Using the Internet in Written Business Communication
Quible, Zane K., Ray, Eric J., Business Communication Quarterly
The Internet already has become a pervasive force in our society, and projections are that it will continue to become even more so in the future. We educators need to be sure we are preparing our students adequately to use the rich resources found on the Internet. The purpose of this article is to help business communication instructors become more familiar with the Internet and to discuss ways its use -- through several scenarios -- can be incorporated into written business communication courses.
Interconnecting literally millions of individual computers, the Internet has a number of important -- even profound -- uses in the written business communication course. With it, students are able to access many different resources that they will find useful in the written business communication course and afterwards. For example, they can use it to gather information when writing reports',to communicate with students in the class and at most other colleges, to communicate with their instructor, to collaborate on writing projects at another college, and to look for employment opportunities.
Until recently, most major Internet sites have been academic and government organizations. However, within the last two to three years, commercialization of the Internet has increased dramatically, primarily because commercial users now have fewer restrictions than previously. Originally under the direction of the National Science Foundation, the Internet stopped receiving federal funding during the spring of 1994. That action does not affect Internet management, for it is managed as it has always been managed -- by its users, with no one individual or organization actually owning it.
Connecting to the Internet
Using the Internet requires a computer with either a modem or a direct connection to the Internet via a local area network. Individuals who access the Internet from a home computer will likely use plain, nofrills terminal emulation, or SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol), or PPP (Point-to-point Protocol), which provides full -- albeit slow -- Internet connectivity. When Internet access is not available as a job perk (although most universities and sizable companies now offer access), varying degrees and service-ability of Internet access can be obtained through a commercial provider. These providers, such as America Online, Delphi, Prodigy, or Compuserve, offer fee-based access.
When users obtain Internet access, they get an Internet e-mail address, such as this: jdoe@unixl. okstate.edu. "jdoe" is the user name for John Doe, "unix1" is the name of the computer, "okstate" is the Internet name for Oklahoma State University, and "edu" indicates that Oklahoma State University is an educational institution. Anyone with Internet access worldwide can send an e-mail message to John Doe using this address.
E-mail access is only one useful aspect of the Internet. Students in written business communication courses will likely use the Internet in two primary ways: to communicate electronically with others (using e-mail) and to access information resources (using a variety of tools).
Components of the Internet
Most Internet tools could be useful to students in written business communication courses, although some will be more readily useful than others. Instructors who decide to incorporate various Internet components into their course will want to become familiar with how to access the Internet using one of their university's computer systems. The availability of a local area network connection for everyone in the class would be ideal. Failing that, an account on a UNIX-type computer system would be the next best choice. In addition, a variety of books about the Internet (usually with UNIX-based examples) are now available, with new ones appearing on a regular basis. Because different computing systems and environments require different commands when using the various Internet components, the assistance of the computer center's staff will also be helpful.
The listing below provides an orientation to the relationships among the various types of components that currently comprise the Internet. The three main areas are tools, communications, and services.
Tools Communications Services
Telnet Usenet Gopher
FTP Listserv Lists Veronica
E-mail World Wide Web
Most Internet components function by using client and server software to facilitate sharing of resources. Servers provide information to clients; clients make the information comprehensible to the human user. Clients and servers are separate programs, often found on different computers and sometimes at a long distance from each other. The client program will likely reside at either of two sites: on the user's PC or on a larger computer at the user's site. The server program resides on the computer on which the requested resource is stored -- wherever that might be. While the server provides a desired resource (such as files, searching capabilities, or indexes), the client facilitates the use of that resource. Consequently, the client enables your computer to interpret your keystrokes and to expedite your requests, with the server filling those requests.
To use any of the Internet components, you will need to know the following: how to start a client program, what commands enable the client to access the desired server, and what commands enable you to get the client to perform as you wish. Generally, Netscape and Mosaic (two common graphical browsers) allow you to access most Internet resources, including FTP, Gopher, WWW, and many searching tools.
This article first addresses two Internet tools: Telnet and FTP. Later, it covers specialized applications and searching procedures.
Telnet. Telnet is used to connect to and use a remote computer. It uses the Internet to connect you to the specified computer and to act as the intermediary between you and the other computer. Once you are connected, you can access those resources that you are authorized to use. One common use of Telnet is accessing numerous public services, including library card catalogs and other types of databases.
