Doyoureadme? Temporal Trends in the Language Complexity of Financial Reporting
32 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2019
Date Written: September 26, 2019
Regulators, practitioners, and researchers are expressing growing concern over the readability of financial disclosures. Several recent regulatory guidelines are aimed specifically at simplifying the language of financial reporting in order to ensure that the reports can be read and understood by the public at large. However, quantitative scientific evidence of the evolving linguistic complexity of finance is scarce. In this work we introduce various methods for measuring the linguistic complexity of financial texts. Some of these methods rely on advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques unavailable when earlier studies were conducted. We apply these methods to decades’ worth of texts from various domains. We have found that 10-K reports have grown substantially longer, more complex and less readable. In terms of education necessary to comprehend them, this increased complexity translates to additional 2.2 years of schooling over the course of 18 years. A similar pattern of using highly complex language is also evident in financial news. The latter finding suggests that financial reality is becoming increasingly difficult to describe and explain. In contrast, the language of other corpora, including general news and scientific publications, has become more readable over the same period of time.
Keywords: Readability, disclosure, SEC, 10-K, Fog, Flesch, textual analysis, NLP, plain English
JEL Classification: G10, G14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation