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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

  • Teenager Proposes Font Change for $234m in Savings

    A 14-year-old boy claimed that the U.S. government could save $234 million by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond. But The Washington Post reports, "That claim is patently false." Suvir Mirchandani, from Pittsburgh, made a good point: a smaller or thinner font could reduce paper and toner expenses. Garamond simply takes less ink than does Times New Roman. But experts say that the government doesn't print nearly the quantity that Mirchandani estimated in his paper, published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators . The Government Printing Office, which prints about half of the government's work, spent only $700,000 on ink last year. Mirchandani admits that he didn't get his information directly from the government in time for his paper to be published. Second, Mirchandani failed to consider that the font change, as you see above, makes the printing harder to read. That's a real consequence of a smaller or thinner font—and who knows what problems that would cause and how much they would cost. Image source. Discussion Starters: Read Mirchandani's paper . Can you identify the flaws? How would you describe the consequences of a font that's more difficult to read? Consider who reads government documents and for what reasons.
  • Facebook's "Cutesy" Annual Report

    A TechCrunch article refers to Facebook's report to its partners as "cutesy" and "a playfully illustrated eMagazine." In 68 pages, "The Annual" uses a mix of executives' quotations, infographics, and photos to taut accomplishments in 2013. Discussion Starters: What's your impression of The Annual ? Analyze the audience, content choices, organization, writing style, and graphics. Could you see more traditional companies adopting some of The Annual's components for their own annual reports? Think of a few examples of companies and which aspects of the report might be work well for their investors or partners. How does Facebook, if at all, describe teens' declining use of the social network?
  • Did Walmart Misrepresent Employee Wage Numbers?

    Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon presented questionable data about employee wages . During the Goldman Sachs 2013 Annual Global Retailing Conference, Simon showed a slide, "It all starts with an opportunity." A bullet point says that 475,000 employees earn more than $25,000 per year (excluding benefits). Here's the entire presentation . The trouble is that Walmart employs 1.3 million employees in the U.S. (2.2 million worldwide). That leaves 825,000 earning less than $25,000 a year. A Walmart representative clarified that only store employees (about 1 million) were considered for this point. Still, that leaves roughly half of them earning below $25,000 a year. Discussion Starters: The U.S. CEO seemed to walk into this controversy. How could it have been avoided? How, if at all, does Walmart's clarification affect your view of how the company pays its employees?
  • McDonald's Offers Healthier Menu Items

    After much criticism of its unhealthy food and advertising targeted towards children, McDonald's is offering more options for people looking for healthy food. In 20 of its major markets, accounting for 85% of its total sales, McDonald's will revamp the menu. Costing $35 million through 2020, the move may pave the way for other fast-food chains. This is Bill Clinton's hope, as he said in a press release about the initiative, which is part of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York: "If we want to curb the catastrophic economic and health implications of obesity across the world, we need more companies to follow McDonald’s lead and step up to the plate and make meaningful changes." CEO Don Thompson explained the opportunity: "This is a particular opportunity to partner with the Clinton Foundation and the alliance to leverage our scale and size and marketing prowess to be able to influence more purchases of fruits and vegetables." On the "Nutrition Choices" page of McDonald's website, the company posted a progress report showing its "National Nutritional Commitments." For each, the report describes the company's "journey." Discussion Starters: Read McDonald's progress report . Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the company's objectives? How is it organized? How does the company use graphics to highlight main points? Analyze how data is presented in the report. How does the company use quantitative information to prove its points? In what ways is the presentation successful, and where does it fall short?
  • Sloppy Charts

    Business Insider writers seem to be enamored with unclear charts—and don't do a great job describing them. With the headline, "These Are The Charts You're Going To Be Seeing In Powerpoints And Mobile For The Next Year," the article shows 13 charts , none of which follow business writing principles. The first one shown, about mobile data traffic, is pretty, but makes it difficult to distinguish the data and draw any meaningful conclusions except that things are going up (for which we probably don't need a chart). A skeptic might ask the following: Is mobile service-provider Ericcson the most objective source for this data? What are the actual numbers for each year? This is impossible to see. What are the different data types referenced in the chart heading? Which is yellow, blue, etc.? What's an extabyte, anyway? How well can people distinguish aqua blue from green, and why are they next to each other? I'm guessing that people who are color blind can barely distinguish these line sections. Is the last year 201? The article text is equally problematic. Note the errors: Every year, Ericsson puts together a massive report on global mobile usuage trends. The charts and data in this report then proliferates through Powerpoints and slide decks around the world. So, get a jump start on everyone else in the industry and… Discussion Starters: What other issues do you see with this chart? Review the 12 other charts . How they can be improved to meet business writing standards?
  • Does Texting Hurt Grammar?

