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Review of  Digital Business Discourse


Reviewer: Agnieszka Lyons
Book Title: Digital Business Discourse
Book Author: Erika Darics
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 27.2472

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote

SUMMARY

“Digital Business Discourse”, edited by Erica Darics, is a comprehensive collection of papers dealing with digital communication in organisational and professional settings. The volume is divided into three parts, dealing respectively with new modes of communication (Part I), new conventions (Part II), and theoretical and methodological approaches to the analysis of digital business discourse (Part III).

The first part of the volume, titled “New Technologies: New Modes of Communication”, begins with Chapter 1, chapter “‘Don’t even get me started…’: Interactive Metadiscourse in Online Consumer Reviews”, by Camilla Vasquez. The author analyses explicit forms of addressivity in online reviews building on her earlier work on interactive features in this form on online content (Vásquez 2012). She argues that discursive strategies discussed in the chapter help writers grasp and maintain readers’ attention and foster readers’ involvement as participants in the discourse. To this end, she employs the Bakhtinian notion of addressivity (Bakhtin 1986) to refer to the ways in which writers design their texts for an audience with an expectation of a particular reaction. Some of the linguistic features that help create this conversational style include discourse markers (e.g., you know, well), second-person address forms and metadiscourse (e.g., let me tell you), questions (e.g., Can you believe that?), questions and answers which simulate conversational interaction, and anticipating reader responses while constructing reviews. She finds that, in line with guidelines for business interactions, reviewers have found ways in which they “converse” with the readers, rather than project their opinions at them.

In Chapter 2, “Social CEOs: Tweeting as a Constitutive Form of Organisational Communication”, Katerina Girginova’s continues the focus on interactions with the audience. Girginova discusses personal use of Twitter by chief executive officers (CEOs) of a range of organisations who manage their own Twitter accounts. The data was analysed in the context of communicative constitution of organisations (CCO), according to which communication of and around an organisation is a constitutive force in that organisation. The findings revealed that CEOs’ personal Twitter use serves to assert their positions in the industry, rather than referring to the organisation in a structured, physically-bound way.

Chapter 3, “Utterance Chunking in Instant Messaging: A Resource for Interaction Management” by Kris M. Markman, draws on an array of earlier studies on the use of Instant Messaging (IM), including that in organisations (e.g., Baron 2010; Mackiewicz & Lam 2009) in her analysis of utterance chunking in task-based IM exchanges. The data analysed in the chapter comes from a lab-based study of IM interactions between people with and without prior relationship with each other, which included text analysis alongside screen recording to trace text-composition process. She finds that utterance chunking is used as a floor-holding and interaction-management device. Utterance chunking, she concludes, can help reduce social distance, increase trust in the workplace, and index status.

The last chapter in the first part, Nives Lenassi’s “Some Linguistic and Pragmatic Aspects of Italian Business Email” is devoted to the analysis of features of business emails with the view of informing language teaching effectiveness for economics students at Slovene University. The author provides qualitative and quantitative analyses of the language of emails concerned with business transactions written by native Italian speakers. The chapter discusses such features as register, the use of passive voice, and the range of verb forms used in business email communication in Italian. Significant amount of attention is given to the discussion of the evidence of social distance between interactants and the level of formality in business emails, which does not follow a strictly defined pattern akin to that of formal letters. Instead, the choice of linguistic forms can reflect the type of relationship between interactants, distance from the content, or the complexity of the matter conveyed.

Part II of the volume, “New Models of Communication: New Conventions”, starts with Karianne Skovholt’s chapter “Doing Leadership in a Virtual Team: Analysing Addressing Devices, Requests, and Emoticons in a Leader’s E-mail Messages”. The main objective of the chapter is to analyse linguistic and discursive strategies employed by a leader of a virtual project team in a Norwegian telecompany. The study reveals that the leader uses four strategies to build in-group solidarity and trust: positively charged addressing devices, metaphors which create a positive picture of the team, positive feedback highlighting acknowledgement by the upper management, and emoticons used to soften requests and intensify utterances. Skovholt finds that the leader does not need to discursively position herself as a leader with respect to her subordinates but performs leadership through an informal, personal, and emotional email style.

Chapter 6, “Swearing Is E-Business: Expletives in Instant Messaging in Hong Kong Workplaces” by Bernie Chun Nam Mak and Carmen Lee addresses the use of expletives as discursive tools for identity and power creation in workplace instant messaging. They discuss their findings in two distinct contexts: in task-directed and relational IM. The analysis covers a number of aspects, such as the use of expletives for business and transaction purposes and swearing for affiliation and leisure purposes. The authors employ Gee’s (2011) model of discourse analysis to analyse their data and draw on studies concerned with non-native use of swearwords in English (Dewaele 2004). They call for recognising expletives as carrying a range of possible in-group connotations.

In her chapter “Snuff Said! Conflicting Employee and Corporate Interests in the Pursuit of a Tobacco Client”, Kristy Beers Fagersten considers aspects of crisis communication in employee posts to a company-wide intranet forum following an implication from the management that the company is looking to work for a tobacco client. The author comments on the ways in which employees assert or challenge the potential threat to the company’s reputation, should the contract materialise. Apart from the content analysis, Fagersten discusses the linguistic form of comments, focusing on those characteristic of digital discourse: emoticons and approval postings. She suggests that intranet discussions should be considered as pre-meeting activities to allow employees to better prepare for expressing their views in a face-to-face context.

