$5 Off

$5 Off

The $5 off coupon and the large percentage reductions provide good examples of media literacy and its relevance to everyday living. Increasingly we see coupons for saving money at the various stores. One such one is Bed Bath & Beyond. The coupon says “$5 off any purchase of $15 or more.” Not a bad deal or so you’d think. Then, at the bottom of the ad, in very small print—print most people would need glasses to read—is a list of exclusions—in this case, over 40. And here is an ad for Michaels—40% off any one regular price item—followed by a list of exclusions in print too small to read. And then there’s Macy’s—15% off in large letters, followed by a list of exclusions—again, in small print.
So, what’s the idea? Well, it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that at last part of the idea is to have you read the big print, select the items to be purchased, present the coupon, and then be told that this item is excluded from the $5 offer, the 40% discount, or the 15% off. Then, what do you do? You can hold up the line and argue? Go back for a similar product that is covered? Refuse to purchase the item? Most likely, you’ll just buy it without the discount. I think the media literacy lesson here is: Expect to be fooled. Look at how an ad, any ad, is trying to fool you. Chances are it’s doing exactly that.



I want to broaden The Communication Blog to include items that the general reader who has a casual interest in communication might want to read. I also want to include the person who is in college or who made it through college without the benefit of a communication course, now realizes the importance of communication, and wants to learn some of the basic concepts, principles, and especially skills. So, in addition to the focus on instructors teaching and students taking one of the basic communication courses, I’m adding these more general skills-oriented items, which I’m calling Communication Strategies. Some of these will come from one or more of my textbooks and some will be new. After posting about 100 of these, I hope to have a popular book, 100 Communication Strategies for Success at Home and at Work. With this as a preface, it seems appropriate to begin with feedforward.

Communication Strategies: Feedforwar
Literary and rhetorical critic, I. A. Richards, once remarked that there was nothing he learned that was more important than the concept of feedforward. It’s an essential part of any communication act and yet is regularly ignored in many, if not most, of our textbooks. This is especially strange since we all give much attention to feedback; the other half needs to be given its due.
Feedforward is information you provide before sending your primary message. Feedforward reveals something about the message to come. Feedforward exists in all forms of communication. Examples of feedforward include the preface or table of contents of a book, the opening paragraph of a chapter, movie previews, magazine covers, and introductions in public speeches. Feedforward may serve a variety of functions. Here are some of the major functions:
< To Open the Channels of Communication. Feedforward helps you open the channels of communication and tells you another person is willing to communicate. It tells you that the normal, expected, and accepted rules of interaction will be in effect. It’s the “How are you” and “Nice weather” greetings that are designed to maintain rapport and friendly relationships.
< To Preview the Message. Feedforward messages may, for example, preview the content (“I’m afraid I have bad news for you”), the importance (“Listen to this before you make a move”), the form or style (“I’ll tell you all the gory details”), and the positive or negative quality of subsequent messages (“You’re not going to like this, but here’s what I heard”). The subject heading on your e-mail illustrates this function of feedforward, as do the phone numbers and names that come up on your caller ID.
< To Disclaim. The disclaimer is a statement that aims to ensure that your message will be understood as you want it to be and that it will not reflect negatively on you. For example, you might use a disclaimer when you think that what you’re going to say may be met with opposition. Thus, you say “I’m not against immigration, but . . .” or “Don’t think I’m homophobic, but . . .”
< To Altercast. Feedforward is often used to place the receiver in a specific role and to request responses in terms of this assumed role, a process called altercasting. For example, you might altercast by asking a friend, “As a future advertising executive, what would you think of corrective advertising?” This question casts your friend in the role of advertising executive (rather than parent, Democrat, or Baptist, for example) and asks that she or he answer from a particular perspective.
Here are a few suggestions for giving effective feedforward.
< Use feedforward to estimate the receptivity of the person to what you’re going to say. For example, before asking for a date, you’d probably use feedforward to test the waters and to see if you’re likely to get a “yes” response. You might ask if the other person enjoys going out to dinner or if he or she is dating anyone seriously. Before asking a friend for a loan, you’d probably feedforward your needy condition and say something like “I’m really strapped for cash and need to get my hands on $200 to pay my car loan” and wait for the other person to say (you hope), “Can I help?”
< Use feedforward that’s consistent with your subsequent message. If your main message is one of bad news, then your feedforward needs to be serious and help to prepare the other person for this bad news. You might, for example, say something like “I need to tell you something you’re not going to want to hear. Let’s sit down.”
< The more important or complex the message, the more important and more extensive your feedforward needs to be. For example, in public speaking, in which the message is relatively long, you’d probably want to give fairly extensive feedforward or what is called an orientation or preview. At the start of a business meeting, the leader may give feedforward in the form of an agenda or meeting schedule.
< Avoid using overly long feedforwards that make your listener wonder whether you’ll ever get to the business at hand. These will make you seem disorganized and lacking in focus.


