. The general ledger is the main ledger and contains all the accounts needed to prepare financial statements. The accounts receivable ledger contains the records of all the sales made to customers, and the accounts payable ledger contains the records of all purchases made from suppliers.


A journal is a detailed account that records all the financial transactions of a business, to be posted to the general ledger later. It is often referred to as the book of original entry as it’s the first place where transactions are recorded.

The journal records financial transactions in chronological order, showing the debit and credit of each transaction, and the accounts affected. This is done through journal entries. The journal makes it easier to track the flow of transactions through the accounting system.

Financial Statements

Financial statements are reports that summarise financial data over a period of time. The financial statements of a business include the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. These statements are prepared using the balances from the general ledger.

The income statement shows the revenues, expenses, and profit or loss of a business. The balance sheet shows the assets, liabilities, and equity of a business. The cash flow statement shows the inflow and outflow of cash within a business.

Computerised Bookkeeping Systems

Computerised bookkeeping systems are software applications that are used to keep track of a company’s financial transactions. These systems can range from simple single-entry programs used by home-based businesses to more sophisticated double-entry systems that can process accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and inventory, among other functions.

Computerised bookkeeping systems can reduce or eliminate many of the manual bookkeeping processes. They can provide real-time and detailed reports that can help you make informed business decisions. Moreover, they can increase the accuracy of your records by reducing or eliminating manual entry errors.

Role of a Bookkeeper

The role of a bookkeeper is to record and organise all the financial transactions of a business. A bookkeeper is responsible for ensuring that all transactions are recorded in the correct day book, suppliers ledger, customer ledger, and general ledger. A bookkeeper brings the books to the trial balance stage. A professional accountant will then prepare the income statement and balance sheet using the trial balance and ledgers prepared by the bookkeeper.

Bookkeepers are responsible for maintaining all business records. These records are used to compile data which is then used to produce financial reports. The accuracy of this information will affect the management of the business, decision making, and the financial reporting to shareholders, creditors, and the Inland Revenue. Therefore, the bookkeeper plays a vital role in maintaining the financial integrity of the business.

Day-to-Day Tasks of a Bookkeeper

On a day-to-day basis, a bookkeeper might be responsible for some or all of an organisation’s accounts, known as the general ledger. They record all transactions and post debits (costs) and credits (income). They also produce financial statements and other reports for supervisors and managers. Bookkeepers prepare bank deposits by compiling data from cashiers, verifying receipts, and sending cash, checks, or other forms of payment to the bank.

In addition, they may handle payroll, make purchases, prepare invoices, and keep track of overdue accounts. As computers are used to record and organise data, many bookkeepers use software, spreadsheets, and databases. Most notably, they must be familiar with QuickBooks, a leading accounting software package for small businesses. Bookkeepers must also be prepared to deal with changing technology, keeping up to date with the latest advancements.

Skills Required for a Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers need to be methodical and organised as they often deal with a range of financial tasks at once. They must have strong skills in mathematics and be able to focus on details. Accuracy is a vital aspect of the role as a small mistake can cause large discrepancies. Bookkeepers must also have a high degree of integrity due to the confidential nature of the information they handle.

Furthermore, good communication skills are essential because bookkeepers often deal with managers, colleagues, and clients. They need to be able to explain complex financial information in a clear and concise manner. Finally, they should have a good understanding of business operations and be able to work independently.


In conclusion, bookkeeping is a vital function of any business, regardless of its size. It involves the recording and organising of financial transactions, which forms the basis for the preparation of financial statements. The role of a bookkeeper is crucial in maintaining the financial integrity of a business, and the importance of accurate bookkeeping cannot be overstated.

With the advent of technology, bookkeeping has become more efficient and accurate. The use of computerised bookkeeping systems has reduced the risk of errors and has made the process quicker and easier. However, the fundamental principles of bookkeeping remain the same, and it is essential for businesses to maintain accurate and up-to-date financial records.

Last Updated on December 11, 2023 by Michael Bush

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