Aristotelian appeals in corporate communication: tracing the communication patterns in an organizational division moving to intranet documentation



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Texas Tech University


In 1993, Rachel Spilka argued that "qualitative studies conducted during the 1980s suggest that any analysis of the composing process in the workplace needs to account for both oral and written discourse" (p. 71) and the uses of these communication forms to "help professionals fulfill various rhetorical and social goals" (p. 72). The research presented here does just that; it connects oral and written communication with organizational culture, reflecting on the interconnectivity of these elements and building on previous research (Odell, 1985; Faigley, 1985) that suggested that the relationship between social context and communication is reciprocal.

This dissertation, an ethnographic study of the communication trends in an organization in the process of incorporating an intranet system, is a study of the means by which some members of a plastic-injection molding company communicate and the ways in which that communication reflects the culture of their division and of the organization itself, and it is a discussion of the changing role of the technical communicator in the workplace.

The communication within this division takes three forms—oral (meeting transcripts), written (instructional materials, intranet documents), and electronic (email). This dissertation examines the communication trends by applying Aristotle's three appeals—ethos, logos, and pathos—to the three communication situations.

Ethos appeals were by far the most commonly used appeals, particularly in oral communication, and they reflected a power struggle within the division as members of the team vied for control over the group. Logos appeals were the second most commonly used appeal overall and the most commonly used in written communication. These logos appeals, which fell outside of the divisional power struggle, served to further action within the division and encouraged team members to accomplish tasks and to meet deadlines. Pathos appeals were the least commonly used appeal overall, although they were the most commonly used in electronic communication. These appeals were most often used as an attempt either to end an ethos-based argument within the division or to smooth over the friction caused by the divisional power struggle.

The communication trends within this division reflected not only their production and certification events but also the attitudes and values of the individual team members, as well as the ways in which the culture of the division affected the culture of the entire organization. The findings of this study show the interconnectedness of the structural, cultural, and communication systems of an organization in shaping attitude, productivity, and cohesion. In addition, this study adds to our understanding of workplace writing by providing another piece of that complex puzzle, and it provides insights into potential changes in the role of the technical communicator in some workplace situations.