1. This paper used three studies to explore the construction and effectiveness of organizational verbal accounts following controversial events.
2. Findings suggest that accounts are constructed by linking two broad forms of accounts (acknowledgments or denials) with two broad types of account contents (references to institutionalized or technical organizational characteristics) and that accounts that combine acknowledging forms of accounts with references to widely institutionalized characteristics are the most effective in protecting organizational legitimacy.
3. Construction of accounts: is explained by spokespersons' attempts to provide logical, believable, and adequate explanations.
4. Effectiveness of accounts: is explained by audiences' perceptions of the type and severity of controversial actions, their expertise in the controversial area, and their expectations of organizational responses.
5. Findings: Following moderately negative controversies, non-expert audiences expect organizations to acknowledge the events and provide evidence that actions related to the controversy were performed in accordance with widely endorsed and normative practices.
6. Organizations may protect or even enhance their legitimacy following controversies that violate social norms if those controversies are followed by acknowledging accounts that refer to normative structures, procedures, or goals. In addition, this research suggests that organizations may proactively prepare for controversial actions by retaining and using institutionalized structures and procedures in their everyday operations. These institutionalized practices may then be referred to in accounts of future organizational crises. The well-constructed account, it appears, may be mightier than the average blow to organizational legitimacy.