Institute for Software Research
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Displaying Responsiveness or Asserting Identity in Organizational Language:
How Concept Networks Capture Rhetorical Strategies

Eleanor T. Lewis*, Kathleen M. Carley, Jana Diesner

September 2016

Center for the Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems
CASOS Technical Report

This report is a replication of the original paper written in 2003 for
Sunbelt Social Network Conference - INSNA XXIII 2003, Cancun, Mexico
The original title of the abstract published was
"Concept networks in organizational language: Consensus or creativity?"


Keywords: Organizational language, concept networks

Organizations constantly produce and consume organizational language, and these texts and documents are a primary way that organizations interact with their environment. In this paper we compare different types of texts to study variation in how organizations use them to interact with the environment. We argue that the authors of a text will primarily use rhetorical strategies that reflect the text's audiences and persuasive goal. When authors are highly constrained by their audiences, they are more likely to incorporate rhetorical strategies that acknowledge and respond to these audiences. When the central goal of a text is to distinguish the organization from others, authors are more likely to incorporate rhetorical strategies that assert the organization's identity. We compare the rhetorical strategies revealed in the networks of concepts in three types of organizational language – privacy policies, mission statements, and annual accounts &ndash from two types of organizations – universities and corporations. Authors of privacy policies are the most constrained by their audiences, and as predicted authors of these texts do use rhetorical strategies that primarily acknowledge and respond to their audiences. Contrary to our predictions, the mission statements and annual accounts from corporations and universities display divergent rhetorical strategies, reflecting their divergent audiences.

39 pages

*Professor, Dartmouth College

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