Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

Professional Communication

Committee Chair/Advisor

Katz, Steven B

Committee Member

Williams , Sean

Committee Member

Wiesman , Daryl


This study explores how employees express uncertainty and enact uncertainty reduction techniques through electronic communication, specifically email, during temporary inter-organizational change. The context of the study is within the work environment of a nonprofit entity in the Southern region of the United States that employs just under 20 staff members and coordinates with approximately 135 partner staff affiliates on a daily basis. The Executive Director's medical leave of about three months requires that job responsibilities and organizational roles be temporarily restructured. Because email is the preferred and primary method of communication in this organization, such communications were chosen as the subject for analysis.
This pilot case study is unique in that it weds qualitative and quantitative, inductive and deductive, and Uncertainty Reduction Theory and rhetorical style analysis. A mixed methods approach is employed to fully gauge trends within the organization for seeking information. The email data are coded for source origination and, drawing from prior research by Miller and Jablin (1991) and Miller (1996), coded for information-seeking tactics (indirect/disguising conversation, overt/direct, testing, and third party) and information types (appraisal, normative, referent and social). Additionally, the data are classified by parts of speech and grouped by themes that appear which suggest employee values in the diction. An application of Latour and Woolgar's (1986) statement types for modality attributes levels of certainty found within the categories to degrees of ambiguity and anxiety among employees during temporary organizational change. This study incorporates these URT principles and rhetorical approaches to characterize the intricate relationship among uncertainty, information-seeking, diction use, email and temporary change within organizations.



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