The Pragmatics of Financial Communication. Part 1: From Public Sphere To Investors

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Rudi Palmieri of the University of Liverpool, Dr. Daniel Perrin of Zurich University of Applied Sciences, and Dr. Marlies Whitehouse of Zurich University of Applied Sciences. They recently published an article in the International Journal of Business Communication entitled “The Pragmatics of Financial Communication. Part 1: From Sources to the Public Sphere,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the research and its significance.

JBC_53_2_Covers.inddResearch in financial communication has long been dominated by scholars in accounting and finance, who largely focused on the extratextual aspects of financial disclosures, such as the choice (not) to reveal information or the impact of new regulatory standards. In contrast, the past decade and a half has witnessed a significant shift of attention toward the linguistic and textual elements of financial communication. Finance scholars have started to develop text analysis approaches to investigate, in particular, market sentiment and its impact on stock prices. At the same time, accounting scholars have engaged in the so-called narrative turn by investigating the rhetorical aspects of voluntary disclosure. Recent developments in the field, however, dig deeper and are beginning to shed light on the crucial functions of language use in financial communication. There is a growing interest throughout the disciplines to analyze the interplay of micro and macro structure in financial communication, which has been clearly reflected in academic initiatives and rapidly evolving subject areas in recent years. Bringing together these initiatives on a higher level, the AILA research network in financial communication, set up in early 2018, enables scholars from all over the world to strengthen and elaborate on their research and its dissemination. The two parts of the special issue “The Pragmatics of Financial Communication” aim to reflect these recent developments and to foster current and future initiatives in the field.

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Using Simulation to Teach Social Justice and Disability Ethics in Business Communication

[We’re pleased to welcome guest editor Dr. Sushil Oswal of the University of Washington and author Dr. Stephanie Wheeler of the University of Central Florida. Dr. Wheeler recently published an article in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “Harry Potter and the First Order of Business: Using Simulation to Teach Social Justice and Disability Ethics in Business Communication,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Wheeler speaks with Dr. Oswol regarding motivations and challenges of this research]

BCQ_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgWe are here with Dr. Stephanie K. Wheeler who is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida where she researches Cultural Rhetoric, Pop Rhetorics of Harry Potter and Lady Gaga, Disability Studies, Rhetoric of Eugenics, and Civic Engagement and activism among Faculty and Students. She is the author of “Legacies of Colonialism: Toward a Borderland Dialogue between Indigenous and Disability Rhetorics”. Dr. Wheeler just published a fascinating article, “Harry Potter and the First Order of Business”, about the use of simulations in her college communication course for the Sage journal, Business and Professional Communication Quarterly.

Oswal: What motivated you to pursue this Harry Potter research?

Wheeler: When I was first struggling to find a way to make my first semester of teaching Introduction to Business and Professional Communication meaningful and interesting to my students, I had a chance conversation with a close friend who was designing a zombie simulation for her class. It occurred to me that I might find a way to do the same for Harry Potter. Multiple attempts and years later, I think I figured it out.

Oswal: So, what was the answer?

Wheeler: My BPCQ manuscript was motivated by the question of how to honor our own interests and meet students where they are outside of the classroom with their own interests, while at the same time meeting their educational needs inside of the classroom? Furthermore, how can we ensure a balance between the two?

Oswal: What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

Wheeler: The most challenging part of writing this piece was coming face to face with my failures in my earlier classes where I attempted the simulation. In fact, the first few attempts at the class were unmitigated disasters. I always had a small group of students—probably committed Harry Potter fans–who really enjoyed it, but by and large my classes were, to put it nicely, not interested in the simulation. I talk about this a little bit in the manuscript, but I think that there is one main factor that went into it: I didn’t go “all-in” with the simulation. That is, I didn’t quite have the confidence to pull off that the simulation would work, and when it didn’t, students weren’t able to understand the consequences of their writing choices. Thus, the most surprising thing that came out of this paper was my realization that the research could not have been done had I always been successful in the way I had hoped, and so much of its success depended on taking some major risks and my own belief in it that it was really working. And then, I also found out that I could not keep this newly-gained confidence to myself; I had to share it with my class by being overtly enthusiastic about the Universe of Harry Potter. Once my class could sense this enthusiasm, even the strangers to Harry Potter were willing to get their feet wet with this simulation.

Oswal: Let’s say that some of our readers are still sitting on the fence and want a pedagogical justification: what reasons can you give them to try this simulation out in their classes?

Wheeler: Given the practical focus of business communication pedagogy in particular and communication teaching in general, instructors are always looking for ways to connect with their students in different ways; what else would be more interesting for students than the Universe of Harry Potter in a required course?

