Interactional Coherence in CMC


  • Susan Herring

    1. Susan Herring has been researching and writing about CMC since 1991. One of the first to employ linguistic methods of analysis to group interaction on the Internet, she has edited two collections (Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, John Benjamins, 1996; “Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis,” special issue of the Electronic Journal of Communication, 1996), and published articles on gender and CMC. Dr. Herring is currently Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington.
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Text-only CMC has been claimed to be interactionally incoherent due to limitations imposed by messaging systems on turn-taking and reference, yet its popularity continues to grow. In an attempt to resolve this apparent paradox, this study evaluates the coherence of computer-mediated interaction by surveying research on cross-turn coherence. The results reveal a high degree of disrupted adjacency, overlapping exchanges, and topic decay. Two explanations are proposed to account for the popularity of CMC despite its relative incoherence: the ability of users to adapt to the medium, and the advantages of loosened coherence for heightened interactivity and language play.