Conceptualizing the Writer-Reader Relationship in Business Prose

Article excerpt

Writers achieve an appropriate writer-reader relationship in business prose not by merely switching from their own to the reader's viewpoint but by artfully interweaving multiple rhetorical and linguistic elements. The writer-reader relationship is expressed through the many possible combinations of vision and voice, which originate in the textual identities of the implied writer, the implied reader, and, sometimes, other characters. By combining multiple visions and voices, writers create what Bakhtin called intentionally hybrid, internally dialogic language that fulfills a social purpose by reflecting human relationships even when the subject matter is impersonal and technical. You-attitude is but one instance of such language and is not always the best choice. Texts written by Sherron Watkins, former vice president of Enron, illustrate how a writer's decisions about textual identities, vision, and voice may affect the course of corporate events in dramatic, unexpected ways.

Keywords: narrative theory; implied reader; implied writer; you-attitude; dialogism; voice; tone; point of view; perspective; Enron


"I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals," Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins wrote in an anonymous letter to Kenneth Lay, chairman of the corporation. "My eight years of Enron work history will be worth nothing on my resume, the business world will consider the past successes as nothing but an elaborate accounting hoax" (see Appendix A). (1) These words began a chain of events that revealed a dramatic corporate scandal and ultimately led to the demise of not only Enron but also Arthur Andersen, its auditor. Investors lost money, employees lost jobs, and the business world lost public respect. Watkins's prophetic words became famous as Enron collapsed. But what makes these words interesting to those who study business language and its impact is the extent to which they violate a central principle of business communication: you-attitude, the expression of a relationship in which writers or speakers intentionally subordinate their priorities to those of readers or listeners. In trying to influence Lay to investigate further, Watkins focuses squarely on her own concerns, fears, and self-interest.

To explore the complexities of the writer-reader relationship, in this article I apply concepts from narratology and linguistics to business prose. I address three questions: How should we conceptualize the writer-reader relationship in business prose? What choices must writers make when they express this relationship in a text? Why are such choices important in business practice? I assert that a complete analysis of the writer-reader relationship in business prose must go beyond the traditional concept of you-attitude, which oversimplifies the writer's options. The conceptualization I propose juxtaposes the metaphors of vision and voice in written discourse. I argue that writers achieve an appropriate writer-reader relationship not by merely switching from the writer's to the reader's viewpoint but by artfully interweaving multiple rhetorical and linguistic elements. Writers must define the textual identities of the characters implied in the text: the I, the you, and, sometimes, the others. These identities then lead to choices about whose vision and whose voice the text will reflect. Vision includes not only point of view but also perspective, distance, and focus. Voice--the instantiation of vision in words--encompasses metaphoric parallels with each aspect of literal voice: pitch, inflection, intonation, articulation, pace, and volume. Juxtaposing the implied reader's vision and the implied writer's voice creates what Bakhtin (1981) called intentionally hybrid, internally dialogic language, one form of which constitutes you-attitude.

Whereas you-attitude is often considered the quintessential characteristic of good business writing, I assert in this article that this expression of a writer-reader relationship is not always desirable. Discourse that exemplifies you-attitude may rail to convey the writer's vision when it is, in fact, essential. The writer may lack sufficient knowledge of the reader's point of view and perspectives. The organizational context may make it presumptuous for a writer to express the reader's vision explicitly. Sometimes, a balance between the reader's and writer's visions is more appropriate. In yet other cases, the vision or voice of someone other than either the writer or reader should prevail. To make sound decisions about the rhetorical and linguistic elements through which a text expresses the writer-reader relationship, writers must consider the multiple possible combinations. You-attitude is but one type of hybridized, dialogic language, and others are often better choices.

After showing how past studies have laid important groundwork, this article first proposes a way to conceptualize the writer-reader relationship in terms of textual identity, vision, and voice; it then shows how these rhetorical and linguistic elements interact; finally, it explains how the possibility of multiple visions and voices complicates writers' choices. To illustrate the ideas and to demonstrate the importance of writer-reader relationships, I use three documents written by Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins (Appendices A-C), showing how her rhetorical and linguistic choices of identity, vision, and voice created dramatically different effects that perhaps influenced the course of events at Enron.


I use the term you-attitude to refer broadly to the primacy of the reader over the writer in business prose. This privileging of the reader is manifested not only in surface features of language, such as the choice of pronouns and verb forms, but also in underlying decisions a writer makes about what to include and what to exclude from a business document. When a writer gives priority to the concerns and questions readers may have, deemphasizes his or her own concerns, and acknowledges readers by using language that fits their level of expertise and conveys respect, then a business text achieves the quality of you-attitude.

Although sometimes extended to encompass the primacy of the audience over the communicator in both written and oral discourse, the concept of you-attitude has primarily been associated with writing. You-attitude stands out most clearly in persuasive documents, such as sales letters and advertising materials, in which it is appropriate to state explicitly how readers will benefit from taking recommended action. However, you-attitude can be used in most types of business writing, even the most routine, informative documents. Business writers almost always know more than readers about a topic and thus may be inclined to skip details, condense explanations, and use technical vocabulary that would confuse readers. The principle of you-attitude says that writers should put themselves in the place of readers and adapt the message to their needs.

The term you-attitude is problematic, for the concept encompasses more than you and more than attitude. Reducing you-attitude to either awareness of the intended reader (the you) or to the use of second-person pronouns has been criticized by Campbell, Riley, and Parker (1990); Rodman (2001); and others. The word attitude is too narrow, implying perhaps that personal opinion plays a bigger role than it does. Some scholars, therefore, have offered variant terms, such as you-viewpoint, reader orientation, and you-perspective. You-attitude remains the most commonly used term, despite its limitations.

You-attitude has long been an accepted principle of rhetoric in business contexts. Weeks (1985) and Carbone (1994) traced the history of the term to the early part of the 20th century when George Burton Hotchkiss applied principles of modern rhetoric explicitly to business contexts. Hagge (1989) argued, though, that the concept, if not the term, was developed much earlier and is in essence an extension of classical rhetoric principles. In previous studies of you-attitude, scholars have drawn most frequently on studies in linguistics and the philosophy of language. Rodman (2001), for instance, used theories of politeness, case grammar, and information structure to analyze how writers express you-attitude. She made two especially important points. First, you-attitude is gradable, not binary; it is a matter of degree, not an either-or condition. Second, "strategies for enhancing the you-attitude conveyed by a text appear to have a cumulative effect" (p. 22). Campbell et al. (1990), applying speech act theory, showed bow a writer's choice of pronouns and grammatical subjects interacts with rhetorical context to create you-attitude. Their contribution was to illustrate concretely how writers can use specific sentence patterns to achieve you-attitude. Ewald and Vann (2003) analyzed you-attitude in terms of syntactic contexts and semantic representations that ask the reader to adopt a particular identity. They explored the ethical dimensions of you-attitude by showing how a series of letters constructed an appealing identity for readers, which led some to self-deception.

Only recently have researchers sought to show the effect of you-attitude through empirical research. Most notably, Shelby and Reinsch (1995) demonstrated how message characteristics, including several aspects of you-attitude, predicted readers' perceptions of a text's tone, which in turn predicted readers' levels of commitment to take the action the text requested, which in turn predicted satisfaction with the message. Concerning some specific message characteristics, however, Shelby and Reinsch said that their "results do not fit neatly into current theoretical conceptualizations of you-attitude, and they suggest the need for additional theoretical analysis" (p. 320).

Responding to that expressed need, I wish to present a theoretical conceptualization of the writer-reader relationship in business prose that encompasses but extends beyond you-attitude. In a previous article, I asserted that when we talk about you-attitude, we are really referring to a sensory juxtaposition of sight and sound--a combination of one person's vision and another person's voice (Jameson, 2000). In the following discussion, I develop that idea in depth, illustrate it in contemporary business texts, and extend it to create a broader conceptualization of the writer-reader relationship.


In any piece of writing, a complete analysis of the writer-reader relationship, including you-attitude, needs to start by looking closely at the implied identities of the intended reader (the you) and the writer (the I). Writers implicitly or explicitly attribute personality, values, attitudes, and other qualifies to both themselves and others. These characterizations form the core of the writer-reader relationship as expressed in the text. I will use the term textual identities to distinguish the writer, reader, and other characters as implied in the text from the whole, live human beings they represent.

The Implied Writer

Because business texts concern actual rather than fictional events, actions, and people, we often approach the analysis of such prose in too literal a way. We may falsely assume, for instance, that the writer as projected in the text of a business document is exactly the same as the live person or persons who wrote the document. Yet a business document is an artifact--a representation of reality, rot reality itself. Every business document, from a routine e-mail to an extensive research report, presents someone's interpretations of facts, events, people, and situations. Who is that someone? The whole, live human being who writes is never exactly the same as the writer's representation of self implied in the text. In literary studies, this textual identity is called the implied author, but I prefer the term implied writer when referring to the parallel concept in nonliterary prose.

Narrative theory offers important insights that pertain to both literary and nonliterary texts (Booth, 1961; Chatman, 1978; Slatoff, 1970). In literature, the live author differs from the text's implied author, who may differ from the character through whose vision the story is told who in turn may differ from the narrator through whose voice the story is told. These distinctions apply in nonliterary prose, too, though they are rarely mentioned. Considering them explicitly will help us better understand and analyze writer-reader relationships. In some business situations, the first distinction between the live writer and the implied writer is explicit. For instance, the live writer may be a subordinate drafting a document for a boss's signature, a public relations person writing for an executive, or a freelancer ghostwriting for a client. Even when a person writes his or her own documents, however, the whole human being is bigger and more complex than the abstracted self projected in the text. In fact, the live writer is always different from the implied writer because every individual has many facets of personality, character, and knowledge, but no single piece of discourse can project them all.

