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A Textual Analysis of US Corporate Social Responsibility Reports

We employ computer-based textual analysis to examine disclosure patterns for a sample of US corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports from the period 2002–2016. Starting from 466 features commonly used in computational linguistics, our results show that the linguistics or disclosure patterns in CSR reports can be used to accurately predict the actual CSR performance type of CSR reporters. Specifically, we find that the two most commonly used disclosure characteristics, number of words and number of sentences, alone can be used to predict reporting firms’ CSR performance type with 81% accuracy.

The accuracy of prediction increases to 96% when the top 50 linguistics features most relevant to firms’ CSR performance are included in the prediction model. In addition, we find that the linguistic features of CSR disclosure identified by our study are incrementally value relevant to investors even after controlling for the actual CSR performance score from the professional CSR rating agencies.

This finding suggests that the linguistic features of CSR disclosure can be an important venue for capital market participants in evaluating firms’ CSR performance type, especially when professional CSR performance ratings are not available.


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