Oswal: Instructors might also like to know more about what your thoughts are on Harry Potter at this time since you continue to improve this class simulation. What ideas did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

Wheeler: My overall approach to teaching Business and Professional Communication is to think about the ways that language reflects, sustains, and resists oppressive power structures, especially (and most importantly) when it is seen to be devoid of any cultural influence or impact, like in technical documents. One way I emphasized this in the course I describe in my manuscript is to regard writing as a eugenic technology, having the capability of writing bodies in and out of existence to fit whatever power structure it was serving. This is why a Harry Potter simulation made so much sense to me: to really look at the impact of how our beloved characters are brought to existence by J. K. Rawling through writing and just as easily eliminated by the same stroke of a pen can really illuminate the power and responsibility that comes with writing and becoming a writer.

Oswal: Do you have any additional materials on this project that instructors might find useful if they wanted to develop a Harry Potter course for their business and professional communication curriculum?

Wheeler: I had to remove some more detailed appendices, which can be found at my website, http://www.stephaniewheeler.wordpress.com and readers are most welcome to review them.

Oswal: Thanks for talking to me about this fascinating communication project and I hope that our readers find this Harry Potter simulation as enticing as you and I found talking about it.

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Profiling Potential Plagiarizers

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Sarah Rosol of the and Dr. Dale Cyphert of the University of Northern Iowa. They recently published an article in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “Profiling Potential Plagiarizers: A Mastery Learning Instructional Technique to Enhance Competency,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Rosol reveals the inspiration for conducting this research and additional findings not included in the paper:]

BCQ_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

We wanted to shed light on the anecdotal evidence that many students are legitimately confused about plagiarism and proper citation techniques. Often the problem is chalked up to laziness or malicious intent on the part of the student, which might be unfair. In our experience, most faculty members have not considered that current instruction methods or procedures might be encouraging the problem. The animosity and anxiety generated when faculty use the term “plagiarism” adds stress without communicating the need for some additional skill. Our instructional goal was to develop a method to ease some of that stress and create a more collaborative classroom experience. Along the way, we learned that being proactive at the beginning of the class saves both time and major headaches at the end of the course.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

The article could not fully convey the damage to the instructor’s reputation when she announced that she had discovered plagiarism. Rumors spread throughout the college as students speculated about punishments and gossiped about the instructor’s unfairness. At one point, rumors had escalated to include claims that the instructor had actively attempted to unfairly fail over 60% of the class for plagiarism and that the Dean had to force the instructor to allow some individuals to graduate. None of that was even close to the real story, yet students were extremely upset with the instructor for confronting the plagiarism problem. The instructor was both surprised and mortified to walk into class the following semester and find anticipatory hatred on Day 1. Further, attempts to convey the real story were quickly dismissed by the students as simply her attempt to save face by lying!

As a result, the article also fails to capture the contrasting ease and confidence of students gearing up for the final papers after we had used the mastery learning approach. In previous semesters, the stress and anxiety was almost palpable as students resisted submitting the papers to the plagiarism software and asked question after question about proper citations. Prior to the mastery approach, I was seen as the authority figure just waiting to pounce on a student for any little mistake. After adopting the mastery approach, I was viewed as someone that was looking out for their best interests and actively helping the students avoid the errors without a severe penalty.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

As we dug into the literature, it was clear that “plagiarism” is used as a broad umbrella term for several types of offenses, and authors exhibit vastly different assumptions about causes, as well as the severity of any presumed moral lapse and suitable punishments. The different definitions and measurements make comparisons across various studies difficult. Our advice would be to carefully define terms, which is good research practice in any field, but also to carefully interrogate their own moral and pedagogical presumptions, which seem to have a huge impact on how plagiarism research is framed and interpreted.

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The Effect of Linguistic Style in an MD&A on Stock Market Reaction

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Mohamed M. Tailab and Dr. Marshall J. Burak of Lincoln University. They recently published an article in International Journal of Business Communication entitled “Examining the Effect of Linguistic Style in an MD&A on Stock Market Reaction,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss this research:]

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Language as the currency of most human social processes can be converted to words. Investors and market participants attach very different connotations to the words, rely more on intuition than hard data, and react more to the verbal tone. Quantitative information contained in financial annual reports in general and in an MD&A in particular does not provide a complete picture to the investors about the expected firm value. So, the need arises to analyze the effect of narrative disclosures on market reaction as well. In addition, analyzing narrative disclosures is more easily understood than quantitative data, but at the same time it offers a different perspective. This initiated our research interests and concerns to explore in depth the impact of linguistic style in narrative disclosures on decision makers.Therefore, we decided to investigate the effect of language used in the MD&A between the speaker (management) and the listeners (investors), which in turn influences market reaction. We had hypothesized that the stock market (return and risk) has a significant response to the linguistic tone contained in the MD&A. Even though the initial hypotheses have never been proven, this study proves principles about the usefulness of an MD&A to investors.