Valerie Creelman explores the phenomenon of social media listening in Chapter 8, “Sheer Outrage: Negotiating Customer Dissatisfaction and Interaction in the Blogosphere”. She conducts a textual analysis of a company letter to its customers from the perspective of image restoration techniques following complaints about one of their products. She then analyses of a set of customer blog posts in response to the letter. Drawing on Bakhtin's concept of addressivity, she explains why the corporation's attempt at restoring its image received negative reactions from the customers.

Part III of the volume, “Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to Digital Business Discourse”, aims to set new directions in the field of digital communication in professional settings. In Chapter 9, Steven Edelson, Ron Scott, Phil Kimn, and July Szendrey propose the concept of “digital emotional literacy” as a way for organisations to develop a more profound understanding of communication in these contexts and argue that emotional intelligence should be developed alongside technological skills to increase effectiveness of workplace interactions in the current communicative landscape.

In their chapter titled “Recovering the Human in the Network: Exploring Communicology as a Research Methodology in Digital Business Discourse”, Craig T. Maier and David Deluliis call for refocusing research interests in the field of digital communication to include the thoughts and feelings experienced while communicating digitally rather than focusing purely on the language used. They propose that this could be achieved by adapting ‘communicology’ (i.e., a branch of communication research exploring human experience of communication) as a qualitative methodology for the analysis of digital business communication, a methodology based on “a living, reflecting, human practice between persons” (p. 215).

Chapter 11, “Identification of Rhetorical Moves in Business Emails Written by Indian Speakers of English”, by María Luisa Carrió-Pastor, analyses the use of rhetorical moves in business emails written in English by non-native speakers. Carrió-Pastor compares her findings to those of earlier studies into rhetorical moves in native English email communication (e.g., Bhatia 1993) and concludes that emails written by Indian businesspeople include moves that had not been identified in earlier studies. These moves involve adaptations of the features of the writers’ mother tongue alongside English, particularly in the context of politeness, and as such can be treated as revealing the writers’ linguistic background.

In the final chapter of the volume, “Deconstruction – Analysis – Explanation: Contextualization in Professional Digital Discourse”, Erika Darics proposes a method for the analysis and description of ‘written contextualisation cues’ in text-based computer-mediated communication. The deanex method consists of three stages (Deconstruction – Analysis – Explanation) and follows an interactional sociolinguistic approach. The author suggests that the method offers non-experts a way to explore contextualisation in digital communication without the need for formal training and could therefore be used in both research and training of users in professional settings.

EVALUATION

In putting the volume together, the editor aimed to provide an overview of the most recent research in the field of digital professional communication, where instantaneous interactions have taken over carefully prepared newsletters and reports and are forcing companies to reconsider their business communication practices in order to increase the effectiveness of digital interactions in the workplace.

Darics comments on the relative scarcity of research dealing with digital business communication and their dispersion among a range of outlets that tend to be inaccessible for wider audiences. Having a volume devoted specifically to digital business discourse addresses this problem. One of its main strengths is the wide range of represented approaches and methodologies. The volume brings together scholars working in a range of disciplines and in different cultural contexts, analysing datasets that are diverse both from the perspective of mode (IM, email, Twitter, online reviews, intranet forums) and culture (e.g., Italian business email, Instant Messaging in Hong Kong, and Indian users of Business English as a Lingua Franca). Despite this diversity, the chapters cohere well in the three separate sections that the book is divided into.

Taking into account both its content and format, the volume would appeal to researchers interested in communication in organisational and professional settings as well as in digital communication more broadly. It would also be a valuable read to students wishing to explore the subject and explore ways of conducting research in digital and social media. The range of theoretical approaches employed in individual chapters offers readers potentially new ways of approaching analysis.

As a whole, the volume constitutes a significant step in the development of digital business discourse as an interdisciplinary subfield and promoting communication between researchers scattered across disciplines.

REFERENCES

Bakhtin, M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (tr. V. W. McGee). Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press.

Baron, N. S. (2010). Discourse structures in instant messaging: The case of utterance breaks. [email protected], 7 (2). Retrieved from: http://www.languageatinternet.org/articles/2010/2651.

Bhatia, V. K. (1993). Analysing genre: Language use in professional settings. London: Longman.

Dewaele, J.-M. (2004). The emotional force of swearwords and taboo words in the speech of multilinguals. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 25 (2/3), 204-222.

Gee, J. P. (2011). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (3rd edition). London: Routledge.

Mackiewicz, J., & Lam, C. (2009). Coherence in workplace instant messages. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 39, 417-431.

Vásquez, C. (2012). Narrativity and involvement in online consumer reviews: The case of TripAdvisor. Narrative Inquiry, 22 (1), 105-121.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dr Agnieszka Lyons is Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London. Her research interests include discursive construction of physicality and embodied actions in electronically mediated discourse, expression of multimodal content in text-based digital communication and mediated discourse analysis.

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