The impact of narrative disclosure readability on bond ratings and the cost of debt

Samuel B. Bonsall, Brian P. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Scopus citations


Prior research on the determinants of credit ratings has focused on rating agencies’ use of quantitative accounting information, but the there is scant evidence on the impact of textual attributes. This study examines the impact of financial disclosure narrative on bond market outcomes. We find that less readable financial disclosures are associated with less favorable ratings, greater bond rating agency disagreement, and a higher cost of debt. We improve causal identification by exploiting the 1998 Plain English Mandate, which required a subset of firms to exogenously improve the readability of their filings. Using a difference-in-differences design, we find that the firms required to improve the readability of their filings experience more favorable ratings, lower bond rating disagreement, and lower cost of debt. Collectively, our evidence suggests that textual financial disclosure attributes appear to not only influence bond market intermediaries’ opinions but also firms’ cost of debt.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-643
Number of pages36
JournalReview of Accounting Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Accounting
  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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