    Finally, an infographic that incorporates cats. A study by Onlinecollege.org found that the more students text, the more their grammar may be affected. But some of the results are dubious. The good news is that 86% of middle-schoolers believe that good writing skills are important in life, and only 11% think that texting negatively impacts their writing. But the survey sponsors seem concerned with the 50% who say that they don't use proper grammar or punctuation when writing texts or IMs. Also, the more teens receive "techspeak," the more they use it. So what? I'm not sure we can reasonably conclude, as the sponsors have, that texting hurts grammar. Discussion Starters: Review the full infographic . Do you draw the same conclusions as the study sponsors do? Look at the graphics representing 50, 11, and 86%. What issues do you notice? How, if at all, do you think texting and IM have affected your use of proper grammar and punctuation?
  • BP Skirts Wikipedia Rules to Edit Content

    British Petroleum is accused of rewriting 44% of the company's Wikipedia entry, particularly about its environmental record. It's bad timing, as BP prepares for an April 5th federal hearing about potentially billions of dollars the company could owe in a class-action suit about the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Although the contributor explains his interests on his Wikipedia user page, "Arturo" has more influence than people believe is appropriate. On his page, Arturo writes, "I have established this account to help improve BP -related articles in line with Wikipedia standards and guidelines. In the interest of full transparency, I chose 'Arturo at BP' as my username so that my affiliation with BP is abundantly clear to all parties I may interact with on Wikipedia. Per WP:ORGNAME , I believe that this username is appropriate, and I should point out that I will be the only person to use this account. "Out of respect for guidelines on conflict of interest and the importance of a neutral point of view , and in recognition of the ongoing debate regarding companies’ involvement on Wikipedia, I will only be editing Talk pages and will not make any edits to encyclopedia articles. My primary goal in being active on Wikipedia through this account is to improve the overall quality of BP-related articles in line with Wikipedia guidelines." True, Arturo does not directly edit Wikipedia pages about BP, but he does contribute content via his "Talk" page on Wikipedia. Apparently, this content is approved by BP executives. One logical concern is why Wikipedia editors are simply copying and pasting Arturo's entries. On an editorial Wikipedia page , comments are flying about whether BP's actions are appropriate: "A paid editor from BP is writing up material for the BP article and for the BP environmental section in particular. "He does pay attention to the letter of the rules, but I don't think it is anywhere near the spirit, e.g. he checks with his higher-ups before responding to any questions." Discussion Starters: What's your view of BP's contributions: fair play, crossing a line, or something else? How, if at all, does this news affect your image of Wikipedia as a reliable source?
  • Study: How Twitter Sentiment Compares to Public Opinion

    We should be careful about drawing conclusions about overall public opinion based on tweets, according to a recent Pew study . Sometimes reactions on Twitter are more politically liberal, while at other times, they are more conservative. Often, they are more negative. For example, when a California law last year banning same-sex marriage was found to be unconstitutional, Twitter conversations were much more positive (46%) than negative (8%). These results contrast sharply with a general opinion poll showing 33% to be positive and 44 to be negative. Reactions to the presidential election also ran more positively on Twitter, with most users supporting President Obama. However, reactions to the president's State of the Union address were far more negative on Twitter than in the general population. One explanation of these differences and inconsistencies is the small percentage of people who get news from and participate on Twitter. Only 13% of adults read Tweets, and only 3% regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news. Users are not a representative sample of the U.S. population; for example, Twitter users include those under 18 and people outside the United States, while opinion surveys exclude both groups. Discussion Starters: What else could account for more negativity on Twitter? Research Twitter demographics. What, if any, other conclusions can you draw about its users?
  • Yale Sex Survey Debunked

    Who can resist a compelling headline? "Nine Percent of Yale Students Surveyed Say They’ve Accepted Money for Sex," an article in The College Fix , didn't give us the full picture. Skeptics might ask questions such as, "Who was surveyed and under what conditions?" and "How many people were included in the sample?" As it turns out, the survey was taken during a "Sex Weekend" workshop for participants to "learn about masochistic sexual practices such as those depicted in 50 Shades of Grey ," according to a Yale Daily News reporter. Does this group represent the typical Yale student? How many students at the workshop completed the survey is unclear. The Yale Daily News reports that 55 students attended the workshop, but Business Insider claims that only 40 students were asked to complete the survey. Using Business Insider's numbers, four students said they were paid for sex. Bottom line: Don't believe everything you read. Image source . Discussion Starters: What would be a better way to administer a survey to Yale students to get a more representative sample? What categories of students would need to be included? How many responses would you consider before making a claim about students' sexual behavior?
  • Dr. Oz's Advice "Borders on Quackery"

