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Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource explains the two dominant ideas in professional writing that will help you produce persuasive, usable résumés, letters, memos, reports, white papers, etc. This section outlines the concepts of rhetorical awareness and user-centered design, provides examples of these ideas, and it contains a glossary of terms.

Rhetorical Awareness and User-Centered Design

In the last twenty years, two important ideas have developed that help professionals compose effective workplace writing:

Rhetorical Awareness

The idea of rhetorical awareness for workplace writing includes the following concepts:

Through rhetorical awareness, professional communication has shifted from a genre-based approach, which focused on learning and reproducing forms or templates of documents, to thinking about the goals and situations surrounding the need to write. While professional writing still uses reports, white papers, etc., authors should approach these texts considering the rhetorical situation rather than considering documents as isolated work.

User-Centered Design

Concepts

The idea of user-centered design includes the following concepts:

By adopting user-centered design, workplace writing focuses on the expectations, goals, situations, and needs of the readers. Closely related to user-centered design is participatory design, which aligns users with designers in a collaborative relationship.

See our Audience Analysis handout for more information on researching your readers.

Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource explains the two dominant ideas in professional writing that will help you produce persuasive, usable résumés, letters, memos, reports, white papers, etc. This section outlines the concepts of rhetorical awareness and user-centered design, provides examples of these ideas, and it contains a glossary of terms.

Applying User-Centered Design

User-centered design works in all levels of your documents: document design, information design, and sentence design.

Document design

User-centered documents should be easy to navigate. User-centered documents contain a clear, usable table of contents, visible section headers and page numbers, informative headings, and a well-formatted index. In addition, user-centered documents should contain pages that use plenty of white space and that integrate text and visual elements together to convey ideas. These structural elements help users find and understand information quickly.

See the HATS Methodology Powerpoint presentation for more information on page design.

Information design

User-centered documents should be easy to understand. User-centered documents should move from general to specific information, beginning with abstracts or executive summaries and introductions that forecast and overview main ideas and conclusions. Informative headings and topic sentences will help readers understand what information is contained in the following text. Paragraphs should move from general to specific details.

Sentence design

User-centered documents should be easy to read. This does not mean dumbing down information, but rather, communicating with audience needs in mind. As a technical expert, you may not always be communicating with other experts. You may have to present ideas to decision makers outside your area of expertise. These decision makers must understand your complex ideas. So avoid using jargon and provide glossaries for technical terms.

In addition, user-centered documents should contain sentences based on the BLUF and SVO methodologies. You don't want to BLUF your audience, so place the Bottom Line Up Front. Authors should also organize sentences moving from Subject to Verb to Object. The following examples illustrate the difference between sentences that are difficult to read and sentences that incorporate the user-centered approach:

It was decided by the team, after the processor testing procedures, that the cause of the problem was not in the hardware, but in the user/application interface.

The sentence above is difficult to read because it uses a complex structure and because the point of the idea comes at the end.

After testing the processor, the team found that the user/application interface was the problem, not the hardware.

The sentence above is more user-centered because the main idea falls toward the beginning and because the sentence structure is less complex.

See Paramedic Method for more information on composing concise, user-centered sentences.

Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource explains the two dominant ideas in professional writing that will help you produce persuasive, usable résumés, letters, memos, reports, white papers, etc. This section outlines the concepts of rhetorical awareness and user-centered design, provides examples of these ideas, and it contains a glossary of terms.

Glossary and References

Glossary

Decision Makers: Readers who rely on information in your documents to make choices.

Genre-based Professional Communication: The idea that documents, such as reports, white papers, etc., should be taught and written as fixed and unchanging forms or templates isolated from the rhetorical situation.

Participatory Design: A methodology involving users (or research participants) and their feedback in the production process. Participatory design positions designers (authors) alongside users so that work is collaborative, and it levels the field of expertise between designer and user so that knowledge from both are recognized as valid and important to producing mutually beneficial technologies.

Rhetorical Awareness: Analyzing and understanding the purpose, audience, stakeholders, and context of the situation in which you are writing in order to make your documents persuasive and user-centered.

Rhetoric: "The art of persuasion by the available means" (Aristotle). "The use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" (Kenneth Burke).

Shadow Reader: Unintended audience members you must consider when composing documents. The likelihood of shadow readers is much higher now considering global access to online information.

Stakeholders: People who may be affected by decision-makers' choices based on information in your documents.

User-Centered (Reader-Centered) Design: The idea that authors must always think about and consider the needs of the audience/users/readers. For user-centered design, "...the emphasis is on people, rather than technology, although the powers and limits of contemporary machines are considered in order to...take that next step from today's limited machines toward more user-centered ones" (Robert R. Johnson).

References

Anderson, Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach. 6th ed. Boston: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007.

CPSR—Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. November 15, 2008, from http://cpsr.org/issues/pd/.

Ehn, Pelle. “Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill” P. S. Adler and T. A. Winograd (Eds.), Usability: Turning Technologies into Tools (96-132). New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Johnson, Robert R. User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts. Albany: SUNY Press, 1998.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. Technical Communication Today. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005.

Contributors:Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource explains the two dominant ideas in professional writing that will help you produce persuasive, usable résumés, letters, memos, reports, white papers, etc. This section outlines the concepts of rhetorical awareness and user-centered design, provides examples of these ideas, and it contains a glossary of terms.

Participatory Design

Participatory design is a design methodology that involves users (or research participants) and their feedback in the production process. Unlike the user-centered approach, where designers focus on users but still maintain primary control over development, participatory design positions designers (authors) alongside users so that work is collaborative.

Participatory design levels the field of expertise between designer and user so that knowledge from both are recognized as valid and important to producing mutually beneficial technologies: documents, toasters, vehicles, OWLs.

Expanding on Scandinavian manufacturing and computer design methods developed by Kristen Nygaard and Pelle Ehn, Robert Johnson (in User-centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts) points out the social nature of participatory design, saying that the aim of participatory design researchers “is to broaden the perspective we have of what computers are and how they are used . . . participatory designers are interested in the social, political, cognitive, and practical facets of computer usage” (83).

According to Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, participatory design is an approach to the assessment, design, and development of technological and organizational systems that places a premium on the active involvement of practitioners (usually potential or current users of the system) in design and decision-making processes.

Pioneers in the field of participatory design are:

Recently, scholars in the writing disciplines have begun discussing ways participatory design impacts technical communication and research. Participatory design played a key role in current research on and redesign of the Purdue OWL.