Bureaucratic Language in Government and Business

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Georgetown University Press, Jul 1, 1998 - Business & Economics - 208 pages
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Plunging into the verbal quagmire of official language used by bureaucrats in both government and business, distinguished linguist Roger W. Shuy develops new techniques based on linguistic principles to improve their communication with the public.

Shuy presents nine case studies that reveal representative problems with bureaucratic language. He characterizes the traits of bureaucratic language candidly, though somewhat sympathetically, and he describes how linguists can provide bureaucrats with both the tools for communicating more clearly and also the authority to implement these changes.

Drawing on documents cited in class action lawsuits brought against the Social Security Administration and Medicare, Shuy offers a detailed linguistic analysis of these agencies' problems with written and oral communication, and he outlines a training program he developed for government writers to solve them. Moving on to the private sector, Shuy analyzes examples of the ways that businesses such as car dealerships, real estate and insurance companies, and commercial manufacturers sometimes fail to communicate effectively. Although typically bureaucracies change their use of language only when a lawsuit threatens, Shuy argues that clarity in communication is a cost effective strategy for preventing or at least reducing litigation.

Bureaucratic Language in Government and Business explains why bureaucratic language can be so hard to understand and what can be done about it.

 

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Contents

Trying to Do Conversation on Paper A Case Study of a Medicare Benefits Notice
1
Background
2
The Original Form Sent to Beneficiaries
4
Problems with the Original Explanation of Medicare Benefits
8
HHSs Response to the Court Order to Revise the Form
12
Further Suggestions for Revision
14
Failure to Capture Beneficiaries Perspective
16
Futility of Followup Telephone Communication
17
Share or give up Perceived Power
81
Letting the Beneficiaries SelfGenerate Topics
88
Defusing the Legal Format
89
Taking the Beneficiarys Perspective
92
Avoiding Displays of Knowledge
94
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Hearing Formats
97
Gender Differences
103
Socially Acquired Gender Specification Address Forms
104

Training a Bureaucracy to Write Clearly A Case Study of the Social Security Administration
19
Revision of SSAs Attempt to Comply with This Mandate
21
SSAs Request That We Train Their NoticeWriting Staff
24
Early Ethnographic Observations
25
Designing the Training Program
27
The Training Program
28
Features of the Training Program
29
Topic Analysis
31
The Decision Tree
34
Discourse Analysis
39
Word Comprehension
42
Authority Based on Linguistic Justification
43
Conclusion
44
A Bureaucracys Struggle with Saying No A Medicare Case Study
46
Title
47
Sentence Structure
49
Conveyed Meaning
51
Conclusion
52
When Bureaucracies Clash A Case Study of Physicians Disability Report Forms
53
TDDSs Proposed Medical Assessment Report Form
54
Legal Services Revised Form B
57
Legal Services Revised Form C
62
Bureaucratic Speech Research on Telephone vs InPerson Administrative Hearings
63
Background
64
Opinion Survey
66
Analysis of Actual Hearings
67
Power in the Administrative Hearing
69
Status and Role in Administrative Hearings
70
Hearings with Attorneys
71
Hearings with Beneficiaries
72
Rely on Informal Conversational Style
73
Physical Presence vs Presence of Telephonic Voice Only
106
Conclusion
107
Facing the Bureaucratic Language of the Insurance Industry A Case Study of a Consumers Affairs Conference
108
Aspects of Language that Contribute to Comprehensibility
113
Misconceptions about Language that Interfere with Comprehensibility
119
Conclusion
123
Untangling the Bureaucratic Language of Real Estate A Case Study of Commission Agreements
125
Background
126
Commission Agreement Number One
127
Commission Agreement Number Two
130
Commission Agreement Number Three
134
Discourse Analysis
137
Contrastive Analysis
140
Conclusion
142
Attacking the Bureaucratic Language of Car Sales A Case Study of a Car Sales Event
144
Background
145
Specialization of Functions
146
Adherence to Fixed Rules
150
Hierarchy of Authority
153
Conclusion
157
Bureaucratic Language and Product Warning Labels Case Studies of the Requirements of FDA and OSHA Bureaucratic Language and Warnings
158
Bureaucratic Language and the US Food and Drug Administration
159
Bureaucratic Language and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA
165
Conclusion
173
What Is Bureaucratic Language and What Can Be Done About It?
175
What Is Bureaucratic Language?
176
What Can Be Done About Bureaucratic Language?
181
Works Cited
185
Index
187
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About the author (1998)

Roger W. Shuy is Distinguished Research Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University. One of the foremost scholars in sociolinguistics, he has also pioneered the field of forensic linguistics, the application of linguistics to criminal law. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Language of Confession, Interrogation and Deception (Sage, 1998) and Language Crimes (Blackwell, 1993). He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.

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