    Dr. Mehmet Oz was propelled into stardom by his popular appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Now, he has his own television show, which seems to be an avenue for promoting strange products . For business communication students, the example reminds us how important it is to check facts. Does the board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon not review research of the products he promotes? Slate describes Dr. Oz's enthusiasm for garcinia extract, which he says will finally help people "burn fat without spending every waking moment exercising and dieting": "He then told his audience about a 'breakthrough,' 'magic,' 'holy grail,' even 'revolutionary' new fat buster. 'I want you to write it down,' America’s doctor urged his audience with a serious and trustworthy stare. After carefully wrapping his lips around the exotic words 'Garcinia cambogia,' he added, sternly: 'It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.'" But garcinia cambogia has been studied for more than 15 years, and a JAMA article calls its anti-obesity results no better than a placebo. One of the study's authors, Edzard Ernst , said the product could have negative gastrointestinal effects and told Slate , "Dr. Oz's promotion of this and other unproven or disproven alternative treatments is irresponsible and borders on quackery." Educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz presents himself as a credible source, but research does not support what he promotes. Slate compares more of Dr. Oz's recommendations to the "best available research." In most cases, his advice (e.g., to take zinc, Vitamin D, and DHA) doesn't match up. The so-called "Oz Effect"—people spending lots of money on products presented on his show—can be dangerous. As Ernst says, "Using bogus treatments for serious conditions may cost lives." Image source . Discussion Starters: Watch some of Dr. Oz's show. In addition to his status as a doctor, how else does he present himself as a credible promoter of these products. Pay attention to his language, dress, mannerisms, etc. Why do people so easily believe Dr. Oz? What is the audience's responsibility in the "Oz Effect"?
  • Google Puzzles Build Search Skills

    Want to hone your Googling skills? A Google-a-Day puzzle tests web search skills by presenting daily challenges for users. Winding up the year on December 31, today's puzzle is multi-layered for the diligent searcher. To tackle this question, we would first need to know for which play Neil Simon won a Pulitzer. Then, we can figure out the actor who won a Tony. Finally, we can ferret out the actor's older sister. Not too complicated, but as with any problem to be solved, breaking down the question is important before the searching can begin. Assignment Ideas: Try a few of the puzzles. How did you do? Compare your search process with those of your classmates. What strategies did you use to find the correct answer, and how successful were you? Write a few puzzles of your own, and have your classmates try to find the answers. Was the question clear? How can you make it clearer to avoid ambiguity?
  • Burger King Loses in Drive-Thru Experience

    QSR Magazine just published the latest data comparing quick-service restaurants' drive-thru experience—and Burger King came in last overall. For the 2012 Drive-Thru Performance Study , seven restaurants were rated on these criteria: Average Service Time Order Accuracy with OCB Order Accuracy without OCB Impact of Pre-Sell Menu on Timing Favorable Exterior Visibility of Dumpsters Cleanliness of Menuboard Condition of Landscaping Customer Service Service Attributes Order Confirmation Board In Place Speaker Clarity The drive-thrus didn't fare too well on the customer service dimension. Brian Baker, president of Insula Research, the firm that led the study, said, "Even with pleasant demeanor, I’m thinking, why would that not be 100 percent? OK, so maybe 98 percent because everybody has a bad day, but it just seems like a no brainer to me. I’m still scratching my head on that." Rather than 100%, ratings for "very friendly" ranged from 27% ro 57%, with Burger King receiving the most "rude" ratings: 2.8% Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior vice president of communications, blamed service failures on limitations in hiring: "Part of it is to make certain we are hiring the right people. Wouldn’t it be nice if [the drive-thru crewmember] had a great personality? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could smile at you? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could say, ‘Thank you, come back again’? So you hire people that have that personality and the skill level to be able to do that. … You can’t just assume that they can handle every situation until they’ve done thorough training." The study reported good news about drive-thru cleaniness. Brands generally did well in measures such as whether the dumpsters were visible and how clean the menu board appeared. Discussion Starters and Assignment Idea: What can QSRs do to improve their customer service at the drive-thru windows? Consider the restaurants' hiring practices, training, performance standards, and management. Create a visual chart from the customer service data above. If you wanted to convince Burger King management to focus on improving the drive-thru experience for customers, which data would you include? What type of chart would you use? Assume that your chart appeared on a PowerPoint slide, and include a talking headline to convey your main point.
  • Beware of "Exploding" Studies

