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Kate Upchurch

Theory of Written Communication


Dr. Reardon
11/21/2016

Personal Narrative

Studying in the Technical Communication degree program constantly teaches me new ways of
analyzing, creating, and fixing communication. With my recent stretch into my Computer Science
and Engineering Management interdisciplinary fields, I understand more and more every day the
importance of effective technical communication in regards to education and have broadened my
understanding of how the world works. With all of the skills and knowledge gained between my
major and interdisciplinary fields, my future is wide open with opportunities. Post-graduation options
that Im entertaining range from working at a company in an IT department to continuing my
education by gaining a masters degree. With all of my diverse options I am unsure of what career
path will be the best for me. Regardless of what I choose to do for a career, research has been a
prime interest for me since my first brush with it in the Research Methods in Technical
Communication course. More specifically, research revolving around the evolution of communication
caused by technology is the most fascinating subject Ive discovered during my undergraduate
studies. Social Network Theory foundationally relates to my research interest in micro level
communication on social networking sites and I consider it to be the most useful written
communication theory for my future. By applying the knowledge from my Technical Communication
degree to my passion for exploring communication on social networking sites I can create a unique
foundation for a future in gaining a Masters degree focusing on using social media communication
to improve education.

Social Network Theory looks to explain the connections made between people online, typically on
social networking sites or sites specifically made for connecting people. It is set apart from other
theories because it focuses on the relationships between people instead of the individuals in the
relationships. While the definition of Social Network Theory on the TheorizeIt Wiki by Wade suggests
that it produces an alternative view, where the attributes of individuals are less important than their
relationships and ties with other actors within the network. most research conducted using Social
Network Theory focuses on how individuals affect the relationships. Studies conducted about
Facebook users being motivated by the need to belong and/or the need to self present (Nadkarni &
Hofmann, 2012) explain why users want to interact but lack the depth of explaining how users
interact which is a sparsely studied subject. This lack of research about how individuals
communicate is what motivates my interest in researching the interactions on social networking sites
using Social Network Theory. In my reflections and learning about my research interest, I have found
three articles to discuss regarding research and literary review Boyd & Ellison, 2008;
Haythornthwaite, 1996; and Bourlai & Herring, 2014.

In the category of literary review, Boyd & Ellison (2008) cover the theory through others research
and findings. They discuss the differences among social networking sites specifically that they vary
in the extent to which they incorporate new information and communication tools, such as mobile
connectivity, blogging, and photo/video-sharing (p. 210). The differences explained by Boyd &
Ellison show where more research into the communication on social networking sites can be
conducted. Different channels of communication on social networking sites allow for a variety of
unique communication styles between individuals. In this technological age, individuals can
communicate on social networking sites with mobile phones or computers each with applications
and internet browsers contributing to unique styles and methods of connecting with others. While
Boyd & Ellison claim that the increased use of these networks show organizational structures in
online communities, they are hardly being studied in depth regarding how communication affects or
is affected by theses structures (p. 219). However they do agree that the majority of research on this
topic has focused on impression management and friendship performance, networks and network
structure, online/offline connections, and privacy issues (p.219).

The lack of research on actual communication briefly discussed by Boyd & Ellison is covered more
in Haythornthwaites (1996) article discussing information exchange on social networking sites.
Haythornthwaite more comprehensively discusses the communication seen on social networking
sites by attempting to understand information exchange. Since information is an important resource,
and one that often depends on making and maintaining contact with the right people, a social
network approach offers a rich variety of concepts and techniques to describe and explain
information access (p. 325). While this understanding of information exchange connects
communication of individuals with social network theory, Haythornthwaites discussion stills lacks the
depth of understanding communication by focusing on the function of networking in regards to
communication on social networking sites instead of the actual communication. Haythornthwaite,
however, does ask important questions that can be related to my research interest like What
different types of information are exchanged by these different pairs? How do their kinship, work, or
friendship relationships affect the way in which they exchange information? How does it affect what
information they share? (p. 326). The article further discusses broad techniques and approaches
for understanding interactions on social networking sites but lacks depths regarding how actors are
communicating with each other. Studying these interactions instead on a micro level, regarding
linguistic patterns and general presentation of language via combined visual and textual media and
visual representation of text, could result in richer studies of a complex evolution of language caused
by the use of technology.

At the intersection where Boyd & Ellison fail to delve and Haythornthwaite begins to dive, Bourlai &
Herrings (2014) research on communication shown on Tumblr, a unique social networking site,
represents the exact research I would enjoy conducting in the future. Bourlai & Herring discuss
studying images vs text at a micro level in social networking interactions found specifically on Tumblr
(p. 175). The understanding shown regarding contextual image use as communication in isolated
posts explains communication on social networking sites in an intimate light that is much more
beneficial to researchers. Their review of communication on social networking sites explains that
more meanings are expressed through images in social media On some sites users continuously
create new GIFs to express a range of attitudes and emotions (p. 171). Their article discusses the
research they conducted and the findings from their research with an understanding that images
and text work together to create meaning on multimodal social media sites: The text often provides
context for the images, indicating, for example, that the images apparent message is intended
sarcastically. (p. 171). Results from Bourlai & Herring indicate that posts with images express more
emotion, more intense emotion, and are more positive in valence than posts containing only text (p.
171). They further explain that when researching in this area, analysis of images in posts should be
considered contextually as part of the post instead of an isolated image because they play an
integral role in the overall meaning of the post (p. 172). Bourlai & Herrings micro level analysis of
images vs text communication emotions closely relates to the kind of research I hope to do if I
continued my education with a Masters degree.

Through my review of these articles, while Social Network Theory establishes a solid foundation, it
needs much more elaboration regarding communication within social networking sites. More in-
depth research about communication on social networking sites being influenced by technology and
the influence of combining visual and textual media to communicate emotions and ideas can
transform Social Network Theory. Once these topics are studied more widely and in-depth, using the
results of these studies, like Bourlai & Herring, could be developed into teaching methodologies. By
conducting in-depth research about written communication contributing to Social Network Theory on
a micro level, I would be able to combine my passion for Technical Communication and my desire to
help with education reform.
References

Bourlai, E. and Herring, S.C. (2014). Multimodal communication on Tumblr: I have so many feels!
WebSci 14 Proceedings of the 2014 ACM conference on Web science, 171-175.

Boyd, D.M., and Ellison, N.B. (2008). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 210-230. International Communication
Association.

Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of
information exchange. Library and Information Science Research, 18, 323-342.

Nadkarni, A. & Hofmann, S.G. (2012). Why do people use Facebook? Personality and Individual
Differences, 52, 243-249.

Wade, M. (2015). Theories Used in IS Research Wiki: Social Network Theory. Retrieved November
14, 2016 from http://IS.TheorizeIt.org.