An integrated approach to metadiscourse in text-based masspersonal advice




Jia, Mian

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In everyday interactions, people seek advice from others about personal relationships, self-development, or career development. How to communicate clear, polite, and effective advice is a question receiving increasing attention in communication research. Previous studies on message style have focused on linguistic politeness strategies such as conventional politeness markers and face-redressive expressions. Theories of interpersonal metadiscourse suggest that communicators regulate their message style by employing a wide range of linguistic devices such as frame markers (e.g., first, second, my point is) and hedges (e.g., probably, could, might). These devices, however, have not been fully explored in the advice-giving context. I argue that metadiscourse constitutes an essential collection of stylistic features that enable advisors to communicate their messages clearly, respectfully, and effectively. These markers are important in text-based masspersonal advice which features asynchronicity, interactivity, anonymity, accessibility and personalization. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, I designed two studies to examine the distribution and effects of metadiscourse markers in communicating text-based masspersonal advice. Study 1 was a corpus analysis of 120 “masspersonal” advice exchanges (i.e., advice that is tailored to individuals but is accessible to online groups). The results indicate that advisors strategically used interactive and interactional metadiscourse to fulfill different communicative purposes. Using a 2 (Hedges: present vs. absent) × 2 (Frame Markers: present vs. absent) × 2 (Scenarios: No Passion for Work vs. Ask for A Raise) between-subject factorial experiment, Study 2 tested the effects of metadiscourse on people's evaluations of advice quality and implementation intention. The results showed that using frame markers significantly improved participants' evaluation of advice quality and their intentions to take the advice. These main effects are mediated by advice clarity and advice quality. Using hedges also significantly elevated participants' evaluation of advice quality and this effect is mediated by advice quality. The two reported studies represent an interdisciplinary approach to exploring metadiscourse use in masspersonal advice-giving. The integration of metadiscourse extends the message style construct in advice research by moving beyond a focus on linguistic politeness and facework. This research aims to celebrate the very best human altruism of passing wisdom from one individual to another.


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