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Elements of ProfessionalismOne of the major benefits of the business communication course is that it helps students practice so many valuable skills, from research and analysis to organization and document design.

The course also creates an opportunity to incorporate these communication-focused skills into the larger context of being a business professional. We define professionalism as the quality of performing at a high level and conducting oneself with purpose and pride. It means doing more than putting in the hours and collecting a paycheck—true professionals go beyond minimum expectations and commit to making lasting and valuable contributions.

To give students a useful framework for understanding this concept of professionalism, we break it down into six distinct traits:

  1. Striving to excel. Pros are good at what they do, and they never stop improving. Remind students that communication is a set of skills that will benefit from the practice, coaching, and feedback they get in the course. And as with any skill, mindful practice leads to competence, efficiency, and personal satisfaction. Encourage students who are in the early stages of skill development to hang in there and take pride in incremental improvements, and emphasize that the ultimate goal of all this work is to help them share their great ideas with the world.
  2. Being dependable and accountable. Communication tasks offer myriad opportunities to practice the second aspect of professionalism. Students can demonstrate dependability and accountability by completing assignments on time, following instructions and guidelines, and producing quality content that audiences can count on. Planning and time management are crucial supporting skills here, of course, to avoid getting a reputation as someone who overpromises and underdelivers. Being accountable also means owning up to mistakes and learning from failures, which always provide opportunities to assess and improve.
  3. Being a team player. Professionals know they are contributors to a larger cause, that it’s not all about them. Great team players know how to make those around them more effective, whether it’s lending a hand during crunch time, sharing resources, removing obstacles, making introductions, or offering expertise. In fact, the ability to help others improve their performance is one of the key attributes executives look for when they want to promote people into management. Being a team player also means showing loyalty to your organization and protecting your employer’s reputation—a major concern in this age of social media. Pros don’t badmouth colleagues, customers, or their employers. When they have a problem, they solve it; they don’t share it.
  4. Demonstrating a sense of etiquette. Etiquette is a vital element of every form of communication, from one-on-one conversations to online messages read by millions. The general concept of following the expected norms of behavior is easy enough to grasp, but students may need some coaching and practice to identify and follow norms in specific situations. With writing assignments, encourage students to consider the impact that phrasing and wording choices can have on their readers. For messages dealing with negative situations, for instance, even subtle changes can shift the emphasis from productive problem-solving to destructive criticism. With class discussions and presentations, discuss how active listening and mutual respect can influence collaborative outcomes and working relationships.
  5. Making ethical decisions. True professionals conduct themselves with a clear sense of right and wrong. They avoid committing ethical lapses, and they carefully weigh all the options when confronted with ethical dilemmas. Assignments and class discussions that confront students with difficult ethical dilemmas are a good way to help them develop the ability to analyze situations and weigh the pros and cons of competing courses of action.
  6. Maintaining a positive outlook. Encourage students to study successful people in any field and notice how optimistic they tend to be. They believe in what they’re doing, and they believe in themselves and their ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Being positive doesn’t mean displaying mindless optimism 24/7, of course. It means acknowledging that things may be difficult but then buckling down and getting the job done anyway. It means no whining and no slacking off, even when the going gets tough. We live in an imperfect world, no question—jobs can be boring or difficult, customers can be unpleasant, and bosses can be unreasonable. But when you’re a pro, you find a way to power through, because one negative personality can make an entire workplace miserable and unproductive. Every person in a company has a responsibility to contribute to a positive, productive work environment.

If you have examples of how you use the course to promote professionalism with your students, please let us know in the comments.

BurningGlass-BaselineSkills-Ranking-600x775As we embark on another fall term, it's always good to remind ourselves and our students just how valuable the skills learned in the business communication course truly are. Students must put a lot of time and energy into this course in order to succeed, so be sure to let them know they're developing skills that will serve them for a lifetime. 

Burning Glass, a company that uses advanced job-market analytics to study the qualifications employers want, confirmed this with an in-depth study across multiple professions. 

In every profession except two, overall communication skills are the most-requested qualification (and in those two professions, it ranked number 2). In addition, writing ranks number 3. (You can click the thumbnail to see the ranking chart or click here for a full-size graphic and an accompanying article.)

