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Lecture 6_Discourse_Research methods,areas and cases

Update April 28, 2020


  • Discourse;

  • Introduction of 'metadiscourse';

  • Methods --- 'Genre analysis' as an example;

  • Research areas --- 'Discourse and the news' as an example

Reading Material:

---Title: The use of metadiscourse in the CEO’s letter

This reading material derives from

Bargiela-Chiappini, F., Nickerson, C., & Planken, B. (2013). Business Discourse (2nd Edition). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

The original source of the paper:

Hyland, K. (1998). Exploring corporate rhetoric: Metadiscourse in the CEO’s letter. Journal of Business Communication, 35(2), 224-45.

"The use of metadiscourse in the CEO’s letter"


This study looks at how CEOs try to build a relationship with the readers of an annual general report, as well as projecting a positive image of their corporation.

It looks specifically at the role of metadiscourse, that is the textual and interpersonal aspects of the text, in 137 CEO’s letters to shareholders at the beginning of the annual report, using a close text corpus analysis facilitated by Microconcord. Hyland maps the various metadiscourse devices he identifies to the realization of three aspects of classical rhetoric: rational appeals, credibility appeals and affective appeals, and in doing so he shows how this non-propositional information in the texts is a fundamental way in which CEO’s seek to persuade their readers.

Introduction and aims

Ken Hyland begins his study of CEO’s letters by selectively reviewing the existing literature at the time of publication, from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In doing so, he points out two important reasons as to why his study is important, i) the CEO’s letter is widely referred to and is used to ‘construct and convey a corporate image’ (1998: 224), ii) very little research had been done to investigate the rhetoric used in CEO’s letters to project a positive corporate image, concentrating instead on issues such as readability, gender representation and content related to performance. These two factors provide both a societal motivation (the texts are important and widely read), and a research motivation (as little or no work has been done to date), for the study which looks at ‘critical features of text-level rhetoric to determine how writers project themselves into their texts in order to present an effective corporate picture’ (1998: 225).

The specific aim of the study is to examine the role of metadiscourse in 137 CEO’s letters originating between 1992 and 1994 in international and Hong Kong-based companies registered with the three most important Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong. As Hyland observes, metadiscourse is an important aspect of how persuasive a text is, as it signals a writer’s attitude to the propositional content of the text, as well as contributing to building a relationship with the readers of the text.

The study goes beyond simply describing the metadiscourse devices used however, in that Hyland builds on his analysis to show how these devices contribute to three aspects of classical rhetoric, 1) rational appeals to signal meaning relations, 2) credibility appeals, to create an ethos, and 3) affective appeals that relate to the reader. The study therefore combines a quantitative analysis (using Microconcord) to identify the frequency of occurrence of the various metadiscourse devices, and a qualitative analysis looking at the contribution made by each device within the context of the text.



The corpus used in the study was a random selection of the annual reports published in Hong Kong between 1992 and 1994, and consisted of 137 CEO’s letters. These ranged in length from 16 to 116 pages. The annual reports as a whole were scanned electronically to produce a corpus of just over half a million words, and it was then divided into three sections: 1. CEO’s letters; 2. directors’ reports; 3. other disclosures.

The CEO’s letters comprised 175,152 words, and these were compared within the analysis with 110 randomly selected Directors’ reports from the same corpus, consisting of 122,511 words. Hyland comments on the difference between these two types of texts and the usefulness of their inclusion within the analysis as follows: ‘It [the directors’ report] reviews the year and describes important events affecting the company, changes in fixed assets, details of directors, and so on. Such an objective digest of statutory information provides a useful contrast to the CEO’s letter, which is voluntary and not subject to official audit. So while the quality of information provided in the letters may very enormously, the CEO’s letter is likely to play a more rhetorical role in company communication’ (1998: 227).

Before the data was analysed, an inventory of 250 metadiscourse items was compiled, first by two experienced applied linguists referring to reference grammars and the existing research literature on metadiscourse (e.g., Holmes, 1988; Hyland, 1996; Kjellmer, 1994), and then by supplementing this list with additional suggestions made by Hyland’s colleagues within the Business Studies and English department at City University in Hong Kong. The CEO’s letters and Directors’ reports were then analysed using Microconcord to identify the frequency and range of the 250 items listed in the inventory. Hyland completed the analysis by working with two other colleagues --- all three working independently --- to code the items using the classification of functions of metadiscourse adapted from Crismore et al. (1993) specifically for the CEO data. Once this quantitative coding had been completed, Hyland then looked at the various metadiscourse devices in the context of the CEO’s letters to identify how these contributed to the rational, credible and affective appeals made by the writers.

