This paper aims to study the impact of readability of corporate social responsibility (CSR) information on its credibility as perceived by generalist versus specialist readers. It is hypothesized that the readability-credibility effect will be contingent on reader specialization.
To test the hypothesis, a quasi-experiment with a 2 (readability) × 2 (reader specialization) design was conducted.
Overall, the results lead to the conclusion that using plain language in CSR disclosures may be beneficial for their credibility as perceived by generalist readers thanks to their higher perceived truthfulness (one specific sub-dimension of credibility). Specialist readers’ perceived credibility, on the other hand, is not influenced by the enhanced readability resulting from plain language.
Student participants were used. The results may not be generalizable to practitioners with different levels of exposure to, familiarity with, and understanding of CSR disclosures.
Given the lack of credibility of CSR disclosures, insight into perceived credibility antecedents is important. This study may be considered as a first step toward informing reporting standards regarding the inclusion of more detailed guidance on how corporations should formulate their CSR information to increase its perceived credibility.
The results suggest that enhanced readability may improve the potential of CSR reports as legitimacy tools for generalist readers. The direct examination of readers complements prior studies on CSR reporting quality and the language used in CSR disclosures.
Hoozée, S., Maussen, S. and Vangronsveld, P. (2019), "The impact of readability of corporate social responsibility information on credibility as perceived by generalist versus specialist readers", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 570-591. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-03-2018-0056
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