Burning Glass offers a comprehensive report on these findings, and one paragraph from the report really jumped out at us:

Writing, communication skills, and organizational skills are scarce everywhere. These skills are in demand across nearly every occupation—and in nearly every occupation they’re being requested far more than you’d expect based on standard job profiles. Even fields like IT and Engineering want people who can write.
(The Human Factor: The Hard Time Employers Have Finding Soft Skills, Burning Glass Technologies, 2015.)

In other words, communication skills can give all graduates a significant competitive advantage in the job market. As part of their studies, business students learn to recognize the value of competitive strengths, and the good news here is they can apply this lesson to themselves and become more valuable and more successful professionals. (For even more evidence of valuable this course is, this post outlines 27 specific ways the business communication course will help them in their academic, personal, and professional lives.)

With this confirmation of our vital shared mission, we wish you and your students a successful fall term! As always, please don't hesitate to get in touch if you'd like to discuss any aspect of business communication practices or pedagogy. 

WeeblyAnyone who has lived through an iteration or two of Web technology can appreciate how easy it is to set up and maintain a blog or website these days. Thanks to readymade blog themes, drag-and-drop website builders, and other user-friendly tools, what once required days of hair-pulling coding can now be accomplished by total neophytes in a matter of hours.

However, there are still some occasional dark alleys in this new online paradise. One of these involves managing domain name records when your domain name is registered with one company but your blog or website is hosted by another. (Not all domain registrars offer hosting services, and not all hosting companies offer domain registration.)

If you’re split between service providers like this, you have to act as the intermediary between the two whenever you need to update your domain records. At this point, blissfully nontechnical web users can stumble into a world of DNS control panels, A records, CNAME records, root domains, and the like. If this information had any long-term value to most bloggers and website owners, it might be worth learning, but this truly is disposable knowledge for most people.

The actual steps involved aren’t terribly complicated, but various companies have different terminology and different ways of presenting the steps required so it’s easy for the uninitiated to get lost. Hosting companies can’t access records held at a domain registrar; they can only tell you what needs to be done, then you can try it yourself or email your domain registrar to ask for help. Even if you can ask the registrar to modify your records for you, you need to know what to ask for.

This is where an audience-oriented approach to communication can make all the difference. Rather than simply listing the technical information its customers need to pass along to a registrar, the webhosting company Weebly took the extra step of pre-writing an email message for them. Customers who want to create a site on Weebly or move an existing site to Weebly without changing registrars can simply copy and paste the email message, with one easy change of inserting their domain name. They don’t even need to understand what the message says.

The attached slide has a copy of the Weebly email template, and you can read the entire article here.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Weebly Email Template


WPPLong and complex reports, such as corporate annual reports, can place a heavy burden on readers. Publishing these reports online presents an additional set of challenges, because readers can no longer just flip printed pages to skim content or establish context. Fortunately, the Web also provides new opportunities for structure and navigation that can make online reports easy to consume, if reports are crafted with readers' needs firmly in mind.

The London-based holding company WPP Group is the world’s largest marketing communication services firm, with more than 150 component companies involved in every conceivable aspect of advertising and related business activities. All together, WPP companies have nearly 180,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Trying to report on the annual progress of an organization this complicated is no easy task, but WPP’s intelligent, reader-friendly choices make its online annual reports easy to navigate and read.

The attached slides show eight screens from WPP's 2014 annual report, along with helpful annotations and lecture notes.

You can view the full report at 
(When the 2015 report is eventually published, we assume it will be found at

Download Slides Here: Bovee and Thill Blog – Hall of Fame – WPP annual report

Holly LittlefieldIf you were fortunate enough to attend Holly Littlefield's presentation at the ABC convention in Seattle this past week, you were treated to an entertaining and highly instructive selection of social media failures. Her talk, "Audience, Brand, Channel: Using Social Media Cases to Teach Communications Concepts," offered a taste of everything from cringe-worthy image choices to clumsy non-apologies.

The examples Dr. Littlefield was able to show during her time slot are only a sample of the episodes she has collected, and she has generously agreed to let us share the full set with you. This extensive PowerPoint presentation (11 MB) offers a variety of cases that highlight the need to understand audiences and make intelligent decisions about communication channels.

Our thanks to Dr. Littlefield for sharing her insights and teaching resources.


