Electronic Letters to a City Council: Factors influencing the composition of email messages

Ylva Hård af Segerstad


This study is an analysis of electronically transmitted letters (i.e. email messages) and traditional paper letters (i.e. handwritten or typewritten letters on paper) from citizens to the authorities of the city council in Göteborg city. The norms for email are still in the process of being established. People are uncertain how to formulate themselves in this rather new medium. Most studies of email have been made on email messages of one-to-many interaction in public mailing lists. This is a study of public one way, one-to-one email messages, where the receiver is an unknown authority. The overall purpose of this study is to try to establish which factors influence how people formulate themselves in a textbased electronic medium. Do email messages to authorities conform to the business template of traditional formal letters, or is it the ease and rapidity of the electronic medium that pose the greater influence on the way the senders formulate their messages? Or are there combinations of other factors? Results from this study confirm results from previous studies of email (Herring, 1996, Du Bartell, 1995, Danet, forthcoming), suggesting that email messages to authorities are less formal and shorter than the formal business template. Email often seems to serve other communicative purposes replacing phone calls (Severinson-Eklundh, 1994).

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