FTP. A widely used Internet tool is FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP allows you to copy a file from one Internet host to another Internet host. A broad range of databases and services, including software, are available. Once the file -- be it software, data, an article, or a song -- is available, then you run it, read it, print it, or listen to it. Many users believe that FTP provides access to the largest accumulation of information on the Internet.
Many companies, universities, and government agencies generously donate disk storage space to store files of information they are willing to share with the public. These files are readily available to the public simply by logging on with the word Anonymous, hence the name Anonymous FTP. To access nonpublic files, you will need to be a registered (authorized) user. Today, approximately 1,500 servers and 3 million files can be accessed using FTP.
Among the communications services of the Internet discussed in this article are the Usenet and Listserv.
Usenet. Of the various Internet resources, many people find the Usenet their favorite. The Usenet enables you to communicate with others worldwide on virtually any topic.
Essentially a collection of electronic bulletin boards, the Usenet is an enormous set of newsgroups with the potential of reaching millions of users throughout the world. Approximately 12,000 discussion groups currently exist, some of which have only regional or local interest. More than half of these are general interest with a worldwide readership. On the average day, approximately 40,000 articles are posted to these different newsgroups. Upon posting, an article is passed from one computer to another computer until it spreads throughout the entire system.
Usenet operates without central authority, although certain conventions need to be followed in setting up a newsgroup and posting to a newsgroup. Most newsgroups are not moderated; some groups are. Moderated groups have a volunteer who monitors the messages that individuals submit to determine which ones are appropriate.
Listserv. Listserv provides hundreds of discussion groups (known as Listserv lists) that are comparable in nature to Usenet groups. When you find that a certain Listserv discussion group is of interest, you subscribe to it simply by sending an e-mail message to the Listserv program running on the host computer. Your subscription will likely be done automatically by Listserv (although in some cases, a person will expedite the subscription). You receive the messages in your regular e-mail. As with the Usenet, most Listserv groups are unmoderated. The computer on which a particular Listserv discussion group resides may also maintain an index and archive of messages posted earlier. This feature is valuable when you want to read all messages pertaining to a particular subject within the discussion group.
The following Internet services can be beneficial to business communication students: Gopher, Veronica, and the World Wide Web.
Gophers. Of all Internet components, Gophers are among the easiest to use. They provide access to an extensive amount of information/data and gateways to several of the other components and subcomponents, such as FTP.
A Gopher client program enables you to access the desired Gopher server and to receive the desired resource. The client program functions by displaying the menu items on your screen and carries out your request to access a certain menu item. You tell the Gopher what you want it to do by using your mouse to click onto a menu number (or your arrow keys to select the desired menu item).
On the Gopher, menu numbers most likely represent other menu items, quite possibly on other servers. Essentially a browsing tool, the Gopher lets you burrow your way through the Internet. Once you find something on the Gopher that interests you, the Gopher will attempt to access it, whether it is Telnet, FTP archives, or a different sort of database.
Typically, Gopher servers on the Internet are either partially or fully accessible to the public. Not all individuals with Internet access have the same access to the information on a Gopher. Because some Gopher resources are restricted to specified users, you will not be able to access them unless your Internet address indicates that you have the necessary authorization required to use specific resources.
Veronica. If you use Gopher services frequently, you will find Veronica to be an invaluable Internet service. Its function is to search Gopherspace for you to locate desired information.
To use Veronica, you simply enter keywords at the Veronica entry found in many Gopher menus, and it performs the search for you. The information it identifies for you as possessing the keywords you entered may or may not be helpful.
World Wide Web. Compared with some of the other Internet services, the World Wide Web (WWW) has a recent origin. It is used as an information-retrieval service based on a concept known as hypertext. The advantage of using hypertext is the seamless linkage of key terms in a document with related information in other documents. Thus, the hypertext system provides links between various pieces of related information, which can be in the form of text, sound, or pictures. In addition, the Web facilitates retrieval of information from Gopher, Usenet, and servers. However, the Web is more effective in that it provides a better interface to various Internet components.
Web client programs, the most common of which are Netscape, Mosaic, and Lynx, enable you to read hypertext documents. While Netscape and Mosaic are graphical browsers that enable you to see images as well as text, Lynx is a nongraphical browser that displays text only.
The client retrieves the desired file and displays its content on your screen. When you use a graphical browser on the Web, you will access dozens of documents in a variety of formats, including text, graphics, and sound, if your client software can handle it.
