Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Influence of Organizational Metaphors on Writers' Communication Roles and Stylistic Choices

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

The Influence of Organizational Metaphors on Writers' Communication Roles and Stylistic Choices

Article excerpt

Research on writers' stylistic, organizational, and document design choices within organizational settings is still in short supply. In Writing in Non-Academic Settings, Odell (1985) stated that written communication researchers have a limited understanding of the organizational context's impact on writing; we know little about the content and stylistic choices writers make and why they make them. Almost a decade later, Stratman and Duffy's (1990) and Smeltzer and Thomas's (1994) research echoes Odell's concern. This lack of adequate knowledge about context-based factors such as organizational, functional area, and departmental language norms; dominant organizational and functional area metaphors; organizational structure, job design, power and authority; and behavioral control systems significantly limits our understanding of how organizational members think about writing and the constraints that limit the organization, document design, and stylistic choices they make. We must better understand these and other complex contextual factors before we can determine what is effective and ineffective organizational writing and design intervention strategies that will improve organizational writing processes and products.

This study examines one important contextual factor, organizational metaphor, and assesses its impact on writers' perception of and approach toward their writing tasks. More specifically, this research analyzes the steering effect that an organization's root metaphor has on writers' perception of their report writing role, their awareness of report readers, and their content, document design, and stylistic choices. Finally, the study's results suggest that changing writers' language habits is a major organizational intervention requiring alteration of the organization's root metaphor and its entailments.

The remainder of the article is divided into the following sections:

* a brief review of some of the more important written communication studies conducted within organizational contexts;

* a theoretical overview of the importance of organizational metaphors when assessing written documents;

* a description of the organizational setting, the communication tasks of the writers and readers being examined, and the research methods used to gather data;

* an explication of the organization's root metaphor;

* an analysis of the root metaphor's influence on writers' perception of their communication role and their rhetorical choices.

A follow-up article will examine the dominant metaphors that readers use to "construct" their job tasks and analyze how readers' root metaphors affect their reading and information assessment processes.

Review of Written Communication Research Conducted Within Organizational Settings

Most business and managerial communication research has focused on "inside-the-text" factors such as organization, document design, sentence structure, and word choice. These factors are important because, as research has shown, they affect readers' ability to process documents efficiently (Felker, Redish, & Peterson, 1985; Guillemette, 1987; Haviland & Clark, 1974; Kieras, 1981; Redish, Battison, & Gold, 1985; Seigel, 1978; Selzer, 1983; Suchan, 1989). However, these studies do not adequately address the complex array of contextual factors that influence a document's creation, and, just as importantly, affect organizational writers' willingness to alter their composing processes and the organization's language norms.

Since the mid 1980's, a growing number of researchers - Stephen Doheny-Farina, Dixie Goswami, Lee Odell, and Dorothy Winsor to name a few - have begun examining contextual factors that shape how organizational writers think, compose, revise, and edit. Many of these con-text-based studies have explored the organizational culture's influence on writing processes and products (Barabas, 1990; Cross, 1994). …

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