Bcomm skillsAs you get rolling with a new term, you’ll probably be emphasizing the long-term value of the business communication course to your students. Here’s our list of 27 ways communication skills can help students in their personal and professional lives.

  1. Succeeding in other college courses. From writing research papers to making presentations, the skills developed in the business communication course can help with virtually every other course students take.
  2. Landing the best available job. The job-search process is essentially an interconnected set of business communication projects using a variety of media and interpersonal communication skills. It’s a great opportunity for students to put their finely tuned skills to work.
  3. Positioning oneself for promotional opportunities. The managers who make promotional decisions like to keep an eye on up-and-coming talent, and communication skills play a critical role in how those employees perform and how they are perceived by colleagues, customers, and influential executives.
  4. Becoming a more-effective online and offline networker. Networking is a vital skill for everyone from entrepreneurs to top-level corporate managers, and business communication equips people with the audience insights and communication skills they need to become valued and successful network participants.
  5. Interacting with people up and down the corporate hierarchy. College-aged students aren’t always comfortable communicating with older, more-experienced colleagues, managers, and executives. Learning how to analyze an audience’s needs and expectations can help anyone handle these challenges with grace and confidence.
  6. Solving problems. Every professional runs into problems in the workplace, and some jobs are all about problem solving. Communication is central to many business problems and challenges, whether it’s part of the problem or part of the solution.
  7. Selling ideas, proposals, and products. The business world is littered with great ideas and well-designed products that never caught on because the people behind them didn’t know how to promote themselves or their marvelous creations. Even professionals who never come close to working in marketing or sales need to know how to persuade—a valuable skill students will learn in this course.
  8. Understanding audiences. Whether it’s the other person in a one-on-one conversation or a global audience on digital media, knowing how to assess someone else’s information needs and emotional state improves every form of communication.
  9. Developing digital information fluency. Finding, evaluating, and using digital information in an age of data overload is a make-or-break skill in many careers.
  10. Developing visual literacy. From infographics to online video, visual media have become a fundamental part of business communication, not to mention the charts, graphs, diagrams, and other tools that have been in use for decades. A well-rounded business communication course can help students understand the power of visual communication, interpret business visuals, and make intelligent design choices in their own documents and presentations.
  11. Developing a compelling personal brand. Even people turned off by the idea of branding themselves can benefit from knowing the behaviors and skills that combine to create the “social being” they present to the rest of the world.
  12. Detecting and avoiding ethical lapses. Ethical dilemmas and ethical lapses should be core topics in business communication, of course. In addition to general guidelines for ensuring ethical communication, our texts offer such examples as overselling, obscuring negative information, and manipulating charts and graphs.
  13. Avoid and resolving disputes. Understanding how communication works—or fails to work—helps people minimize confusion, avoid inadvertent insults, and keep tensions from escalating.
  14. Diagnosing communication breakdowns. Sometimes even with good intentions and careful effort, communication efforts can fail. Professionals who understand a basic model of the communication process can use it to diagnose breakdowns and take corrective active.
  15. Using communication technology professionally. It’s a rare student who isn’t equipped with some advanced communication and computing technologies these days, particularly one or more mobile devices, but using those tools in a professional context takes the sort of awareness and practice they’ll get in the business communication course.
  16. Enhancing personal and social relationships. The value of communication skills certainly isn’t limited to the workplace. Knowing how to listen actively, speak persuasively, write carefully, and read critically can help just about any relationship.
  17. Crafting life’s toughest messages with sensitivity. Rejection letters, condolences, and other messages on unwelcome issues are among a communicator’s toughest challenges. The principles taught in business communication can help writers address these situations with understanding and tact.
  18. Improving communication confidence. By taking the mystery out of effective communication, this course helps students develop confidence in their ability to tackle any communication challenge.
  19. Evaluating, editing, and revising the work of other writers. Professionals are often asked to review the writing of other people, and knowing how to help—without throwing a wrench into the works—requires a specific set of skills that students can learn in this course.
  20. Leading and participating in more-effective meetings. The principles of interpersonal communication, group dynamics, and conflict resolution taught in business communication can go a long way toward making meetings more effective.
  21. Listening actively for information, intent, and nuance. Among the many skills that make up communication competence, few outrank listening. The business communication course can teach the vital skill of active listening and the specific modes of critical, content, and empathic listening.
  22. Communicating in a crisis. With the growth of social and mobile media, companies are under more pressure than ever to communicate quickly, clearly, and sensitively in the aftermath of accidents, tragedies, and other calamities. Anticipating likely events and responding with audience-focused messages are important managerial skills.
  23. Recognizing the powers and pitfalls of nonverbal communication. All communication efforts are influenced by the presence or absence of nonverbal signals, and this course can help students recognize the signals they receive and manage the signals they send.
  24. Communicating efficiently. Knowing how to craft messages and documents at a rapid clip is an essential survival skill for many professionals. By practicing with a proven method such as the three-step writing process, students can learn how to write not only effectively but efficiently, too.
  25. Ensuring positive team outcomes. Team dynamics are a complicated subject, but one simple truth is that dysfunctional teams tend to communicate poorly while highly effective teams communicate well. The business communication course gives students the opportunity to grow their teamwork skills in a safe, supportive environment.
  26. Enriching intercultural interactions. Reaching across international boundaries is a necessary skill for many professionals, and every business needs to connect with diverse groups of customers and employees. The business communication course teaches students how to communicate with people from other backgrounds and cultures—a necessary business skill and a lifelong source of pleasure.
  27. Improving etiquette in all forms of contemporary media. For all their benefits, today’s tech tools create a host of potential etiquette problems. Students can use the course to identify and avoid the missteps that can hurt careers.

