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A Corpus Study of Canned Letters: Mining the Latent Rhetorical Proficiencies Marketed to Writers-in-a-Hurry and Non-Writers

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2 Author(s)
D. Kaufer ; Dept. of English, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA ; S. Ishizaki

Corpus studies are revolutionizing the study of language practice, including professional communication, by substituting actual examples of practice for prescriptive intuition. Corpora are often put together by researchers who exert much care in what goes into a corpus. Yet professional communicators also experience corpora as commodities in the marketplace, bundles of "writing models" for sale that cross genres of professional and personal communication. When writers purchase these bundles, what are the latent rhetorical strategies they are purchasing? A corpus study of 728 canned letters across 15 genres taken from a best-selling trade book was undertaken. The texts were tagged for rhetorical features and factor analyzed for latent rhetorical dimensions of proficiency. The study concludes that the latent rhetorical proficiencies brought into evidence are heavily weighted on skills of collecting or raising money. While this study requires replication over a wider sample, it illustrates how corpus approaches can help us rigorously retrieve latent rhetorical skills across a collection of rhetorically diverse texts. It further helps us see how corpus studies allow one to maintain close ties between the avowed standards of communication practice and the close description of the practices themselves

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication  (Volume:49 ,  Issue: 3 )