Secret Sauce and Snake Oil: Writing Monthly Reports in a Highly Contingent Environment




Spinuzzi, Clay

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Written Communication


At a search marketing company, each search engine optimization (SEO) specialist writes up to 10 to 12 complex 20-page monthly reports in the first ten business days of each month. These SEO specialists do not consider themselves to be writers, yet they generate these structurally and rhetorically complex reports as a matter of course, while negotiating a constantly changing landscape of a contingent, rapidly changing business sector. Under these conditions, how did the SEO specialists manage to write these reports so quickly and so well? What is the standing set of transformations that they enact in order to develop and produce these reports? And given the multiple contingencies, rapid changes, and high individual discretion at this organization—seemingly a recipe for discohesive practices—how did they maintain and develop this standing set of transformations in order to turn out consistent reports? In this article, I draw on writing, activity, and genre research (WAGR) to examine how Semoptco’s SEO specialists produced monthly reports, specifically in terms of their constant networking, audience analysis, and ethos building. Finally, the author draws implications for applying WAGR to knowledge work organizations.



At the time of publication C. Spinuzzi was at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Written Communication. 10/2010, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp. 363 - 409