The implied writer is also sometimes different from the person through whose vision the ideas are presented (paralleling the central character in literary contexts). For instance, managers frequently must explain and justify policies to employees through the eyes of higher level executives or boards of directors. Even when managers do not agree with a decision, they must often explain it to others by conveying the views of decision makers. Conversely, managers often need to communicate to higher executives the views of line employees, union officials, suppliers, or other constituencies. Being able to write about a topic through someone else's vision is an important management skill. In a few rare cases, the implied writer may even differ from the person through whose voice a business document is written (the narrator in literary contexts). For instance, sales letters and promotional materials sometimes are written from the point of view of fictional characters, complete with names and signatures.

These distinctions among the live writer, implied writer, implied source of vision (central character), and implied source of voice (narrator) are important because, as phenomenological criticism has emphasized, what engages readers is the encounter with a human mind, "the sense not merely of a human hand behind the work but of a human consciousness informing it" (Slatoff, 1970, p. 94). This quality is as essential in nonliterary as in literary prose. To engage the reader and establish credibility, a writer must project personality, character, and ethos.

Related to the idea of the implied writer is a concept that social theorists call the scheduling of roles: "the individual is allowed and required to be one thing in one setting and another thing in a different setting, the role that is given primacy at one occasion being dormant on another" (Goffman, 1961, p. 151). This concept is familiar to anyone who, in a given day, faces the psychological adjustments of alternating among the roles of a parent of one's children, a child of one's parents, and a spouse of one's partner. Within their work lives, too, people have multiple roles. For instance, a person might write as a member of a department within a company, as an elected union representative, or as a member of a certain profession--an engineer, a physician, a certified public accountant. In each case, the person could construct a textual identity that reflected the particular role by implying qualities and values that matched.

The Implied Reader

Besides having implied writers, texts have implied readers, a concept used in literary criticism to mean not only the qualities attributed to real or ideal readers but also the roles readers are asked to play as active creators or interpreters of the text (Iser, 1974, 1978; Tompkins, 1980). Iser said that a written work lies halfway between two poles--the author's text and the reader's actualization of the text in the reading process. Eco (1984) went further to assert that a well-organized text not only suggests who the intended reader is but actively builds up the kind of competence needed to be that kind of reader. That is, a text may incorporate ideas that help readers learn what they need to know to interact with the text in a preferred way.

In adapting the term implied reader to business communication, I mean the collective qualities that a writer ascribes to the intended reader or readers and the ways that the writer asks readers to interact with the text. Writers may construct the implied reader explicitly, for instance, through direct address, through metadiscourse that guides a reader's interaction with a text, or through phrasing that suggests the reader's motivations (e.g., to save money, save time, or achieve success). More often, however, the construction of the implied reader is more subtle. It may involve parallels between the reader and other people, implications about character and values, or clues about how to best understand a text. Most corporate annual reports, for instance, assume but do not state explicitly that the implied reader believes in capitalist philosophy, supports the company's goals, and is too busy to read the entire report so welcomes guidance about what is important. Whether overt or implicit, an implied reader exists in most business documents and forms an important basis for the expression of the writer-reader relationship.

The implied reader in business texts not only establishes identity but also can encourage the reader to take action. In the sweepstakes letters that Ewald and Vann (2003) studied, the implied reader was constructed as winner, a textual identity that motivated the real reader to enter the sweepstakes contest. In some of the shareholder reports that Jameson (2000) analyzed, the construction of a student-to-teacher relationship between the implied reader and implied writer encouraged the real reader to invest more to achieve dollar-cost averaging, even though a fund's performance had declined. The depiction of implied readers thus has the power to influence real readers' specific actions taken in response to texts.

Textual Identities in the August 15 Letter

To illustrate the concept of textual identities of writer and reader, consider the letter Sherron Watkins wrote on August 15, 2001, to Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron (Appendix A). The context was as follows: The impetus for the letter was the all-employee meeting scheduled for August 16 to address concerns raised by the sudden resignation on August 14 of Jeffrey Skilling, president and chief executive officer of Enron. Lay asked employees to submit questions for him to address at that meeting, and Watkins put her unsigned letter in the specified drop box. At the meeting, Lay said that employees who were troubled by anything at Enron should talk to him or anyone in top management. Later that day, Watkins met with Cindy Olson, head of human resources, identified herself as the author of the letter, and agreed to meet with Lay to discuss it.

Who is the implied writer and how does that constructed identity differ from the live writer? Sherron Smith Watkins--the whole person, the complete human being--had many personal and professional roles: Enron vice president, former auditor at Arthur Andersen, certified public accountant, University of Texas alumna, daughter of an accounting teacher, wife, mother, Presbyterian, taxpayer, investor, upper-middle-class White female, native U.S. citizen of German ancestry, and so forth (Coloff, 2003; Morse & Bower, 2002; Swartz, 2003; Yardley, 2002). In the opening of her letter, though, she states the one primary role in which she writes: member of a group of Enron employees who did not get rich in the past few years through stock options, profit sharing, and possibly unethical practices.

In connecting the identity of the implied writer to such employees, Watkins alluded to the fact that when the stock price had risen, reaching its maximum of more than $90 in August 2000 and staying at more than $80 in early 2001, some executives had sold part of their stock and made millions of dollars. For instance, in the year before the stock collapsed, Skilling had sold $27 million and Lay $26 million worth of stock (Lowenstein, 2002). Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow made more than $55 million from his involvement with the questionable partnerships (Swartz, 2003, p. 310). Certain executives, Watkins implies, knew that the company's fortunes might decline because of questionable practices in which they were involved. Unlike them, other employees had not sold their stock, either because the retirement plan prohibited it or because they still believed in Enron.

The textual identity Watkins constructs for this letter's implied writer is a limited, abstracted projection of herself, the whole, complex, live person. The letter does not even hint at most of her roles in life--parent, spouse, citizen, and so forth. No mention of her political or religious affiliations are included, nor is her gender revealed. She does not heighten her credibility by mentioning that she is a CPA, nor does she give her name. The anonymity explicitly separates the implied writer from the real writer. The implied writer is a member of a group, not just an individual. The construction of this implied writer is the first step in expressing the writer-reader relationship in the text.

In her letter, Watkins also constructs an implied reader--her representation of the person she believes Lay is or at least the person she chooses to project in this one document. She assumes that Lay is neither involved in the misdeeds nor even aware of them. Furthermore, she assumes that he will be concerned about the information she is providing and will want to investigate. Talking about how some determined employees, including herself, are searching for a solution that will save the company, she assumes that Lay will want to be part of that effort. In short, the textual identity of Lay, as constructed by Watkins, is an innocent leader, duped by underlings, who will be shocked by the information and will want to right the wrongs.

How do the textual identities of the I, the you, and the others interact to create the writer-reader relationship expressed in nonliterary discourse? In analyzing this relationship, I will use two sensory metaphors: vision and voice. By vision, I refer to the themes, ideas, and line of reasoning that guide a text, but not the specific language used. A particular vision can be expressed in many different ways depending on the writer's choice of vocabulary, sentence patterns, and other stylistic features. I will use the term voice to refer to the specific linguistic features that instantiate a text's vision. Genette (1980), Chatman (1978), and Bal (1997) complain that critics have confused these two elements of narration. In Narrative Discourse, Genette characterizes the distinction between vision and voice in terms of the questions "who sees?" versus "who speaks?" (p. 186). Bal criticizes narrative theorists for not making "a distinction between, on the one hand, the vision through which the elements are presented and, on the other, the identity of the voice that is verbalizing that vision" (p. 143). In the next two sections of this article, I show how the textual identities of the writer, reader, and sometimes other characters relate to business documents' vision and voice, which in combination express the writer-reader relationship.


The metaphor of vision has a long history in criticism of literary and nonliterary prose. Different terms for the concept have been used, including point of view (Bakhtin, 1981; Booth, 1961; Chatman, 1978), perspective (Iser, 1978), and focalization (Bal, 1997; Genette, 1980). Whatever the terminology, the metaphor captures the critical challenge of all communication: Vision depends on perception, which, as Bal notes, involves

   so many factors that striving for objectivity is pointless. To
   mention only a few factors: one's position with respect to the
   perceived object, the fall of the light, the distance, previous
   knowledge, psychological attitude towards the object; all this and
   more affect the picture one forms and passes on to others. (p. 142)

Some scholars have expressed discomfort with the vision metaphor. Chatman, for instance, says that "the use of terms like 'view' and 'see' may be dangerously metaphorical. We 'see' issues in terms of some cultural or psychological predisposition; the mechanism is entirely different from that which enables us to see cats or automobiles" (p. 155).

Vision has merit as an analytical metaphor for prose, though, if we consider its several distinct though related elements: point of view, perspective, distance, and focus. If we think of using a camera to take photographs, we can better understand these elements. Point of view is where one stands in relation to the subject of the photo. Perspective is the inevitable distortion in relative size, shape, and depth of what is seen. Distance is how far from the subject one stands. Focus is what one sees clearly through the camera lens, whereas closer and further away objects seem fuzzy and others are totally out of the picture. Each aspect of literal vision has a parallel in the metaphoric vision of a business text.

Point of View

Although the term point of view is sometimes used broadly to encompass what I have called vision, I think it is helpful to limit these. By point of view, I mean a fixed place, position, or stance from which a subject is seen. Sometimes a point of view is stated explicitly, as in such expressions as the following: "From the point of view of an outside investor"; "Because we are the market leader"; "As a long-time employee"; or "Based on 15 years of auditing experience." At other times, the point of view is implicitly indicated by such details as the choice of technical or layperson's language. By providing a direction from which to observe something, a point of view helps create a coherent vision.