Main findings

The quantitative comparative analysis of the CEO’s letters and Directors’ reports

Hyland’s analysis revealed a number of key differences in use of metadiscourse between the CEO’s letters and the Director’s reports. Although metadiscourse occurred in both, and there were also more textual devices than interpersonal devices in both, the CEO’s letters contained ‘about two and a half times more metadiscourse per 100 words’ than the Directors’ reports, and they also included ‘six times more interpersonal metadiscourse’ (1998: 231). Hyland summarizes the findings of this part of the study as follows: The CEO’s letters contain about one metadiscourse device every 50 words.

These are typically connectives or hedges (comprising 66 per cent of all items) with little endophoric or attributional signalling. The directors’ reports show a similar overall percentage of connectors and hedges, although with fewer than half the occurrences per 100 words. The strikingly different frequencies demonstrate the distinct nature of the two documents, with the directors perceiving less need to exercise control over the discourse by marking the organization of their prose or its affective implications. The CEO’s, on the other hand, clearly see a need to intervene by displaying an alignment to their readers and informing them of their intentions, meanings, and attitudes. (Hyland, 1998: 231)

He goes on to say that although devices such as the logical connectives and, also, and but, and the hedge would, were the most frequently occurring devices in both corpora, the ten most frequently occurring items accounted for 81 per cent of all devices in the Directors’ reports as opposed to only 51 per cent in the CEO’s letters. The reports are therefore much more formulaic than the letters. In addition, whereas 85.5 per cent of the metadiscourse devices in the Directors’ reports belonged in the textual categories, with 14.5 per cent in interpersonal categories, only 62.3 per cent of metadiscourse devices were textual in the CEO’s letters, and 37.7 per cent were interpersonal. Relatively speaking as well as being less formulaic, the CEO’s letters are also more interpersonal than the Director’s reports. Hyland summarizes the reasons for this by saying, ‘While directors’ reports are often a simple record of company particulars, the CEO’s letter represents corporate communication decisions which involve attempts to influence the audience’ (1998: 232).

The qualitative analysis of the CEO’s letters

In the qualitative analysis, Hyland looks at the rhetorical effects of the different metadiscourse devices in the CEO’s letters, in particular how these contribute to the realization of rational appeals, credibility appeals and affective appeals.

Rational appeals in the text are about ‘how writers choose to define problems, support claims, validate promises, state conclusions, and so on’, and their persuasive force is dependent to a large extent on ‘the logic connecting these elements’ (1998: 233). Textual metadiscourse elements, such as logical connectives and frame markers, play a fundamental role in this process, since ‘textual metadiscourse helps readers understand how the text is organized by explaining, orienting them to, and guiding them through the information. It functions rhetorically to point readers in the direction of the argument intended by the writer’ (1998: 233).

In his discussion of metadiscourse and credibility appeals, Hyland looks at how metadiscourse is used to realize a writer’s ethos, that is, the projection of ‘the writer into the document to present a competent, trustworthy, authoritative, and honest persona’ (1998: 235). Not surprisingly, credibility appeals are enhanced in the CEO’s letters through interpersonal devices, such as hedges, emphatics, relational markers and attributors, ‘all of which help to indicate writers’ assessments of truth and their convictions in their views’ (1998: 235). And likewise in affective appeals, where the persuasiveness of the text is achieved if the writer effectively relates to the reader, interpersonal devices, such as ‘attitude markers, and hedges, together with the manipulation of pronoun reference’ are again shown to make an important contribution to the effectiveness of the text, this time in ‘the development of a relationship with the reader’ (1998: 238).

