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The impact of readability of corporate social responsibility information on credibility as perceived by generalist versus specialist readers

Sophie Hoozée (Department of Accounting, Corporate Finance and Taxation, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Sophie Maussen (Department of Accounting, Corporate Finance and Taxation, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Perry Vangronsveld (Department of Accounting, Corporate Finance and Taxation, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 26 June 2019

Issue publication date: 9 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

To test the hypothesis, a quasi-experiment with a 2 (readability) × 2 (reader specialization) design was conducted.

Findings

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.

Research limitations/implications

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.

Practical implications

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.

Originality/value

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.

Keywords

Citation

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

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited