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Article
Publication date: 5 April 2013

Gerard Stone and Lee D. Parker

This paper aims to examine and critique the accounting literature's dominant readability formula, the Flesch formula. Furthermore, the paper sets out to propose refinement…

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine and critique the accounting literature's dominant readability formula, the Flesch formula. Furthermore, the paper sets out to propose refinement and augmentation to the formula with a view to expanding its applicability and relevance to researchers' attempts at better understanding and critiquing the effectiveness of accounting communications. This aim extends to setting a more robust foundation for informing policymakers' and practitioners' interest in implementing more effective communications with their target stakeholders.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper offers an historically informed methodological critique of the current articulation and application of the Flesch formula, both generally and in accounting research. This critique forms the basis for developing proposed revisions and supplementary measures to augment Flesch's coverage. These are presented with sample empirics.

Findings

Illustrative examples suggest that it is feasible and desirable to apply a revised formula that reduces Flesch's misplaced emphasis on word length by respecifying its sentence length variable, a probable cause of low readability. A reader attribute score further enhances the formula by integrating the considerable impact of readers' attributes on readability and accounting communication effectiveness. Supplementary measures, comprising non‐narrative communications dimensions, are introduced as a foundation for further research.

Originality/value

The paper provides not only critique but also refinement and augmentation of the much used Flesch readability formula for accounting communications research. It offers a first stage approach to encompassing potentially important communication elements such as readers' attributes, tables, graphs and headings, to date critiqued as potentially important but left unattended by accounting researchers. This offers the prospect of extending Flesch's application to contemporary accounting communications issues and questions.

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Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 10 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

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Article
Publication date: 10 October 2018

Mostafa Kamal Hassan, Bassam Abu Abbas and Samy Nathan Garas

This paper aims to examine the relationship between the readability of annual reports and corporate performance in Qatari listed firms while controlling for a firm’s…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine the relationship between the readability of annual reports and corporate performance in Qatari listed firms while controlling for a firm’s competitive position, governance structure and specific features such as size, age and industry type.

Design/methodology/approach

This study relies on both agency theory and legitimacy theory to develop testable hypotheses. It uses a sample of 126 firm-year listed companies in the Qatar Stock Exchange to test obfuscation in the annual reports through examining the association between the readability of Narrative Disclosures (NDs) and corporate profitability, financial risk and agency costs for the period from 2014-2016.

Findings

The findings show that firms with higher annual report readability are more profitable and have lower agency costs, which is an indication of the existence of “obfuscation.” Qatari firms may use narrative complexity as a disclosure strategy to enhance their image and consequently maintain their social legitimacy.

Research limitations/implications

Although the study findings suffer from limited global generalization, they can be generalized across Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Thus, future cross-country research is encouraged.

Practical implications

The findings encourage Qatari policymakers to instate a policy for “Plain English” writing to make NDs easy to read by international investors.

Originality/value

This study is one of very few studies that examines the readability of annual reports in emerging market economies, i.e. Qatar. The study contributes to the paucity of research that examines English-written annual reports in non-English speaking countries.

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Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, vol. 19 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1472-0701

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Book part
Publication date: 18 January 2021

Gonca Güngör Göksu and Serdar Dumlupinar

In this study, various acts including regulations of public financial management, fiscal responsibility, and state budget in the selected six countries were subjected to…

Abstract

In this study, various acts including regulations of public financial management, fiscal responsibility, and state budget in the selected six countries were subjected to different readability tests, and an international comparison was made. The fiscal responsibility act of six countries – Turkey, the UK, India, Australia, Canada, and Pakistan – were included in the study and analyzed. Each country was analyzed under its official language. Since English is an official language of all of the countries except for Turkey, the authors have evaluated the fiscal responsibility acts of these countries using the following readability tests: Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning-Fog, and Dale-Chall. Additionally, Public Financial Management and Control Law No. 5018 approved in Turkey was analyzed by the Ateşman Readability Test which was uniquely designed for Turkish grammar rules. The acts discussed in the study were analyzed not only as a whole but also in parts and subsections. According to the results of the study, the levels of readability of the existing laws in most of the selected countries are very difficult to understand for a university graduate. However, when the readability level of the British Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act tested as parts and subsections and a whole, it was rated at a level a university student could understand. This study analyses the readability and intelligibility of acts related to fiscal responsibility and the state budget in six selected countries, adopting Anglo-Saxon public administration model and making an inter-country evaluation. Since it is important that citizens have enough information about legislation for a citizen-oriented understanding, a legislation system that is understood by the larger part of the society is essential.

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Contemporary Issues in Public Sector Accounting and Auditing
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-83909-508-5

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Article
Publication date: 31 July 2007

Philip M. Linsley and Michael J. Lawrence

The purpose of this paper is to examine risk disclosures by UK companies within their annual reports. Tests are performed to measure the level of the readability of the…

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5224

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine risk disclosures by UK companies within their annual reports. Tests are performed to measure the level of the readability of the risk disclosures and to assess whether directors are deliberately obscuring bad risk news.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws upon methodologies developed in prior empirical studies of annual report readability. Thus it uses the Flesch Reading Ease formula to measure the readability of the risk disclosures and coefficients of variation are used to measure obfuscation. A content analysis approach is adopted to identify risk disclosures.

