You are on page 1of 13

Johnson

A paired samples test was used to compare the two groups of prospectuses. The two groups were significantly different (at the 0.001 level). Therefore, Hypothesis 4 is rejected and it is possible to say that the 2002 prospectuses are easier to read than the 1994 prospectuses according to the Smog test.
CONCLUSIONS The main purpose of this study has been to investigate how mutual fund companies responded to the SEC’s adoption of Rule 421 requiring that mutual fund prospectuses be made more readable. A sample of 48 prospectuses from funds that have millions of investors and over a trillion dollars of assets were taken from both pre- and post-Rule 421 periods. The Investment Objective sections of these funds were tested using four different readability measures to determine their readability levels. The study found that nearly all of the prospectuses from pre-Rule 421 had poor readability levels. As a practical matter, investors had to have four-year college educations or higher to read many of these prospectuses. The post-Rule 421 prospectuses displayed large and significant improvements in readability under all of the different readability measures. Furthermore, all the readability tests indicate that most of the new prospectuses can be read by someone with less than a high school education. The results of this study indicate that mutual fund companies complied with the SEC’s Rule 421 to make mutual fund prospectuses more readable than they have been in the past. Furthermore, this study reveals that while just a few years ago most mutual fund prospectuses were dense and largely unreadable, today they are much more accessible. Finally, the study gives evidence that objective measures of readability can identify better readability with results similar to subjective evaluations.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT This research was supported in part by a research grant from the College of Business and Technology at Western Illinois University. REFERENCES (1) Subramanian, R., Insley, R. G. and Blackwell, R. D. (1993) ‘Performance and readability: A comparison of annual reports of profitable and unprofitable corporations’, Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 49–61. (2) Kinnersley, R. and Fleischman, G. (2001) ‘The readability of government’s letter of transmittal relative to public company management’s discussion and analysis’, Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting and Financial Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 1–22. (3) Hochhauser, M. (2001) ‘Lost in the fine print: Readability of financial privacy notices’, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website: www.privacyrights.org. (4) Courtis, J. K. (1984) ‘An investigation into annual report readability and corporate risk-return relationships’, Accounting and Business Research, Vol. 16, No. 64, pp. 285–294. (5) Courtis, J. K. and Hassan, S. (2002) ‘Reading ease of bilingual annual reports’, Journal of Business Communication, October, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 394–413. (6) Courtis, J. K. (1998) ‘Annual report readability variability: Tests of the obfuscation hypothesis’, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 459–471. (7) Moore, E. M. and Shuptrine, F. K. (1993) ‘Warranties: Continued readability problems after the 1975 Magnuson-Moss warranty act’, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 23–36. (8) Mader, T. J. and Playe, S. J. (1997) ‘Emergency medicine research consent form readability assessment’, Annals of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 534–539. (9) Harr, J. and Kossack, S. (1990) ‘Employee benefit packages: How understandable are they?’, Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 185–200.

Page 61

(c) All information required to be included in a prospectus shall be clearly understandable without the necessity of referring to the particular form or to the general rules and regulations. the information set forth in a prospectus may be expressed in condensed or Page 62 . Vague ‘boilerplate’ explanations that are imprecise and readily subject to different interpretations. Except as to financial statements and information required in a tabular form. concise sections. No. 2.421(b): In drafting the disclosure to comply with this section. Define terms in a glossary or other section of the document only if the meaning is unclear from the context. Such information shall not. concise and understandable manner. (1948) ‘A new readability yardstick’. Washington. You must prepare the prospectus using the following standards: (1) Present information in clear. T. use short. be set forth in such fashion as to obscure any of the required information or any information necessary to keep the required information from being incomplete or misleading. however. Harvard Graduate School of Education. and sentences. (b) You must present the information in a prospectus in a clear. 32. DC. APPENDIX Reg. Legalistic or overly complex presentations that make the substance of the disclosure difficult to understand. 3. (1998) ‘An overview of medical and public health literature addressing literacy issues: An annotated bibliography’. E. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. Where an item requires information to be given in a prospectus in tabular form it shall be given in substantially the tabular form specified in the item.Has the SEC’s Rule 421 made mutual fund prospectuses more accessible? (10) Rudd. Complex information copied directly from legal documents without any clear and concise explanation of the provision(s). Vol. 221–233.421. and 4. } 230. Use a glossary only if it facilitates understanding of the disclosure. paragraphs. pp. Disclosure repeated in different sections of the document that increases the size of the document but does not enhance the quality of the information. (2) Use descriptive headings and subheadings. (11) Securities and Exchange Commission (1998) ‘A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents’. R. Journal of Applied Psychology. (3) Avoid frequent reliance on glossaries or defined terms as the primary means of explaining information in the prospectus. explanatory sentences and bullet lists. Whenever possible. (a) The information required in a prospectus need not follow the order of the items or other requirements in the form. you should avoid the following: 1. and Cotton. and (4) Avoid legal and highly technical business terminology. 3. Note to 230. (12) Flesch. R.

concrete. references may be made to other parts of the prospectus where such information is set forth.421. (3) In designing these sections or other sections of the prospectus. (iv) Tabular presentation or bullet lists for complex material. (iii) Active voice. Any information you provide must not be misleading. (d) (1) To enhance the readability of the prospectus.htm#presentation Page 63 . logos. Any presentation must be consistent with the financial statements and non-financial information in the prospectus. You should read Securities Act Release No. charts and graphic illustrations of the results of operations.gov/divisions/corpfin/forms/regc. charts. schedules. (v) No legal jargon or highly technical business terms. and (vi) No multiple negatives. You are encouraged to use tables. In lieu of repeating information in the form of notes to financial statements. http://www. 33-7497 (January 28. and the risk factors section. language. (ii) Definite. Instruction to 230. you may include pictures.Johnson summarized form. you must use plain English principles in the organization. and design of the front and back cover pages. (2) You must draft the language in these sections so that at a minimum it substantially complies with each of the following plain English writing principles: (i) Short sentences. or other design elements so long as the design is not misleading and the required information is clear. You must draw the graphs and charts to scale.sec. graphs. balance sheet. whenever possible. 1998) for information on plain English principles. the summary. everyday words. or other financial data that present the data in an understandable manner.