The Quick Scan: Tailor-made language advice for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Hilde Hanegreefs
Zuyd University of Applied Sciences
Mark Pluymaekers
Zuyd University of Applied Sciences

Communication as a bridge between two parties, as a carrier of meaning, is generally -in the business world and beyond- considered to be a means to an end. Successful communication is therefore a powerful tool to influence the knowledge, attitude and behavior of people (The Behavioral Dynamics Institute).

In a time when the information landscape is constantly on the move, high-quality professional communication has clearly acquired a new urgency. Contemporary readers have upscaled their standards: they increasingly require more accessible and transparent texts, both from co-workers within and from business contacts outside of the company. Especially SMEs, where employees often are not sufficiently trained in writing skills, have recently become more aware of the fact that successful communication is critical to building trust, educating and informing stakeholders, influencing public opinion, affecting governmental action, receiving feedback, etc.

The starting point for this project, viz. The Quick Scan, is the growing need and demand for high-quality advice on professional writing, on the part of SMEs. The Quick Scan can be seen as an audit tool that brings to the surface the major problems or shortcomings of a given corpus of written professional communication, using both quantitative (readability test, word count analysis) (De Hertog et al. 2014, Flesch 1951, Scott 1997) and qualitative (discourse analysis, usability tests, spelling and grammar check, channel choice) methods (Renkema 2012). The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a set of scripts describing the methodology with which a particular text type can be ‘scanned’ (e.g., newsletters, press releases, webpages, e-mails and letters). The outcome of the audit will be an advisory report that meets the specific demands of the organization, with the possibility for further follow-up training. In this way, we guarantee tailor-made and research-based language advice in a short time span.

We are currently working on a case study ‘scanning’ the texts aimed at incoming students from five Dutch hotel management schools. The Quick Scan approach will uncover to what extent these texts -as an artifact of a given organization- reflect the schools’ ‘espoused’ or stated values and rules of behavior (Schein 2009) and, as such, help the student in making an informed choice for a particular school. An exploratory quantitative check points out that, in general, the online texts hardly refer to the school’s values and score low on readability. The so-called ‘brochures’, on the other hand, present genre characteristics of folders. Although formally obeying these standards, the visual cues do not always ‘predict’ what is described in the accompanying text. Further usability tests will show whether the content responds to the students’ needs.

The deliverables of this project will not only be beneficiary for business, resulting in more successful corporate communication. It will also provide a better insight into how professional communication ‘happens’ in real-life, into good and bad practices; in short, valuable information that will be taken into account when teaching language skills, such as writing.

The Behavioral Dynamics Institute, consulted on January the 26th, 2015:
De Hertog, Dirk, Kris Heylen & Dirk Speelman. 2014. “Stable lexical marker analysis: a corpus-based identification of lexical variation”. In: Soares da Silva, Augusto. Pluricentricity: Language variation and sociocognitive dimensions, pp. 127-142. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Flesch, Rudolf Franz. 1951. How to test readability. New York: Harper.
Renkema, Jan. 2012. Schrijfwijzer. Amsterdam: Boom.
Schein, Edgar. 2009. The corporate culture survival guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Scott, Mike. 1997. “PC Analysis of Key words”. In: System 25/1, pp. 1-13.