3 The production of workplace texts
In any workplace, texts need to be produced in the course of carrying out business. They may be mainly the work of one individual, using either their own knowledge or knowledge from a number of people. They may also be produced collectively by a group. Here we examine the process of producing a document.
Figure 2 shows how a workplace document is produced. It begins with the inputs that drive the writing process.
Inputs: these may include the context in which you work, your purpose for communicating, the action that you hope to achieve as a result, the audience that you are trying to reach and the ideas that you want to disseminate. These inputs influence the process involved, such as selecting a suitable mode of communication and style of language.
Process: the process of writing a business document will usually include more than one author. Sometimes one author writes the first draft, and then others comment on it and revise the draft. Alternatively, different sections are distributed among members of a writing team, who all comment on and revise the draft document. This means that the process is not as simple and linear as the one shown in Figure 1.
Outputs: finally, there are the outputs in the form of letters, emails, reports, proposals, and so on.
Organisational communication may be internal or external. Internal communication involves only the employees within an organisation, while external communication is between people inside the organisation and those outside it.
During a management course such as an MBA, you will have the opportunity to work with other students in learning to write business documents. These documents will be addressed to a number of different audiences, and different means of communication can be used.
Purpose: to consider the various possible means of written communication within an organisation.
Task: make a short list of documents that you have dealt with recently, either as a reader or as a contributor to the production of the document. Examples are a monthly report, an application for a bank loan or other funding, a project proposal, a job application or minutes of a meeting. For each document, make a note of:
- who its audience was
- what its purpose was
- whether it was produced by one individual or several
- how it was produced.
When documents are produced collectively this may be the result of oral communication face-to-face or on the phone, or written communication by email or through some other web-based or paper-based format.
You will have an opportunity to practise collaborative writing later in this session, but in the next activity you will look at how English is used in global organisations. As you saw earlier, in the global environment English is often used as the means of communication between people who do not all speak the same first language. In such a situation, participants need to build confidence in speaking in a group.
Purpose: to look at an example of using spoken English in a global organisation, and to reflect on the language or languages used in your own organisation.
Read Text 3, which is an account of how Jeremy Monroe of Hewlett Packard (HP) prepares for a meeting. Then answer the following questions:
- What useful outcomes did manager find resulted from this activity?
- What disadvantages might there be if this activity did not take place?
The case of Hewlett Packard (HP)
Although English is the official language of HP’s standards group, not every non-native English-speaking employee finds it easy to communicate in a meeting, especially during a teleconference. As a result, those employees tend to be quiet, and the company loses the chance to benefit from their ideas. HP managers noticed this and instituted the ‘warm-up’ at the beginning of every meeting. According to Monroe, it works like this: A manager asks each participant to ‘check in’ with the team by relating a two- to three-minute story in English about some event in their personal or business life. The topic, he says, isn’t important. ‘At one meeting we discussed the World Cup. It got everyone’s motor running.’
As a result, team members get to practise speaking and, just as important, listening in English. They learn more about each other – which builds trust – and get a sense of what skills other members bring to the team.
(Text source: Snyder, 2003)
Think about communication in your own organisation or one that you have experience of:
- In what ways do you communicate?
- What languages do you use?
- As a manager, how would you help your team of non-English-speakers to work together in English or another common language?
People who work together need to be able to communicate, and this may involve making choices about which language to use and when. These choices will depend on the purpose of the activity, and on which languages those involved in the business are familiar with, whether they are managers, employees, clients or others with whom communication is necessary.
Purpose: to write about your own organisational context, to identify different text types and to think about the social process of writing.
Task: describe the kinds of communication you take part in. Think about:
- who produces the text
- what language(s) are used
- who the audience is
- what types of text you produce or receive
- how you communicate.
For example, which of these ways of communication are used:
- synchronous (at the same time, e.g. a face-to-face meeting)
- asynchronous (at different times, e.g. an exchange of emails)?
What issues, if any, arise when these forms of communication are used?
This activity requires you to draw on your experience of a workplace environment. Among the ways of communication that you might have mentioned are: letters, reports, memos, emails, faxes, oral presentations, telephone conferencing, online conferencing, notes and face-to-face conversation, blogs and wikis, or Twitter.
Some of these may be used primarily for internal communication and others for external communication. This will depend partly on the nature of the organisation and partly on company policy. Among the factors influencing such choices are cost and effectiveness.
Although various means of communication are used in the workplace, technological advances mean that there is a strong tendency to use online communication, particularly email, for both internal and external business activity.
In addition to using different means of communication, as a manager or as a student of management you will have to become familiar with the specialised language of management.