The Language of Failure: Verbal Accounts in Financial Reports

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper


The natural language that accompanies the accounting language in financial reports is not only a biased representation of the company, but also, we argue, a response to explicit as well as implicit external demands, expectations and accusations. Drawing on the notion of accounts, i.e. statements or responses that neutralizes critique caused by performance not meeting expectations, we analyze the natural language in financial reports. The taxonomy of accounts includes ‘excuses’, ‘justifications’, ‘concessions’, ‘refusals’, ‘mystifications’, ‘silence’ and ‘refocusing’. In analyzing financial reports with the use of account theory, both individual actions and structurally anchored financial report discourse is approached. Our results suggest there being three general types of accounts in financial reports: (i) legally required accounts required by law or standard (ii) institutionalized accounts not formally regulated but commonly accepted, and (iii) ad hoc accounts that are unique for the individual company or situation. The theory of account giving in situations of evaluations and critique helps us to discern the fine-grained anatomy of financial reports by means of which impressions are managed, legitimacy is uphold and conversations between companies and their public is maintained. The accounts presented in financial reports can, we argue, be understood as a way of maintaining the order of communication that has in effect been threatened by the account situation.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLund Institute of Economic Research
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

NameWorking Paper Series
ISSN (Print)1103-3010

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Business Administration

Free keywords

  • financial reports
  • failure
  • discourse
  • accounts
  • accounting
  • language
  • performativity


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