Dr. William LEE



William Lee is a lecturer at the Center for Language Education. He has taught on a wide variety of ESP, EAP and communication courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  Prior to teaching he spent a number of years working in trading and finance.

Professional Interests

William’s research interests are in the following areas:

  • Professional and Corporate Communication
  • Cross-cultural and intercultural communication
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Corpus Linguistics


2023 Journal Publication

Representation of the “business-self”: Professionals’ construction of multifaceted identities in written business communication

Lee, William Wai Lam

Press: John Wiley and Sons Inc
Source: International Journal of Applied Linguistics (United Kingdom), October 2023
DOI: 10.1111/ijal.12512

This study explores professionals’ construction of their multifaceted identities as representatives of their corporations in business writing. The self-mention framework is applied to explore the representation of the “business-self” which I propose encompasses the projection of individual, collective, and corporate identities. A corpus of 100 CEO's letter to shareholders was examined for the use of personal pronouns and company referential terms and collocation analysis performed to understand the surrounding discourse contexts. The findings reveal a distinct hierarchy of identities; US business professionals communicate with stakeholders by immersing themselves in the identity of the collective and make a concerted effort to project the corporate identity, whereas representation of the individual self is minimal. The study provides important insights into the identity construction work undertaken by professionals in authentic business texts and the findings can help inform English for Specific Purposes (ESP) practitioners of business communication courses in higher education. © 2023 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

2023 Working Paper

Engagement in Business Communication

LEE, William W L

Engagement in Business Communication 

Engaging and connecting with stakeholders to build goodwill is seen as vital to communicating effectively in business communication.  Leading business communication textbooks highlight a number of strategies which may be used to achieve this.  For example, Shwom and Snyder (2019, pp. 126-127) in Business Communication Polishing Your Professional Presence advise when composing business messages one should adopt a “you” perspective.  This is where writers/speakers compose messages which consider the recipients viewpoint and communicate audience benefits.  Likewise,  Thill and Bovée (2017, pp. 8-9) in Excellence in Business Communication advocate a “you” attitude in business messages, explaining that this is an “An audience-centered approach involves understanding and respecting the members of your audience and making every effort to get your message across in a way that is meaningful to them”.  While these guidelines offer invaluable advice, nonetheless, they appear to reflect Mautner’s (2017, p. 612) observation that business discourse beyond linguistic disciplines is often “couched in ‘macro’ terms, looking at broad themes” and that it is also important to examine such themes in discourse at a “micro” level by exploring specific linguistic devices used in their expression.   

In response the present study aims to examine the “you” perspective or attitude in business writing through a discourse analytic approach.  More specifically, engagement markers proposed in Hyland’s (2005) stance and engagement model are investigated in a corpus of 100 U.S. CEO’s letter to shareholders.  Hyland (2005) proposes five explicit language features with which writers intrude into the discourse to directly connect with readers: 

1. Reader pronouns are the simplest and the most fundamental way that the audience is brought into the text by the author and their presence acknowledged.  They are categorised into three types: inclusive pronouns (e.g., we, our); second person pronouns (e.g., you, your); and the generic or impersonal ‘one’.   

2. Directives are used to instruct or obligate readers to either perform or not perform physical or mental actions.    Three types of directives: imperatives, modals of obligation and predicative adjectives expressing the writer’s judgement of necessity or importance.     

3. Appeals to shared knowledge prompt readers to recognise a claim as universal or commonly accepted.   

4. Questions invites readers to an area or issue, where a response or viewpoint can then be offered by the writer.  

5. Personal asides are possibly the most deliberate and overt expression of engagement.  They denote interruptions into the ongoing discourse in order for the author to offer a brief comment that is largely interpersonal in character.  These are comments inserted “mid-flow” of the on-going discourse with hyphens, dashes or parentheses.   