In the August 15 letter to Lay, the implied writer Watkins establishes her point of view quickly. She writes from a position inside Enron and, more specifically, inside the financial division of the corporation. Her stance is that of a loyal employee who is concerned that the company extricate itself from its problems. She takes the viewpoint of someone determined to help the company rectify mistakes and thus survive. The point of view is literal in that she reports her first-hand knowledge of company records and the existence of valuation issues. She writes from inside the organization, reporting up the hierarchy. As congressional leaders noted in hearings, the word whistleblower is inappropriate because it denotes someone who reports misdeeds to external authorities. Watkins stayed inside the organization in communicating her message.

Only in the last paragraph does the implied writer Watkins acknowledge the intended reader's point of view, and she does so in a very limited way. She recognizes Lay's position as chairman only when she mentions the short time frame before the all-employee meeting. She says she knows Lay cannot address the problem fully by then, so she is just asking that he assure employees that he and Rick Causey, chief accounting officer, will investigate thoroughly.


It is useful in the analysis of writer-reader relationships in business prose to distinguish between point of view and perspective, though past writing on narrative in general and on you-attitude in particular conflates them. I distinguish point of view as a fixed place from which something is seen, whereas perspective is one's interpretation of what is seen from that place. Watkins's point of view is inside Enron; her perspective is that dangerous deception is occurring there. Other employees who wrote from the same point of view in contemporaneous documents had quite different perspectives. Perspective always involves distortion, though the word here has no pejorative implication. Whereas point of view is the fixed position from which something is seen, perspective is the inevitable distortion in the relative size, shape, and depth of what is seen. Distortion in writing encompasses the writer's interpretation of motives, causes, and responsibilities, as well as the foregrounding and backgrounding of details.

Like painters, writers use perspective to interpret their vision in a way that paradoxically seems more real than a mere presentation of factual details. Consider the analogy from art history. Pre-Renaissance Western painting did not use perspective but had a flat effect in which everything appeared on the same plane, equidistant from the viewing point. Lack of perspective creates a sense of neutrality, a lack of emphasis. With the development of perspective in the early Renaissance, painting gained the illusion of depth, with some objects closer and some farther away from the painter's point of view. To create perspective, objects are distorted: Rectangles become trapezoids, circles become ovals, and bodies become distended. Some elements seem bigger and closer, others smaller and farther away. Distinctions between foreground and background appear. Yet the paradox of perspective is that what is distorted seems more realistic, not less.

A principle of general semantics aptly fits this situation: "The symbol is not the thing symbolized; the word is not the thing; the map is not the territory it stands for" (Hayakawa, 1978, p. 25). The text of any piece of business discourse, even that which seems most neutral and routine, contains some perspective, some interpretation. "We cannot attain complete impartiality while we use the language of everyday life," Hayakawa asserted (p. 41).

How does Sherron Watkins's August 15 letter illustrate the concept of perspective? Writing from the point of view of a loyal insider, she creates a particular perspective by linking events, observations, suppositions, and technical knowledge to create a picture of intentional deceit that implicates Jeffrey Skilling. She envisions public disclosures, disgrace, and collapse because disgruntled employees know about the accounting irregularities. She interprets the fact of Skilling's departure in a negative way, speculating that his motive was to escape before an inevitable collapse that he could predict. She suggests several times how facts could be interpreted differently by "the layman on the street." Against this, she pictures some determined employees, including herself, searching valiantly for a solution that will save the company.

One way to understand perspective better is to identify the perspectives that are not used in a piece of discourse. Using the same point of view, that of a loyal insider, Watkins could have taken other perspectives. For example, she could have put the impending implosion of Enron in the background and justice for individual employees in the foreground. She could have interpreted the events as a contemporary Greek tragedy caused by MBAs' massive hubris. She could have centered her criticism not on Skilling but on Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow--a change she did make in her August 22 memo (Appendix B), as we shall later see.


A third element of vision is distance--that is, the extent of involvement in and knowledge of the subject being discussed. Distance can be manifested in a text explicitly when a writer claims or denies involvement or knowledge. Alternatively, distance can be conveyed implicitly through the level and type of detail.

The August 15 letter reveals the implied writer Watkins's literal closeness to the subject when she mentions her detailed knowledge of financial transactions. She is reporting direct observations, not hearsay or rumor. The impetus for writing the letter was distress at the news that Skilling had resigned as chief executive officer after holding the position only 6 months. She feared that this news foreshadowed major troubles because Skilling had wanted the job badly, and she suspected he would resign only if he expected a disaster. Furthermore, she explicitly includes herself in the quest for Enron's salvation.

Distance can be emotional as well as literal. Emotional closeness results when a person feels responsibility, expects personal repercussions, or has put a professional reputation on the line. Such closeness is manifested by inclusion of individual concerns within larger contexts. The August 15 letter highlights the impact of Enron's problems on the implied writer, who expresses fears that her 8 years of work history will become worthless or even negative career credentials. She wonders whether she can afford to stay at Enron.


Focus refers to what elements are emphasized as most prominent in the vision. In the camera analogy, focus includes focal length and depth of field. A photographer adjusts focal length by choosing a wide-angled versus telephoto lens to see a broader or narrower view, or a zoom lens to vary focal length quickly. Like a zoom lens, Watkins's letter shifts from the broader view about the future of the company to the narrower view about what reassurances Lay can give at the meeting the next day.

Depth of field in the camera analogy refers to the zone in which objects are distinct whereas nearer and farther away objects are fuzzy. In her letter to Lay, Watkins changes the depth of field several times to focus on four elements: her own situation, Skilling, the problem transactions, and the all-employee meeting. In paragraph 1 she focuses on her own concerns; in paragraphs 2 and 3 on Skilling; in paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 on the transactions; in paragraph 6 on herself and then Skilling again; in paragraph 7 on the transactions again; and finally in paragraph 8 on the all-employee meeting. The shifting focus creates a stream of consciousness effect, rather than a clear line of argument. Given Watkins's time constraints and the emotionally charged subject matter, this lack of logical organization is not surprising.

The metaphor of focus applied to language is powerful because humans share a universal physical ability: to change the focal point of their literal vision at will, looking at a particular object close by or one farther away. In one case, the broader scene is fuzzy; in the other, the nearer objects are fuzzy. A similar shifting of focus occurs in prose. As Genette (1980) emphasizes, "the commitment as to focalization is not necessarily steady over the whole length" of a piece of writing (p. 191). When writers create vision in a text, they have many choices of how to combine point of view, perspective, distance, and focus. Furthermore, writing involves a choice among or a combination of writer's, reader's, and other's visions. Longer discourse is likely to have a combination, for it is hard to sustain a single vision.

Only writing that incorporates the reader's vision, however, meets an essential criterion for achieving you-attitude. The August 15 letter does not meet this criterion. The letter's dominant vision is not that of the reader but, instead, that of the implied writer, an anonymous employee who did not get rich by selling stock when others did. She writes from the point of view of a loyal insider, who has knowledge of certain questionable transactions and who wants to help rectify them. Her perspective is that the transactions involved intentional deceit and that Skilling did not disclose his true reason for resigning but that corporate salvation may still be possible. She is close to her topic both literally and emotionally. Her shifting focus reveals her personal and professional distress. Overall, this vision fixes the reader's attention squarely on the implied writer's concerns, not the reader's.


Whereas vision tells us who sees, voice tells us who speaks. Voice is literal in speech but metaphorical in writing. By the term voice, I mean the specific linguistic features, such as vocabulary, sentence structure, and imagery, that instantiate a text's vision. Even when processing a text silently, readers imagine a person speaking, a linguistic consciousness. They mentally hear the voice of the speaker through an ability that cognitive psychology calls inner speech. To that imagined speaker, readers attribute personality, attitudes, and emotions. This process is imperfect, and the writer's challenge is to forecast what imagined voice the reader will infer from a written text.

Whether a text reflects the vision of the implied writer, implied reader, or another character, this vision may be expressed in any of several possible voices. To cite a specific example, consider how the vision of the August 15 letter could have been expressed in different voices. We have identified the implied writer Watkins of the August 15 letter as member of a group of employees who did not get rich and as the person whose vision dominated the letter. That vision, from the point of view inside Enron's financial division, took the perspective that deceit had occurred and threatened the company, as well as Watkins's career. Given that particular vision, the writer (the live person Watkins) could have conveyed the vision through words that would have expressed anger and indignation, or depression and desperation, or whining and fawning, or optimism and determination, or many other qualities. Voice is independent of vision, though whether they complement one another affects clarity, coherence, and impact of the text.

Like vision, voice is not a single attribute, but a combination. Elements of literal voice--pitch, inflection, intonation, articulation, pace, and volume--have parallels in voice as expressed in writing. The August 15 letter illustrates these elements.


Pitch refers to qualities of sound frequency that convey emotion, regulate conversation flow, and make speech pleasant or unpleasant to hear. Listeners perceive low-pitched, soothing voices more favorably than high-pitched, shrill voices. Cook (2002) suggests that some pitch combinations that convey positive and negative emotional states are "cross-cultural universals of paralinguistic understanding" (p. 96). In written discourse, pitch can be conveyed by phrasing that is melodious and soothing versus that which is grating, cacophonous, or shrill. If readers infer a voice with an unpleasant pitch, they will attribute negative personality traits to the imagined speaker. Readers infer pitch from a text's sentence patterns and word choices.

Sentence patterns can lower or heighten implied pitch. In her letter, Sherron Watkins uses interrogative sentences for several purposes: to get attention (paragraph 1), to imply accusation (paragraph 4), to emphasize the dilemma (paragraphs 3 and 8), and to request action (paragraph 8). Rather than asserting claims in declarative sentences or making demands in imperative sentences, she achieves the same goals by using interrogatives, thus lowering the pitch of her voice. These types of sentences constitute what in the philosophy of language are called indirect speech acts. As Searle (1975) explained, "A sentence that contains the illocutionary force indicators for one kind of illocutionary act can be uttered to perform, in addition, another type of illocutionary act" (p. 59). For instance, a sentence that has the force of a question can also convey a request or demand. The result is a lower, softer pitch. Because ordinary conversational requirements make it difficult to state imperatives, politeness is the primary reason for indirect speech acts. "There are culture-specific rules of the use of language," according to Saddock (1974), "that tell us that it is uncivil directly to request something of a social equal or superior"(p. 114). In their cross-linguistic studies, Brown and Levinson (1987) found that this particular use of indirect speech acts appears to be "universal or at least independently developed in many languages" (p. 136).

