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Discourse Analysis of Professional Electronic Communication (Email)

Using Bhatia's model of multidimensional discourse analysis, this inquiry explores a piece of professional discourse through the theoretical framework of text, genre, professional practice, and social practice. Though the literature indicates that email can be a problematic medium for professional communication, the email in question did not seem to be hindered in the least by its genre. Conversely, the email was so verbose and indicative of professional dedication that the medium of email, as typically short and to-the-point, holds the potential to emphasize the most salient, successful elements of the communication.

Jul 4, 2017   /   Visits: 5,758

Discourse Analysis of Professional Communication

Much contested is the use of electronic mail (email) as a primary medium for professional discourse. However, in the digital age of constant communications, the use of email is wholly inevitable. While there are special considerations to be made when analyzing email as a piece of professional discourse, possible is it to still apply the same theoretical frameworks to an email as to an alternative form of communication. This inquiry explores the current literature with respect to email as a form of professional communication and Bhatia's multidimensional model of discourse analysis, aiming to ascertain to what extent electronic communication is aided or hindered by its medium.

Electronic (Email) Communication
Email is a unique channel for professional communication in that it remains comparatively new; letters, meetings, and phone calls have been integral to professional discourse for the crux of the twentieth century, but emails have become widely used only since the 1990s. In her article entitled "Email: Toxic or Terrific," author S. Hershkowitz-Coore charges readers to "name the most ubiquitous and most ineffective form of communication today. A few years ago, most business professionals would have groaned, "Meetings, what a waste of time!" Today, however, there is only one possible answer: email. Email, has not only become pervasive, it has in many cases become toxic, offering little in common with actual communication" (2005, p. 11). The author continues by asserting that email, while endlessly convenient, has provided an avenue through which communicators can "dump" their information without any regard for language or human interaction.

For the purposes of this present study, the piece of professional discourse is an email (Appendix); it was sent to the home campus of the International Renaissance School by a program director for one of the school's "world classrooms" in Maui, Hawaii. The email was the first in a series of three emails that served to report the efficacy and general scheduling of the program. In using this piece of communication as a subject for research, the ways in which the electronic medium are both beneficial as well as negative will be ascertained.


Electronic Communication

Though electronic communication does indeed have its own rules and implications, it remains an increasingly popular form of communication in the workplace, replacing not only face-to-face interaction but also alternatively written discourse (Chen, 2006). Voice inflection, facial expressions, and bodily gestures are all salient components of what C.E. Chen calls "social lubricants" in his article regarding email literacy; he writes that "without these paralinguistic cues, the metamessages sent via email are revealed solely by how the written words are chosen, expressed, and organized. Wording and message structuring, thus, become more crucial in email communication than in face-to-face talk" (2006, p. 35). The writer of an email is then charged to pay particular attention to his language, vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, and even the use of spacing and other visual elements when constructing a piece of discourse that will effectively stand alone without the benefit of interpersonal interaction.

Additionally, email redefines the temporal elements of communication, as readers believe that they are reading an email that has been only recent sent and senders believe that they are sending an email that will be immediately read (Boone, 2001). The problem with this distorted sense of time is that there is no guarantee when the email will be read, thus the nature of email is asynchronous even though it is widely used for urgent informatio).

Bhatia's Model of Discourse Analysis

Bhatia's model for discourse analysis, which will serve as the methodological framework for this inquiry, construes discourse through four possible lenses; discourse is text, genre, professional practice, and social practice (Perez-Llantada, 2009). The views of discourse interact with one another, providing a complete structure for professional discourse. Because Bhatia's model is heavily influenced by the genre and professional practice in which the discourse was written, defining the context of academic discourse is crucial for this inquiry.

Discourse within academic institutions is charged to be, among other things, thoughtful and linguistically proper. In their text entitled What Writing Does and How it Does it? authors C. Bazerman and P. Prior contend that "society has used teachers to communicate its standards, and the current store of human knowledge, by using the community's language. Thus, educational discourse provides discourse analysts with a source of a variety of texts very much tied to a context, the school.... An analysis of educational discourse begins to show how text interacts with context and language in textbooks and classrooms, schools and education offices" (2004, p. 197). The electronic medium, however, holds the potential to hinder discourse between professionals, even within the context of schools.

The literature suggests that email can be a problematic medium for professional discourse for a range of reasons. However, according to Chen, email can be effective if special attention is paid to the language and grammatical constructions of the communication (2006). Like all forms of written communication, a professional email stands alone as a representation of the writer; thus, a poorly constructed email riddled with errors can be detrimental to a professional reputation.


Using Bhatia's model, the following dimensions were applied to the email in question: text, genre, professional practice, and social practice. Using this framework, the following section explores how the discourse can be deconstructed and reframed within each of these categories. More saliently, the ways in which the categories relate to one another will be discussed.

Findings and Discussion

The email being analyzed is a unique piece of communication in that it is not a typical, single message only email (Hershkowitz-Coore). Rather, it is a lengthy, elaborate, largely well-written piece of discourse. While there are certain issues with the text of the email, the genre does not seem to be hindering the message delivery. More saliently, the email serves its intended purpose within both the professional and social practice frameworks.

The most detrimental drawback of the email's text is in the subject line; the writer spells the name of the school incorrectly, writing "Rennaisance" instead of "Renaissance." This is unfortunate, as it is the name of the writer's place of work and he is a teacher. However, the remainder of the email is markedly eloquent and virtually error free in terms of grammar and spelling.