This work expands on the understanding of the business communication literature by using an interdisciplinary approach. This approach has emerged the narrative disclosures with applied linguistic and market reaction. To this end, this paper is the first to use the partial least squares – structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) approach and contributes to the existing body of knowledge in several ways including (a) a new approach to strengths, (b) evaluation of MD&A content, (c) proof that MD&A length does not play a strong role in market reaction, and (d) findings that capital assets pricing model (CAPM) or Farm-French models are more reliable than the realized volatility.

The study indicates that the average of negative tone is greater than the average of positive words in the MD&A. This may be because the study period started in 2010, there is a possibility that the financial crisis still has an effect on the verbal tone of MD&A reports, and allows the management writers to be more conservative. One interesting observation is that the linguistic content in an MD&A was not consistent with financial performance. It can be concluded that that management most likely does not use its financial performance as a guide for writing the MD&A, or maybe it has another criterion for delivering its message to the investors.
A challenging aspect of this work is that using dictionaries built by researchers in other fields (e.g., psychology) may not be appropriate for a content analysis of financial reports. We have limited our research by neglecting the investors’ types and their preferences. So, it would be better if future researches studied the investors’ preferences, what information investors need to find in the MD&A before making their decisions.The study recommends conducting a more efficient analysis of the narrative disclosures to investigate whether management writers communicate truthful information to investors by offering relevant data about financial performance.

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Blurring the Stark Distinction Between Masculine and Feminine Brands

An identity, integral to our understanding of who we are is our gender identity. It is perhaps the first and the most easily recognizable feature of our persona that we. Unlike sex, our gender is not congenitally determined; rather it is constructed, developed, and refined through social and cultural exchanges. The appropriate and discriminatory gender roles ascribed by the society, direct communication, and influence of media coerce us to develop a personal sense of “maleness or femaleness”.

Business Perspectives and ResearchWhatever be the case, once we develop a gender identity we communicate and demonstrate it in a number of ways. A common way is to appropriate consumption practices and props that reflect our gender identity. Marketers’ gender work is instrumental in creating gendered brands. Since gendered brands appeal to the gender of consumers, they are suitable for either men or women, but not for both. As such, gendered brands create distinct gender cultures populated with gender specific brands. However, of late stagnant sales and societal changes have encouraged many marketers to engage in brand gender bending by deconstructing the gender exclusivity of brands. Marketers are continually expanding the gender spectrum of previously gendered brands by bringing women into the male-skewed customer base of male-gendered products and vice versa. The historical divide between masculine and feminine products is blurring and “unisex” is emerging as the new consumption ideology.

An article from Business Perspective and Research attempts to integrate and extend the theory of brand gender bending by convening arguments from different but complimentary social sciences. Based on the review and scientific understanding of the long-standing research, the study underscores the difference in the reactions of men and women to brand gender bending. It also proposes a conceptual framework that highlights the determinants that drive consumer responses to brand gender bending.

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Abstract

In the postmodern era, many marketers have disturbed the strict gender discipline traditionally associated with gendered brands. Marketers are redoing their gender work by blurring the stark distinction between masculine and feminine brands. New consumption ideologies are developing that transcend the gendered meanings of brands and encourage men and women to infiltrate brands traditionally associated with the opposite gender. “Unisex” is emerging as the byword. This review convenes the phenomenological consumer responses to brand gender bending. It specifically highlights the contrast between the ways in which men and women react to dilution/revision of the gender identity meanings of their brands. This article also underscores the ethnographic, sociological, psychological, and anthropological reasons that justify these reactions.

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The Influence of Textual Cues on First Impressions of an Email Sender

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Shannon L. Marlow of Rice University, Christina N. Lacernza of University of Colorado Boulder, and Chelsea Iwig of the NASA Johnston Space Center. They recently published an article in the Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “The Influence of Textual Cues on First Impressions of an Email Sender,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Marlow reveals the motivation for conducting this research:]

BPCQ.indd“Our motivation in pursuing the present research was to uncover practical implications regarding how to compose an email and explore facets of virtual communication. Specifically, we were interested in emails within a business context and how subtle cues within the email would influence perceptions of the email sender. We assessed whether closing salutations would impact the email receiver’s perception of the sender. As the cues within an email are limited, we believed that such cues would have an impact. We manipulated closing salutations (i.e., no salutation, “Thanks!,” “Best,” or “Thank you”), gender of the email sender, and sending method (i.e., email sent via desktop computer/laptop as compared to email sent via a mobile device). We assessed how these manipulations influenced perceptions of positive affect, negative affect, professionalism, and competence.