In addition to sentence patterns, word choice affects a text's pitch. Watkins heightened the pitch of her language, for instance, by choosing the vivid verb implode and strong noun scandal in her expressed fear that Enron would "implode in a wave of accounting scandals." The imagery of Skilling's abandoning a sinking ship also heightened the pitch. She did not, however, use shrill words when referring directly to the reader.


Inflection--that is, coordinated changes in pitch--allows a speaker to give different meanings to the same word, such as to express sarcasm, irony, or disgust. For example, with rising inflection, Oh, great! is positive; with falling inflection, these words mean the opposite. In writing, the parallel is words or phrases that imply double meanings, usually one straightforward and one ironic. In imagining the personality and character of a speaker through inner speech, readers are influenced by inflection.

Several linguistic choices in the August 15 letter convey inflection. The words in quotation marks, such as "'redeployed' employees" and "personal reasons," suggest alternative interpretations. Balanced rhetorical questions, such as, "Is that really funds flow or is it cash from equity issuance?" imply the writer's skepticism. Watkins's mother, who saw the draft letter, warned her to omit what she perceived as sarcasm (Coloff, 2003).


Intonation is the expression of the writer's attitude toward the reader and the subject matter. Intonation is important because it signals status and other relationships between writer and reader. Literal voice can convey attitudes of equality, condescension, or subservience. Likewise, voice inferred by reading a text can convey such positive or negative qualities. Linguistic features that express intonation include forms of address, level of diction, pronoun patterns, tags, qualifiers, and hedges. Attitudes about the writer-reader relationship are initially implied by forms of address and choice of conventions (e.g., "Dear Mr. Lay"). A writer's choice of a formal or informal level of diction subsequently affects tone. Watkins uses several informal expressions, such as "it sure looks" and "pony up," that suggest a peer relationship with the reader but may result from the rime pressure under which she composed the letter.

Pronoun patterns affect tone in a deeper way. In the August 15 letter, first-person plural pronouns dominate; Watkins uses we 14 times, and 13 of these refer to Enron collectively, including her personally. This pattern, which Brown and Levinson (1987) called the "respectful-plurality principle" (p. 202), conveys that Watkins and Lay share a problem to be solved. The "business 'we'" draws on two sources of power: the corporate entity itself and membership in a group, a reminder that the reader is not alone, according to Brown and Levinson. Watkins poses a question that establishes herself as part of the solution: "How do we fix the ... deals?" In the closing she asks "What do we do?" not "What should you do?" or "What should Enron do?"

Tags, qualifiers, and hedges also affect tone. Twice, Watkins embeds assertions as subordinate clauses within a kernel sentence marking the assertion as her thought (e.g., "I think that the valuation issues can be fixed"; Appendix A). These kernel sentences, which are hedges, modify the illocutionary act. Watkins uses the hedge "I think" on one hand to limit her claims but on the other to mark the assertions as her own as opposed to someone else's. The illocutionary force of "I think" is to take credit for the ideas but not to state them without qualification as absolute facts, a double purpose that Brown and Levinson (1987, p. 164) have discussed. Similarly, she changes the tone when she attaches a concession before an interrogative:

   I know this question cannot be addressed in the all-employee
   meeting, but can you give some assurances that you and Causey
   will sit down and take a good bard objective look at what is
   going to happen to Condor and Raptor in 2002 and 2003?

Instead of the imperative ("Do X !"), she uses a concession ("I know you cannot do Z") followed by an interrogative ("but can you do X?"). The power of indirect speech acts, according to Searle (1975), is that they convey both the literal meaning plus a specific type of extra meaning: "What is added in indirect cases is not any additional or different sentence meaning, but additional speaker meaning" (p. 70). Thus, Watkins's choice of "can you give some assurances that ..." conveys not only the request but also information about her attitude toward and relationship with the reader.


Articulation refers to the precision with which a speaker moves tongue, lips, and mouth to pronounce words intelligibly. Insufficient articulation results in lack of clarity; overarticulation, though, can be insulting--a way of talking down. Articulation in the voice of a text is conveyed through precision, explicitness, and level of detail in explanations. Too little articulation results in readers being confused because of omission of needed definitions, use of technical terminology they do not understand, wrong assumptions about their background knowledge, or similar problems. Conversely, if a writer overarticulates by providing definitions, examples, and explanations that readers do not need, the effect may be condescension. Choosing the ideal level of such articulation requires that the writer understand what readers already know about a topic and what level of expertise they possess. If readers infer that the voice of a text is pretentious or condescending, the writer-reader relationship will be harmed.

In writing her August 15 letter, Watkins assumes that, besides knowing Enron well, Lay understood the general principles and some technical terminology of accounting and finance. She implies that she is writing to a knowledgeable person who does not need each detail explained. Yet she provides key specifics to support her assertions about stock price trends. Thus, through the chosen level of articulation, Watkins constructs an implied reader who understands business principles and the Enron context.


Pace in speech refers to the number of words spoken per minute and the length of time used to express each idea. A speaker whose pace is too fast, especially when the topic is complex, loses the audience; a speaker whose pace is too slow annoys the audience. Making a parallel with written discourse, I use the term pace to mean the speed with which the writer moves from point to point and the amount of space allocated to points (i.e., are they elaborated in detail or summarized briefly?). Through the mental process of inner speech, will the reader imagine a person rattling off words rapid tire, chatting at a conversational rate, or explaining slowly and patiently? A positive relationship between writer and reader depends on the writer's choosing the appropriate pace for particular readers.

In written discourse, pace is implied by several features that will affect the reader's experience of inner speech. Delaying the overall main point gives an impression of a slower pace, as do lengthy descriptions and explanations of each idea. Long sentences and long paragraphs suggest a slower vocal pace. The reader's perception could even be influenced by visual elements such as headings and listings, which might imply a faster pace.

The pace of the August 15 letter is moderately fast. Watkins writes directly, getting attention with rhetorical questions in paragraph I and then moving quickly to a summary of the problem in paragraph 2. She immediately asserts that the suspicions of accounting improprieties are well founded. The sentences and paragraphs are relatively short, increasing the pace. Offsetting the speed, though, is the omission of headings or any visual cues about a hierarchy of ideas. Without these, a reader cannot guess which sentences are most important and thus must mentally listen, through inner speech, to every word.


Speakers can speak too softly or too loudly, the former implying a lack of confidence and the latter aggressiveness or anger. In written language, volume is implied by word choice, especially the vividness of descriptions, the use of modifiers and intensifiers, and the inclusion of loaded or hot-button expressions. Format choices, such as capital letters and exclamation points, also contribute to volume. The writer-reader relationship is affected by the perceived loudness or softness of the text. As in the case of e-mail, readers may be offended by the inference that writers are shouting at them through format and other features.

Watkins's letter provides vivid expressions that, frequently quoted, came to typify the Enron situation, such as "to implode in a wave of accounting scandals" The imagery connotes the demolition of a building, collapsing in on itself--an implosion rather than an explosion. The letter uses intensifiers such as "I have thought and thought," as well as loaded words such as "risky place to work."

Verbs also affect a text's perceived loudness. Watkins uses a series of active verbs linked to the subject we, meaning Enron collectively: "we recognized funds flow of $800 million"; "we capitalized [Condor] with a promise of Enron stock"; "we are hiding losses"; "we booked the Condor and Raptor deals"; and "we enjoyed wonderfully high stock price." By choosing this sentence pattern, Watkins emphasizes the culpability of Enron.

Overall, the voice in Watkins's August 15 letter as inferred from pitch, inflection, intonation, articulation, pace, and volume seems to be that of a person who is distressed, anguished, yet determined to do her part to help save the company by finding a technical solution--a way to unravel the improper transactions, take responsibility, and move forward. Her voice expresses doubt, too, an uncertainty about the good faith of the corporate leadership. Most of all, her voice expresses strong emotion through its sentence structure and vocabulary.

We can imagine the same vision presented through different voices. Suppose that the vision remains the same: An insider's perspective of deceit and hope for salvation. If the implied writer were Watkins the CPA, the voice might be less dramatic and more analytical, cold, and professional. If the implied writer were Watkins the employee advocate, the voice might be hot, outraged, and morally indignant. Watkins even might have chosen a voice that mimicked someone else--for instance, a corporate lawyer or a public relations official. Each of these rhetorical and linguistic choices would have modified the writer-reader relationship expressed in the text.


The way that a writer combines textual identities, vision, and voice creates a text's writer-reader relationship. The starting point of this combination is the construction of the you and the I because, as we have seen, a writer can create many variant implied writers and readers while retaining essentially the same content. In the August 15 letter, the implied writer is a fearful employee, not an inquisitive auditor. The implied reader is a deceived victim, not a dishonest conspirator. Once such textual identities of writer and reader are defined, four basic combinations of the primary vision and primary voice are possible.

The Implied Writer's Own Vision and Voice

The combination of the implied writer's own vision and voice is the natural inclination of most writers, who see the world from their own positions and speak in their own voices. Therefore, first drafts almost always have this combination of primary vision and voice. In completed documents, this writer-centered combination is appropriate when the main purpose is to express the writer's ideas and concerns clearly or when neither imagination nor research provide a sound basis for making assumptions about the intended reader or readers.

