Scott Lyle Jones

The role of electronic mail in workplace writing

Scott Lyle Jones

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: PhD
  • Date: 2002; pp: 202
  • Advisor: Sullivan, Patricia
  • Source: DAI-A 64/07, p. 2474, Jan 2004
  • Subjects: Language, Rhetoric And Composition (0681); Business Administration, Management (0454)
  • ProQuest Document Number:
  • ISBN: 0-496-47394-1
  • UMI Number: AAT 3099802

Abstract:

    • This ethnographic case study describes how career writers within the Corporate Communications division of a medium-sized, Midwestern insurance company used electronic mail as a part of their writing process. The company had been using electronic mail since the 1980s. To investigate this issue, this study examined the collaborative writing processes and electronic mail usage practices of three of the division’s writers by focusing on how the social context of the organization shaped their process for writing routine documents and how the social context shaped the roles and usage of electronic mail within that process. The study found that the organization’s strict adherence to a rigid hierarchy required the writers to use a formalized writing process. The social context required the writers to use a wide variety of collaborative strategies, ranging from borrowing from previous documents to conducting face-to-face meetings. The writers had consistent processes for drafting the documents. The social interaction these activities required consisted of content, supervisory, and stakeholder interaction. Stakeholder interaction involved a formal document cycling process that was used to review the documents. This document review process ensured the input of various stakeholders of the document and was itself an important communication tool, as it allowed the various divisions and levels within the organization to circumvent the rigid hierarchy and communicate and discuss changes in procedures. The writers mainly used electronic mail during the drafting process to ask simple questions regarding content issues. It was rarely used to discuss complex issues or issues involving the potential for ambiguity; the writers preferred to use face-to-face meetings or telephones for such communications. When deciding which medium to use as part of the collaborative process, the writers often considered the media usage preferences of whom they were contacting. The social context required electronic mail messages to be written in a formal style.