Summary of results 


                                           Raw freq.       Per 1000 words       % of total 

Reader pronouns               622                 3.33                          70.7 

Directives                           94                   0.50                          10.7 

Shared Knowledge            4                     0.02                          0.5 

Asides                               136                  0.73                          15.5 

Questions                          24                   0.13                           2.7 

Total                                  880                 4.71                           100 


The table above provides a summary of the frequencies of the different engagement markers in the shareholders’ letters.  There is a total of 880 occurrences which is equivalent to a normalised frequency of 4.74 signals per 1000 words.  To put this density of engagement markers into perspective within the field of engagement and metadiscourse research, Hyland (2005) reported 5.9/1000 words in his study of published academic research articles across eight academic disciplines; Lafuente-Millán (2014) uncovered 2.45/1000 words in their corpus of English and Spanish business management articles; and Mur-Dueñas (2008) found 1.59/1000 words in a corpus also comprised of business management research articles in English and Spanish.    

Within the sub-categories, reader pronouns are the most frequently used engagement feature in the corpus.  At 3.33/1000 words, it constitutes 70.7% of all engagement resources and it is nearly used five times as much as asides which are the second highest sub-category (0.73/1000 words).  While the use of directives is also fairly frequent (0.50/1000 words), the usage of questions and appeals to shared knowledge are very low.   In the next section examples of reader pronouns are given. 


Different types of reader pronouns 


                                            Raw freq.   Per 1000 words   % 

First person pronouns  

(we, us, our, ours)               301             1.62                     48.6 

Second person pronouns  

(you, your, yours)                310             1.66                     49.8 

Generic pronoun 

(One, one’s)                         11               0.05                     1.50 

Total                                    622             3.33                     100 


Reader pronouns are the most frequently employed engagement markers in the shareholders’ letters.  The table above shows usage is almost evenly split between inclusive first-person pronouns and second person pronouns (48.6% versus 49.8).  Conversely, the impersonal generic pronoun (‘one’, ‘one’s’) is used very sparingly, constituting only 1.5% of resources.    

Inclusive first-person pronouns combine the writer and reader into one entity and pulls the reader into the writer’s “in-group” and are often used in the texts to highlight the CEOs’ views on different issues (1) and their macroeconomic perspectives (2), with the ultimate objective of aligning stakeholders to their beliefs and interpretation of issues and events.   

  1. Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of all time and my friend, has said “It’s never paid to be against America.” I think we all should take his advice.  


  1. At the same time, from a global standpoint, we are witnessing a dramatic economic realignment—a shrinking middle class in the U.S. and other developed economies, and a burgeoning middle class in developing markets. 

The second person pronouns “you” and “your” are more prominent as engagement markers than inclusive first-person pronouns in the shareholders letters.  Second person pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’ are the most direct in addressing reader.   

Two main types of “you” are used in the texts, first is their application as a personal engagement tool that connects directly to the reader (3), (4) and second is used as “people in general”—a more informal choice than the option “one”.  

  1. I told you a year ago that the number one story for our company in 2013 would be our network (U.S.)   

  1. We always have believed that analyzing your mistakes makes you a better company. 

The last category of reader pronouns is the generic pronoun “one”.  “One’ can be taken to mean ‘people in general’ and is commonly a formal substitute for the more informal ‘you’.  Its minimal use in the corpus of business writing could possibly be explained by the fact that it is impersonal and does not help build familiarity between the writer and reader as effectively as the more familiar inclusive first person plural and second person pronouns.  Upon examination of the concordances it is used mostly for negative propositions (5) 

  1. The major accounting firms, providers of independent audit opinions, shopped creative tax avoidance schemes— including those presented unsuccessfully to M&T— that pushed the bounds of creativity relative to what one would find acceptable or even ethical by today’s standard. 

In summary, the findings show that U.S. corporate authors expend considerable effort rhetorically through engagement markers to engage, interact, and actively build writer-reader relationships.  The findings can help inform business communication courses on how a “you attitude” is constructed at the “micro” level through specific linguistic devices.  



Hyland, K. (2005). Stance and engagement: a model of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse Studies, 7(2), 173-192. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445605050365  

Lafuente-Millán, E. (2014). Reader engagement across cultures, languages and contexts of publication in business research articles. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 24(2), 201-223. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijal.12019  

Mautner, G. (2017). Organizational discourse. In G. Mautner & F. Rainer (Eds.), Handbook of Business Communication: Linguistic Approaches (pp. 609-628). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781614514862-025  

Mur-Dueñas, P. (2008). Analysing engagement markers cross-culturally: The case of English and Spanish business management research articles. In S. Burgess & P. Matin-Matin (Eds.), English as an additional language in research publication and communication (pp. 197-214). Peter Lang.  