    Twice in two weeks I've read a similar headline about a Northwestern University study : " Study Explodes the Myth of Internet-Based Information Overload ." Authors of these articles should be mindful of the implications of research—and look more carefully at the methodology. The study, involving a mere seven focus groups of 77 participants on vacation in Las Vegas, asked people about information they receive through the web and other media sources and how they feel about it. A relatively small study that doesn't look at behavior should be considered cautiously. Eszter Hargittai, lead author of the study, drew this conclusion: "There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available. But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices." Fair enough. But articles such as Social Media Today 's is not exactly in line with the study's reach and impact. Northwestern University's own descriptions seem more appropriate: "'Information overload' may be an exaggerated way to describe today’s always-on media environment. Actually, very few Americans seem to feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens, according to a new Northwestern University study." "Most of the participants said television was their most used form of media, followed closely by websites. When asked how they felt about the amount of information available to them, few mentioned feeling overwhelmed or that they suffered from 'information overload.'" On the other hand, the Social Media Today article raises a good point about exaggeration on the other side of the argument: "Listen to enough hysterical warnings and dire forecasts and you’d think that information overload is leading us to some kind of bleak, post-apocalyptic future. In an Advertising Age column he wrote back in 2007, Edelman Senior VP Steve Rubel said, 'A crash is coming, folks. But this time it’s not financial—it’s personal.' The attention crisis, he said, is an epidemic. “There’s no more room at the inn. People will cut back." Perhaps we can learn lessons about both sides of the debate. Image source . Discussion Starters: What's your own view about "information overload"? What could have been a better headline for the story in Social Media Today?
  • Harvard Responds to Cheating Scandal

    Harvard University is investigating whether students wrongly collaborated and plagiarized each other's work on a take-home exam in a Government class last spring. Almost half of the 279 students' exams in "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress" are under further review. The course faculty member, Professor Matthew B. Platt, noticed similar responses and drew attention to the possibility of widespread cheating. The Harvard Crimson posted an image of the exam instructions: The Crimson quoted students who were frustrated by the lack of support in preparing for the exam: "'Almost all of [the students at office hours] had been awake the entire night, and none of us could figure out what an entire question (worth 20% of the grade) was asking,' the student wrote. 'On top of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF [teaching fellow] had to give us a definition to use for the question.' "That same student also expressed frustration that Platt had canceled his office hours the morning before the exam was due. In a brief email to the class just after 10 a.m. on May 3, Platt apologized for having to cancel his office hours on short notice that day due to an appointment." An article in the Harvard Gazette included a response by the school dean: The article also quoted university President Drew Faust: "These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends. We must deal with this fairly and through a deliberative process. At the same time, the scope of the allegations suggests that there is work to be done to ensure that every student at Harvard understands and embraces the values that are fundamental to its community of scholars." While the investigation is under way, Harvard is stepping up communications around academic integrity. The College Committee on Academic Integrity also will make recommendations to the faculty to reinforce school policies, and the committee may propose new policies or an honor code. Discussion Starters: With the information you have, what's your view of the situation? For example, are the instructions clear? Do you understand why students could have shared answers during the take-home exam? What is the definition of plagiarism? How might that apply in this case?
  • Sharp Reports Job Cuts and Plans

    For the first time in 60 years, Sharp has announced 5,000 job cuts this year, which is about 8.8% of its workforce. The company posted a June-quarter loss of $1.2 billion, blaming a difficult economic environment and power outages. In a PowerPoint presentation , Sharp explained the report and how the company will address declining revenue. In its quarterly report , Sharp explained its plans for the future including the following: Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas: Read the entire quarterly report and analyze the audience and structure. How is the report organized for the audience? Do you think this is effective? What, if anything, could improve the organization? Compare the above quarterly report excerpt with slide 9 of Sharp's PowerPoint presentation . What differences do you notice, and how can you account for them? The excerpt could be clearer; revise it to improve clarity, conciseness, and tone. Also correct any errors. Considering that the layoffs will be the first since 1950, how should Sharp communicate these plans to employees? The company will use voluntary and mandatory retirement to achieve the cuts.