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On: 30 October 2007

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Southern Communication Journal

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A Review of: "Cal Downs and Allision Adrian, Assessing Organizational Communication: Strategic

Communication Audits (Guilford Communication Series)"

James Pauff



Tarleton State University,

Online Publication Date: 01 September 2006

To cite this Article: Pauff, James (2006) 'A Review of: "Cal Downs and Allision Adrian, Assessing Organizational Communication: Strategic Communication Audits (Guilford Communication Series)"', Southern Communication Journal, 71:3, 312 - 315

To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/10417940600942901 URL:


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few of us consider how our own and other’s morality are being shaped by being able to operate in virtual contexts that are not bound to time or physical place.

There are two aspects of the book that posed problems for me as a reader. First the lack of research cited backing up Bugeja’s ideas make his arguments seem anecdotally based. Readers in interpersonal communication especially will find themselves want- ing more evidence to reify that there have in fact been significant changes in how we communicate. To his credit, his writing style aids in reading and keeps one from getting bogged down in data. Secondly, Bugeja tends to hold a Rockwellian vision of America before the technological era where children played together in fresh air while neighbors happily interacted. Bugeja concludes, ‘‘Children chat and play, guar- dians encrypt and pay, and seldom do family members speak as meaningfully to each other as they did before access’’ (131).

As I read this I wonder how social historian Stephanie Coontz would respond to Bugeja’s fondness for the past. Coontz writes extensively about Americans’ desire to evoke nostalgic, media images of the past as anecdotes in opposition to the trou- bles of our modern age. Likewise, it seems problematic to claim that the communities of previous generations were as united and idyllic as Bugeja’s writing suggests. I am sure that if we look beneath the romantic images of communities of previous genera- tions we can easily find evidence of class, racial, political, ideological, and religious divisions.

Interpersonal Divide is suited to senior undergraduates and graduates in speech communication, media and technology, journalism, rhetoric, and cultural studies.

Novice readers might miss some of the nuances of Bugeja’s arguments, specifically when he expounds as an ethicist on the nature of conscience and consciousness.

The book does tend to nostalgize the past but it will certainly provoke important dis- cussions about the cumulative effect of our technological age on our communication and our communities. This book does not provide the final word on technology’s imprint on our society but instead may facilitate discussions through which we can more fully understand the scope of technology’s influence.

Gordon Alley-Young Kingsborough Community College—City University of New York Cal Downs and Allision Adrian, ASSESSING ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNI- CATION: STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION AUDITS (GUILFORD COMMUNI- CATION SERIES). New York: The Guilford Press, 2004; pp. 292, $42.00 softcover, ISBN: 1593850107.

Assessing Organizational Communication is a graduate-level textbook on how a group of students can conduct a communication audit for a business or an organization. Its two authors obviously learned the ins and outs after many times through the process.

A communication audit is complicated. Doing a credible job analyzing the shortcom-

ings and strengths of organizations like police departments, emergency response

units, or of various types of businesses, requires cooperation from management,


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cooperation from interviewed and surveyed employees, defining and mapping com- munication networks, finding communication patterns in numerical data, and more.

Downs and Adrian take a sophisticated approach to auditing through multiple channels: interviewing, questionnaires, and focus groups. Other texts say to choose one of these to rely most on, but Downs and Adrian advocate using all if possible.

The authors presume students will then set their conclusions down in numerical tables, abstract models, and written commentary. The authors stuffed their chapters full of exemplar charts, specific examples, and practical advice to ease the procedure (as much as it can be eased). There is, in fact, so much advice in the text, interwoven with warnings about pitfalls, that neither the instructor nor his=her students can possibly assimilate it all one time through.

The textbook is divided into fourteen chapters, the first six of which follow the initiating steps of the audit in sequence, up to the point of administering question- naires. The authors argue that questionnaires are the main source of information for communication audits, and zeroing in on significant data is a matter of finding the one best fitted to a particular investigation. Therefore, in the next four chapters they delve into four questionnaire formats that may be chosen depending upon circum- stances and what one is looking for. The text’s last two chapters explore how to do the final analysis of data, and how to structure the final report. Finally, enclosed is an example of what one of their audit reports looks like.