Shwom, B., & Snyder, L. G. (2019). Business Communication: Polishing Your Professional Presence (4 ed.). Pearson.  

Thill, V. J., & Bovée, L. C. (2017). Excellence in Business Communication (12 ed.). Pearson.  


2023 Conference Paper / Presentation

AI and persuasive professional communication: an exploratory study of interactional metadiscourse in ChatGPT-composed CEO’s letters to shareholders

Lee, Wai Lam; Mcminn, Sean William John

Location: Hong Kong Polytechnic University

ChatGPT has become a worldwide phenomenon since its release in November 2022 with many speculating its potential to transform how texts are composed in different discourse domains. Business and professional communication is one domain that ChatGPT and other AI driven language processing tools can be used to assist with the construction of different texts. Persuasion is a key objective of many genres of business communication, and metadiscourse—language which refers to the subject matter—has been shown to be an essential element of persuasive discourse. The present study aims to explore the use of metadiscourse in persuasive texts constructed by ChatGPT. The income statements of a selection of S&P 500 companies were fed into ChatGPT and instruction given to compose persuasive CEO’s letters to shareholders. Specifically, interactional metadiscourse (Hyland, 2005) is examined in the generated texts, which is a category of resources that encodes explicitly writer-reader interaction and a writer’s evaluation of the propositional content. The findings show that interactional metadiscourse is an integral component of the discourse generated by ChatGPT which is consistent with prior studies of these resources in the CEO’s letter to shareholders. ChatGPT’s potential as a valuable tool is highlighted. It can help business professionals to enhance their interaction with stakeholders by using appropriate metadiscourse markers, and it can provide a template which can be modified and adapted according to the writer’s purpose, audience and genre expectations. ChatGPT could be particularly useful for L2 writers of English who may struggle with the linguistic and rhetorical aspects of persuasive communication in a second language. However, ChatGPT may have limitations in capturing context-specific nuances and it may not be able to account for the ethical and social implications of persuasive communication leading to the generation of texts which are misleading or biased.

2022 Working Paper

Engagement features in written business communication

LEE, William W L

Short Descriptions

This study aims to examine strategies used by business professionals to engage readers through the use of specific linguistic devices. Hyland's (2001) engagement framework is applied to a corpus of U.S. letters to shareholders. More specifically, the framework explores audience engagement at the micro level of language use through inclusive pronouns, personal asides, appeals to shared knowledge, questions and directives.

Possible Benefits

Business communication guides and textbooks emphasize audience engagement as one of the keys to success of a business text. The study helps us to develop a better understanding of how this is done through specific linguistic devices in authentic business communication. The findings can ultimately help inform our teaching in the area.


The objective is for the study to be written up as a paper to be submitted to a journal.

2022 Working Paper

Engagement features in written business communication

LEE, William W L

Connecting with stakeholders to build goodwill with audience-centred messages is a key tenet of business communication.  Popular business communication textbooks offer guidelines such as constructing messages with a "you-attitude" and stressing audience benefits underlined by the acronym "WIIFT", or "What's in it for them".  While this advice is invaluable, nonetheless, they appear to reflect Mautner's (2017:612) observation that business communication beyond linguistic disciplines is often "couched in 'macro' terms, looking at broad themes" and that it is also important to examine such themes in discourse at a "micro" level by exploring specific linguistic devices used in their expression.  In response, this study explores how business professionals use specific linguistic devices to connect with their audience through the engagement framework (Hyland, 2001) which consists of the following:

Reader pronouns are the simplest and most fundamental way the audience is brought into the text and their presence acknowledged and include inclusive pronouns (e.g., we, our), second person pronouns (e.g., you, your) and the generic "one".

Directives instruct readers to perform physical or mental actions and include imperatives, modals of obligation and predicate adjectives expressing the writer's judgement of necessity or importance.

Appeals to shared knowledge prompt readers to recognise a claim as universal or commonly accepted.

Questions invite readers to an area or issue where a response or viewpoint can then be offered by the writer.

Personal asides are possibly the most deliberate and overt expression of engagement.  They denote interruptions into the ongoing discourse for the author to offer a comment that is largely interpersonal in nature.

