A comparison of processes used by business executives and university business communication teachers to evaluate selected business documents.

Author:Rollins, Wayne


Business communication teachers have long subscribed to the idea that specific principles should be applied when tackling various communication tasks. One theory is that business message arrangement directly affects the receiver's reaction to the message. Positive or neutral messages, for example, are arranged with the main idea presented early in the message, typically in the first sentence. Negative messages, on the other hand, are introduced with a neutral or positive statement that "buffers" the information that follows. With few exceptions, these concepts apply to written and spoken messages, both internal and external to the organization.

Business communication teachers also place considerable emphasis on correct document format and mechanical issues such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A review of current as well as older business communication textbooks will reveal similar principles being advocated by each author. Lewis and Adams (2003) mentioned several commonalities among these principles, such as "... 'C' qualities--conciseness, correctness, coherence, completeness, courtesy, clearness, and conversational tone" (p. 51). They cited "... other commonly accepted writing principles ... using positive wording, buffering negative news, writing short sentences with simple words, avoiding passive voice, and applying ethical standards to all communications" (p. 51). Carbone (1994) noted that the "you attitude," a principle included universally in collegiate business communication textbooks and taught in college classes throughout the United States, was promoted in the early 20th Century. Hagge (1989) asserted that business writing principles subscribed to today have actually been around for decades, and in some cases, centuries.

Advances in communication technology have changed the way many executives communicate today. Electronic mail, texting, and more recently, "tweeting," dictate to some degree what is included in messages. Shortened messages may not permit inclusion of all accepted writing principles, and technology enthusiasts are prone to become lax in their writing. Even so, Gantenbein (2000) suggests that business writers should still be mindful of correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling in their electronic messages, the same as they would for traditional messages. Nordquist (n.d.) adds that "Business writing legitimately varies from the conversational style you might use in a note sent by e-mail to the formal, legalistic style found in contracts. In most e-mail messages, letters, and memos, a style between the two extremes generally is appropriate" (p. 1).


Communication principles described in textbooks and taught in collegiate classrooms can be easily identified; however, one might question whether business executives advocate and incorporate these principles in their own documents. The purpose of this study was to determine whether business executives view message arrangement, format, grammar, spelling, and punctuation with the same degree of importance as business communication teachers.


Cases were developed for two writing assignments, and a sample solution for each case was written. Case No. 1 required a "negative news" message to a credit applicant. Case No. 2 was a "positive news" message accepting a speaking invitation. Appendices A and B contain the problem solutions for Cases 1 and 2, respectively.

The cases and sample solutions were sent to a convenience sample of business people throughout Tennessee. "A convenience sample is a group of individuals who (conveniently) are available for study" (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2009, p. 98). For example, the attendees of an organization's annual conference assembled...

To continue reading