Should Organizations Adapt their Writing Style in Documents for International Audiences?

P_globe_blueInternational organizations need to communicate with stakeholders with diverse cultural backgrounds. Different cultures have different values, which may have implications for how messages are evaluated across cultures. Different cultural values may lead to different stylistic preferences. Does this mean that organizations need to adjust their writing styles to appeal to different audiences?

Knowing how to address your customers across different cultures is key. Hendriks and colleagues’ Style Congruency and Persuasion: A cross-cultural study into the influence of differences in style dimensions on the persuasiveness of business newsletters in Great Britain and the Netherlands,” published in the June 2012 issue of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication [1], investigated reader reactions in UK and the Netherlands to differently styled business-to-business newsletters in terms of comprehensibility, attractiveness of the newsletter and intention to order goods. They focussed on two style dimensions: concise versus wordy writing style and sender/goal-oriented versus receiver/process-oriented writing style.

Hendriks and colleagues found some differences between the Dutch and British business people in preferences for communication styles:

  • a sender/goal-oriented style led to a higher purchase intention in Great Britain than in the Netherlands
  • a concise style was more attractive for readers in the Netherlands than in Great Britain

However, on the whole readers in the two countries evaluated the styles in similar ways:

  • a sender/goal-oriented style was equally comprehensible and attractive
  • a receiver/process-oriented style was equally comprehensible and attractive and generated similar purchase intention
  • a concise style was equally comprehensible and generated similar purchase intention
  • a wordy style was equally comprehensible and attractive and generated similar purchase intention

Hendriks and colleagues suggest that organizations should to some extent localize the writing style used in their documents. Their advice to organizations is to form multicultural teams of professional writers to develop differently styled international documents for different countries.

Given the limited effects of stylistic adaptation, Hendriks and colleagues ultimately recommend a globalization strategy, in which organizations use the same styled documents for different target markets. They point out that use of the same styled documents in different countries may be more cost-effective than developing localized versions.

To see precisely how business people in Great Britain and the Netherlands evaluated differently styled business-to-business newsletters, please visit IEEE Explore for the full journal article.

[1] B. Hendriks et al., Style congruency and persuasion: A cross-cultural study into the influence of differences in style dimensions on the persuasiveness of business newsletters in Great Britain and the Netherlands.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, vol. 55(2), pp. 122-141, 2012. doi: 10.1109/tpc.2012.2194602