The August 15 letter that Watkins sent anonymously to Lay exemplifies the combination of the writer's own vision and voice. The antithesis of you-attitude, it is almost totally writer centered. The implied writer, whose vision and voice dominate the letter, is a member of a group of employees who did not get rich by selling Enron stock, as did others; is an insider who has direct knowledge of some questionable transactions and strong suspicions about others; yet is still a loyal employee looking to find a solution to save Enron by rectifying the problem. One reason the August 15 letter follows this pattern is that Watkins wrote it quickly in response to a surprise announcement and needed to submit it before a meeting to be held the following day.

The Implied Reader's Own Vision and Voice

Although unusual, a totally reader-centered piece of discourse is possible. In an attempt to capture the reader's vision, writers sometimes subordinate themselves so much they disappear from the text. Prose with this combination directly reflects what readers think and attempts to use their own language. Consider, for example, an adult composing a brochure aimed at young teenagers to influence them not to smoke. To determine the text's vision, the writer will need to analyze young teens' motivations and concerns and then focus on these in the text. For instance, the perspective of the readers' vision may put short-term issues about peer pressure and social acceptance in the foreground but long-term health issues in the background. To instantiate this vision in words, the writer will probably eliminate his or her own adult voice and instead use young teens' colloquial expressions to create an intonation with which the readers identify. The challenge of prose written in the reader's voice is that it often sounds insincere or condescending because most writers have difficulty creating prose in another person's voice that comes across as authentic. The pitch may be too shrill, the ideas overarticulated, or the volume too loud. Done well, though, such a brochure could succeed in its purpose. However, this combination of reader's vision and voice does not constitute you-attitude because it conveys no relationship between writer and reader. Instead, the writer is absent, and an almost fictionalized narrator persona provides the voice.

The Implied Writer's Vision and Implied Reader's Voice

In contrast to either writer-centered or reader-centered texts, business prose can juxtapose the writer's and reader's visions and voices. The combination of the implied writer's vision with the implied reader's voice usually comes across as manipulative or disingenuous. Imagine the antismoking brochure written in the young teen's voice but with a vision from an adult point of view and with adult perspectives about smoking. Many business documents do take this approach. For instance, letters to potential customers often disguise the writer's vision in language that mimics the reader's style in an attempt to tell the reader what to think. The reader's concerns and points of resistance are concurrently omitted, and the result is presumptuous or dishonest.

The Implied Reader's Vision and Implied Writer's Voice

Business prose that achieves you-attitude artfully juxtaposes the writer's voice and the reader's vision and thus demonstrates a relationship in which the writer expresses an understanding of the reader's vision. As Bakhtin (1981) stresses, verbal discourse is a social phenomenon, an expression of human relationships. When the subject matter is impersonal and technical, as it often is in business contexts (e.g., financial analysis, accounting treatments, investment strategies, legal issues), it is even more important to be able to reflect human relationships in the language chosen. The substance of discourse with you-attitude reflects the reader's point of view, perspective, distance, and focus. That vision is expressed, however, through the voice of the implied writer, demonstrating rhetorically and linguistically that the writer understands and respects the reader. In the case of the antismoking brochure, this combination would show that the adult implied writer recognized the teenage reader's concerns but also hoped that the reader would gain certain benefits from taking the recommended action. The technical subject matter relating to the scientific analysis of nicotine and the medical problems caused by smoking would be tempered with the expression of human relationships and values.

This juxtaposition of the reader's vision and the writer's voice is one specific example of what Bakhtin (1981) calls hybridization, which he says is important in both literary and nonliterary prose. Hybridization is an encounter "between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation or by some other factor" (p. 358). In business prose, the writer and reader are the two consciousnesses, separated by generational differences in the case of the antismoking brochure and by organizational hierarchy differences in the case of Watkins's messages to Lay. When a writer uses hybridization intentionally, the result "is not a mixture of two impersonal language consciousnesses" but instead "a mixture of two individualized language consciousnesses" (p. 359). This leads to a collision between different beliefs about the world that are embedded in the two contrasting languages and styles. Bakhtin calls such language internally dialogic because the two consciousnesses are set against each other, not mixed. We may think of you-attitude, then, as one particular instance of intentionally hybridized language that becomes internally dialogic as it fulfills a social purpose by expressing human relationships even when the subject matter is technical. I do not mean to imply that the you-attitude combination of reader's vision and writer's voice is always the best choice. In fact, the other combinations are more appropriate in certain circumstances. Furthermore, there are many possibilities beyond the four basic combinations of primary visions and voices. In many cases, the textual identities that are important include others beyond a single implied writer and single implied reader. A complete understanding of the writer-reader relationship in business prose requires analysis of all the visions and all the voices the text reflects.


The combination of the implied reader's vision and the implied writer's voice is but one of several types of hybridized, internally dialogic language found in business prose. In fact, even short business texts frequently incorporate the visions and voices not only of the writer and reader but also of other people. The writer-reader relationship is often inextricably linked to the linguistic consciousnesses of these other characters as represented in the text.

Longer business texts frequently express more than one voice and more than one vision. In a complex document, a writer might incorporate not only his or her own vision but also those of several different implied readers and of other people or groups. Additionally, the writer might present parts of the text in his or her own voice and others in the voice of the reader or others. In the case of the antismoking brochure, separate segments of the document might be in the voices of a teenager, of a doctor, of a parent, and of a cancer researcher. The visions reflected might correspond to each of those voices. In analyzing such texts, it is important to consider the whole work because, as Rodman (2001) points out, the misconception that you-attitude is binary arises when we look at sentence-length passages.

Most dialogic texts have a primary vision and a primary voice that dominate, with others clearly supplementary; understanding the connections among these is important to both writers and readers. Bakhtin (1981) stressed that the power of multiple linguistic consciousnesses arose from contrasts--the collision of values and beliefs. Genette (1980) described the phenomenon of mixing voices or visions in terms of a music analogy, which implies a smoother, less discordant effect while still recognizing the power of contrast:

   A change in focalization, especially if it is isolated within a
   coherent context, can also be analyzed as a momentary infraction of
   the code which governs that context without thereby calling into
   question the existence of the code--the same way that in a classical
   musical composition a momentary change in tonality, or even a
   recurrent dissonance, may be defined as a modulation or alteration
   without contesting the tonality of the whole. (p. 195)

Readers experience multiple linguistic consciousnesses linearly--one by one, sentence by sentence. This inherent feature of the reading process means that we encounter shifting visions and voices in a dialogic text. Using an analogy of a kaleidoscope, Chatman (1978) offers a way of thinking about how the sentence-by-sentence reading process influences the overall effect of hybridized, dialogic language:

   The activity of reading can be characterized as a sort of
   kaleidoscope of perspectives, preintentions, and recollections.
   Every sentence contains a preview of the next and forms a kind of
   viewfinder for what is to come; and this in return changes the
   "preview" and so becomes a "'viewfinder" for what has been read.
   This whole process represents the fulfillment of the potential,
   unexpressed reality of the text, but it is to be seen only as a
   framework for a great variety of means by which the virtual
   dimension may be brought into being. (p. 279)

A single dominant vision or voice can provide unity, but supplementary visions and voices can create a more complete understanding--a kaleidoscope of rich, interwoven ideas.


To illustrate the way that an analysis of textual identities, vision, and voice can lead to deeper understanding of the writer-reader relationship in a business text, let us contrast Sherron Watkins's August 15 letter with a memo she wrote the following week (Appendix B). Whereas the August 15 letter featured the implied writer's vision and voice alone, the August 22 memo incorporates several people's visions and several people's voices. Using the proposed theoretical conceptualization of vision and voice, I will show how the August 22 memo brings several linguistic consciousnesses together and thus creates in a nonliterary text the kind of intentionally hybridized, internally dialogic language that Bakhtin (1981) described in literary texts.

Although written to the same person on the same topic in the same week, Watkins's memo of August 22 presents a strong contrast with her letter of August 15. The memo is less writer centered and less emotional. By integrating the visions and voices of people other than the writer and reader in important ways, the memo well illustrates the power of intentionally hybridized, internally dialogic language.

The Context of the August 22 Memo

The context in which Watkins wrote the August 22 memo was stressful. Responding to Lay's comments at the all-employee meeting on August 16, she met with human resources chief Cindy Olson, revealed herself as the author of the anonymous letter, and arranged to meet with Lay as soon as possible. Olson said that a face-to-face meeting might get a better result because Lay "gravitates towards good news" and might convince himself the situation was less serious than it was (Swartz, 2003). In preparation for the meeting, Watkins wrote rive documents. At a congressional hearing, she testified that she used the memo, the subject line of which was "Summary of Raptor Oddities," as talking points during her August 22 meeting with Lay.

Textual Identities in the August 22 Memo

The implied readers of the August 22 memo and August 15 letter are very similar, but the implied writers are quite different. Both documents portray the implied reader Lay as being unaware of the improper transactions. The implied writer's assumptions are that he will be concerned and will want to act quickly to try to rectify the situation and save the corporation from impending collapse. Constructing the implied reader in this way, whether or not true, makes it easier for Lay to accept the information and act on it. Watkins testified before Congress that she did, in fact, believe that Lay had been misled.

The implied writer of the August 15 letter was a distressed member of a group of employees who had not gotten rich when others had and who feared it was risky to continue working at Enron; in sharp contrast, the implied writer of the August 22 memo is a professional accountant and experienced auditor reporting concerns about the propriety of certain transactions and their potential impact on the company. She omits all mention of personal concerns about the impact of the situation on her career or on her financial situation. She writes as an individual, not as a member of a group. If she is disaffected or fearful, she does not show this. She writes with the assumption that her job is secure, not in jeopardy. She writes strictly in her professional role, without mentioning any other roles she plays in real life. And, of course, she is no longer anonymous, though she does not put her name, or Lay's, on the memo.

