Tone and credibility in voluntary disclosures

David Bodoff, Iris Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this research paper is to study attitudinal responses to the tone of a voluntary disclosure. It is known that tone can affect market response. Existing literature assumes that investors' attitudes mediate these effects, but these attitudinal mediators have not been directly measured. The authors are especially interested in cases where a firm is reporting poor financial results. The purpose is to trace the mechanism and conditions under which tone affects the credibility of a voluntary disclosure. Design/methodology/approach: The authors conducted a 2 × 2 between-subjects study that manipulates financial performance (good/bad) and tone (positive/negative). The attitudinal dependent variable is the credibility of the management discussion, with persuasive intent as a mediator of the effects of tone on credibility. Findings: In the case of bad financial results, a positive tone has a negative effect on credibility as the authors predict. This effect is fully mediated by perceived “persuasive intent”. In the case of good financial performance, credibility is higher when management adopts a positive tone, even though there, too, subjects perceive the persuasive intent. Research limitations/implications: The research paper establishes a bridge between the communications and finance literature on the effect of tone in voluntary disclosures. The empirical findings provide initial evidence and new detail regarding an attitudinal response (credibility) that the finance literature often assumes is responsible for mediating market responses to voluntary disclosures. One unexpected finding with interesting implications is that positive tone increases credibility in the case of good news. The implication is that a firm may indulge in taking a victory lap to celebrate good news, without harming the credibility of their corporate communications. Additional research is warranted that combines theory and methods from communications and finance, to further elaborate the attitudinal mechanisms behind the market effects of tone in voluntary disclosures. Originality/value: At the most general level, the original contribution is the creation of a theoretical and methodological bridge between the communications and finance literature, regarding the effect of tone in voluntary disclosures. This research proposes an integrated theoretical framework, in which the concept of incentives shapes the relationships between the firm's financial situation, a disclosure's tone and its credibility. Methodologically, the authors employ an experimental method, which is more typical in the communications literature, to illuminate the attitudinal effects of tone that are frequently mentioned and assumed in the finance literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)943-971
Number of pages29
JournalCorporate Communications
Issue number6
StatePublished - 23 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Corporate communications
  • Earnings reports
  • Investor relations
  • Voluntary disclosures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial relations
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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