The analyses reveal that business professionals use most frequently the reader pronouns "you" and "our" to connect with readers.  There is also meaningful use of directives and personal asides, but the use of questions and shared knowledge is minimal.



Hyland, K. (2001). Bringing in the Reader: Addressee Features in Academic Articles. Written Communication, 18(4), 549-574.

Mautner, G. (2017). Organizational discourse. In G. Mautner & F. Rainer (Eds.), Handbook of Business Communication: Linguistic Approaches (pp.609-628). De Gruyter Mouton.

2021 Journal Publication

Emotion in business communication: A comparative study of attitude markers in the discourse of U.S. and mainland Chinese corporations

Lee, Wai Lam

Source: Discourse & Communication, v. 15, (6), December 2021, p. 629-649
DOI: 10.1177/17504813211026541

Expressing emotion is considered essential in the U.S. business communication tradition; however, its importance is uncertain beyond the U.S., and more specifically, in Chinese business contexts. This study explores emotion in U.S. and Chinese business communication through the analyses of attitude markers in the shareholders' letters of U.S. and mainland Chinese corporations. The analyses reveal that while emotion is embedded in the discourse of companies from both cultural models, its expression is more frequent and intense in the U.S. texts. The observed dissimilarities are discussed in terms of underlying sociocultural factors. Implications arise for the teaching and learning of business communication which are still largely defined by U.S. approaches. With the rising prominence of mainland Chinese corporations worldwide, the findings provide strong evidence for students and professionals to understand Chinese as well as U.S. rhetorical styles in business communication in order to be better prepared for the global business environment.

2020 Journal Publication

Impression Management Through Hedging and Boosting: A Cross-Cultural Investigation of the Messages of Us and Chinese Corporate Leaders

Lee, Wai Lam

Source: Lingua, v. 242, July 2020, article number 102872
DOI: 10.1016/j.lingua.2020.102872

This study explores hedging and boosting as impression management strategies in the discourse of Chinese and U.S. corporations. The analysis has been conducted on the CEO's letter to shareholders of 100 Chinese and 100 U.S. corporations to reveal pronounced variations in the frequencies and pattern of use in the two resources. First, substantially more hedges and boosters are used in the U.S. discourse in comparison to the Chinese, thus, demonstrating a greater effort invested in persuasion in the U.S. texts. Second, the U.S. texts use significantly more boosters than hedges, whereas the Chinese texts show a roughly balanced use of the two resources. Lastly, the two sets of texts have authorial stances that project distinctly different impressions. While the U.S. discourse conveys conviction and certainty, the Chinese discourse imparts more caution and tentativeness. These findings are attributed to a number of dissimilarities in the belief systems of the Western and Chinese cultural models. The results point to possible implications on the effectiveness of the CEO's letters in cross-cultural business contexts. (C) 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2020 Chapter in Edited Volume

Intercultural communication in professional and workplace settings

Warren, Martin; Lee, William Wai Lam

Press: Routledge
ISBN: 9781003036210
Source: The Routledge Handbook of Language and Intercultural communication (2nd ed.) / Edited ByJane Jackson. London : Routledge, 2020, Ch. 29
DOI: 10.4324/9781003036210-36

The situated nature of professional and other workplace-based communication continues to receive attention in intercultural communication research (see, e.g., Cheng and Kong 2009; Ladegaard and Jenks 2017; Schnurr and Zayts 2017). Inevitably, these studies provide accounts of the intercultural nature of such communication which go beyond ‘macro categories’ and adopt a more emic perspective (Cheng and Kong 2009: 8). Studies which highlight and seek to explain the complexities of intercultural workplace communication are the focus of this chapter. The authors provide an overview of the types of studies conducted to date, paying attention to where, and how, data were collected and the extent to which participants were involved in the analysis of the data as advocated by Sarangi (2002: 99). Schnurr and Zayts (2017: 148) describe the complexities which need to be understood if we are to better understand language and culture in the workplace. These are the dynamic norms, values, and behaviours of professionals; the nature of the professional contexts and workplaces in which intercultural communication takes place; and the specific context in which each interaction takes place. These aspects are foregrounded when the studies are reviewed and conclusions and implications for future research are discussed.