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Effects of Communicating with Emails and Texts in Risk Communication: Information Poor, Writer-Based, A-Synchronous

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Purpose: This article examines how electronic messaging may have affected communication between engineers and managers during three crisis situations---the Columbia shuttle breakup, the BP/Horizon oil rig explosion, and the Skokie, IL, landslide.

Method: A rhetorical analysis was conducted of email messages written during the three crisis situations. The analysis was based on previous studies which indicate that writers of electronic messages provide insufficient information, compose writer-rather than reader-based texts, and use inappropriate formats for communicating complex or controversial issues.

Results: A failure to include sufficient information characterized a number of the email messages sent prior to the BP/Horizon explosion. Writer- rather than reader-based messages were written prior to the BP/Horizon explosion as well as during the Columbia breakup. Some of these messages included personal and irrelevant information as well as social media conventions conflated with business formats. Various BP/Horizon oil rig messages were also often communicated in an inappropriate format for discussing complex and controversial information. On the other hand, email messages sent following the Skokie landslide appear to be reader-based, contain no personal or irrelevant information, are free of social media conventions, and provide responses in a timely manner.

Conclusion: Had writers in the BP explosion and the Columbia breakup written reader-based texts as well as recognized the asynchronous nature of electronic communication, their messages may have been more effective.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2017

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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