Good communication is a culturally-bound concept. What is appropriate and effective in one culture may not be so in another. However, regardless of culture, all communication carries a message.
But who is responsible for making sure that message gets transmitted?
Who is responsible for the message also varies by culture. This affects the expectations of both the writer and reader and can be a source of miscommunication and misunderstanding.
English is a writer-responsible language. That means it is the responsibility of the writer to make sure the message is understood. Writing is clear, direct and unambiguous. Schools teach from early on the importance of structure, thesis statement and topic sentences when writing in English. A good writer assumes no or little background knowledge on the part of the reader.
Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are reader-responsible languages. That means the reader is responsible for deciphering the message, which is often not stated explicitly. For an American who is expecting direct and explicit information, this style can be very confusing.
Because the writer is not responsible for the message, there is little use of sign posting and transitional phrases in the writing. These are phrases such as on the other hand; secondly; as you can see; therefore; which are used in writer-responsible cultures to lead the reader through the writer’s thought process. Without these phrases, the writing may seem choppy and disconnected to an American reader.
These style differences can create cross cultural misunderstandings in emails, job applicant cover letters, and even technical writing.