The dominant vision and voice of the memo arise from this implied writer but are not the only vision and voice the memo reflects. The third section of the memo introduces several other characters who work in the financial division of Enron: Jeff McMahon, Cliff Baxter, and an unnamed manager in the principal investments group. By reporting their visions of what was going on and by quoting their voices directly and indirectly, Watkins uses hybridized language to try to increase her influence on Lay. It is as if, in writing, the implied writer and her textual colleagues are ganging up on the implied reader. We could imagine that, if this discourse were face-to-face instead of in writing, Watkins would charge into Lay's office with McMahon, Baxter, and the others trailing behind her to corroborate her claims. As a result, the writer-reader relationship as expressed in the August 22 memo is quite different from that in the August 15 letter.

Vision in the August 22 Memo

Like the August 15 letter, the August 22 memo paints an overall picture of improper accounting based on deceit; however, the new vision is more focused, less emotional, and based on the perspectives and points of view of multiple people. The focus is more clear, consistent, and linear in the August 22 memo than in the jumbled stream of consciousness of the August 15 letter. In the August 22 memo, the implied writer presents four numbered points, each similar to ones raised in the August 15 letter, but more coherent. The sequence moves from factual discrepancies that an auditor might discover, to a critique of the financing arrangements, to the testimony of employees about the problems, to suggestions about how Lay might proceed. The memo omits some elements from the earlier letter but introduces one important new element: Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow's involvement.

The distance between the implied writer and the subject matter is close in literal terms but not in emotional terms. The implied writer, as well as the other characters, have direct knowledge of facts, figures, and details of transactions. However, unlike the August 15 letter, the August 22 memo omits all personal references to Watkins's resume and career prospects, as well as references to employees whose personal financial situations were harmed because they did not have inside information that led others to sell their stock.

Like the August 15 letter, the point of view of the August 22 memo is inside the company and inside the financial division. The implied writer and reader, as well as the other characters, are positioned inside the company, but only the implied writer can report from a point of view observing events in the financial division. The implied writer is still working within the organization, alerting higher management to problems discovered.

The August 22 memo conveys the perspectives of the implied writer and, later, of McMahon, Baxter, and others. The inclusion of these additional perspectives in the third section of the memo broadens the interpretation of deceit to encompass not only Skilling, the chief executive officer, but also Fastow, the chief financial officer. Although the August 15 letter did not mention Fastow, the August 22 memo suggests that he is guilty of conspiracy and corruption, though the implied writer mentions him only by job title, not name. Skilling's culpability is still discussed, but the closing sentence highlights Fastow's role.

Like the August 15 letter, the August 22 memo's perspective is that the facts reveal deceptive practices, not mere accounting errors or oversights. The implied writer interprets the facts, observations, and other sources of information as indications of serious corruption. The memo omits the personal issues that concern Watkins but foregrounds issues that should deeply concern a company chairman--questionable accounting, transactions hot at arms length, unresolved losses, and improper compensation.

Overall, the primary vision of the August 22 memo is that of the implied writer; however, this implied writer is a professional accountant and auditor who is reporting observed problems, not a distressed, fearful employee. The memo's primary vision is supplemented with those of the other characters--McMahon, Baxter, and unnamed employees--who provide additional information about the nature of Enron's problems. The spotlight in this memo, then, is on neither the writer nor the reader but on the company itself, the transactions in question, and the business events.

The August 22 memo does not meet the criteria for you-attitude in that it does not present the reader's vision or even speculate what the reader's vision might be. The memo does not explicitly discuss the reader's concerns or highlight benefits the reader might gain by doing what the writer suggests. An unstated assumption, perhaps, is that the company chairman should be interested in and concerned about the types of issues raised. Yet Watkins knew from Cindy Olson that Lay did not welcome bad news.

Voice in the August 22 Memo

The voice of the August 22 memo is quite different from that of the August 15 letter. The primary voice, that of the implied writer, is aligned with the changed textual identity--professional accountant and auditor. The supplemental voices of McMahon, Baxter, and other characters create a powerful hybridized, dialogic language that allows the writer-reader relationship to be more harmonious. We can trace some of these differences to the writing process that Watkins used as she composed the memo.

The primary voice of the implied writer. The primary voice of the implied writer, manifested in pitch, inflection, intonation, and volume, dominates the text. The voice of this memo lacks the shrill pitch of the earlier letter. The use of neutral language and indirect speech acts creates the more modulated pitch. Each of the first three sections of the memo starts neutrally by making a major factual claim (e.g., "the equity derivatives transactions do not appear to be at arms length"). The initial development of the points is also impersonal and factual (e.g., "the related party was unable to lay off this risk"). The implied writer uses the first-person singular pronoun only three times, to label ideas as her thought or wish.

In the last section of the memo, the pitch is kept soft when the implied writer proposes action by posing four questions rather than using imperatives or declaratives: "Can the general counsel of Enron audit the deal trail and the money trail between Enron and LJM/Raptor and its principals? Can he look at LJM? At Raptor? If the C.F.O. says no, isn't that a problem?" The implied writer thus, in essence, recommends that Lay have the lawyers audit the trail of transactions. She alerts Lay that if Fastow refuses to cooperate, this signals a major problem. She indicates to Lay who she believes is the key player and most guilty party: Fastow. These charges are brought in a voice softened by questions used as indirect speech acts. This type of rhetorical question structure invites the reader to agree with the writer immediately, putting them on the same side.

Yet the voice does have inflection, variations in pitch that lead the reader to conclusions not explicitly stated. Each of the first two sections starts with statements of fact or observation. Then the implied writer poses questions that signal skepticism while avoiding an accusatory tone. For instance, when she asks, "What else is going on here?" the reader knows that the answer cannot be "nothing" or she would not have posed the question. Such phrasing invites the reader to participate in completing the message by filling in the blanks and answering the questions.

Counterbalancing the skepticism implied by this inflection, the memo builds up a positive writer-reader relationship through intonation, an expression of the writer's deferential attitude toward the reader. The implied writer creates a more positive tone by hedging rather than asserting absolutes; for instance, she chooses the phrase "do not appear to be" rather than "are not" and "I think we do not have a fact pattern that would look good to the S.E.C. and investors" rather than "the facts will not look good to the SEC and investors?'

Using several of the politeness strategies Brown and Levinson (1987) believe affect tone, the implied writer presents herself as someone who is trying to solve a puzzle but needs the reader's help. She writes, "Who bears that loss? I can't find an equity or debt holder that bears that loss. Find out who will lose this money. Who will pay for this loss at the related party entity?" This is certainly a pose because Watkins (2003) in fact believed that this was "some of the worst accounting fraud I had ever seen" (p. 435). A more accusatory voice would have conveyed the ideas with a declarative: "Enron will bear the loss because no other equity or debt holders exist" The imperative "find out" is the one instance in which Watkins violates politeness protocol by using an explicit demand, which highlights the strength of her conviction.

The pronoun patterns, which also affect intonation, signal a turn away from the August 15 letter's use of the respectful plurality principle. Rather than using we to suggest the writer's and reader's working together to solve the problems, the August 22 memo rarely uses the first-person plural pronoun but instead uses Enron repeatedly. This shift to the third-person construction distances the implied writer from the problem and the efforts to solve it. Yet neither does she choose secondperson pronouns to emphasize that the problem is the reader's.

Although the volume of the memo, created by vividness of vocabulary and use of loaded words, is fairly soft in the first two sections, it becomes louder in the third section. This section is organized in terms of examples of external validation for the claire that "employees question our accounting propriety consistently and constantly." In describing the situation, the implied writer uses one especially vivid phrase that was often repeated in later press reports and congressional investigations: "There is a veil of secrecy around LJM and Raptor." She also chooses strong descriptors when naming the people whose testimony supports her claims. One was "highly vexed" and another "complained mightily?' The voice in this part of the memo is strong.

Others' voices as supplements. In this third section of the memo, the implied writer introduces the voices of the other characters, which have an important effect. By using quotation and attribution, the implied writer can maintain a favorable relationship with the reader yet provide a powerful vision labeled as belonging to someone else. With this type of intentionally hybridized language, Watkins is able to insert a charge of corruption and the vivid word crooked yet not take blame. She writes, "I have heard one manager-level employee from the principal investments group say 'I know it would be devastating to all of us, but I wish we would get caught. We're such a crooked company.'" Genette (1980) calls this "double focalization" (p. 209). Such double-voiced language creates powerful effects, which Bakhtin (1981) describes as follows:

   The words of the author that represent and frame another's speech
   create a perspective for it; they separate light from shadow, create
   the situation and conditions necessary for it to sound; finally,
   they penetrate into the interior of the other's speech, carrying
   into it their own accents and their own expressions, creating for it
   a dialogizing background. (p. 358)

In congressional testimony, Watkins said that Lay winced when he read the quotation about Enron's being a crooked company.

Through attribution, the memo uses intonation that softens the impact of the charge that Fastow is guilty of conspiracy and corruption. The passage uses indirect rather than direct quotation: "Employees quote our C.F.O. as saying that he has a handshake deal with Skilling that LJM will never lose money?' This is thrice-removed hearsay--the CFO supposedly told employees who told Watkins who is telling Lay. Nevertheless, this is a powerful piece of intelligence for Lay--if he himself is innocent.

The impact of the writing process on the memo's voice. The August 15 and 22 documents' striking differences in voice perhaps arise from the time pressure under which Watkins wrote the first--delivering it the day she wrote it--versus the 6 days she used to draft, rethink, and revise the second before her meeting with Lay. In Power Failure, a 2003 book that she collaborated on with Mimi Swartz, Watkins described her writing process. She started drafting on August 17 and called or met with contacts in the legal, finance, and credit departments to check on facts and clarify technical points. On August 20 she started organizing her materials and consulted with three more people. The chief risk officer of Enron said he would rather not see the materials. She spoke on the phone at length with a former mentor at Arthur Andersen to confirm her understanding of the accounting principles; he documented the conversation in a detailed memo to the file. Jeff McMahon, a colleague and former treasurer of Enron, reviewed her draft and met with her to discuss it. He recommended changing the word irregularities in the subject line to make the tone less inflammatory; Watkins substituted oddities. He stressed the need to be clear and credible about complex technical accounting issues because her meeting with Lay would only last 30 minutes. As a result, Watkins distilled the draft to one and a hall pages and reduced the accounting terminology. She also added a concrete example McMahon suggested. Her goal, he advised, should be to make Lay just nervous enough to start an investigation. Watkins said that she sought to reach that goal by being earnest and respectful, but a little pushy.

