Competent communicators must be able to assess the communication environment and adapt their message accordingly to achieve their goal. Thus, to be effective (i.e. to achieve one's goal in communicating the message), competent communicators adapt their communication style to that of the recipients. They do this by developing a common language among the participants in the communication. With the emergence of computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) as a medium of organizational communication, the basic features of the communication i.e., the message, the channel, and the sender/reader need to be reexamined. The author of a written message receives no immediate feedback from the message reader as to the interpretation of the message. With oral communication, feedback in the form of additional questions, pauses, and voice inflections provide the communicators personal cues to the interpretation of the message. These cues or contextual factors are absent in written communication. In written communication, the words provide the primary method of determining message meaning.
In electronic communication, the rapidity of response, the jargon and symbols used, and the informality of the message give additional meaning to the communication. Thus, to communicate effectively the author must accommodate the message to the reader by adjusting it to reflect the reader's communication style. If an author recognizes the reader's preferred word choices and uses language consistent with the reader's preference, it is thought to promote rapport between the author and the reader and provide increased understanding of the message (Bandler & Grinder, 1975).
When determining the meaning of a written message, the reader must rely on the systems by which "individuals encode, transfer, guide, and modify behavior" (Dowd & Pety, 1982). According to Dowd and Pety (1982), an individual has one of three preferred channels: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Grinder and Bandler (1976) note that one can identify an individual's preferred channel by examining the verbs, adverbs, and adjectives the person uses.
This study examines how the author's preferred word choices in electronic mail messages can be identified through a computer evaluation. The preferred word choices refer to the verbs, adverbs, and adjectives that a person uses to represent a preferred auditory, kinesthetic, or verbal channel. Individual written messages were evaluated using a computer program that recognizes the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic words that an individual uses to answer questions, solve problems, or think (Bandler and Grinder, 1975).
Computer-Mediated Communication Systems
Computer-mediated communication systems include computer conferencing, computer bulletin boards, videotex, facsimile, voice and electronic mail (Rice, 1987). Studies of CMCS suggest that these systems are not automated versions of existing off-line media but a "new medium with their own advantages, disadvantages, social dynamics, problems, and opportunities" (Hiltz & Turoff, 1985, p. 680). Advantages of using CMCS include reducing paper storage (Cole, 1988); eliminating telephone tag (Olson & Lucas, 1982); overcoming geographical constraints; masking of political, cultural, and symbolic information (Rice, 1987); participating in the communication at the time and rate of the reader's own choosing (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978); and facilitating creative approaches to problem solving (Peterson, 1990). Other advantages attributed to the use of computer-mediated communication systems include increases in personal productivity, changes in work tasks (Crawford, 1982), removal of organizational and departmental barriers and norms, and reduction of face-to-face contact (Kiesler, 1986). Sproull and Kiesler (1991 a) suggest that computer-mediated communication systems allow people to easily transfer messages to others.
Despite the numbers of advantages associated with CMCS, there are some problems with communicating electronically. Disadvantages include information overload (Hiltz & Turoff, 1985), required immediacy of response to a request (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984), and technical constraints (Crawford, 1982). Other problems include the need for special equipment, the lack of compatible networks, the risk of data loss through poor security, and the cost of implementing and maintaining the system (Davis, 1990). Despite these disadvantages, computer-mediated communications systems are becoming more extensive. More and more organizations are relying on CMCS as a primary means of communication.
Accommodation theory states that oral communicators adjust their speech styles to meet the needs of the person with whom they are communicating (Street & Giles, 1982). Recently this theory has been expanded to incorporate other factors such as the social consequences of the communication, the intergroup variables and processes within a group, the communication components in everyday settings, and language shifts among group members (Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991). Because of this, accommodation theory has the potential for future application to a wide range of media. Therefore, accommodation theory can also be applied to written communication to explain the relationship between the author and the reader of the message.
The business communications literature and textbooks (cf. Ober, 1995) are filled with admonitions for the communicator to analyze the audience prior to sending a message. As part of this analysis, the literature suggests the communicator determine to whom the message is going, the motivation and biases of the audience, the relationship between the communicator and the audience, the knowledge base and interests of the audience, and the demographics and unique characteristics of the audience. With the information obtained through this analysis, the communicator can adapt the message to the recipient's needs and interests. It is suggested, then, that tailoring the message to the audience will result in more effective communication between the sender and the receiver.
While the literature emphasizes the need for audience analysis when creating messages, there is little attention focused on the relationship between different types of …