The purpose of this paper is to criticise the paper by Jennie A. Abrahamson and Victoria L. Rubin (2012) “Discourse structure differences in lay and professional health communication”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 68 No. 6, pp. 826-851.
The author reviewed the antecedents of Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) in discourse analysis, and paid close attention to the differences between the original formulation of RST, later formulations of the RST model and the application of RST in this paper. The author also reviewed the literature on physician-patient communication, and patient-patient support to contextualise the findings of Abrahamson and Rubin.
The paper shows evidence of over-simplification of RST since its initial formulation. Next, the Motivation relationship in the original Mann/Thompson formulation of RST appears problematic. This makes the authors’ RST findings that patient-patient (or consumer-consumer) information sharing appear to be more effective than physician-consumer information sharing rather tenuous. An important additional flaw is that there was only one physician participant in this study. A practical limitation to the study is that physicians mostly interact face-to-face with patients and use of consumer advice web sites may not fit well with the current practice of medicine.
The author had limited examples in the paper to examine how the authors had categorised the binary unit relationships.
RST is promising for discourse analysis of information advice web sites but simplifications in its application can lead to unwarranted claims.
Corrigendum – It has come to our attention that Alexander H. Urquhart was not named as an author of “Commentary on Abrahamson and Rubin (2012) ‘Discourse structure differences in lay and professional health communication’, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 68 No. 6, pp. 826-851” which was published in the Journal of Documentation, Vol. 71 No. 2, 2014. This occurred through an author and Publisher error. The authors and the Publisher sincerely apologise for this. The additional author attribution for this article has now been added to the electronic version of the article.
Urquhart, C. and Urquhart, A.H. (2015), "Commentary on Abrahamson and Rubin (2012) “Discourse structure differences in lay and professional health communication”,
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