Student Attitudes toward Written, Oral, and E-Mail Communication

Article excerpt

The computer has been the single greatest force for change in the environment and activities of organizations (Uhlig, 1977). Some researchers suggest that no other form of information technology stands to impact the user community, and ultimately the organization, more than computer-mediated communication (CMC) because it allows managers to reshape and redirect their most time-consuming activity - communication (Adams, Todd, & Nelson, 1993).

CMC may be categorized into three types: (a) chatting (also called talk, telephone messages, and computer conferencing), (b) electronic bulletin boards, and (c) electronic messaging (McCormick & McCormick, 1992). The ability to disseminate information easily and quickly has made e-mail one of the most accepted and frequently used CMC activities in today's office environment. Employees generally participate more actively in e-mail discussions than in face-to-face communications. Superiors are less intimidating in the e-mail setting (Baig, 1994).

E-mail messaging has experienced phenomenal growth. In 1992, estimates showed that 20 million people across the U.S. used e-mail and that more than half of those users had gone on-line since 1991 (Daily Labor Report, 1992). Between 25 and 30 million workers were forecast to have an e-mail password by the end of 1994 (Gunther, 1994). By 2000, the number of Internet-based e-mail boxes is estimated to be near 50 million, with that figure representing only about 20% of the total number of e-mail boxes worldwide (Koha, 1996).

Research Questions

Considering these factors, it seemed appropriate to investigate business students' attitudes toward traditional communication methods (written/oral) and their attitudes toward e-mail messaging. Therefore, data were gathered to develop answers to the following questions:

1. What features of written communication assignments do students like? dislike?

2. What features of oral communication assignments do students like? dislike?

3. In what ways do students use electronic mail messaging?

4. Do students have a more positive attitude toward oral communication than toward written communication-either traditional or electronic?

5. Do students have a more positive attitude toward e-mail than toward traditional written communication?


Business communication students at two comprehensive, Midwestern universities served as the population for this study. These students completed a three-part survey form during the first class meeting of the 1995 spring term. Part 1 of the survey requested demographic data about the respondents, including the ways in which they used e-mail. We did not ask whether students used other features of the Internet or whether they used the World Wide Web. Part 2 asked students to identify the one feature they most liked and the one feature they most disliked about oral communication assignments and about written communication assignments. By not putting parameters around what constituted a written or an oral communication assignment, we enabled students to draw on their varied experiences. Using open-ended questions on the survey eliminated researcher bias and avoided some of the difficulties associated with interpreting checklist responses. Open-ended questions, of course, have their own set of coding problems, among them deciding how to group responses. To minimize this obstacle, we recorded students' exact wording and paraphrased as little as possible. This strategy led to having separate categories for seemingly related items; nervousness and anxiety, for example, were considered as independent responses. Part 3 used an anchored 10-point Likert scale to determine students' attitudes toward written, oral, and e-mail communication. Data were analyzed using SPSS for Windows.

Results and Discussion

A total of 144 students completed the survey instrument. The majority, 83%, reported their age as 18 to 23 years; 90% identified themselves as juniors or seniors, and nearly all (96%) listed their major as accounting or business. …