Short (th)reads about language, communication myths, and conversation analysis

Professor Elizabeth Stokoe
12 min readJun 22, 2021


Photo by Mark Timberlake on Unsplash

*** Last update: 20.8.23

This page collects together my Twitter threads on conversation analysis and communication.

You can also listen to interviews about conversation analysis (e.g., BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ and ‘Word of Mouth’ and many podcast series) via my Spotify Playlist.

The written pieces are organized into four sections:

  1. Myth-busting communication and other research in conversation analysis
  2. Work as part of Independent SAGE behaviour group on COVID messaging / communication.
  3. Transcripts of (mostly) politicians’ poor communication.
  4. Other tweets about communication.

Google Scholar has a list of all my academic publications; I store most other science communication, videos, talks, interviews, on my CARM website, and there’s more here on Medium. I’ll update this page when there is more to add.

1. Myth-busting communication and conversation

How are you?

‘How are you’ “are the three most useless words in the world of communication.” This compelling (but wrong/daft) assertion is the kind of thing people think they know about talk but don’t. It’s one of many communication myths that we should bust. Thread here:

Stop building rapport

‘Build rapport’ is at the heart of #communication skills training and #CX It’s obviously good to have good conversations, but what does ‘building rapport’ look like ‘in the wild’ — and does it ‘work’? Thread here:

‘Open’ and ‘closed’ questions

“How do open-ended questions improve interpersonal communication?” TL;DR: They do not. Thread here:

How the ‘useless’ words of ‘small talk’ saves lives.

In a 999 domestic violence call, the caller gets help without making a request Thread here:

Is silence golden?

A thread comparing #SocialScience methods for studying interaction — real conversation in the wild vs experimentally-produced in the lab. Two papers on #negotiation, with overlap in headline finding, but very different in all other ways. Thread here:

Are ‘standardized’ questions actually delivered in as ‘standardized’?

How we ask questions is important. Some questions are *standardized* (e.g., surveys, scripts, instructions) and require reading out loud, word for word. In business, research, law, medicine, etc., do people “just read them out”? TL;DR: No. And there are consequences. Thread here:

A thread on the ‘quality’ of F2F vs online interaction

While ‘communication is key’, what we know about communication, inc. online, often rests on stereotypes or anecdata. So when it comes to the ‘quality’ of online interaction, what is fact and what is communication myth Thread here:

Image: UnDraw

Do conversations end when people want them to?

According to @a_m_mastroianni, most do not. My review in @natureNV and a thread comparing laboratory methods to conversation analysis #EMCA (real talk ‘in the wild’) for researching conversation. Thread here:

How many interviews / cases / responses are needed in qualitative research?

In addition to @drvicclarke’s brilliant thread about ‘how many’ interviews in qualitative research, here’s a short thread about quantification from the perspective of conversation analysis. Thread here:

On quantitative versus qualitative, ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ research methods.

Caricaturing others’ research methods is as old as the hills but the response to @chrischirp reproduces the caricature even as it mitigates the original tweet Thread here:

Questions and answers in news interviews

#EMCA research shows us that whatever appears in the ‘answer’ slot in a conversation can be assessed (in the moment and post-hoc) for how it addresses the initiating ‘question’. News interviews are full of examples. Thread here:

Designing questions for different categories (personas, segments) in #CxD

How do people design what they say for presumed #personas and customer #segments in real conversations? We @MFlinkfeldt @S_Parslow analysed the moment-to-moment design of questions and categorization of callers on the telephone. Thread here:

One thing that strikes me about pandemic-generated discussion (and assertion) about online versus in-person #communication is that it skates over what we still actually do on the telephone (i.e., audio only, no video). Thread here:

What evidence is there that “using these 8 common phrases” will “ruin your credibility”? Answer: Not much.

What evidence is there that “using these 8 common phrases” will “ruin your credibility”? Answer: Not much. Why do we create and perpetuate #communication myths? Communication is important, and we don’t see enough of how it works “in the wild.” Thread here:

What happens when you say “hello” to strangers?

Thread here:

Crisis talk: Negotiating with individuals in crisis

Last week, our book ‘Crisis Talk’ was published. We wrote it for negotiators and researchers alike. This thread summarizes our underpinning research on UK police crisis negotiation and US 911. In short, every word matters. Thread here:

Cover illustration for ‘Crisis Talk’

Does “please” make our talk more polite?