Hyland’s analysis of the role played by metadiscourse in the different appeals in the CEO’s letters allows him to conclude that ‘metadiscourse is a ubiquitous feature of the way CEO’s portray their awareness of how best to represent themselves and their companies’ (1998: 241). He goes on to call for further investigation of metadiscourse in other business genres including variations between different genres, for instance reports versus letters, and variations within the same genre in different circumstances, for example CEO’s letters in high versus low performance companies, in more profitable versus less profitable years for the same company, and in companies working in different sectors. And in his concluding remarks, he makes a connection with the teaching of business discourse and underlines the importance of raising student awareness of the type of strategic rhetoric that metadiscourse facilitates in corporate writing in addition to a careful selection of appropriate propositional information: Finally, the analysis may help students of business communication understand and gain control of metadiscourse in their own reading and writing of business genres. Such studies can help learners gain a better understanding of the strategies used in corporate messages and develop a more effective rhetorical and verbal repertoire to use in the professional domains in which they will find themselves. CEO’s letters are among the most widely read and easily accessible documents companies produce. Often readily encountered by shop-floor employees and small investors, annual reports are now distributed internationally. They thus represent part of the growing hegemony of English and the increasingly insistent undercurrent of a promotional culture in informative discourse. Analyses such as the one presented here can therefore help consumers of these documents develop a rhetorical awareness of written managerial persuasion. (Hyland, 1998: 241–2)


Hyland’s study, which can now be considered as an early example of business discourse analysis, is still worth looking at in detail for two important reasons, one methodological, the other epistemological. Firstly, the project is expertly put together, combining existing theory, i.e. the classification systems for metadiscourse, applying this in a new context, i.e. business discourse as opposed to academic discourse where most work on metadiscourse had been done up until 1998, and drawing on both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in the process. The texts under analysis are shown to be relevant both from a societal perspective and a research perspective, such that the findings contribute to our existing knowledge about CEO’s letters; as well as making a ground-breaking contribution to the literature on business discourse, the research carried out is both valid and reliable, incorporating important methodological decisions such as random sampling, the adaptation of an existing classification system and the co-operation of several coders in the analysis, and the research is shown to have useful and far reaching research and pedagogical implications. Secondly, as we have detailed above, Hyland’s investigation of textual and interpersonal metadiscourse and their contribution to a series of different appeals to the reader, uncovers the crucial role played by rhetorical strategies in the construction of (persuasive) corporate messages. Since the study was published, many business discourse researchers have turned their attention to communication strategies in both written and spoken genres (e.g., Nickerson, 2000; Poncini, 2004; Vuorela, 2005), and for financial reporting in particular, the influence of the study is clear on the growing interest in the rhetorical strategies used by the writers of annual reports to communicate effectively with their stakeholders.

Reading material:

---Title: Genre analysis

The following extract is part of the chapter "Genre Analysis" written by Christine M. Tardy (2011).


Hyland, K., Paltridge, B. (Eds.) (2011). The continuum companion to discourse analysis. London/New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Genre Analysis

Christine M. Tardy


Genre as a Rhetorical Category

Early theoretical work in rhetorical genre studies emphasized genre to be a rhetorical, rather than linguistic, category (Miller 1984; Swales 1990); in other words, what makes a text a genre is not its linguistic form but the rhetorical action that it carries out in response to the dynamics of a social context. An SFL approach similarly classifies genres by meaning, defining genres as ‘staged, goal oriented social process’ (Martin 1993: 142). This definitional conception of genre as social action or process has proved essential in the research of genre-based communication. If genres are to be distinguished by their rhetorical elements, the study of genres must investigate text and context and the relationship between the two.

One important method for analysing a genre rhetorically is known as move analysis. First developed by Swales (1990), move analysis identifies text parts that work to carry out distinct rhetorical functions. Beginning with a corpus of texts representative of a genre within one or more social contexts, the analyst identifies common moves. A detailed analysis may count the presence of each move within the corpus aiming to identify which moves appear to be more or less obligatory and which might be considered optional or even rare. Sequences of moves are often analysed as well, leading to the identification of common move patterns. More fine-grained move analysis also examines steps, or subcategories, within a single move.

Move analysis explicitly studies texts in terms of their rhetorical goals and how they work to achieve those goals. A relatively large body of research in this fashion has investigated academic research articles in general and article introductions in particular. These studies have led to insights into the introduction’s goal of creating a research space – a goal carried out through moves such as indicating a gap in prior work and situating the present research within that gap. These moves reflect the values and practices of academic research, specifically the importance of novelty and contribution to and expansion of existing knowledge. While computer programs, such as Laurence Anthony’s AntMover 1.0 (Anthony 2008), can aid in identifying and counting moves, such technology is still in developmental stages. Most often, move analysis is carried out by hand and therefore tends to work with corpora of around 30 or more texts, though smaller-sized corpora may be used for more in-depth and detailed analysis. Many studies have examined moves of a single genre across subgroups, such as comparing a research article across academic disciplines. Such comparative analysis is useful in identifying distinct values and practices among communities of users.