Politeness as a Theory of Relationship Development

Here is a brief and very preliminary discussion of what politeness as a theory of relationship development might look like:

Among the theories of interpersonal relationship development are such well known entries as social exchange theory, social penetration, rules theory, uncertainty reduction, equity, and a variety of others. Politeness theory needs to be added to this list. It would go something like this:

Two people develop a relationship when each respects, contributes to, and acknowledges the positive and negative face needs of the other and it deteriorates when they don'

"Positive face" is the need to be thought of highly, to be valued, to be esteemed. In more communication terms, respect for positive face entails the exchange of compliments, praise, and general positivity. "Negative face" is the need to be autonomous, to be in control of one's own behavior, to not be obligated to do something. In more communication terms, respect for negative face entails the exchange of permission requests (rather than demands), messages indicating that a person's time is valuable and respected, and few if any imposed obligations. It would also entail providing the other person an easy "way out" when a request is made.

Relationships develop when these needs are met. Relationships will be maintained when the rules of politeness are maintained. And relationships will deteriorate when the rules of politeness are bent, violated too often, or ignored completely. Relationship repair will be effected by a process of reinstituting the rules of politeness. Politeness, of course, is not the entire story; it's just a piece. It won't explain all the reasons for relationship development or deterioration but it explains a part of the processes. It won't explain, for example, why so many people stay in abusive and unsatisfying relationships. It's major weakness seems to be that politeness needs for specific individuals are difficult to identify--what is politeness to one person, may be perceived as rude or insensitive to another.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, politeness seems to be relaxed as the relationship becomes more intimate. As the relationship becomes more intimate and long-lasting, there is greater relationship license to violate the normal rules of politeness. This may well be a mistake, at least in certain relationships. Our needs for positive and negative face do not go away when a relationship becomes more intimate; they're still there. If the definitions of politeness are themselves relaxed by the individuals, then there seems little problem. There is a problem when the definitions--relaxed or original--are not shared by the individuals; when one assumes the acceptability of something generally considered impolite as o.k. while the other does not.

When people in relationships complain that they are not respected, are not valued as they used to be when they were dating, and that their relationship is not romantic, they may well be talking about politeness. And so, on the more positive side, it offers very concrete suggestions for developing, maintaining, and repairing interpersonal relationships, namely: increase politeness by contributing to the positive and negative face needs of the other person.


How to Write a Lot

Here is a Word file of a brief article I wrote and which appears in the current issue of ETC: A Review of General Semantics and here with permission.

How to Write a Lot
Four Rules
Joseph A. DeVito

A lot has been written about effective writing. For example, the largest selling textbooks, for the largest college course (English Composition), are the basic English handbooks used to teach the skills of effective writing, attesting to society's conviction in the importance of effective writing and its concern with teaching the skills of effective writing. The importance of effective writing has even penetrated the best seller lists with such books as Eats, Shoots & Leaves and the continuing success of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. A search of "writing skills" on amazon.com/books yielded 46,769 results. And a Google search of the same phrase yielded 5, 190,000 sites, many of these devoted to teaching people in business the skills they never learned in college--despite the current emphasis.
But what about writing a lot? Surely there is some merit in writing a lot. And, contrary to what many who write little may argue, there seems no evidence to suggest that quantity is in any way negatively related to quality. Yet many persist in the belief that if you write a lot you can't be writing "good." But consider: Is Shakespeare any less a playwright because he wrote a lot? Similarly, for John Updike who has written some 60 books, for Joyce Carol Oats who has written over 100, and Isaac Asimov who wrote over 200. The same is true in the academic world. Those who write a great deal are in no way inferior to those who write little; instead, those who write a great deal seem (to me, at least) to be among the best writers and most significant contributors to their field.
This is not to say that there are some who write a great deal but are known not for quality but only their prolificacy. There are these people as well but they certainly don't define the class of prolific writers.
With this as a preface--to help de-demonize the writer who writes a lot--here are four "don'ts" that a writer might follow to write a lot. In the interest of avoiding allness, each of these "don'ts" comes with a "however."

