Writing process and technological output media

The emergence of an institution-specific language as described above is a so-called “invisible-hand process”, that is, the unintended result of the interaction of many decisions by many individuals. The communicative style prevailing in a particular company is not perceived as incomprehensible by its employees, since they are all familiar with their respective areas of specialization, and new employees are eager to adopt the company style. So such styles are not experienced as problematic and can survive for long periods of time. They can only be changed by means of systematic, targeted measures, above all by diffusing specimens of a more comprehensible style in appropriate media. This is a strategic management task which needs a clear plan and much patience.

However, the best plan will be to no avail if the reasons for the incomprehensibility are not found in traditional stylistic habits but in the technical process of text generation, for example, in the use of hard-coded text modules. This venerable technique is still standard practice. We have already seen above some institutional reasons as to why this is so. Over time, it becomes ever more difficult to abandon established practice and to introduce a new procedure. When decisions are taken concerning innovations, the more “productive” systems are always given precedence, for example, the systems for levying premiums or paying benefits in the case of a (private) health-insurance company. Communication systems, by contrast, share the fate of all media: just like glasses, you only notice them when they are dirty. As long as an output-management system “works”, it will not be changed.

Especially in bigger companies, a further factor to be taken into account is the institutionalization and specialization of decision-making processes. Decisions concerning the technological media to be employed are generally taken by specialists, that is, by the departments of information technology and administration, not by the communications department. There is some rationale to this way of doing things, but it must not be forgotten that these units are not specialists in the planning of writing processes, or text optimization. In decisions on innovation, technical output-management systems based on traditional administrative procedures are therefore more likely to be considered than systems which would imply, for example, the introduction of content-related writing processes, even though these would yield better results and be more economical in the long run.

This is also due to the “defensive” character of institutions. Risks are only taken when unavoidable. Yet any innovation entails risks, however secure the new procedures maybe. For decades, decisions concerning output-management systems have determined the media-based conditions for text production. And, as we have seen above, the medium necessarily shapes the writing process in a crucial way, not only technically but also content-wise. Decisions rational from a technological point of view, such as opting for a module-based system of text production, may turn out to be highly dysfunctional for a company.

Again, we have to make do with an “invisible-hand process”, in which individual decisions are taken on a rational basis but eventually prove counter-productive. Conceiving the nature of media incorrectly has material consequences for the language that is articulated with their help. The media issue, therefore, is an internal, not an external aspect of the comprehensibility problem (“internal” in the sense of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who considers a property of an object to be internal if its presence is indispensable for the concept). Decisions concerning technological text production media must, therefore, be taken from the perspective of organizing writing processes and their communicative requirements, while in practice things are normally the other way round. These decisions are also part of the conditions which determine the institutional style. As companies grow older and bigger, their written language becomes ever more incomprehensible, while, at the same time, it becomes ever more difficult to change this state of affairs.

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