If you have other benefits you like to share with students, please let us know via the comments.

Best wishes for a successful term!


Photo credit: Steve Wilson

Social learningVia newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other information-sharing platforms, learning in various forms was one of the earliest social uses of digital networking. Moving into the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media eras, the opportunities to teach and learn online expanded beyond what even an optimistic dreamer might’ve envisioned decades ago.

From informal crowdsourcing of research on Twitter to comprehensive collaboration systems that use gamification to encourage employees to help other, companies have lots of ways to enable their employees to learn on the job—and specifically, to help each other learn on the job. These social learning opportunities include real-time training (delivering information when and where an employee needs to apply it, rather than offline in a classroom), capturing expertise and market insights from wherever in the organization they might exist, helping new employees get oriented and productive, developing mentoring networks, and helping blended workforces build a new sense of community in the aftermath of mergers and acquisitions.

Given the vital role of communication in corporate training, were we intrigued to read the results of a survey of human resources executives discussed recently in Talent Management. The research measured how important social technology was to nine major HR functions, from recruiting to career and succession planning. The respondents listed employee recruiting as the most important HR application of social technology. This certainly makes sense; as the article’s author points out, recruiting is a social activity to begin with. Moreover, recruiting is a key performance metric for HR managers, so they would naturally be interested in tools to help them perform better. As we’ve highlighted here and in our textbooks, companies such as VMWare and Zappos have jumped on social recruiting in order to compete for the top talent in their industries.

The most surprising finding from the survey was the middling level of importance these HR managers attached to social learning. With the rich history of networked learning and the cost-effective opportunities for getting vital information where it needs to be in the organization—not to mention all the ways employees are already learning via social media—we might hope that the one functional area most responsible for employee development would view social learning in a more positive light.

On the other hand, given all the challenges involved in establishing new systems and processes, perhaps this lukewarm level of interest with HR shouldn’t be so surprising. The article points out that social media have been an area of concern for HR, considering the potential consequences of inappropriate use and a lingering misunderstanding about the differences between social technology in a business context and social media in a public context. Losing at least some degree of control over a core function such as training might be an issue as well.

Looking forward, we suspect that in much the same way that the “bring your own device” phenomenon forced many IT departments to figure out how to safely incorporate personal devices on company networks, a “create your own training” phenomenon led by independently minded and digitally enabled employees might push more HR departments to embrace social learning.

One of the most noticeable attributes of the millennial/Generation Y and Generation Z workforces is the demand for a digital experience in the workplace that mirrors the digital experience in their personal lives. Employees who grew up using social media as an all-purpose recommendation-engine/status-updater/question-answerer are likely to expect the same capabilities on the job—and may well create it themselves if their companies don’t have the necessary systems in place.

