Readability and Thematic Manipulation in Corporate Communications: A Multi-Disclosure and Trans-Tasman Investigation
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Commerce
The purpose of this study is to investigate the prevalence of two significant impression management strategies, thematic and reading ease manipulation, across a range of distinct corporate communications and explore the determinants of such practices. While previous studies have examined thematic and reading ease manipulation, these have viewed such impression management techniques in isolation. This research is the first to simultaneously examine the prevalence of these impression management strategies across such a range of corporate communications. In particular, no previous studies have looked at the thematic and reading ease manipulation of standalone CSR reports or compared the various sections/disclosures included within the same annual report. Of significance are the inclusion of several additional themes, namely Activity; Optimism; Certainty; Realism and Commonality, advancing the scope of thematic manipulation research from the limited positive and negative themes. It is important to examine a range of correspondence because no one form of correspondence is the same. Financial notes are heavily regulated and audited and thus should be less susceptible to manipulation. CSR disclosures have little to no regulation or audit process and as such are very susceptible to manipulation. Likewise, the two distinct reports service different audiences, who can be expected to have different expertise. This research discovers what firm characteristics are determinates of the readability and thematic content in particular specific disclosure types, industries and country of listing. Financial performance tests reveal that there is evidence of manipulation of readability to obfuscate the disclosures of poor performing companies while the themes of these poorly performing company’s disclosures closely mirror those that are performing well. In addition to the traditional performance based tests, a novel new test that combines the traditional thematic positivity variable and readability shows that positive disclosures are significantly more readable than negative ones, strengthening the obfuscation hypothesis. This research also motivates the need of a purpose built reading ease formula based on corporate disclosures that outputs a result that allows the comparison of disclosures. Indeed a very basic example of such a formula is developed as a starting point for additional research.