Recipient Design

Following Rod Munday’sSacks Lexicon, and in the interests of demystifying what can seem like an impenetrable field of technical Conversation Analysis (CA) terminology, I’m assembling a glossary of CA terms that crop up repeatedly in papers and seem useful for getting to grips with the basic methodology.


By recipient design we refer to a multitude of respects in which the talk by a party in a conversation is constructed or designed in ways which display an orientation and sensitivity to the particular other(s) who are the co-participants.

Sacks, H. & Schegloff, E. A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation, Language, 1974, 50, 696-735

Although reference and relevance are related topical issues, knowledge of the referent is not sufficient for establishing relevance. An object referenced not only has to be recognizable, but also has to be transformed into an object for this conversation, for these participants, a feature that Sacks et al. (1974:727) call “recipient design.”

Maynard, D. & Zimmerman, D. Topical talk, ritual and the social organization of relationships Social Psychology Quarterly, 1984, 47, 301-316


Recipient design is a very useful analytical term that could be well applied to fields beyond CA – to refer to any shaping of an action for an intended recipient. It’s a particularly useful term to use in the study of interaction because it focuses analysis on the demonstrable competences, knowledge and situational awareness of the interactants themselves.

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