Findings

The paper finds that the mean Flesch reading ease ratings for the sample companies are all below 50 indicating that the level of readability of the risk disclosures is difficult or very difficult and this supports prior research examining the readability of sample passages in annual reports. No evidence is found to suggest that directors are deliberately obfuscating or concealing bad risk news through their writing style.

Research limitations/implications

The paper also finds that the Flesch reading ease ratings measure the readability, not the understandability, of disclosures and whilst actions can be taken to minimise problems associated with reliability when performing content analysis they cannot be wholly eliminated.

Practical implications

The paper shows that there have been calls for improved risk disclosures to enable stakeholders to better understand a company's risk position. Requiring directors to issue extra risk information will not, however, lead to enhanced risk communication unless the readability of the risk disclosures is also improved.

Originality/value

In this paper it is shown that there have been no prior studies that focus upon testing for readability and obfuscation in risk disclosures. It is important that transparent risk information is provided to the marketplace and therefore this study is valuable in its examination of the clarity of communication of published risk information.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 20 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

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Article
Publication date: 2 February 2021

Tamanna Dalwai, Gopalakrishnan Chinnasamy and Syeeda Shafiya Mohammadi

The readability of annual reports is an important feature that determines the quality of communication between a firm and its stakeholders. Extant literature has…

Abstract

Purpose

The readability of annual reports is an important feature that determines the quality of communication between a firm and its stakeholders. Extant literature has demonstrated that readability characteristics of annual reports are crucial in facilitating the investor's ability to process and analyze information, resulting in higher firm performance and lower agency costs. This study examines the relationship between annual report readability, agency costs and the firm performance of listed financial sector companies in Oman.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a sample of 150 firm-year observations of listed financial sector companies on the Muscat Securities Market (MSM) over the period 2014 to 2018, a panel regression analysis is used, along with the system generalized method of moments (GMM) estimation to address endogeneity concerns. The readability of annual reports is proxied by the length of the annual report, the Flesch reading ease and the Flesch–Kincaid index.

Findings

The ordinary least squares (OLS) results suggest that readability proxied by the length of the annual report has no significant relationship with agency cost, return on assets (ROA) or stock returns. The OLS results are confirmed through the system GMM estimation model for agency costs, Tobin's Q and stock returns. Easier-to-read annual reports measured by the Flesch reading ease demonstrate high asset utilization ratio and Tobin's Q. These results emphasize Flesch reading ease measure in explaining the economic significance of agency cost and Tobin's Q. In contrast, difficult-to-read annual reports are observed for firms with high ROA.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited to the financial sector. Its generalizability could be extended to a similar sector or countries with features similar to Oman. Future studies on readability could be extended to other sectors of Oman, and financial firms with easier-to-read annual reports show a high Tobin's Q, which reflects the confidence of investors in the stock market. These findings may encourage policymakers to regulate the readability features of annual reports and influence the reporting quality of financials and disclosures also including cross-country comparisons.

Practical implications

Financial firms with easier-to-read annual reports show a high Tobin's Q, which reflects the confidence of investors in the stock market. These findings may encourage policymakers to regulate the readability features of annual reports and influence the reporting quality of financials and disclosures.

Originality/value

While the study extends prior literature on readability, agency costs and firm performance, it is also one of the first to examine the financial sector of an emerging country, namely, Oman. The study supports the obfuscation hypothesis through the association of readability measure with agency cost. Unlike prior research that has focused on common computational linguistic literature, this study uses three proxies for readability to assess information quality.

Details

Journal of Accounting in Emerging Economies, vol. 11 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2042-1168

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Article
Publication date: 1 March 2019

Dania Bilal and Li-Min Huang

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the readability and level of word complexity of search engine results pages (SERPs) snippets and associated web pages between…

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1419

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the readability and level of word complexity of search engine results pages (SERPs) snippets and associated web pages between Google and Bing.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors employed the Readability Test Tool to analyze the readability and word complexity of 3,000 SERPs snippets and 3,000 associated pages in Google and Bing retrieved on 150 search queries issued by middle school children.

Findings

A significant difference was found in the readability of SERPs snippets and associated web pages between Google and Bing. A significant difference was also observed in the number of complex words in snippets between the two engines but not in associated web pages. At the engine level, the readability of Google and Bing snippets was significantly higher than associated web pages. The readability of Google SERPs snippets was at a much higher level than those of Bing. The readability of snippets in both engines mismatched with the reading comprehension of children in grades 6–8.

Research limitations/implications

The data corpus may be small. Analysis relied on quantitative measures.

