To understand localization, one must understand how rhetoric, or the way in which information is presented, can vary along cultural lines. Each culture has a set of rhetorical expectations, or conditions, for how to convey ideas effectively (Kaplan, 2001; Woolever, 2001). The more closely a message meets the rhetorical expectations of a cultural group, the more likely members of that group will consider that message credible or usable (Bliss, 2001). If one does not meet a culture’s rhetorical expectations, then the related group is likely to view a message as non-credible and will be less inclined to consider it. Moreover, if non-credible messages are associated with a particular product, audiences might consider that item as not worth purchasing (Ulijn & Strother, 1995).
Rhetoric and Verbal Communication
Differing rhetorical expectations means information considered credible by one cultural group might be deemed suspect or unusable by another (Woolever, 2001; Ulijn & St.Amant, 2000). Language is perhaps the most obvious factor related to credibility in cross-cultural exchanges. That is, if one wishes to develop informative materials for another culture, then concepts must be presented in the language used by that group. (If one wishes to target information for an audience in France, one should use the French language when presenting ideas.)
Using the correct language, however, is often not enough, for cultural groups can have different norms for how ideas should be expressed within a language (Ulijn, 1996; Kaplan, 2001; Driskill, 1996). These expectations often reflect deep-seated values or societal rules (Neuliep, 2000; Ferraro, 2002). It is thus often difficult for the members of one culture to anticipate the rhetorical expectations another cultural group associates with credible presentations.
These cultural-rhetorical differences, moreover, can assume a variety of forms. Some cultures tend to prefer more linear/focused presentations in which connections between ideas and conclusions are explicitly stated (Campbell, 1998; Ulijn & St.Amant, 2000). Other cultures, however, might prefer more indirect presentations in which individuals seem to go off on tangents or avoid directly stating facts or conclusions (Woolever, 2001; Ulijn & St.Amant, 2000; Campbell, 1998). These variations can cause misperceptions or confusion when different cultural groups interact. As Ulijn and St.Amant (2000) note, many Western cultures prefer a more direct presentation of information. In contrast, many Eastern cultures use a more indirect approach when sharing ideas. As a result, the indirect style used by Eastern cultures is often viewed as evasive or dishonest by Westerners who expect presenters to “get to the point.” Conversely, many Easterners tend to view the direct presentation style of Western cultures as rude, for by directly stating information (stating the obvious), an individual is patronizing the audience. In such cases, failing to address the rhetorical expectations of the “other” culture can undermine the credibility of persons interacting in cross-cultural exchanges.