Move analysis specifically studies text at the discourse level, taking into account how stretches of a text that span sentence or clause boundaries function rhetorically. Though somewhat less common, genre analysis can also investigate rhetorical appeals to logos (logic), pathos (emotion) or ethos (credibility). Such appeals may be carried out through, for example, the use of statistics, visuals, self-reference or certain rhetorical devices such as metaphors. Pathos has been examined in charity letters (Myers 2007), revealing how they rely on rhetorical techniques like parallelism, provocative images and vivid descriptions. Studies of ethos have illustrated how writers boost their credibility. For instance, academic authors may build credibility in abstracts by demonstrating insider knowledge through the use of acronyms, jargon and citations (Hyland 2000). Authors of letters of recommendation may emphasize their credentials by citing their years of experience when describing the relative strength of the student (Bruland 2009).

Genre analysis at the lexico-grammatical level is also used to investigate the rhetorical elements of genre. Computer software applications can aid in identifying patterns in metadiscourse such as frame markers ( to conclude, in this section), attitude markers ( curiously, interestingly), hedges ( could, might,  possibly), and boosters ( doubtless, obviously, well-known) across disciplinary uses of genres (Hyland 2000, 2006). Comparing normalized frequency counts,1 this work illustrates in some cases rather substantial differences between hard and soft sciences. Supplementing these analyses with the insights of interviewed insiders, researchers can illustrate lexico-grammatical patterns that reflect and reinforce the community’s values and practices (e.g. Hyland 2000).


Reading material:

---Title: Discourse and the News

The following extract is a part of the chapter written by Martin Montgomery (2011).


Hyland, K., Paltridge, B. (Eds.) (2011). The continuum companion to discourse analysis. London/New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Discourse and the News

Martin Montgomery


If journalism is ‘the sense-making practice of modernity’, as Hartley suggests (1996: 29), then it is hardly surprising that it has attracted a great deal of attention from linguists. Beginning with the pioneering work of Van Dijk (1988a, b) and Fowler (1991), on the one hand, and with Heritage and Greatbach’s work (1991) on the news interview, on the other hand, we can discern two main traditions of study of news discourse: the first deals mostly with newspapers and the structure of news in written text; the second deals with the broadcast news interview as spoken discourse and as a form of social interaction. The first approach expresses a long-standing concern with newspapers as the embodiment of forms of ideology under late capitalism. The second approach has been particularly concerned with issues of power and control as they are reflected in the engagement between public figures and news organizations. In this chapter, both traditions of work will be considered before exploring the limits as well as the possibilities of their approaches to news as discourse.

Defining News and News Discourse

We need at the outset, however, some definition of the nature of news whose discourse has attracted so much attention. From a sociological perspective and from media studies there is an extensive literature on the nature of news (see, for example, Schudson 2003; Tumber 1999); and this has gone to some length to define its thematic qualities. In brief, news deals typically with the most recent events of a public scale and importance. Its focus is often negative, concerning war, famine, accident and disaster – ‘bad news makes good news’ as the phrase has it. It favours the immediate, the concrete and the personal rather than the abstract and the complicated process. It needs to be culturally relevant and unambiguous in its import, and it often focuses on powerful or elite persons or groups or blocs. These qualities are known as ‘news values’ (Galtung and Ruge 1965), the nature of which both define some core qualities of mainstream news and help to describe the process whereby the undifferentiated stream of everyday happenings becomes crystallized into the content of newspapers and news programmes.

These core thematic characteristics of the news are thrown into sharper relief by considering an instance of what might be called ‘anti-news’ drawn from a daily news programme, ‘PM’ on BBC Radio 4. This programme normally offers ‘an evening look at the day’s events’ by providing a mix of ‘hard news’ and commentary with some human-interest items. Thus, it features a recognizable news routine of headlines, news reports and interviews. For a time, however, it introduced an innovatory slot, called Your News, read by the presenter near the end of the programme, a typical example of which would be the following.

My son is in Philadelphia for a gathering of fellow cult-members who may one day realize they’ve been duped into cutting themselves off from their families.

I had to cancel the order for my new car as the manufacturers had no idea when it would be made.

I had a lovely text conversation with my daughter, the first one we’ve had since she stopped talking to me four years ago; maybe we’ll speak soon.

