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Critical Thinking Questions

  1. For what kinds of Internet documents might the informal tone recommended by experienced Internet writers be inappropriate?
  2. Some marketers say that requiring spam to carry an "ADV" subject line violates their right to free speech. Do you agree?

Business Communication On the Web

Learn more about writing for online audiences by reading the articles on the Contentious site ( Browse the home page. Then examine the current articles and check the archives for discussions of such varied topics as writing investor relations material and editing online documents.

  1. Who is the audience for this Web site?
  2. Why do you think the site includes both a "survey" and a "feedback" link?

E-Business Case in Point: IBM

  1. Why would IBM continue to send e-mail newsletters to people who do not buy the company's products?
  2. How does IBM apply the "you" attitude to its Internet communications?

E-Business Case in Point: Dell Computer

Investors are an important audience for any company that sells stock to the public. Now the Internet allows companies to interact with current and potential investors by providing all kinds of details about the company, its stock, its finances, its products, and its management. Consider Dell Computer (, the computer manufacturer that has created an extensive and informative investor relations section on its Web site.

From the home page, clicking on "About Dell" brings up a corporate overview with a link to "Investor Relations" at the top and bottom of the Web page. The investor relations menu includes company data, stock charts, annual reports and reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, financial fact sheets and press releases, and more. And Dell doesn't just wait for investors to drop by the site. It invites them to sign up for e-mail reminders of upcoming site events such as earnings announcements and audio or video presentations by managers. Dell's investors appreciate being reminded of relevant news, and they like the convenience and control of choosing when-and whether-they are notified.

  1. Why would Dell want to use richer media such as audio or video presentations when communicating with investors?
  2. How does Dell's e-mail reminder service help investors avoid information overload?

Sources: Amy Gahran, "Investor Relations Content That Works," Contentious, March 10, 2000,; Amy Gahran, "Online Investor Relations: Attitude Counts," Contentious, March 10, 2000,


E-Business and Business Communication

E-Business Case in Point:

How can an e-business start-up with a small staff field hundreds of e-mail inquiries every day? Pat DeFazio, customer support supervisor, had to solve that problem after (, a travel Web site, planned a wider advertising campaign to attract more customers. Months before the ad campaign began, DeFazio began researching automated e-mail response systems and found one that suited's needs and budget.

Because she was concerned about customer reaction, DeFazio decided to let the automated system answer only the most specific, clear-cut inquiries; she and her staff planned to read and answer any complex or unusual inquiries. Customers who send routine inquiries receive system-generated responses and are invited to e-mail another inquiry (with "Manual Review" as the subject) if they want a personal response from a staff member. The handful of Manual Review inquiries received every day go directly to the staff for immediate attention.'s automated e-mail response system is so efficient that DeFazio and one full-time staff member can manage as many as 25,000 monthly inquiries.

  1. Why would DeFazio want recipients to know that responses are system-generated?
  2. How do Manual Review messages serve as feedback for

Source: Elizabeth Crane, "," SmartBusiness Magazine, August 2000,,6605,2598240-2,00.html.


Current events news summaries:

XPlane knows that a picture is worth a thousand words–and much more. E-business start-ups are asking XPlane, itself a start-up, to create colorful, snappy illustrations to clarify their complex business plans. What are the benefits?

Text chat is catching on as an effective way to communicate with customers who are browsing company Web sites. How do text-chat systems help e-businesses better serve their customers?

E-mail campaigns are the latest marketing tool for reaching targeted audiences with messages geared to their interests and needs. How can e-mail marketers avoid being labeled as spammers?

Spam isn't just annoying, it's illegal in some states: Washington state forbids misleading subject lines and other common tricks used by spammers. What's the future of spam?


E-Business and Business Communication

E-Business Case in Point:

The Internet is such a fast and convenient tool for researching term papers that colleges and universities are concerned about a rising tide of copy-and-paste plagiarism among students. In addition, a number of e-businesses have sprung up to sell prewritten term papers to students over the Internet. Now the 59 academic institutions in the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges have signed up to detect plagiarism using the database of, founded by John Barrie. Here's how the site works. After an instructor submits a paper electronically,'s system digitizes the contents and compares it with the one billion papers and documents in its database. The system highlights any passages that match information in its database, indicates the probable sources, and e-mails the paper back to the instructor.

Although is helpful, it's not entirely foolproof. An assistant professor of history at Wesleyan University, for example, was able to confirm her suspicions by submitting two students' papers for checking; both were returned with color-coded matches showing definite plagiarism. Still, some instructors complain that might not catch passages lifted from more recent Web documents not yet in the site's database, and others say that the system can catch direct quotes but not paraphrased material used without attribution. Nonetheless, can be a valuable screening device for instructors who want to find out whether particular papers are original or plagiarized.

  1. What do you think an instructor should do about a paper that says contains plagiarized content?
  2. Should Web sites that sell prewritten term papers be allowed to stay in business? Explain your answer.

Source: Alissa Quart, "How To Cheat the Cheaters," Time Digital, November 15, 2000, 70-71.

Source for December, 2000 update: Elizabeth Hurt, "Chat Spats," Business 2.0, August 25, 2000,

Current events news summaries:

A group of Internet ad agencies and promotion firms has formed the Responsible Electronic Communication Alliance to self-regulate the industry's use of spam. What are they proposing?,1151,18599,00.html

The Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam organization in the United Kingdom, reported finding evidence that AT&T and PSINet allowed commercial e-mailers to distribute unsolicited messages using their networks. How did AT&T and PSINet respond to this report?,1151,20018,00.html

The Internet is becoming more international: Organizations can now register for .com, .net, and .org domain names in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese languages. Around the world, how many new domain names are registered daily?,1597,248173-412,00.shtml



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