World Wide Web addresses, called Universal Resource Locators (URLs), generally look like the following two examples: http://www.okstate.edu or http: // mesonet.okstate.edu. To access a specific resource, its URL is entered into the browser (such as Netscape or Mosaic). With Mosaic, click on "File," then "Open URL," and then type in the URL you wish to access. With Netscape, click on "File" then "Open Location," and then type in the desired URL.
The World Wide Web also provides numerous searching tools that span all Internet resources. Common ones are as follows:
* Yahoo (http:hwww.yahoo.com/search.html)
* Web Crawler (http://weberawler.com
* Lycos (http://lycos.sc.cmu.edu)
* EINet (http:www.einet.net/search.html)
* All-in-1 Search (http://www.albany.net/ wcross/all1search.html)
Others appear and disappear on a fairly regular basis.
Using the Internet
Helping our students use the Internet can be problematic -- we have to provide opportunities for using the Internet as a tool, not as an end in itself. Accordingly, we propose establishing communicative opportunities for students that require them to investigate and use Internet resources. We have verified the availability of information in the following scenarios; however, due to the dynamic nature of the Internet, please remember that resources come and go on a frequent basis. As the course curriculum is prepared, instructors should individually investigate the availability of resources in these scenarios as well as in new scenarios they may develop to meet their students' needs.
For each scenario, hints are provided to aid the initial search process. Four levels of hints are provided. With each successive level, less assistance is provided. Therefore, Level 1 provides the greatest amount of assistance while Level 4 provides no assistance. Other helpful resources may be found for each scenario when using other searching tools.
Scenario 1: Glass Ceiling
You work for a small, quickly growing company in a small town in the Midwest. Over the three months you have worked there, the president has come to rely on you for accurate, concise, and useful information. The president is concerned about the way women are treated in this company and wants to verify that he is providing ample opportunities for growth and development throughout all levels of the company. Your assignment is to use the Internet (as the local library is limited in its resources) to research a report on the glass-ceiling phenomenon found in businesses throughout the country. Provide synopses of the most interesting and useful sources you can find, in addition to telling the president where to find them for himself.
Level 1: gopher://cyberwerks.com/11/dataline
Level 2: http://webcrawler.com (Keyword phrase: Glass ceiling)
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Glass ceiling
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 2: Total Quality Management
The director of engineering and production in your company has asked you to help draft a plan to implement TQM as quickly as possible. She expects you to provide ample and timely information about TQM in general, as well as about how other small manufacturers deal with quality issues. Additionally, she has heard some discussion at conferences about ISO 9000 and would like to know how that might affect your company in the context of TQM. Use the Internet to research background information and implementation examples from across the country. Additionally, find a contact through the Internet who would be willing (in your estimation) privately to discuss related experiences with the director.
Level 1: http://www.dbainc.com/dba/
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com/search.html (Keyword phrase: Total Quality Management)
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Total Quality Management
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 3: Hiring Employees with Disabilities
The president of the company in which you work has affirmed her commitment to being a leading-edge, socially responsible employer with regard to the individuals she hires. Included in her plan for the company is the hiring of a greater number of employees with disabilities. Accordingly, she asked the human resources department to begin a campaign that will produce the desired result. You know that "awareness" is a key factor -- in fact, so much so that creating greater awareness may be the logical place to begin. Although you were not asked to do so by the president, you believe the preparation of a one- or two-paragraph preamble that states the company's position should be prepared and shared with supervisors and managers. You will also attempt to get the president's endorsement of the preamble once you have it prepared. Use Internet resources to locate helpful material in preparing the preamble.
Level 1: gopher://wiretap.spies.com/OO/Gov/ disable.act
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com/search.html (Keyword phrase: Americans With Disabilities Act)
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Americans With Disabilities Act
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 4: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As a manager in the company in which you work, you hear occasional complaints among your subordinates that they experience hand/wrist pain, especially after they have worked for a fairly long time at the computer. Because you are concerned about various health issues that affect your subordinates, you decide to try to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome. You believe doing so will enable you to be better informed about the topic as well as more helpful in dealing with employee complaints. Accordingly, you decide to use the Internet to locate helpful information about carpal tunnel syndrome.