I completely lost it at the crematorium,  but I managed to get back enough composure to deliver Mum’s eulogy.

‘Your News’ provides an engaging, almost ironic, counterpoint to the rest of the PM programme. As a series of news items they are personal and private;

they are only loosely anchored in time and place; and their effect is cumulative, depending in part on the effects of juxtaposition. Overall, they serve as a marked contrast to the public emphases of the remainder of the programme.

In terms of discourse, the deictic centre of these items tends to be an unspecified but serial set of first persons (I), who are thematized as the actor, agent or experiencer of the reported events. Other participants (‘my daughter’, ‘Mum’, ‘a colleague’) tend to be identified by relation to the first person deictic zero point. By contrast, the deictic centre of mainstream news discourse is quite different. Broadly, its deictic zero point is indeterminately the news organization (for instance, CNN or the BBC), or even ‘the news’ itself as an abstract impersonal discursive institution. Hard news tends to avoid the first person, is precise in its specification of time, place and participant from the outset of any story or news item, and it seeks to present events as if recorded from beyond any one individual’s perspective. Thus, mainstream news has claims to offer on a regular basis, in the words of Ekstrom (2002), ‘reliable, neutral and current factual information that is important and valuable for citizens in a democracy’; or, as Schudson (2003) puts it, ‘information and commentary on contemporary affairs taken to be publicly important’.

Nonetheless, while the routine properties of the news may be summarized in this fashion, from the critical perspective of media scholars and linguists, the practices that underpin the shaping of mainstream news have always remained questionable: the routine qualities and practices of the news amount to a limiting construction of reality. Indeed, from a critical perspective news values and news discourse are shaped by and help in their turn to shape the ideologies of the news.

Reading material:


Bargiela-Chiappini, F., Nickerson, C., & Planken, B. (2013). Business Discourse (2nd Edition). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Hoeken, H., van den Brandt, C., Crijns, R., Dominguez, N., Hendriks, B., Planken, B., & Starren, M. (2003). International advertising in Western Europe: Should differences in uncertainty avoidance be considered when advertising in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain? Journal of Business Communication, 40(3), 195-218.

Standardize or adapt? Audience reaction to localized product advertisements


This study surveyed potential target (consumer) groups of different nationalities to test experimentally whether international advertising texts that use appeals to values regarded as important in a given target group’s national culture are more persuasive than advertising texts that appeal to values considered as less important in a target group’s national culture. The study aimed to provide insight into the ongoing debate among scholars of intercultural business discourse, and international advertising in particular, as to whether cultural differences between target audiences necessitate adaptation of advertising to local circumstances.

Introduction and aims

Cultures differ with respect to which values (or ‘life rules’) are considered important (e.g., Hofstede, 2001). Such variation in assigning importance to values lies at the core of cultural differences. With respect to international advertising, a number of authors have suggested that adapting advertising texts to cultural differences and local circumstances may make such texts more successful (for instance, de Mooij, 1998). For example, if an advertising text appeals to values that a given target group regards as important in their culture, it is likely that it will be perceived more favourably by that target group than if such an advertisement appeals to cultural values that the target group regards as less important. Using a reader-focused, experimental design, Hoeken et al. tested that assumption. Reader-focused research, which surveys an intended audience’s reactions to elements of a given document or text, is a much-used method in document design research to determine aspects of text functionality.

The central aim of the study was to investigate whether product advertisements that appeal to a value regarded as important in a given target culture are more persuasive than advertisements that appeal to values that are less important in that culture. The study involved a survey of target groups from Spain, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, in which the researchers gauged respondents’ reactions to a product advertisement for a watch. According to Hofstede (2001), the four countries under study differ with respect to the cultural dimension ‘uncertainty avoidance’, which is defined as ‘the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations’ (161). Spain, Belgium and France can be regarded as high uncertainty avoidance cultures (where people feel uncomfortable about unexpected situations), while the Netherlands, in contrast, is a relatively low uncertainty avoidance culture.

In Hoeken et al.’s investigation, an experiment was set up to test specifically whether appealing to ‘security’ (a value regarded as important in high uncertainty avoidance cultures) indeed made the advertisement for the watch more persuasive in the high uncertainty avoidance cultures involved in their study (that is, France, Belgium and Spain) than in the low uncertainty avoidance culture (that is, the Netherlands). By the same token, they tested whether the same advertisement with an appeal to ‘adventure’ (a value regarded as important in low uncertainty avoidance cultures) made the text more persuasive in the low uncertainty avoidance culture in the study (that is, the Netherlands) than in the high uncertainty avoidance cultures (that is, France, Belgium and Spain).