McMahon's suggestions helped Watkins adjust the articulation and pace of the memo's voice. She had to explain highly technical accounting concepts to Lay, who, though a prominent executive, had limited background in accounting. Over the next few days, she rewrote explanations, cut accounting jargon, and simplified the language. She distilled the complicated discoveries into four points, each with a top-level summary sentence and separate numbered division. The format with lists and indentations gives the illusion of faster paced reading. Though the subject matter is more complex, the August 22 memo has 20% fewer words than the August 15 letter.

The contrast between the types of discourse represented by the August 15 letter and August 22 memo has been described in linguistic terms by Halliday (2002). He said that all discourse involves hesitation, revision, and change of direction, but these are hidden in highly self-monitored discourse, such as writing that becomes public only in its final, edited form when "the reader is shielded from seeing the process at work" (p. 340). The August 22 memo was highly self monitored; the August 15 letter was not.

In summary, the August 22 memo uses the visions and voices of the implied writer and others to convey a complex situation. The resulting hybridization of language allows Watkins to present ideas the reader will not welcome while maintaining a positive writer-reader relationship in the text. Though Watkins took into account what she knew and heard about her intended reader, Kenneth Lay, she did not attempt to write explicitly from his point of view or perspective. The memo does not, therefore, meet the essential criterion that defines you-attitude, though it is far less writer centered than the August 15 letter.


As I have shown, neither the August 15 letter nor the August 22 memo exemplifies you-attitude because they do not express the vision of the reader or suggest the benefits he might receive from taking the recommended action of investigating the situation further. To see how the proposed theoretical conceptualization of the writer-reader relationship in business prose might help us identify and use you-attitude, let us turn to a third document Watkins wrote as a result of her subsequent interactions with Lay. Watkins's e-mail of October 30 to Elizabeth Tilney uses youattitude to a much greater degree than either of the other two documents. Like the August 22 memo, the e-mail also incorporates multivoiced, intentionally hybridized language.

The Context of the October 30 E-mail

The context of the e-mail was as follows. At her meeting with Kenneth Lay on August 22, Watkins requested a transfer because she was not comfortable continuing to report directly to Fastow, who she believed was the architect of the improper transactions. Lay reassigned her to the human resources group. However, her background was in financial management, and she was given little real work to do. Lay did not take Watkins's advice to use a new law firm to investigate the situation because the old law firm had been involved in the questionable transactions. He also resisted her advice to restate earnings and take other steps necessary to try to rectify the errors. The financial status of Enron deteriorated rapidly. On October 16, the company announced that it would take a $544 million after-tax charge against earnings because of the questionable transactions. Shareholders' equity declined by $1.2 billion.

Watkins made one more attempt to convince Lay to try to save the company. On October 29 she met with him and delivered a two-page document explaining specific steps they could take to rebuild the company and protect his reputation. He asked her to share the document with Elizabeth Tilney, senior vice president of advertising, communications, and organizational development, and to work with her on the initiative.

You-Attitude in the October 30 E-mail

Thus, on October 30, Watkins e-mailed Tilney, attaching the document given to Lay and asking to work for her in public relations and investor relations. This e-mail uses you-attitude, combining the reader's vision with the writer's voice. The e-mail states the request quickly and then moves on to mention specific reader benefits--how granting the request will help Tilney: Watkins can play the devil's advocate on the accounting issues, can anticipate the challenging questions, can develop answers to those questions, and can start immediately on the steps necessary to try to save Enron.

By using hybridized, dialogic language, the e-mail reveals a web of power relationships. The request is stated indirectly and attributed to Kenneth Lay: "Ken thinks it would be a good idea for me to work for you in our PR [public relations] and IR [investor relations] efforts." The sentence constitutes an indirect speech act, conveying a request ("let me work for you") in the form of a statement of fact ("Ken thinks that ..."). The immediate action Watkins requests of Tilney--to meet the next day--is also cast in terms of Watkins's access to Lay. She has an appointment with him the next afternoon and wants to meet with Tilney before then. Yet Watkins shows deference to Tilney both in the voice she chooses--"I'd sure like to meet with you on this"--and in her offer to rearrange her own schedule as necessary to meet at Tilney's convenience. She closes deferentially: "Please call. Thanks."

This e-mail illustrates how the visions of people other than the writer and reader sometimes are essential. Here, the vision of Lay--as reported by Watkins--is critical. Watkins attributes the request to Lay rather than to herself. The three-way juxtaposition of Watkins, Tilney, and Lay constitutes an extension of the two-way intentionally hybridized language that Bakhtin (1981) discussed.

Though the e-mail highlights the benefits to Tilney of Watkins's working for her, the e-mail does not exclude Watkins's concerns. She says that she has not really had a job since her first meeting with Lay on August 22; this assertion is both an explanation of why she can work on the PR effort immediately and an expression of her frustration, as she is not someone accustomed to doing nothing. You-attitude does not require the total elimination of the writer's vision, but the reader's must predominate.


Though you-attitude--the combination of the reader's vision and the writer's voice--is usually good, maximum application of the principle is not always desirable. In fact, what is more important is that writers carefully consider the multiple ways that a writer-reader relationship may be expressed in a business text. As I have shown, the possibilities extend beyond the visions and voices of the implied writer and reader to those of other characters, such as Lay in the October 30 e-mail and McMahon and Baxter in the August 22 memo. Given the many possible combinations and permutations of textual identifies, vision, and voice, we may conclude that business writers need to understand their options and artfully interweave multiple rhetorical and linguistic elements that affect the writer-reader relationship in any text.

If Sherron Watkins had used more you-attitude in each of these pieces of discourse, the results might not have been ideal. Had she applied the concept of you-attitude to the August 15 letter, Watkins would have decreased the expression of her own vision and instead included Lay's. Decreasing hers would not have been too difficult. She would have subordinated or eliminated her own concerns and feelings. She would not have mentioned her own career prospects or resume.

Increasing the expression of Lay's vision in the letter, though, would have been a challenging task, given that she did not know him well personally and did not know to what extent he was involved in the questionable transactions. A key question would have been how to portray the implied reader: Lay the innocent victim, deceived by those he had trusted, or Lay the guilty party in a conspiracy to defraud investors and secretly enrich executives. Depending on the way that the writer envisioned the implied reader, you-attitude would have led to quite different lines of reasoning.

In later congressional testimony, Watkins said she believed that Lay was not involved in the questionable transactions but had been intentionally misled by Skilling and others. Assuming that she had wanted to construct this type of implied reader and then to transform this letter into one that exemplified you-attitude, Watkins would have had to omit or downplay key pieces of information that conflicted with Lay's vision. Knowing he disliked bad news, she might have understated the danger the company faced. Suspecting he would resist believing Enron employees were at fault, she might have focused on errors made by accountants at Arthur Andersen or lawyers who advised Enron. Realizing that Lay, like any top executive, would want to protect his own image, she might have complimented his past achievements and stressed the potential benefits of his taking the initiative to investigate. Clearly, the letter would have been very different if the writer had assumed the point of view and perspective of the reader.

A rhetorical shift to greater you-attitude, however, might have been self-defeating. Lay might not have recognized the emotional turmoil of employees and might not have asked those with serious concerns to speak to a company officer. The voice as well as the vision of the writer-centered letter captured his attention. Although this situation was certainly atypical, other situations do sometimes call for discourse that focuses on the writer, not the reader. Sometimes, what is critical is for the writer to explain clearly a point of view and perspective with which the reader is unfamiliar. Sometimes the writer has too little information to judge accurately what assumptions to make about reader's motivations, priorities, or attitudes. When such situations arise, writers need to consider the option of sticking with their own vision and not trying to incorporate you-attitude in a text. Although it is always wise for a writer to gather information about and analyze readers, it is not always good to try to write from the reader's point of view rather than one's own, to incorporate the reader's perspectives explicitly in the text, or to state reader benefits overtly.

Watkins could also have increased the you-attitude in the August 22 memo, but doing st might have been counterproductive. The memo highlights improper transactions and suggests the culpability of some of Lay's team of top executives--charges Lay probably did not want to hear. The hybridized, dialogic language that interweaves the vision and voice of the implied writer and other characters--but not the reader--makes this possible. If the memo had been written from Lay's point of view and with his perspective, it would have downplayed or eliminated some critical, though painful, revelations. However, this approach would not have provided the information he needed to pursue the questions with the appropriate petpie. In many situations, a careful balance among the writer's, reader's, and others' visions is necessary.

To increase you-attitude, the memo could have had direct explanations of benefits Lay would receive from investigating the charges fully and promptly. It would have been hard, though, for a subordinate to make these kinds of statements to a superior without sounding presumptuous or foolish and without violating organizational protocol. Whereas a salesperson can always state reader benefits overtly to a potential customer, it is less clear-cut when a subordinate should state benefits directly to a superior, especially when the benefits accrue to the individual more than the organization.

Though the October 30 e-mail does have you-attitude, it could have even more if it eliminated mention of Watkins's situation--that she did not have a real job--and if the benefits to Tilney were either expanded or discussed in more detail. Again, the result might have been negative because credibility is sometimes lowered when a writer focuses on the reader's benefits but does not acknowledge his or her own. Watkins could also have chosen to remove from the e-mail the references to the point of view and perspective of a third party: Kenneth Lay. By attributing the request to him rather than to herself, and by tying the action request to her scheduled meeting with him, she risked Tilney's negative response to the power play. Yet had Watkins not incorporated Lay's vision into the e-mail, she would have risked both a lower chance of success and a charge of concealing relevant information. This example illustrates, then, that sometimes a piece of writing needs to highlight the vision of someone other than either the reader or the writer.