Chapter 1 begins with the customary communication diagrams and definitions:

how messages are encoded and transmitted, what a channel is, a short discussion of the complex nature of human communication, etc. The text lists characteristics communication assessors must have in order to conduct a competent audit: indepen- dence, professionalism, and thoroughness, a skilled way of evaluating, a tailored design, and a workable time frame. Chapter 2 is on initial planning of the project.

This is the time, readers are told, to consider things such as cost, sample size, man- agement familiarity with what you are going to do, choosing employees to partici- pate, specific questions that need to be answered, and so forth. It includes very a helpful example of an organizing criteria sheet and a letter to management explaining the auditors’ procedures and professional charges.

In Chapter 3, students are placed into groups to conduct the audit. It suggests developing an eye for varying degrees of commitment among students. The chapter format is again sequential with formal responsibility designations (secretary, data col- lector, writer) and other phases of group activity clearly laid out. Chapter 4 is a com- plex chapter because it deals with identifying key areas to assess for the audit. The authors list ten guidelines: e.g., planners must consider the direction of communi- cation flow, the communication requirements of various organizational tasks, the quality of communication relationships among employees, and so forth. Each guide- line is thoroughly explained in succeeding paragraphs.

Chapter 5 focuses on conducting employee interviews. Students must conduct a

first round of interviews with follow-up interviews if certain results seem promis-

ing. The text contains very useful examples of initial interview formats that allow

students to familiarize themselves with the organization under scrutiny, and


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follow-ups that zero in on specific areas of interest. The authors discuss the difficulty of including key individuals and yet keeping chosen interviewees as a randomized cross-section of the organization. The text includes an example of a conclusion summary written by student auditors. Chapter 6 is entitled ‘‘Diagnosis through Questionnaire.’’ The questionnaire, the authors explain, is the primary auditing tool, although its results need ‘‘triangulation’’ with interviews and other data to ensure truthful results. The text advises pre-testing questions and gives advice about administering the final version. It also provides examples of how demographic groups may be compared to one another using a table in order to guide the audit to significant results.

Chapter 7 is the survey boilerplate from the International Communications Association, originally written in the 1970s to study communication in organizations.

Many communication studies have used the ICA survey, the authors write, because it is adaptable and comprehensive—although lengthy and somewhat complex. Chapter 8 is another questionnaire boilerplate: the Downs-Hazen Communication Satisfac- tion Questionnaire (ComSat). It contains only 60 questions grouped for a quick fac- tor analysis. The authors seem more taken with the ComSat than the ICA instrument and cover the former in more detail. ‘‘Part of the charm of this instrument,’’ they write, ‘‘is its brevity.’’ It, too, has been used in professional studies as well as in some 30 Ph.D. dissertations. The questionnaire is reprinted and there is information about how to quantify the answers.

Chapter 9 is a questionnaire for assessing communication effectiveness first used by the U.S. Air Force. It identifies key behaviors necessary for a particular organiza- tion (originally air crews). Using this method, the auditors will be trying to identify tasks and actions necessary for success in the particular circumstance. The auditors construct questionnaires that ultimately classify reported incidents into categories and themes from which to draw conclusions. Chapter 10 discusses ECCO analysis questionnaires that plot communication pathways and the length of time a type of message takes to circulate. A questionnaire is administered and the results are tabu- lated quickly by a mathematical formula.

The first half of Chapter 11 is an in-depth inquiry into earlier ideas of what com- munication network structures are and what questions may be answered by studying them. The second half is full of mathematical computations to find reliable correla- tions between data sets. Generating effective recommendations stems from examining the numbers, the reader is told, and looking for surprises. Data are to be set out in tables—examples of which are provided—as well as made into geometric models.

Chapter 12 is on focus groups, used for collecting multiple perspectives and as reality checks. The greatest advantage of such groups, the authors assert, is speed and efficiency in collecting information. They list a number of disadvantages that may or may not be associated with using them, following that up with practical advice about organizing the students’ facilitating group.

Chapter 13 is the final analysis and interpretation of the data. There is the problem

of extrapolation: using data from all sources but knowing what to discard. There is

the problem of integrating facts and figures from multiple instruments. They warn


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against forming a strong idea about a problem, and then making the data conform to it. The depths of seemingly contradictory data must be plumbed to find what caused it. Chapter 14 is about writing the report. There is an example report at the rear of the text.

James Pauff

Tarleton State University



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