For the experiment, two versions (in Dutch) were constructed of an advertisement for a watch. A fictitious brand name (Tempus) was used in the ad to avoid evoking established attitudes towards existing watch brands. Hoeken et al. opted to use an advertisement for this specific product because research shows that cultural values are especially influential in the consumer’s evaluation of products that are ‘socially visible’, that is, products that consumers can be seen to wear or to use by peer group members whose opinions they value (Zhang & Gelb, 1996).

In the advertisement, consisting of a short text superimposed on a photograph of someone entering a restaurant, a person (supposedly the person in the photograph) describes his or her favourite night out. The two versions of the text that were constructed for the experiment only differed with respect to which aspects of an evening out were described. In one version, the evening was described as uneventful, without any surprises (we went to our favourite restaurant and to a classical concert that received positive reviews only). This version appealed to ‘security’ values, which members of high uncertainty avoidance cultures, such as Spain, Belgium and France have been found to regard as important (Schwartz, 1992).

The second version of the advertisement described the evening out as unpredictable and full of surprises (a new restaurant we’ve never tried before; an experimental music concert). This text appealed to a sense of ‘adventure’, a value regarded as important by members of low uncertainty avoidance cultures, such as the Netherlands. The pair of advertisements was pre-tested by (Dutch) representatives of the intended target group, who offered further suggestions about the choice of photograph, the wording of the text, and the appeal to the different values. This process eventually resulted in two versions of the watch advertisement that were the same with respect to the visual elements, the overall layout and the number of sentences, and differed only with respect to the values appealed to.

Data 8.3 The text of the two different ad versions (Hoeken et al. 2003: 205)

Appealing to high uncertainty values (or ‘security’)


First: dining out. In our favourite

restaurant. We’ve gone there for

years. It is a place we definitely like.

Then on to the theatre. A classical

composition. It got rave reviews.

For us, an evening out is

an evening in familiar

surroundings --- where we don’t

have to keep track of the time.

My Tempus does that.


Appealing to low uncertainty values (or ‘adventure’)


First: dining out in that new

restaurant. Never been there before.

Are not sure we will like it. Then on

to the theatre. An experimental

composition. The reviews were mixed.

For us, an evening out is an evening full

of new experiences --- where we don’t

have to keep track of the time.

My Tempus does that.

Next, using the translation-back-translation method, equivalent translations in Spanish and French were made: one translator translated the Dutch version into French or Spanish and another translator then translated the French or Spanish versions back into Dutch. The original Dutch text and the translations into Dutch were compared; the versions were very similar, suggesting that the French and Spanish translations were sufficiently equivalent to the original Dutch version of the advertisement to be used in the experiment. Finally, the French and Spanish versions were presented to native speakers of those languages who checked the naturalness and idiomaticity of the texts, as well as the extent to which a text appealed to the intended values.

Respondents and procedure

A between-subjects design was used for the experiment. That is, participants read only one version of the advertisement, in the language that was relevant to them. The different versions of the advertisement were distributed randomly across the respondent groups in the four countries. A total of 476 volunteer respondents took part (142 from Belgium, 125 from France, 108 from Spain, and 101 from the Netherlands). All participants were students in humanities departments at various universities in the four countries (mean age: 21). The researchers chose a homogeneous pool of respondents (students) across the four countries (similar in terms of age, background, and potentially, interests) to limit the risk of potential variation as a result of independent background variables as much as possible (e.g., vastly different age groups in the sample might have regarded different sets of values within their ‘cultural value set’ as important, relative to each other, or might have responded differently to the leisure events described in the ads, and so on). This is, of course, common practice in experimental research. However, it is also true that students are a much-used source of respondents in research, as they tend to be accessible, particularly to researchers based in universities who work within the academic, rather than the practice-based, tradition.

The dependent variables associated with the research questions were measured through items in a written questionnaire. The translation-back- translation method was used to create equivalent questionnaires in Dutch, French and Spanish. To assess the persuasiveness of the advertisement, respondents’ attitudes towards the advertisement and towards the product were measured using seven-point semantic differentials and seven-point Likert scales (see Data 8.4; and Concept 3.1).