The e-mail also illustrates how difficult it is to understand readers' motivations. Doing so is essential if writers are to use you-attitude, but they often lack adequate information. In this case, unbeknownst to Watkins, Elizabeth Tilney had a conflict of interest. Her husband, a Merrill Lynch investment banker, had invested in the questionable partnerships for which his company had raised funds. The following year, when called to testify at a congressional hearing, he refused, citing the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination (Thornton & Zellner, 2002).

Despite the you-attitude in both the October 30 e-mail and its attachment, these could not save Enron. On November 3, the corporation restated its 1997 to 2001 financial statements to comply with generally accepted accounting principles, as Watkins had recommended in August. It was too late, though, to regain investors' and lenders' confidence. On December 2, Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (2) Enron's demise has been analyzed as an epic narrative of capitalist hegemony (Boje & Rosile, 2003) and as a story of leaders' failure to communicate ethically and responsibly (Seeger & Ulmer, 2003). From my analysis of key texts, however, I see Enron's demise as an example of how individual writers' rhetorical and linguistic decision making may affect the larger course of events in unexpected and powerful ways.


I set out to answer three questions in this article: How should we conceptualize the writer-reader relationship in business prose? What choices must writers make when they express this relationship in a text? And why are such choices important in business practice?

The writer-reader relationship, I have argued, is created through the many possible combinations of vision and voice in text, which originate in the textual identities of the writer, the reader, and, sometimes, other characters. By choosing a combination of more than one person's vision and voice, a writer creates what Bakhtin (1981) called intentionally hybrid, internally dialogic language. This type of language reflects human relationships even when the subject matter is impersonal and technical, as it often is in business contexts.

To express you-attitude or other forms of hybridized, dialogic language, writers must understand and artfully interweave the multiple elements that contribute to the construction of vision and voice. Deciding when to use you-attitude requires careful judgment that cannot be removed from specific organizational and human contexts. Weighing these considerations, writers may choose to emphasize their own visions, to balance the reader's and writers' visions, or sometimes to emphasize the vision or voice of someone other than the writer or reader.

These rhetorical and linguistic decisions affect the interpersonal and professional relationships among people in business, as well as actions that result from those relationships. All business texts have this power, but some, like those of Sherron Watkins, affect corporate history dramatically. Even when business prose seems ordinary, we should remember that it provides what Chatman (1978) called a rich kaleidoscope of perspectives, preintentions, and recollections that can influence readers in unexpected ways.

APPENDIX A August 15 Letter

Released by the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, as part of its February and March 2002 hearings, and posted on its Web site:

Dear Mr. Lay:

Has Enron become a risky place to work? For those of us who didn't get rich over the last few years, can we afford to stay?

Skilling's abrupt departure will raise suspicions of accounting improprieties and valuation issues. Enron has been very aggressive in its accounting--most notably the Raptor transactions and the Condor vehicle. We do have valuation issues with our international assets and possibly some of our EES MTM positions.

The spotlight will be on us, the market just can't accept that Skilling is leaving his dream job. I think that the valuation issues can be fixed and reported with other good will write-downs to occur in 2002. How do we fix the Raptor and Condor deals? They unwind in 2002 and 2003, we will have to pony up Enron stock and that won't go unnoticed.

To the layman on the street, it will look like we recognized funds flow of $800 million from merchant asset sales in 1999 by selling to a vehicle (Condor) that we capitalized with a promise of Enron stock in later years. Is that really funds flow or is it cash from equity issuance?

We have recognized over $550 million of fair value gains on stocks via our swaps with Raptor. Much of that stock has declined significantly--Avici by 98 percent from $178 million, to $5 million; the New Power Company by 80 percent from $40 a share, to $6 a share. The value in the swaps won't be there for Raptor, so once again Euron will issue stock to offset these losses. Raptor is an LJM entity. It sure looks to the layman on the street that we are hiding losses in a related company and will compensate that company with Enron stock in the future.

I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals. My eight years of Enron work history will be worth nothing on my resume, the business world will consider the past successes as nothing but an elaborate accounting hoax. Skilling is resigning now for "personal reasons" but I would think he wasn't having fun, looked down the road and knew this stuff was unfixable and would rather abandon ship now than resign in shame in two years.

Is there a way our accounting guru's can unwind these deals now? I have thought and thought about a way to do this, but I keep bumping into one big problem--we booked the Condor and Raptor deals in 1999 and 2000, we enjoyed wonderfully high stock price, many executives sold stock, we then try and reverse or fix the deals in 2001, and it's a bit like robbing the bank in one year and trying to pay it back two years later. Nice try, but investors were hurt, they bought at $70 and $80 a share looking for $120 a share and now they're at $38 or worse. We are under too much scrutiny and there are probably one or two disgruntled "redeployed" employees who know enough about the "funny" accounting to get us in trouble.

What do we do? I know this question cannot be addressed in the all-employee meeting, but can you give some assurances that you and Causey will sit down and take a good hard objective look at what i s going to happen to Condor and Raptor in 2002 and 2003?

APPENDIX B August 22 Memo

Released by the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, as part of its February and March 2002 hearings, and posted on its Web site:

Summary of Raptor Oddities:

1. The accounting treatment looks questionable.

a. Enron booked a $500 million gain from equity derivatives from a related party.

b. That related party is thinly capitalized with no party at risk except Enron.

c. It appears Enron has supported an income statement gain by a contribution of its own shares.

One basic question: The related party entity has lost $500 million in its equity derivative transactions with Enron. Who bears that loss? I can't find an equity or debt holder that bears that loss. Find out who will lose this money. Who will pay for this loss at the related party entity?

If it's Enron, from our shares, then I think we do not have a fact pattern that would look good to the S.E.C. [Securities and Exchange Commission] or investors.

2. The equity derivative transactions do not appear to be at arms length.

a. Enron hedged New Power, Hanover and Avici with the related party at what now appears to be the peak of the market. New Power and Avici have fallen away significantly since. The related party was unable to lay off this risk. This fact pattern is once again very negative for Enron.

b. I don't think any other unrelated company would have entered into these transactions at these prices. What else is going on here? What was the compensation to the related party to induce it to enter into such transactions?

3. There is a veil of secrecy around LJM and Raptor. Employees question our accounting propriety consistently and constantly. This alone is cause for concern.

a. Jeff McMahon was highly vexed over the inherent conflicts of LJM. He complained mightily to Jeff Skilling and laid out rive steps he thought should be taken if he was to remain as treasurer. Three days later, Skilling offered him the C.E.O. spot at Enron Industrial Markets and never addressed the rive steps with him.

b. Cliff Baxter complained mightily to Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM.

c. I have heard one manager-level employee from the principal investments group say, "I know it would be devastating to all of us, but I wish we would get caught. We're such a crooked company?' The principal investments group hedged a large number of their investments with Raptor. These people know and see a lot. Many similar comments are made when you ask about these deals. Employees quote our C.F.O. as saying that he has a handshake deal with Skilling that LJM will never lose money.

4. Can the general counsel of Enron audit the deal trail and the money trail between Enron and LJM/Raptor and its principals? Can he look at LJM? At Raptor? If the C.F.O says no, isn't that a problem?

APPENDIX C October 30 E-mail

Released by the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, as part of its February and March 2002 hearings, and posted on its Web site:

From: Watkins, Sherron' Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2001 4:45 PM To: Tilney, Elizabeth Cc: Olson, Cindy Subject: PR for Enron


Attached is the handout I gave Ken Lay today in our very brief meeting; I think I left you a voice mail on this.

Ken thinks it would be a good idea for me to work for you in our PR and IR efforts re: out current crisis. Beth I think you know my involvement from Cindy, and that I haven't really had a real job since my first meeting with Ken re: these matters in late August. I can jump on this asap.

The viewpoint is that I can effectively play a devil's advocate on the accounting issues and be sure we anticipate the tough questions and have answers, My personal opinion is that it's very hard to know who in the organization is giving us good answers and who's covering their prior work.

The attached outlines my viewpoint on the fact that I think we need to come clean and restate; Ken and I did not get much chance to discuss this; I'm tentatively on his schedule Wed afternoon. I'd sure like to meet with you on this. I have one meeting on Wed that I can change. Please call. Thanks.

Sherron S. Watkins

Vice President, Enron Corp,

713-345-8799 office

713-416-0629 cell

Attachment: Disclosure steps to rebuild investor confidence


(1.) The documents discussed in this article were released by the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, as part of its hearings held in February 2002. The background information about Enron in this article is from witness testimony. Transcripts of the testimony, Web cast archives, and all documents are available at the committee Web site: For a good contemporary news account, see Eichenwald and Henriques (2002).

(2.) Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty on January 14, 2004, to criminal felony charges that he conspired to disguise Enron's finances and risk and that he defrauded the company for his personal gain (Eichenwald, 2004). He settled civil charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission and agreed to pay $23 million in civil and criminal penalties. Prosecutors recommended he serve a 10-year prison sentence. Jeffrey Skilling was indicted on February 19, 2004, charged with conspiracy and securities fraud related to the manipulation of Enron's financial statements (Emshwiller & Barrionuevo, 2004). Prosecutors' attention then turned to Kenneth Lay (Emshwiller, 2004).


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Daphne A. Jameson

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Daphne A. Jameson (Ph.D., University of Illinois, 1979) is a past president of the Association for Business Communication and an associate professor in the organizational management, communication, and law area, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University. She thanks the reviewers and editors for their insights and suggestions. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Daphne A. Jameson, Statler Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; e-mail: