“Please Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation Today”: Discourse Analysis of Email and Direct Mail Fundraising Letters

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Caudill, Kristi Lyn
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation examines the linguistic and rhetorical properties within organizational solicitation letters. While significant research has been performed on the linguistic analysis of specialized genre that share a specific set of goals and purposes, particularly academic genre, there is a dearth of research that combines both linguistic and rhetorical analysis within popular genres such as fundraising letters. To address this gap, this study investigates positioning in fundraising discourse through the linguistic lens of stance and engagement combined with the analysis of rhetorical appeals and moves. A corpus-based discourse analysis was performed on a representative sampling of fundraising discourse comprised of 340 direct mail and email solicitation letters spanning the years 2015-2017. Hyland (2005) provides the theoretical framework for the analysis of the linguistic features of stance and engagement while rhetorical analysis is informed by the work of multiple researchers (e.g. Connor and Gladkov, 2004; Connor and Lauer, 2010; Bhatia, 1998; and Upton, 2002). Results indicate that linguistic features of stance (e.g. hedges, boosters, attitude markers, and self-mentions) are more commonly used than the features of engagement (e.g. reader pronouns, personal asides, appeals to shared knowledge, directives, and questions), but the distribution of engagement features is fairly balanced within the fundraising corpus regardless of the discourse type (e.g. educational, environmental, and humanitarian) or political leaning of the organization. This can be attributed to the overriding need to forge a relationship with a potential donor. The findings also suggest that establishing personal connections is necessary to bridge the gap between the writer and the reader within this genre where there may not be shared discourse community. This connection is often achieved through the use of emotionally charged language and personal narratives as well as the strategic employment of rhetorical moves that include establishing credentials, expressing gratitude, and offering incentives. The research sheds light on the language of direct mail and email fundraising, furthers our understanding of the use of the elements of stance and engagement within organizational communication, and contributes to the growing body of research on genre analysis and variation.
Corpus-based, Engagement, Fundraising, Positioning, Rhetorical Moves, Stance