Communication advice and conversational practice in institutional settings

Keun Young Sliedrecht

Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands, The


The aim of my research at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is to gain insight into the relation between communication advice and conversational practice in institutional settings, and to contribute to theoretical development in this research area. In particular, the aim of my research is to gain insight into the characteristics of three genres of institutional communication: police interrogations, job interviews, and journalistic interviews by investigating the interactional phenomenon of ‘formulations’. Formulations are produced in very specific interactional environments or circumstances and they serve to perform specific interactional tasks which vary according to the setting (Drew, 2003). Research into this phenomenon can be useful to describe the characteristics of these three institutional genres.

Central in my research is the interpretation of interactional phenomena in the context of institutional tasks and interests, and ideas that lie behind these tasks and interests. Therefore, the methodology is based on a combination of methods and theoretical principles of etnomethodology, conversation analysis and ethnography. By means of these research methods I can interpret communicative activities in institutional settings to generate insight into the interplay between language and social organization.

The three institutional genres have in common that the participants have conflicts of interests. For example, the task of a police-officer is to reveal the truth which normally is not in the interest of the suspect (Komter, 2003). Consequently, participants consider these conversations as ‘difficult’ and have an evident need for communication advice. It is remarkable that theoretical notions about the relation between communication advice and academic research are scarce. Peräkylä & Vehviläinen (2003) have given the first impulse to point to normative models that underlie communication advice. In doing so they mentioned how findings of conversational analytic research may falsify, correct or provide a more detailed picture of implicit assumptions underlying communication advice (2003, pp.731-2).

Also, research of Komter (2002/3) demonstrated that communication advice can be incompatible with conversational practice. Communication advice seems to be ineffective if it is primarily addressed to activities of the speaker instead of reactions of the hearer. Secondly, communication advice is ineffective if it ignores the institutional tasks and interests of the participants. Therefore, communication advice has to be investigated within its interactional and institutional context and must be confronted with a detailed analysis of conversational practice. On my poster I will present some examples of mismatches between communication advice and conversational practice.


Drew, P. (2003). Comparative Analysis of Talk-in-Interaction in Different Institutional Settings: A Sketch. In: Glenn, p., LeBaron, C.D., Mandelbaum, J. (eds.), Studies in Language and Social interaction in honor of Robert Hopper, pp. 293-308.

Komter, M.L. (2002/3). The construction of records in Dutch police interrogations. Information Design Journal+ Document Design 11, 2/3, 201-213.

Komter, M.L. (2003). The interactional elicitation of a confession in a Dutch police interrogation. Research on Language and Social Interaction 36/4, 433-470.

Peräkylä, A. & Vehviläinen, S. (2003) Conversation analysis and the professional stock of interactional knowledge. Discourse & Society 14/6, 727-750.

Session: POSTERS: Focus on interaction, discourse, media, professional settings
Friday, April 4, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer