Complaints online: The case of TripAdvisor

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Complaints, TripAdvisor, CMC, Online reviews, Speech acts, Recommendations

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Complaints have been studied from two major disciplinary perspectives. Whereas pragmatic approaches have tended to rely on data elicited via discourse completion tests (DCTs), more ethnomethodologically informed approaches have focused on naturally occurring talk in interaction. In addition, a handful of studies have examined written complaints, while fewer still have investigated complaints in CMC (computer mediated communication). In order to determine the extent to which CMC complaints display some of the defining characteristics of complaints as identified by previous research, a data set of 100 complaints (negative reviews of hotels on the website, TripAdvisor)was examined. The study found that a significant proportion of complaints tended to juxtapose overall negative evaluation with some positive appraisal, and that a similar proportion of the complaints made explicit reference to reviewer’s expectations not being met. The study also found that complaints tended to occur as a speech act set. Whereas previous studies have found that complaints tended to co-occur with speech acts such as warnings or threats, in this particular context, complaints tended to co-occur more frequently with advice and recommendations. Finally, the study found that while the majority of the complaints on TripAdvisor can be considered indirect (or third party) complaints, there were nevertheless some examples that blur the direct/indirect dichotomy.

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Journal of Pragmatics, v. 43, issue 6, p. 1707-1717.