Don't No. 1. Don't Delay

Don't wait to sit in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee at your computer to write. If you're on a bus and a thought hits you, write it down on the paper and pen you always keep with you. Louis L'Amour, the prolific Western writer, said that he could write in the middle of Times Square. And, though I doubt that he tried, I'm sure he could have. It's that attitude that helps you write a lot. And don't wait for inspiration which may or may not come. Novelist Peter deVries put this in perspective: "I only write when I am inspired. And I see to it that I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."
However, there are many instances from literature of prolific writers who only wrote at certain times or in certain ways. And it obviously worked for them. Tolstoy wrote in the morning, Dostoyevsky late at night, and Benjamin Franklin and Edmond Rostand at any time but preferably in the bathtub.

Don't No. 2. Don't Edit

Don't edit, evaluate, or self-censor your own work. This can come later. Pausing to evaluate may be an indication of fear of being able to move on and so you pause and evaluate, censoring more and more ideas. This suggestion is nothing more than a repeat of the brainstorming rule: "Don't Evaluate". Creativity and the easy flow of ideas work best when uncensored.
However, at some point you need to separate what works from what doesn't and here you need to start evaluating. But, only after you've written a lot.
At some point you'll need to spell and grammar check and edit what you've written but just don't do it at the point of creation. You can always fine tune your sentences at a later, editing stage. Thomas Wolfe approached this differently, He simply wrote as much as possible and then left it up to his editor to cut and edit his length prose. Fortunately for Wolfe, his editor was the famed Max Perkins, the editor, not only of Wolfe but also of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Don't No. 3. Don't Stop

Don't stop your writing or interrupt your creative flow by looking up a word, finding a statistic, or locating an apt quotation. These are often stall tactics, similar to sharpening pencils in the olden days, and are best avoided at this point. Instead, consider writing directly into your manuscript a note to yourself (I call these NTM, notes to myself) such as "needs a good quotation here" or "rewrite in plain English!" (one of my favorites).
If something is giving you trouble, don't stop to resolve the problem. Continue writing and go on to the next point--perhaps, again, making a note to yourself--"this statement needs research support" or "a good example would really help here." If you stop to find the research support or the example, you're likely to lose your writing momentum--too large a price for finding the information right now.
However, under some circumstances you'll want a break. If that's the case, take a break and you might want to use the time to find that quotation or example. Or you might want to integrate breaks into your writing routine. Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, for example, sets a clock, write for one hour, and then takes an exercise break and does pushups and stretches. Taking a break when you want it is perfectly acceptable and leads easily into our next and final suggestion.

Don't No. 4. Don't Follow Rules

"You have to write every day" is one of the time-honored rules for prolific writers. William Zinsser, in his popular On Writing Well--now in its 30 anniversary edition--echoes the advice originally given by Balzac ("You must write one page each day."): "The only way to learn is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis." This suggestion is not surprising coming from Balzac who tried to write for 24 hours at a stretch, aided by lots of black coffee from which he supposedly died.
Not only is there no evidence to support this claim, there's good reason for believing otherwise. Rules like this make writing work and that's not going to help you write a lot. The more that writing is fun, enjoyable, exciting, engaging, interesting, etc., the more you'll write. And that's perhaps the clearest rule for writing a lot: Write a lot. Basically, the less rule-bound, the more enjoyable the experience will be and the more likely you'll write a lot. After all, why spend a great deal of time doing something you don't like?
However, some people do need rules and it helps to recognize this. If you find that you write more when you follow a set pattern (from 9-12, Monday through Friday, say) then do so. If you want to set a quota, then do so. After all it worked for Hemingway who had a quota of 500 words and it works for Stephen King who uses ten pages (around 2000 words) as his guideline.
Perhaps the best "don't" comes from playwright Lillian Hellman: "If I had to give young writers advice, I'd say don't listen to writers talking about writing."

Joseph A. DeVito is Professor Emeritus of Communication at Hunter College of the City University of New York and, by at least some standards, would be considered to have written a lot.