Rhetorical impression management in the letter to shareholders and institutional setting: A metadiscourse perspective

Walter Aerts, Beibei Yan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    46 Citations (Scopus)


    Using composite style measures of the letter to shareholders, we elaborate dominant rhetorical profiles and qualify them from an impression management perspective. In addition, we examine how institutional differences affect rhetorical profiles by comparing intensity and contingencies of rhetorical profiles of UK and US companies.

    We use automated text analysis to capture linguistic style characteristics of a panel of UK and US companies and employ factor analysis to determine rhetorical profiles. Next, we investigate company-level and country-level determinants of a company’s rhetorical stance.

    We document three prominent rhetorical profiles: (1) an emphatic acclaiming stance, (2) a cautious plausibility-based framing position, and (3) a logic-based rationalizing orientation. The profiles represent distinct self-presentational logics and have different readability effects. Rhetorical impression management is stronger in US companies, but higher expected scrutiny in the US institutional environment affects sensitivity of rhetorical postures to message credibility and litigation risk, while marginally increasing the less litigation-sensitive defensive framing style in US letters.

    We develop replicable archival-based measures of prominent rhetorical impression management traits of the shareholder letter, based on composite style features. We argue that they are qualitatively different from content-based impression management proxies. We investigate their institutional and organizational relevance by examining how company features and country-level differences affect incentives and constraints for style-based rhetorical impression management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-30
    JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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