Are you a lawyer or a scientist?
An enormous amount of the communication that is done in any organization is oral. The modes that we have you practice in writing class, slowly, on paper, the compare/contrast and cause/effect sort of thing, will be your best tools in these oral situations. You need to be able to decode what others are saying, and you need to be able to do it quickly. You need to be able to think on your feet, whether in an informal one-on-one with the boss or in a meeting with all the other department heads competing for a share of the same inadequate resources that the organization has available.
Most of this kind of communication is goal-oriented. You are trying to get someone to do something a certain way or to see something a certain way, generally to the advantage of you or your department. Marketing wants Production to speed it up. Accounting wants Marketing to spend less on advertising. R&D wants Production to try something new. HR wants everyone to learn new things, even if you don’t want to. Above all, you want your boss to see you a certain way when it comes time for raises and promotions.
Or you’re the poor guy in the image on the right pleading with HR not to fire your best worker. The rest of the department is watching how well you can persuade power.
While this kind of communication is very important, there’s another kind that is also very important. The oral communication is more for persuasion, when you’re communicating like a lawyer.
The other kind of communication is when you act like a scientist, not a lawyer. This kind of communication is almost always written. The writing can range from an informal email to a glossy, color-printed, bound volume. Organizations are downing in data. A report sucks out some of that information and organizes it to help someone solve a problem or make a decision. The best reports are attractive and accessible. They are also authorized.
Most of the jobs you’ve had so far in your life were hourly. You put in your scheduled time. Less time, less money. The jobs you want with your college education are going to be more professional. In practical terms, that means you get to control a certain amount of your time. As long as you’re on time and under budget, you can determine much of what you do hour by hour.
Much of this kind of communication is routine. It is periodically recording data that is constantly being generated, like quarterly sales reports or daily production logs, as in the screenshot on the right. Much of it is done with forms and formulaic writing. It is read like a map is read — you quickly get what you need and ignore the rest.
However, much of this kind of communication is not routine. The organization has a problem to solve, for example, how do we increase sales 10% next quarter? Or it has a decision to make, for example, which market to we open first, Brazil or China? The decision goes down: incease sales; open new markets. The information goes up: your report. The decision goes down: here’s the budget for your sales plan; we’ll market in Brazil first.
The information going up is always authorized. Very rarely, and at great political peril, are you going to write a report all by yourself at your own.
First of all, you probably are going to write it on a team. And second, when you are at work or you are representing your organization in public, including online, you lose many of your civil rights — freedom of speech and association chief among them. So there will always be some person or committee authorizing a report. You will perhaps write a part and sometimes all of the first draft of this report. If the authorizing agent, usually your boss, accepts it, then it is no longer yours in any real sense. The information in your report will get incorporated into the process of solving the problem or making the decision. Or not.
The point here is that your opinion of all this as a report writer does not matter. At all. When you work for an organization, they are renting your brain, your communication skills, your problem-solving and decision-making skills. If you make something or write something or produce something at work, it is not yours. It belongs to the organization. When you leave, you don’t take all the writing you did with you. It stays there for a long, long time.
Scientists do not say, “I’ve got an idea and I’m going to fall in love with it and selectively cite evidence to support it.” That’s a lawyer, arguing a case.
A scientist says, ‘I’m going to try to read the data in as unbiased a manner as I possibly can, see where it leads me, and then offer the advice that I have based on that view from an altitude.’
When you are doing this “scientific” kind of communication, you are selecting and analyzing data. Your analysis will have a conclusion and, if appropriate, a recommendation. But you can’t change the data. And logic is logic. Whether anyone will like it or not like it doesn’t matter one bit to the data.
For ENG 200, you are going to write essays that are more like what a lawyer would write, and you are going to base it on the kind of information that the scientists provide.