Practical implications

Practitioners and other mediators should mitigate the readability issue in SERPs snippets. Researchers should consider text readability and word complexity simultaneously with other factors to obtain the nuanced understanding of young users’ web information behaviors. Additional theoretical and methodological implications are discussed.

Originality/value

This study measured the readability and the level of word complexity embedded in SERPs snippets and compared them to respective web pages in Google and Bing. Findings provide further evidence of the readability issue of SERPs snippets and the need to solve this issue through system design improvements.

Details

Aslib Journal of Information Management, vol. 71 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2050-3806

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Article
Publication date: 1 October 1998

John K. Courtis

The purpose of the paper is to investigate the presence of variability within the chairman’s address section of the annual report. The coefficiency of variation (V) is…

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7253

Abstract

The purpose of the paper is to investigate the presence of variability within the chairman’s address section of the annual report. The coefficiency of variation (V) is used as a simple statistical measure, with calculations based on three Flesch‐based Reading Ease scores from 100‐word passages of 120 annual reports of Hong Kong public companies for 1994/5. Vs range from 4.83 percent to 89.64 percent and 106 companies have Vs greater than 10 percent. Discernible reading ease patterns are shown to be present according to chi‐square tests. Management propensity to obfuscate is introduced in the form of hypotheses, namely, companies with high variability and low readability will be associated with “bad news” and high levels of press coverage, this last variable being introduced into the readability literature for the first time. The obfuscation was accepted for companies with high financial press coverage.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 11 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

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Article
Publication date: 18 April 2016

Brian A. Rutherford

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the accounting research project concerned with accounting narrative obfuscation, focusing on the translation of the concept of…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the accounting research project concerned with accounting narrative obfuscation, focusing on the translation of the concept of readability from educational psychology via an earlier literature concerned with the readability of accounting narratives per se.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper uses actor-network theory and examines, in particular, the need for a network to accommodate the interests of its actors and the consequent risk of failure.

Findings

The analysis shows that the project is failing because the network seeking to support it is failing, and failing because of its inability to adapt sufficiently to accommodate the interests of its constituents. This failure is contrasted with the earlier concern with readability per se, which did see a successful reconfiguration of actors’ interests.

Research limitations/implications

The puzzle of the maladjustment of the network concerned with obfuscation is examined and it is suggested that it is a consequence of interests prevailing in the wider academic research network within which the relevant human actors are embedded.

Social implications

The reasons for the failure of the project are bound up in the wider circumstances of the contemporary accounting research community and may affect scholars’ capacity to pursue knowledge effectively.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to a modest stream of actor–network analysis directed at accounting research itself.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. 13 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

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Article
Publication date: 22 July 2021

Tamanna Dalwai, Syeeda Shafiya Mohammadi, Gaitri Chugh and Mahdi Salehi

This study examines the impact of intellectual capital efficiency and corporate governance mechanisms on the annual report readability of Oman's financial sector companies.

Abstract

Purpose

This study examines the impact of intellectual capital efficiency and corporate governance mechanisms on the annual report readability of Oman's financial sector companies.

Design/methodology/approach

The study uses a sample of 150 firm-year observations of listed financial sector companies in the Muscat Securities Market, Oman, from 2014 to 2018. Flesch Reading ease and Flesch Kinkaid Index are used as proxies for annual report readability. As part of sensitivity analysis, the study also uses the natural logarithm of annual report pages as alternative readability measures. The investigation is conducted using random effects regression analysis and supported with system GMM estimation for robustness.

Findings

The findings of this study demonstrate a decrease in intellectual capital efficiency associated with better readability of annual reports for the financial sector firms. Alternatively, banks report a positive association of intellectual capital efficiency with the Flesch Reading ease score of the annual report. The structural capital and capital employed efficiency are also found to be negatively associated with annual report readability. Corporate governance mechanisms such as dispersed ownership and audit committee size also result in easy-to-read annual reports that support agency theory.

Research limitations/implications

The research was conducted for financial firms of Oman, and thereby the findings can be generalized to the financial sector of countries with similar settings, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

Practical implications

The policy implications arising from this study suggest a strengthening of the intellectual capital efficiency and corporate governance mechanisms to improve the readability of the firms and thereby increase investor confidence.

Originality/value

This paper's uniqueness is in the model used to investigate the impact of intellectual capital efficiency and corporate governance mechanisms on the annual report readability of an emerging market.

Details

International Journal of Emerging Markets, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1746-8809

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Article
Publication date: 1 March 1987

CHAFFAI TEKFI

The aim of this paper is to review some of the findings in the field of readability research. First, the differences in meaning between the terms ‘readability’ and…

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to review some of the findings in the field of readability research. First, the differences in meaning between the terms ‘readability’ and ‘legibility’ are discussed. Next, the origins and developments of readability formulas are examined in detail. Then, the best‐known formulas for English language material are described so as to give the reader a brief overview of what has been achieved in this field of research. Finally, the principal applications of these formulas are described.

Details

Journal of Documentation, vol. 43 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0022-0418

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