Cemex Shift logoThe “social” label in “social networking” and the consumer-entertainment origins of some of the most popular platforms can sometimes create the impression that these systems aren’t really professional-grade communication technologies. However, if one looks past the fun and frivolity of social media, it’s fascinating to see how some heavy-duty industrial and high-tech firms are putting these tools to use.

Two of our favorite examples are Cemex and VMWare. Both are about as far as you can get from the consumer/retail/entertainment arena, but both companies make extensive use of social networking and related technologies.

Cemex: A century-old company leaps into the 21st century with social innovation

Cemex is a Mexican concrete and cement giant, with 44,000 employees in more than 50 countries. After a period of worldwide expansion that began in the 1990s, it now operates quarries, cement plants, and other facilities on every continent except Antarctica. Facing a triple challenge of innovating materials for demanding building designs, operating more efficiently to preserve profitability, and reducing its environmental footprint, Cemex realized it needed to tap the expertise of all its people in new and better ways.

The company’s response to this multilayered challenge was an award-winning online collaboration platform called Shift, which combines social networking, wikis, blogs, a Twitter-like microblogging system, social bookmarking, videoconferencing, a trend-spotting tool called Shift Radar, and more. A custom mobile app lets employees access the system wherever their work takes them.

Ninety-five percent of Cemex employees now use Shift and have formed nearly 3,000 online communities based on technical specialties and shared interests. That level of engagement is paying off in numerous ways, such as launching a new global brand of ready-mix concrete in one-third the expected time, nearly tripling the company’s use of renewable energy, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by almost 2 million metric tons.

VMWare: Hundreds of social media accounts, groups, and forums keep a half-million customers connected

VMWare is a $6 billion software company whose specialty is virtualization, a software technique that lets a single computer act like multiple, independent machines. Virtualization is a critical technology behind cloud computing and much of today’s information technology (IT) infrastructure, but it’s not exactly the sort of trendy topic that blows up on Twitter or prompts a million “you have to see this” shares on Facebook.

In spite of being far removed from the consumer sphere, VMWare is social through and through. Its community portal is perhaps the most extensive we’ve ever seen, with hundreds of official social media accounts and groups focused on specific technical or business issues, including nearly a hundred Twitter accounts alone.

As an example of the company’s commitment to social media, VMWare was one of the earliest adopters of social recruiting. After a simple experiment with Facebook job postings proved successful, the company realigned its entire recruiting strategy around social networking. Two key benefits of the new approach are establishing contact with high-value software talent the company hadn’t been in touch with before and giving the company and job candidates the chance to learn more about each other outside the narrow confines of the screening and recruiting process.

The social recruiting effort has been so successful that VMWare continues to expand it. Moving forward, the firm is focusing on expanding its use of mobile recruiting apps and in helping employees become effective “brand advocates” for the company in their own social networks.


Adapted from current and forthcoming editions of Bovée and Thill’s business communication texts. To see more examples of how today’s companies are applying fundamental communication skills in the context of new technologies, request examination copies.

Mobile UsabilityJakob Nielsen has long been a respected authority on website usability, and in recent years he has turned his attention to mobile devices. A key benefit of the advice he and his colleagues dispense to clients and readers is extensive usability testing to measure what really works and what doesn't. The book Mobile Usability, which he co-authored with Raluca Budiu, offers numerous insights into the communication experience on smartphones and tablets, including an entire chapter on writing for mobile devices. It's well worth the read if you are integrating mobile in your business communication course.

For example, Nielsen and Budiu cite research conducted at the University of Alberta that demonstrated how reading comprehension can drop by half when readers switch from full-size PC screens to phones. They explain the two major reasons comprehension suffers on mobile devices:

  • With less information in view on these smaller screens, readers have to rely more on memory to keep individual points in context. Given the fallibility of human memory and the distracting environments in which mobile reading often takes place, it's easy to see how readers can lose track.
  • The smaller the screen, the more scrolling is required to consume content—and scrolling introduces multiple problems. First, it takes time away from reading, and even these fractions of seconds interrupt the process of fixing information in short-term memory. Second, after each scrolling action, readers need to relocate the transition point between read and unread material to make sure they haven't missed anything. Third, scrolling diverts attention from reading while users find and activate whatever paging controls are in place on the screen.