Level 1: http://www.cyberport.net/mmg/cts/ ctsintro.html
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com/search.html (Keyword phrase: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 5: International Trade
The company for which you work is located in the southwestern United States, fairly close to the Mexican border. The company manufactures a number of motorized devices used in warehouses and by construction companies. The two most popular items your company manufactures are skid loaders and low boys used to move pallets in warehouses. As a result of NAFTA (the North America Free Trade Agreement), doing business with Mexico is now considerably more attractive. Accordingly, you decide to use the Internet to gather information to include in a report about international trade, specifically with Mexico at this time. The report will be used by the company's president and three vice presidents as they ponder the feasibility of expanding into the international market arena. Using the Internet as a resource, develop an outline of the report you plan to prepare.
Level 1: http://www.nafta.net/
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com (Keyword phrase: NAFTA)
Level 3: Keyword phrase: NAFTA
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 6: Small Business Administration
You and a college friend (both graduated as business administration majors three years ago) have decided you want to investigate the feasibility of opening a coffee house near the campus where you attended college. Both you and your friend have been working as sales representatives for the last three years for a Fortune 500 company. While you have enjoyed this experience, you now decide it is time to be your own bosses. Accordingly, when you visited with a local banker recently about arranging the financing for your venture, he suggested you spend some time investigating the services provided new companies by the Small Business Administration. Being a computer enthusiast, you decided to see what type of helpful material you could find on the Internet regarding the Small Business Administration. Your partner, not being a computer enthusiast, prefers that you provide him with a paper copy of what you learn. Accordingly, from your Internet searching, prepare a report (not exceeding two pages) containing information that will be helpful in starting a new business.
Level 1: http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov/
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com/search.html (Keyword phrase: Small Business Administration; then scroll to "Business and Economy: Small Business Information" and then to "Starting Your Own Business.")
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Small Business Administration
Level 4: No assistance is provided
Scenario 7: Occupational Safety and Health
As a manager in a medium-sized manufacturing company, you have been hearing lately that various government leaders believe OSHA needs to move its primary focus away from regulation compliance and toward enhancing workers' interest in health and safety concerns. You view this as a healthy signal that OSHA has met its commitment to making the job site a safer and healthier place in which to work. You are curious about the new direction some believe OSHA should take. Accordingly, you decide to use the Internet to obtain the desired information. You also decide to prepare for your superior a one-page synopsis of what you find.
Level 1: http://www.osha-slc.gov/reinventing/ new-osha.html
Level 2: http://www.yahoo.com/search.html (Keyword phrase: Occupational Safety and Health Administration; then scroll to "Occupational Safety and Health Administration" and finally to "The New OSHA.")
Level 3: Keyword phrase: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Level 4: No assistance is provided
A Concluding Note
Most individuals -- regardless of their interest in "techie stuff " -- will find using the Internet to be exciting but perhaps initially frustrating. Because of the sometimes "unwieldy" nature of the Internet, the process of searching for information may be quite productive or quite frustrating. Quality control, per se, just does not exist on the Internet; nor can all libraries help you isolate "useful" resources.
Exploring the Internet can be likened to exploring a system of tunnels under a large city. Most likely you will not know where the next "turn" will take you until you take it. The more adventure some you are, the more intriguing you will find the Internet.
Several training opportunities are available to business communication instructors who want to use the Internet. An increasing number of colleges and libraries are offering courses on it. An alternative to formal coursework is to use one or more of the reference books about the Internet that are now available. If you choose the self-teaching alternative, you will probably want to have readily available the assistance of the Internet specialist at your college's computer center. The assistance of a specialist will likely shorten your learning curve considerably.
Instructors of business communication who have access to the World Wide Web will find the Business Communications Resource Center interesting and useful. It is a new resource that is being developed and is accessed on the World Wide Web using the following URL: http://galaxy.einet.net. The Resource Center is found under Business-and-Commerce, Management, and Communications. Instructors of business communication and their students will also find the following Internet resource valuable because of the business related information it possesses: http://www.yahoo.com.
Students initially will react to the Internet in much the same way you as an instructor probably initially reacted: frustrated, overwhelmed, intrigued, and amazed. When working with students trying to become "Internet proficient"' you will likely need to show compassion, be patient, and have understanding. Encourage your students to be adventuresome. Because you likely became "Internet proficient" not very long before you began teaching it in the classroom, having empathy for your students is not only necessary but also natural. Remember, a wealth of helpful, interesting information awaits the users' discovery when they go surfing.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Using the Internet in Written Business Communication. Contributors: Quible, Zane K. - Author, Ray, Eric J. - Author. Journal title: Business Communication Quarterly. Volume: 58. Issue: 4 Publication date: December 1995. Page number: 11+. © 1999 Association for Business Communication. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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