Data 8.4 Examples of items used by Hoeken et al. (2003)


A number of control questions were also included in the questionnaire. These aimed to determine the external validity of the experimental materials, that is, whether respondents regarded the advertisement as typical for a watch advertisement and typical for a product advertisement in a given country.

Finally, the questionnaire included a shortened version of Schwartz’s (1992) value list to determine individual respondents’ value hierarchies. In this way, the researchers could determine whether the relative importance of different cultural values (relating to high or low uncertainty avoidance) assumed in the literature for the countries under study could be confirmed with respect to individual respondents in the four groups that represented the countries in the investigation. Thus, this list of items served as a ‘check’ to see whether the supposed cultural differences also applied to the respondents in the study at an individual level (that is, to determine cultural versus personal preference).

The experiment was conducted over a number of weeks at various universities in the four countries in the study, and always during class seminars on a topic that was not relevant to the investigation (for instance, linguistics or communication skills training). The researchers introduced the experiment as a survey that was being carried out to determine consumers’ opinions about a new watch brand to be introduced on the European market.

Main findings

The main research aim was to determine whether appealing to a high uncertainty avoidance value (security) would result in a more persuasive watch advertisement for the Belgian, French, and Spanish respondents and, conversely, whether appealing to a low uncertainty avoidance value (stimulation) would make that same watch advertisement more appealing to the Dutch participants.

The prediction that a security appeal would yield a more persuasive advertisement in a high uncertainty avoidance culture whereas a stimulation appeal would yield a more persuasive advertisement in a low uncertainty avoidance culture was based on two assumptions. The first was that appealing to a value higher in the individual’s value hierarchy would yield a more persuasive advertisement. The results showed that this assumption appeared to have been well-founded: when the data were analysed using differences in individual hierarchy (based on the Schwartz’s list) instead of nationality as a factor, the interaction between advertising appeal and value hierarchy became significant. That is, an appeal to security proved to be more persuasive for people who valued security more than stimulation, whereas it was far less persuasive for people who valued stimulation more than security. For the security appeal then, the findings confirmed the expected relationship between an individual’s value hierarchy and advertising appeal.

The second assumption was that respondents from countries that Hofstede (1984; 2001) regards as different with respect to uncertainty avoidance would hold different value hierarchies, specifically with respect to the value categories security and stimulation. This assumption proved to be unfounded. The number of respondents from the three high uncertainty avoidance cultures that preferred security values was exactly the same as the number of participants that preferred stimulation values. For the respondents from the low uncertainty avoidance culture, the preference ran counter to the researcher’s prediction: the number of respondents that preferred security to stimulation exceeded the number of participants that showed a reversed preference. These results seem to support the observation made by a number of researchers recently that western European cultures are becoming more homogeneous.


Research on cultural differences in relation to the persuasiveness of value appeals has tended to focus on only one cultural dimension (individualism-collectivism) and on only one set of countries (the US versus Asian countries).

The findings from these studies have indeed indicated that there are cultural differences in persuasiveness (e.g., Zhang & Gelb, 1996; Aaker, 2000). However, Hoeken et al.’s findings seem to suggest that the results of such studies may be restricted to appeals relating to the dimension individualism-collectivism only, and to cross-cultural comparisons of Asian countries versus the US. Also, their results suggest that using appeals associated with one of the other cultural dimensions (in this case uncertainty avoidance) in countries that are much more alike in terms of culture than the US–East-Asian countries does not bring about country by advertising appeal interactions. Clearly, studies like this have great relevance for the international business community in general and for international marketing in particular. However, for business professionals who are not directly involved in international marketing communication, the results may be of relevance too. Business people frequently have to communicate with counterparts from other countries, about whom they often know little more than what their nationality is. Hoeken et al.’s results show that Shelby (1998) provides good advice when she suggests that a persuasive document should be adapted to suit the audience’s preferences: in Hoeken et al.’s study, appealing to security did indeed yield a more persuasive advertisement for those valuing security more than stimulation. However, Hoeken et al. also point out that caution should be exercised with regard to business communication practices in the western European context, in that it would be risky (and perhaps simplistic) to take Hofstede’s cultural dimensions as a point of departure for adapting external business messages to different cultural target groups within this region. In other words, a relative ‘micro study’ such as this can be useful in building a case for or against overarching claims and generalizations made on the basis of large-scale macro studies such as Hofstede’s (Hofstede, 1984; 2001).


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