On this third point about mechanisms for scrolling, something we've noticed ourselves lately is that the variety of paging strategies now in place with various websites, apps, and devices adds to the navigational confusion, which must in turn be harming comprehension. If you read from a variety of sources and use multiple devices and apps, every time you switch contexts you have to engage at least a few brain cells to figure out how to navigate. Swipe vertically? Swipe horizontally? (Or in some cases, swipe horizontally to jump to a new article and swipe vertically to read within the current article.) Tap some vaguely defined and unlabeled margin area near the side of the screen? Find and tap a labeled button or arrow? These are all tiny interruptions, to be sure, but every interruption is a threat to comprehension and retention.

Given how many business professionals now rely on mobile devices for communication, these findings emphasize how critical it is to write short, focused, linear messages for today's readers.

Nielsen's consulting firm also publishes a wide range of articles on usability and communication issues that you may find interesting for classroom discussion.

ClickMobileChances are your business communication syllabus is already packed as you try to cover everything from business English to a wide range of message types to recent advances in digital and social media. It’s a fair question then: Do you really need to find the time and space to add mobile communication to your course?

We’re adding mobile coverage to our three business communication textbooks based on the same mandate that we’ve always used to modify and expand our coverage over time: anything that is a significant aspect of contemporary business communication should be represented in a textbook on the subject so that students will be aware of it and prepared for it when they enter the workforce.

(With a portfolio of three communication books, we do have the opportunity to adjust what we cover and how deeply. All three books continue to evolve as the field changes, but Business Communication Essentials offers greater focus on business English fundamentals, Excellence in Business Communication is our best fit for mid- and upper-level courses that explore a wide range of writing projects, and Business Communication Today is our full-spectrum text with coverage of everything from brief messages to business video.)

If one accepts the premise that a business communication textbook and course should address all the significant aspects of current professional practice, the next question is whether mobile communication qualifies as significant.

Based on a comprehensive review of academic and trade literature, including numerous surveys regarding adoption of mobile communication, in our view the answer to that question is an undeniable “yes.” Consider these facts and figures (this recent post discusses these phenomena and lists the sources for these statistics):

  • Mobile has become the primary communication tool for many business professionals, including a majority of executives under age 40.
  • Email and web browsing rank first and second in terms of the most common nonvoice uses of smartphones
  • More email messages are now opened on mobile devices than on PCs.
  • Roughly half of U.S. consumers use a mobile device exclusively for their online search needs
  • Last year, U.S internet users passed the crossover point and now spend more time accessing the Internet from mobile devices than from PCs.
  • Many online activities that eventually migrate to a PC screen start out on a mobile screen.
  • Globally, roughly 80 percent of Internet users access the web at least some of the time with a mobile device.

Put simply, businesses have no choice but to adopt mobile communication strategies because that’s where an increasing percentage of their customers and their employees expect to find information. After all, there’s not much value in crafting effective messages if the intended audiences never see them. Conventional reports and other documents remain vital, of course, but these days business communication also takes place within mobile apps, on mobile-optimized websites, across location-aware social networks, and in other venues that we couldn’t imagine just a few years ago.

Mobile communication is more than a necessity, however. It’s an exciting opportunity for businesses and, by extension, for all of us involved in helping to develop the next generation of business communicators. Interactive mobile apps, for example, can be a much more effective way to engage and communicate with internal and external stakeholders than conventional print or digital media.

The fundamental communication skills you’ve always taught are still essential, to be sure. In fact, they’re more important than ever, because reading on small screens is more challenging than reading on PCs or paper. Writing audience-oriented messages that are clear, logical, and concise is a make-or-break skill in the mobile environment.

To help you expand your coverage to include mobile, we are integrating mobile communication principles, examples, and techniques throughout our textbooks, as you can see in our new editions of Business Communication Essentials and Business Communication Today. (Excellence in Business Communication, 12th Edition, with full mobile coverage, will be published in January 2016.) We’ve added a variety of model documents, activities, and communication cases that feature mobile. This way, students can learn the fundamentals and have the opportunity to apply them in various media, from conventional printed reports to a wide range of digital media, including mobile devices.

It’s an exciting time to be teaching business communication, and we look forward to supporting you with textbooks that help you prepare students for this new era in business.


Screenshot: ClickSoftware