SOCORRO, N.M., April 15, 1999 - Dr. Charles P. Campbell, professor of humanities at New Mexico Tech and chairman of its Technical Communication program, has co-edited and written a chapter for a new book that explores the role of culture in business communications.
The book, The Cultural Context in Business Communication, was spawned by a symposium Campbell attended in Germany three years ago. The chapter Campbell submitted on "Rhetorical Ethos" is a modified version of a talk he gave at the conference.
The symposium focused on two topics: the role of linguistics in cross-cultural language teaching and linguistics in business communication. People from different cultures often have trouble communicating at a business level, not just because of language differences, but because of their separate cultural backgrounds, the text claims.
Campbell illustrated this idea by analyzing a letter written to a Japanese professional society by a Chinese scientist. He contrasted the circuitous style of the Chinese writer's correspondence with a brief letter written to a foreign firm by an American businessman. Campbell described the letter written by the American as "sterile." The one from the Chinese scientist, while polite and expansive, followed a meandering pattern in getting to the point of the correspondence: to solicit "a more intimate cooperation" between Japanese and Chinese scientists and engineers.
Exploring how cultures influence business communication is an idea only about 40 years old, said Campbell. "I'm working on how different cultures adapt to electronic communication tools," he said. Communicating over the Internet is very direct and informal, a style that may not "translate" equally well across cultures. China, Japan, and most Latin American countries are very hierarchical, "and I'm wondering how the breezy informality of the web will be accepted in cultures of that kind," Campbell said.
The audience for Campbell's new book is primarily academic, he said. "Some articles are very specialized, so professional communicators would be the primary audience. But I noticed that the book is being carried by Internet booksellers Amazon and Barnes and Noble."
The renowned anthropologist Edward T. Hall contributed the book's opening chapter, a synthesis of research on the human brain and the focus of his studies for the past 40 years. Hall, author of The Silent Language, lives in Santa Fe.
The book also includes "Negotiating With Foreign Business Persons" by Stephen E. Weiss, a follow-up to a widely-used manuscript first compiled 10 years ago. Campbell said its inclusion as a chapter in the book will give the manuscript the visibility it deserves and make it more accessible to scholars.
The studies and theories presented in the book fall under the umbrella of a fairly new discipline called Professional Communication, which include Business Communication and Technical Communication. The field traces its beginnings to rapid technological changes in industry that followed the end of World War II.
Campbell defined technical communication as "the art of making technical information accessible to people who are not technical specialists in a particular field." Science writing--not science journalism--is a subspecialty.
These days, Campbell said, people who hear the term "technical communication" tend to think it has something to do with computers, which is not exactly accurate, although visual design using computer programs is part of its curriculum. While technical communication is not yet a household term, there are signs the field is growing. "You know it's become professional when colleges offer doctoral programs in it," Campbell said.
New Mexico Tech is the only school in the state to offer a bachelor of science degree in technical communication (TC), and one of only a handful of schools in the nation with an established undergraduate program. Campbell said few freshmen come to Tech as TC majors; instead, students "discover us once they're here."
Like others who have found their way into Tech's TC program, Campbell followed his own rambling route. His college career began in engineering and moved into liberal arts, with some early years spent as a Naval electronic technician. He completed his master's degree in English in 1964 and spent ten years as a technical writer with Arthur D. Little, Inc., one of the world's oldest and largest consulting firms.
Campbell had lived in New Mexico as a child and returned here in 1979. He joined the University of Albuquerque as a writing specialist while starting work on his Ph.D. By the time he had completed his doctoral dissertation in 1989, Campbell had joined the faculty of the Humanities Department at New Mexico Tech.
One of his research interests is the study of rhetoric. "Rhetoric has always existed in a political sense," he said. "But as a study of the art of communication, it all but disappeared from the college curriculum in the early 20th century." Instead, said Campbell, rhetoric, the classic study of communication, was left to teachers of speech, while teaches trained in literature mostly taught writing.
"Nobody was trained in rhetoric when the TC profession got started," he said. It wasn't until around 1975 that college curricula began to apply the theories of Plato and Aristotle to technological fields, formalizing the study that has evolved into technical communication.
Rhetoric, said Campbell, "forces you to think about your audience: What are their needs? What do they know already? And this is where we get into an international context in rhetoric, an added complication because of cultural differences."
Campbell sees technical communication as an expanding field with diverse job opportunities. "There is a great need for it," he said. "Products always need to be explained better, and information always needs to be organized better. But 'better' has to be seen from the point of view of information users."