A Case Study in Business Writing: An Examination of Documents Written by Executives and Managers

By Gallion, Leona M.; Kavan, C. Bruce | Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, December 1994 | Go to article overview
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A Case Study in Business Writing: An Examination of Documents Written by Executives and Managers

Gallion, Leona M., Kavan, C. Bruce, Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

Although a number of studies have sought to identify the types of business writing activities individuals perform at work, these studies have focused either on surveying graduates in the workforce (Bednar & Olney, 1987; Storms, 1983; Wiggs, 1993) or on surveying business executives (Bennett, 1971; Bennett & Olney, 1986; Flatley, 1982; Stine & Skarzenski, 1979). The information gathered from these studies is important; however, a difference may exist between the perception of what is written as found in survey data and what is actually written. The types of written documents actually found in business should influence the decision as to what writing should be included in business writing courses. This study involved analyzing the writing of all executive/managers in two different firms for a three-month period.


Business executives have been surveyed to determine what types of writing executives do. Bennett (1971), surveying top executives in California-based corporations, reported that 94% of the respondents wrote memorandums, 86% wrote information reports, 86% wrote letters, and 80% wrote analytical reports. Another study (Stine & Skarzenski, 1979) found that the most frequently used forms of writing, in rank order, were memorandums, letters, short reports, instructions and procedures, proposals, progress reports, and evaluations.

A replication of the 1971 Bennett study (Bennett & Olney, 1986) showed the most frequently used business writing forms in rank order were memorandums, letters, analytical reports, and informational reports. Flatley (1982) surveyed managers from the private business sector in the San Diego area and found memorandums were used most often, followed by letters, reports, and forms.

A study of 837 graduates of Miami University's School of Business Administration (Storms, 1983) showed that memorandums, letters, and short reports were written more often than any other type of communication. A survey of graduates employed in Fortune 500 companies (Bednar & Olney, 1987) indicated that memorandums, followed by information reports, letters, and analytical reports, were the most frequently used form of business writing. A more recent survey of MBA graduates (Wiggs, 1993), revealed that respondents created memos more frequently than any other document, followed by letters, reports, and forms.


The writing of all executives/managers at two different companies was analyzed for the three-month period of May through July 1993. Documents at both companies were generated using Microsoft Word for Windows. The two companies--a collection agency division of a large service company (Company A) and a mid-sized professional liability insurance company (Company B)--furnished the researchers diskettes containing files of all writing generated for the duration of this study.

Eleven executives/managers from Company A and twelve executives/managers from Company B participated in the study. All writing from Company A was furnished on executive/manager diskettes, whereas Company B furnished diskettes from three administrative secretaries in addition to furnishing diskettes for each executive/manager. Where possible, files that could be identified with an executive/manager were assigned to the executive/manager. Since administrative secretaries worked for more than one executive/manager, some files on the secretaries' diskettes could not be associated with a specific executive/manager. These files were assigned to a miscellaneous category. All writing, whether assigned to an individual or to the miscellaneous category, was included in this analysis.


A total of 1,443 files was furnished to the researchers by the two companies. The first page of all files was printed so that duplications could be eliminated and files could be coded by type of document. Sixty-six documents were eliminated from the study because of duplication or because the file was empty.

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A Case Study in Business Writing: An Examination of Documents Written by Executives and Managers


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