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Interactive Sample Document for Chapter 5:
Examining Cultural Variables in a Business Letter
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These two versions of the same business letter were written by a sales manager for an American computer company. The first letter was addressed to a potential customer in Japan; the second version was addressed to a potential customer in the United States. The questions below ask you to think about how the cultural variables affect the nature of evidence, the structure of the letters, and their tone (see pages 93-94).
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1. How does the difference in the salutation (the "Dear Mr. Smith" part of the letter) reflect a cultural difference?

By addressing the letter "Dear Sir" rather than "Dear Mr. Kirisawa," the writer is using a more formal, group-oriented tone. In effect, she is representing herself and her reader as representatives of their two organizations, not as individuals.

2. Does the first paragraph have any function beyond delaying the discussion of business?

The first paragraph sustains the level of formality introduced in the salutation, thereby showing respect for Japanese cultural norms. The paragraph shows other characteristics of writing to this audience: it begins with generalities, includes personal references and small talk, and reflects a relatively small distance between business and private life.

3. What is the function of telling Mr. Kirisawa about his own company? How does the second paragraph help the writer introduce her own company's products?

By telling Mr. Kirisawa about his own company, she is flattering him and showing appropriate respect. The point about his company's success leads logically to the suggestion that his company might need to purchase additional products to sustain their growth.

4. To a reader from the United States, the third paragraph would probably seem thin. What aspect of Japanese culture makes it effective in the context of this letter?

This paragraph appeals to the Japanese cultural value of providing excellent service over the years.

5. Why doesn't the writer make a more explicit sales pitch in the final paragraph?

The Japanese culture discourages explicit sales pitches, favoring instead a more subtle approach that emphasizes the role of providing valuable service to the customer.