Thread here:

2. Work on COVID messaging / communication including as part of Independent SAGE behaviour group

Independent SAGE Report 46: The ‘Following the Science’ Timeline: What SAGE and Independent SAGE advised as key behavioural mitigations versus what the Westminster Government did January 2020 — July 2021

Our ‘Following the Science’ Timeline charts the main behavioural science recommendations from SAGE & Indie SAGE about the measures needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 alongside what the Westminster Government implemented and when. Thread here:

‘Following the Science’ timeline

Independent SAGE Report 22: UK Government Messaging on COVID-19: Five principles and recommendations for a communication reset

From Stay Home to Stay Alert, UK government messaging has been much discussed during the #COVID19 pandemic. #IndieSAGE has analysed its effects (March-Oct 2020) and makes recommendations for a communication reset. Thread here:

UK Government public health messaging

Regarding the UK gov’s new Covid campaign (“Act like you’ve got the virus”), I was asked on @SkyNews yesterday if “there is a problem with compliance now in terms of people adhering … is the message is clear enough?” Preparing took me down messaging rabbit holes. Thread here:

#COVID19 and the discourse of ‘anxiety’

People are ‘returning’ or ‘going back’ to work and good employers are putting safety measures in place. In the mix, we’re witnessing the division of people into categories: ‘comfortable’, ‘(ir)rational’, ‘reluctant’, ‘anxious’. Thread here:

The emergence of social distancing

Anyone else noticing this from morning runs? 1) Clocking other runners/walkers from a distance, followed by collaborative social-distancing mutual swerve and a “hello” versus 2) Being the sole swerver for the seemingly oblivious. Thread here:

Online teaching and learning during COVID-19

Why does @IndependentSage recommend maximizing remote learning at #Universities from the START of term? Thread here:

Online teaching and learning during COVID-19

The minutes of SAGE on 21.9.20 align with @IndependentSage’s key recommendations from a month earlier about maximizing in-person teaching to reverse the rise in cases. Thread here:

Student travel window

Here’s Michelle Donelan on #r4today this morning describing the DfE’s new guidance for a ‘student travel window’ (and testing at some #universities) at the end of term, following advice from SAGE “MONTHS ago.”

The language of “living with covid”

What can we learn from the language of “living with covid”? We wrote about the origins of “living with it”; how it became associated with Covid-19, and how — like other idiomatic phrases — it closes down discussion (“just live with it!”)🧵 expands short piece in @bmj_latest Thread here:

3. Transcripts of (mostly) politicians’ poor communication.

The UK Prime Minister ‘answers’ a yes/no question

Johnson’s full response to Andrew from Wakefield’s yes/no question: “Do you have any plans to prioritize #university students so that they too are fully vaccinated by the time they go off to uni?”

Build back in a more ‘feminine’ way

What is that hand gesture and smirk?! Johnson: “Building back more (0.4) equal.=’nd uh: how shall I- more- i- in- uh- uh: a more £gender neutral ‘nd (0.5) .h p’haps (a/like-) more feminine ((hand gesture)) way.£ (1.2) How ‘bout that.”

Johnson loses his place for 22.3 seconds.

Link here:

Black Lives Matter — Patel

Patel: So t’the QUiet law-abidin’ m:inori- majority. (0.4) Who are appalled by this violence, The ‘trouble source’ — ‘minority’ — is almost completely produced before initiating repair to produce ‘majority’.

Black Lives Matter — Hancock

Another excruciating interview with #Hancock. Not sure it’s therapeutic to transcribe his gaps, pauses, restarts, repairs, etc. second-by-second, but here they are. The answer to @SophyRidgeSky’s question is at line 03.

“I don’t care a toss, love”

Here’s @Marthakearney interviewing @GeoffreyBoycott on @BBCRadio4 You don’t need to know much about #EMCA to spot the gaps, interruption, and, um, content, love.

“Does (Long Covid) concern you?”

