The invisible supporters: Writing for reuse


Text reuse is a widespread practice of text production in business-related contexts. Written communication is part of complex activities such as creating added value, organizing, regulating, and supporting work, building relationships between departments, companies, and customers, the market and competitors, or documenting products. As with other activities, text productive activities must be efficient and effective (Jakobs & Spinuzzi, 2014a). Text reuse meets these requirements and is therefore applied frequently. A success-relevant factor concerns the quality of the text resource. Incorrect or inferior text sources can cause significant economic damage. That is why process components that improve the quality of text sources are relevant. Interest in text quality increases if the source document serves as input for documents that are highly important for the implementation of business interests.

So far, there are hardly any linguistic studies that examine how organizations manage to produce high-quality documents for purposes of reuse, e.g., which strategies they use, and how they ensure that the created document supports on a high level the target text production that motivates the creation of the text source. Primarily in the 1990s, some studies emerged that examine strategies in business contexts that help to improve the quality of the text production process or the text product. These studies focus on standard cases of text production in companies and organizations (e.g., writing reports) and strategies such as reviewing and commenting, e.g., as part of document cycles or collaborative writing. Few studies deal with writing documents for reuse and the overall goal of creating a highly reusable document that meets the professional needs of the end user (and their follow-up activities).

We examine these questions in a real-life writing case study. The study is embedded in the domain of entrepreneur communication. Technology innovators must pitch their technology and its business value to potential buyers, partners, and distributors (Jakobs, Spinuzzi, Digmayer, & Pogue, 2015). To succeed, the invention must be appropriately communicated to a market and iterated through dialogue with potential stakeholders (Spinuzzi, Jakobs, & Pogue, 2016). Foreign startups, in particular, who are trying to enter an unfamiliar market need help with this. They must deal with a broad range of challenges including a deeper understanding of market needs, values, and cultural expectations. The case study refers to a program that supports foreign entrepreneurs by offering market reports. The market reports are written by contracted market analysts. During the text production process, program staff members supervise them. The overall aim is to create a highly professional report that can be used by the innovator to create a convincing, well-argued pitch that reuses parts of the report – verbatim or in close phrasing (Spinuzzi et al., 2015). From the entrepreneur’s point of view, the quality of the market report is decisive for the success of his pitch. This study investigates how the supervisors use feedback activities (commenting) to support the report author, and how the overall target to create a highly reusable text source that fulfills professional requirements of the end user and follow-up activities, guides the feedback process. The study is based on a first exploratory study (Jakobs et al., 2015) based on a small sample of the whole data basis. The main interest of this study is to get broader insights on the professional interaction of supervisor and report author.