When is good news really good news?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impression management literature suggests that managers often resort to biased disclosures. However, there is little systematic evidence on what types of strategies management uses to achieve this bias. Do managers simply lie? Or, do they use more subtle ways of introducing positive bias into corporate narratives, such as selecting specific information items which result in a more positive impression ('selectivity') or by keeping their narratives vague and general ('vagueness')? In order to differentiate between the two scenarios, I re-examine the positive forward-looking statements examined by Schleicher and Walker (2010) and compare, across firms with improving and deteriorating financial performance, the managerial choices made in relation to eight forecast attributes. I make two observations. First, there are significant differences in the characteristics of good- and bad-news firms' positive statements. In particular, bad-news firms' positive statements involve more non-specific time horizons, more segmental forecasts, and more references to conditions and aims and objectives, but fewer directional forecasts, fewer numbers, and fewer reinforcing qualifiers. Second, the identified differences in good- and bad-news firms' positive statements can be exploited for classification purposes: including into a classification model additional regressors that measure a positive forward-looking statement's level of selectivity and vagueness significantly increases the model's ability to separate firms with improving financial performance from firms with deteriorating financial performance. Overall, my results are consistent with (a) impression management operating predominantly through selectivity and vagueness and (b) selectivity and vagueness being an important signal for future financial performance. © 2012 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-573
Number of pages26
JournalAccounting and Business Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Impression management
  • Narratives
  • Selectivity
  • Signalling
  • Vagueness


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