Dingwall’s response to Urban’s yes/no question about #LongCovid on #Newsnight “Does [several million young people getting the virus] concern you?” “Well…” #EMCA #TranscribeIt #Communication #CountLongCovid Thread here:

Johnson & Raab at the #Afghanistan crisis centre

BJ-initiated elbow greeting but no mask is the embodiment of government mixed #messaging — “You all good” designed for “no problem” reply; BJ continually interrupts + gazes away from recipients towards camera — etc. #EMCA Thread here:

A 2021 countdown thread of Top Ten Transcripts of Terrible Talk from the Tories.

Cameron Ford (Insulate Britain) and Mike Graham (Talk Radio)

A transcript of the interview between Cameron Ford (Insulate Britain) and Mike Graham (Talk Radio) showing just how long Ford’s silence was (5.9 seconds — regular gaps between turns more like 0.2s) in response to Graham’s assertion that people can “grow concrete”.

Allegra Stratton and the Downing Street Christmas Party Scandals

Allegra Stratton’s sudden orientation to the camera reveals much. “This is recorded” #ITVnews #DowningStreetParty #EMCA Link:

How to avoid clear messaging about xmas parties while claiming to give firm advice “on the basis of best science”.

Science Minister George #Freeman avoids *even* being quoted as saying “companies may decide parties ARE NOT sensible” by saying “decide IS THAT sensible” Link here:

Mixed messaging by the Statens Serum Institut

This Statens Serum Institut public health #messaging video, which uses Covid-19 to educate about hand/surface hygiene, deprioritizes what is known about airborne transmission and was tweeted in *Dec 2021* It is also littered with other mixed messages. Link here:

The cost of living crisis

I haven’t transcribed Johnson for a while but for the records here are his responses to Susanna Reid’s questions about #Elsie, which include placing a definitive-sounding “no” after Reid suggests “you can’t say anything to help Elsie, can you.” Thread here:

Boris Johnson and Darius Guppy arrange a hit

A conversation analytic transcript of *that* telephone call between Boris #Johnson and Darius Guppy which contains details that don’t appear in standard verbatim transcripts (e.g., possible laughter particle in ‘cracked rib’ line 39). Thread here:

Graham Brady on letters for a Vote of confidence in Boris Johnson

Are there enough #letters to trigger a vote on Boris Johnson’s leadership? A yes/no question with an interesting response from Graham Brady — a classic well-prefaced, non type-conforming response with lots of uh-ing.Thread here:

4. Other tweets about communication

On Sky News with new #IndieSAGE colleague Prof Linda Bauld & Anna Mathur — I focused on online interaction, missing 3D life, and, of course, the chaotic, inconsistent, badly-timed, trust-reducing, stress-inducing, cumulatively imprecise messaging of the UK government.

As a conversation analyst I’ve studied 1000s of interactions in many settings, so I’m hard to shock, but Hancock’s performance in this interview is beyond appalling. His smile at 20 seconds into the clip echoes Patel’s in the press briefing yesterday.

Are the rules clear/tough enough? By focusing on individual compliance, Patel doesn’t say that the rules mean many CANNOT #StayHome (insufficient furlough, support to isolate, etc.) but produces laughed-and-smiled-through responses about how clear the rules are.

Is it bad to feel an urge to reject a request to review a communication paper from a communication journal cos of the communication in the email? A spam-esque greeting “Dear Stokoe” followed by the resistance-anticipatory “If you are WILLING to review this manuscript”

Another excruciating interaction involving multiple non-answers/unclear responses — accompanied by laughs/smiles — from MPs. Much to observe in this clip, but, like Hancock and Patel, watch for the smile at 23s from Ford. Her hands are doing a lot of work too.

Reassuring to see 1st dose stats but less so to read @SkyNews quoting Raab “refusing to guarantee that everyone will get their 2nd dose within 12 weeks.” Many also noting the language — adults to be “offered” the 1st dose. Stress-inducing, trust-reducing #communication.

COMMUNICATION 101 Self-isolating has always meant #StayHome & red/yellow colours are associated with the first UK government message. So it’s inconsistent (and unnecessary) to use ‘Alert’ in this new messaging (which also depicts … a home) #MixedMessaging

Leaking leads to frustration but also CREATES a limbo of fuzziness and mixed messaging — in this case between the tiers system and whatever new rules were coming on 5.11 — adding to problems caused by badly timed messages from unclear sources that reduce trust in UK government.



Professor Elizabeth Stokoe

The London School of Economics and Political Science, specializes in conversation analysis, communication training, & science communication.