Written Communication Skills of International Business Persons

By Casady, Mona; Wasson, Lynn | Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, December 1994 | Go to article overview
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Written Communication Skills of International Business Persons

Casady, Mona, Wasson, Lynn, Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

As the borderless economy evolves, international negotiations are dissolving many barriers to the free flow of money, products, and services, as well as ideas. Today's global business people are faced with environmental concerns, financial deregulation, and cross-border technology transactions. Effective communication skills are thus necessary.

To determine what, if any, differences exist between the written communication skills required of employees in international businesses and those of employees in domestic businesses, 221 international companies from all 50 states were surveyed by telephone. Guided by a questionnaire form, the authors interviewed a key personnel administrator and a department head of each company to acquire information. They asked questions about the departments or divisions that have writing as a major employee responsibility, the major types of documents prepared, the most common methods of producing written documents, writing deficiencies most frequently observed by supervisors, methods used to identify effective communicators prior to hiring, and methods of training key communicators once they are hired.


In a 1985 survey of human resource directors in businesses across the nation, Vaughn discovered that many new hires are incapable of effectively handling the writing responsibilities of their new positions (1985). Many writers expand this concern to include a lack of all basic communication skills--including speaking, reading, listening, and understanding (Sharplin, Sharplin, & Birdsong, 1986).

Business representatives frequently voice concern that today's college graduates enter their chosen career areas with a woefully inadequate command of English fundamentals. This lament has been expressed regularly over the past several years but is of particular concern today because of the increasing number of businesses expanding into international markets.

The expansion into international markets has been facilitated by sophisticated technological tools. Global networks enable companies to establish convenient communication with their branches. Facsimile machines provide instantaneous communication links between companies and their customers. Personal computing tools enable employees to create and disseminate information at ever-increasing speeds. Since technology enables employees to communicate quickly and conveniently with associates and customers, increased emphasis has been placed on the acquisition of necessary technological skills. This emphasis is found in the educational setting as well as in the workplace.

Since quick, convenient communication capability plays a key role in international communication, the need to communicate clearly, accurately, and effectively becomes increasingly important. Although companies surveyed by Kilpatrick reported that between 95% and 99% of their business letters are written in English (1984), Kershkowitz found that written communication with individuals for whom English is a second language is different from domestic writing (1993).

Does international written communication require different skills from those needed in domestic situations? What written communications skills should be emphasized when communicating internationally? What writing requirements should receive particular attention in international situations? The answers to these questions and others should be of interest to business communication instructors, students, and employers of international businesses.

Companies understand that their success in international business activities hinges on developing cross-cultural appreciation and strengthening fundamental communication skills among their employees for national as well as international business activities (Armstrong, Sisson, & Page, 1988). Despite their quest to hire employees with strong skills, employers find that most applicants have serious grammatical deficiencies as well as a lack of practical business writing skills (Murphy & Jenks, 1992).

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