We were surprised to find that, on the whole, study participants rated women senders as more professional across the majority of conditions; however, women were rated as less competent when they used the “Thanks!”salutation. It appears that women are penalized for using this particular salutation whereas men are perceived similarly, in regards to competence, across all closing salutations examined in this study. We were further surprised to find that there were no differences in regards to perceptions of senders using different sending methods. It appears individuals perceive mobile devices as a professional method of communication for business exchanges. Finally, and in line with similar findings from the literature, we found that positive affect can be conveyed through using an exclamation point (i.e., using “Thanks!” as a closing salutation) and thus punctuation may be used to convey excitement and enthusiasm about work-related matters. On the whole, our findings indicate that subtle cues within emails are capable of influencing perceptions and individuals should reflect carefully when composing an email to ensure they are doing so in a way that promotes desired perceptions.”

 

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Are Voluntary Agreements Better? Evidence from Baseball Arbitration

[We’re pleased to welcome author John W. Budd of the University of Minnesota. Budd recently published an article in the ILR Review entitled “Are Voluntary Agreements Better? Evidence from Baseball Arbitration,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Budd reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

Coaches Umpires Pre-game Meeting BaseballThink of a dispute you’ve had with a person or entity that you have an ongoing relationship with, like a business, employer, co-worker, or neighbor. Was that dispute resolved between the two of you, or did it involve a third-party determination by a judge, arbitrator, superior, or some other authority? Do you think it mattered how the dispute was resolved? Would your behavior have changed if it was resolved differently?

Conflict resolution professionals and academics have long believed that voluntarily-negotiated agreements produce better long-run relationships than third-party imposed resolutions. This is because the participants can control their own destiny, tailor agreements to their liking, and feel greater ownership in the process and the outcome. Sounds sensible. But there is very little evidence beyond the parties feeling satisfied immediately after resolution. Maybe a formal procedure like a courtroom or arbitration hearing provides greater levels of due process, or the process doesn’t really matter for a long-term relationship because people forget what happened. The motivation for our research in “Are Voluntary Agreements Better? Evidence from Baseball Arbitration” is to provide evidence on this conventional wisdom, and to hopefully spur others to rigorously analyze this important issue in other settings.

Perhaps one reason why there is not much evidence on the long-term effects of dispute resolution mechanisms is that it’s challenging to find research settings in which the same type of dispute is resolved in different ways and in which the long-term effects can be consistently measured. We identified Major League Baseball as a compelling setting for these analyses because individual performance is well measured, the possibility of relationship breakdown is quite real, the negotiation and arbitration events are uniform and comparable across players, and both voluntary and imposed resolutions are routinely observed. Baseball players with between three (sometimes two) and six years of service are eligible for salary arbitration with their current team. In any given year, some go to arbitration while many settle voluntarily. If voluntarily-negotiated agreements are meaningfully better, then in the following season we would expect to see better on-field performance and more lasting relationships for those who voluntarily reached a salary agreement compared to those who went to arbitration and had a new salary imposed on them.

Using 24 years of data comparing players who arbitrated with those who settled just before arbitrating, we find partial support for the conventional wisdom. We find that relationships are more durable when the player and club negotiate a new salary rather than having a salary imposed by an arbitrator. Specifically, arbitration nearly doubles the likelihood of a player not being with the same team at the end of the season. But there are no statistically significant differences in on-field performance between players who go to arbitration and those who settle voluntarily. This might be due to longer-term career concerns. Most arbitration-eligible players are early in their careers and their on-field performance is visible to other clubs. So they have incentives to set aside any residual feelings from the dispute-resolution process and to perform at a high level in order to position themselves for a lucrative, subsequent contract.

This pattern of results is consistent with scenarios in which the arbitration process harms the player-club relationship and negatively affects player behaviors that are hard to observe (e.g., clubhouse attitude, loyalty to the team), but career concerns and/or loyalty to teammates and fans causes a player to continue to publicly perform at his usual level. Such a scenario can be generalized into an hypothesis that could be applied to other settings—that is, the effect of a dispute resolution procedure will be smaller on dimensions of performance that are valued and easily observed by potential, future partners and larger where performance is harder for future potential partners to observe.

While the data come from the context of professional baseball, these results are important for dispute resolution researchers and practitioners with implications beyond professional baseball. The claimed superiority of voluntary dispute resolution procedures is neither uniformly rejected nor supported. Additional research and perhaps some re-thinking of longstanding assumptions are therefore needed.

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