Content of the Business Communication Course: An Analysis of Coverage

Article excerpt

This study examined 229 responses from members of the Association for Business Communication (United States) who rated the importance of 30 business communication concepts. The concepts were divided into six categories: communication theory, written communication, oral communication, employment communication, technology, and current business communication issues. Respondents also reported the amount of class coverage they provided for each topic. Of the 30 concepts, 23 were rated as moderately or greatly important. Gaps occurred in some categories between their perceived importance and their actual class coverage. The five most important concepts centered on written communication and were ranked as follows (from highest to lowest): Use correct grammar and sentence structure, write memoranda, write persuasive news, write good news/positive message letters, and write reports.

Keywords: Course content, curriculum, ethics, technology, cultural diversity, persuasive news, grammar, memoranda, reports

ACADEMICIANS AND EMPLOYERS widely acknowledge the need for oral and written communication skills. In a study of 409 work-related episodes provided by graduate students, Reinsch and Shelby (1997) find that oral episodes requiring the employee to serve in either an advocate or conflict management position prove the most challenging tasks for students. In a study of needed competencies for graduates, 354 managers indicate that the top three requirements are oral communication, problem-solving, and self-motivation abilities (Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997).

The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) also identifies the importance of written and oral communication abilities but further includes global aspects of communication and "the impact of demographic diversity on organizations" (AACSB, 1994, p. 17). Contemporary business communication textbooks address these aspects, including topics such as technology, ethics, and cultural diversity (Johnson & Bayless, 1999; Lehman & DuFrene, 1999; Treece & Kleen, 1998). As a result, instructors face the problem of covering a wide range of topics in a cursory manner as opposed to selecting fewer topics to discuss in depth (Plutsky, 1996).

A pilot study of business communication syllabi (Wardrope & Bayless, 1998) suggests that instructors vary in terms of the extent to which they give attention to written communication, oral communication, technology, and cultural concepts in their classrooms. What importance do business communication teachers place on the traditional, as well as contemporary, components of business communication? To what extent do they cover important topics in their courses?


The purpose of this study was to answer the following questions: 1) What is the academic background of business communication instructors in the United States? (2) What communication skills do business communication instructors rate as being most important? and (3) To what extent do business communication instructors cover communication theory, written communication, oral communication, technology issues, employment communication, and current issues in the classroom?


We distributed a questionnaire to the 1,170 United States members of the Association for Business Communication listed in the 1997 ABC Directory. The instrument consisted of two parts: Part One sought demographic information about the instructors' academic backgrounds and their institutions; Part Two asked respondents to rate the importance of 30 business communication concepts in six general areas: theory, writing, oral, technology, employment communication, and current business communication issues. Respondents were asked to evaluate each item in two ways: the importance of the concept and the amount of its coverage in the course. All items in Part Two were evaluated with a five-point scale (5 = very important, 1 = not important). …