The text is highly verbose for the email genre, delineating the largely insignificant and yet wildly descriptive aspects of the students' experiences: "We passed through several different landscapes on our way up to the summit - grassland and meadow, pine tree and evergreen tree, tropical flowers and foliage, rainforest, desert, and a landscape that resembled a lunar or martian environment" (Appendix). In essence, the text of this email could have easily been formed within the genre of a letter, and does not seem to be hindered at all by the electronic format.

With respect to both professional and social practice, the email is indicative of respect, passion, and dedication. Professionally, it is obvious that the writer of the email invested an inordinate amount of time in its construction; though it is framed as a "report," it is written as lengthy recounting of events rather than a simple memo. Socially, the email is permeated with an intense respect, bordering on reverence in some sections, for the Hawaiian landscape. While the writer makes little mention of the Hawaiian people, there is an apparent awe for the Hawaiian culture that the students and writer seem to share.


In synthesizing the analysis of the email, the genre of the discourse does not seem to hinder the communication in the least. Conversely, the fact that the writer invested such time and effort is emphasized by the electronic medium, which is usually quick and to-the-point. The report illustrates the students' experience as culturally respectful and enlightening, which is very much in line with the mission of the "world classroom." In essence and apart from the spelling error in the subject line, this is a quality piece of professional discourse that would be hindered only by the receiver's expectations of a brief recounting due to the email genre. Though the literature indicates the electronic communication can be problematic, this particular piece of discourse is indicative of the ways in which electronic communication can be largely successful in terms of text, genre, professional practice, and social practice.


Bazerman, C. & Prior, P. (Eds.). (2004). What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Boone, K. C. Speech or Writing?: E-Mail as a New Medium. Liberal Education, 87(3), 54+.

Chen, C. E. (2006). The Development of E-Mail Literacy: From Writing to Peers to Writing to Authority Figures. Language, Learning & Technology, 10(2), 35+.

Chimombo, M., & Roseberry, R. L. The Power of Discourse: An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hershkowitz-Coore, S. (2005). Email: Toxic or Terrific?. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 28(2), 11+.

Kain, D. J. (2005). Constructing Genre: a Threefold Typology. Technical Communication Quarterly, 14(4), 375+.

Perez-Llantada, C. Textual, Genre and Social Features of Spoken Grammar: A Corpus-Based Approach. Language, Learning & Technology, 13(1), 40+.


From : "Bertha Smith" [+]
Cc :
Subject :Re: Rennaisance International School - Secondary (Year 7 World Classroom Hawaii)

Year 7 World Classroom trip to Hawaii (One of several reports from March 3rd, 4th, and 6th)

(March 3rd)

Aloha Everyone,

Sausages were replaced with bacon this morning. And the maple syrup for the waffles was changed with strawberry. Otherwise, breakfast remained the same- sticky white rice, eggs, waffles, and papaya. We all enjoy breakfast every morning as the tables are on one side of the pool with palm trees in the background. While the students are eating, the teachers are reading their journals and following up on medications, etc.

This morning, we had one large coach to drive us to Haleaikala National Park to see the volcano. Even though the distance was not great, it still took a long time to reach the crater rim. But what a fascinating trip it was!

Our driver-guide, Uncle Charlie, told us that the slopes of this vast volcano was the only place in the world where ten different eco-systems could be seen in less than two hours. And it was really true. We passed through several different landscapes on our way up to the summit - grassland and meadow, pine tree and evergreen tree, tropical flowers and foliage, rainforest, desert, and a landscape that resembled a lunar or martian environment. It was tropically warm at the base of the volcano, but at the top, it was cold, misty, and foggy. But very fortunately, the sun burned off the fog and the cloud level descended to beneath the summit.

We visited the science center before reaching the summit of the crater. By the time we reached the summit, the weather had cleared and we were able to actually hike around the crater rim. The view down into the crater was extraordinary. It looked much like a view of a distant planet with many shades of red, orange, black, and brown. Other volcanic peaks extended over the cloud level and we were able to take some remarkable photos of the students from the top.

After 12:00, we descended now to the meadowland below where we enjoyed a picnic lunch in a grassy field. The students enjoyed running and playing on the hillside until we returned to the hotel to change our clothes for our outing this evening. At 5:15, we left the hotel for a community center where Mayor Tavares was having an election dinner. There was a lion dance and then our students did their cultural performance for the hundreds of guests who were seated for the dinner. The Hong Kong students sang "Getting to Know You" and "Jasmine Flowers", while the Shanghai students did a traditional Chinese tai chi sword performance. The Beijing students did a drama from the "Monkey King". The performances concluded with the Hong Kong girls doing the graceful Flower Dance. We then made a presentation of a beautiful Chinese scroll for Mayor Tavares. The sound system in the room was terrible, and there was also a lot of noise from the audience who were eating while the students performed. Nevertheless, the students did Yew Chung proud and gave a top quality cultural program all the way around. Three of the students (one from each school) were announcers and speakers, so the program was very well done.

The dinner was a bit of a disappointment ... just a boxed lunch of sticky rice, mushrooms and corn with a little meat. But we got to experience how a democratic political campaign for the Mayor's re-election of Maui County is handled. After we returned to the hotel, it was time for our CMED session, which turned out to be a very happy and funny experience for teachers and students alike. Everyone is getting along so well on the trip, and from what the students are telling the teachers and writing in their journals, they are all enjoying every minute!

The students looked beautiful in their traditional Chinese costumes - girls in pink qi pao, boys in blue jacket-shirts and white pants, and others in very colorful tai chi outfits in orange, blue, yellow, and red. We took many pictures to remember the occasion.

Tomorrow, we will return to MLI in the morning, and then have our integrated school visit at the King Kamehameha School before going to the Roselani Home for the Elderly to do our community service. We're all looking forward to the experience.

The students send their greetings to everyone back home.

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