This is a summary I presented to my class as a handout,
In this document, I summarize some principles and ideas that we
have discussed in class. I first focus on
technical communication as a process of
shaping information. Then, I review
the process of information development and techniques to
shape information. Finally, I describe techniques for learning
and teaching technical communication.
Technical Communication is Shaping Information
Whenever you communicate, you convey information.
How you shape this information is the key to
To create a message, you might use many media:
written text, pictures, speech,
computer-mediated communication, or other media
to create or store information.
Whatever medium you use, the
message of the communication
takes some form---a pattern
that reveals the order, amount, and kind of
information presented to the audience.
Ordering and patterning messages
so that they have an effect on an audience that is
at the heart of communication.
Focus on Audience Needs
An audience wants to match
the message it receives with
its need for information. Creating a message that
perfectly matches an audiences needs is never possible,
but centuries of thought and practice in communication
have established techniques that have proven to be
The ancient Greeks developed rhetoric to discover the means
of persuasion. Industry and academia have worked together
to develop techniques for technical communication.
Shaping communication to meet audience needs largely depends
on understanding the audience (audience analysis) and the
purpose of the communication.
In audience analysis, you try to find out what the audience
knows, why they are encountering your message, and their
concerns and preferences.
In addition, you need to recognize that an audience:
wants the right information at the right time at the right level
has a finite capacity to process information
has a finite attention span and patience
Shape Information to Meet Audience Needs
Creating messages that meet an audience needs involves
a process of information development. This process
includes creating, drafting, testing, and revising
the message so that it meets the audience needs.
Ultimately, the communicator seeks to create a
message that matches a given purpose, audience,
Often, a communicator will create a store of
this information development process that
can be used for other audiences and purposes.
information development process. The words
around the oval, starting clockwise from
steps in the process. These steps might
not be followed in this exact order, and
often steps are revisited one or more times
before moving on to the next steps (the example
dotted ovals). This figure illustrates that
information development is a process---not a single act---in which
the communicator seeks to refine the information so
that it fits the audience needs. Moreover, this
process does not involve a lone communicator; rather,
it happens in a social and cultural context, and
it involves many people working together.
Use Techniques to Shape Information
During the information development process, a communicator
can use techniques to shape information for the audience.
that follow audience expectations.
Example: general report format.
so that the audience knows what is
going to happen ( preview),
then gets the information ( present),
and then is reminded again ( review).
Layer information in hierarchies so that
the audience has a way to find information at
the right level of detail. Examples: outlines,
headings, sections, subsections.
Use parallelism to create
expectations in the audience about
the format of information.
Example: active verb phrases at the start
of job accomplishments in a resume.
Use cues such as headers, page or
section numbers and others to give the
audience signposts to access the information.
Use a grid pattern to design a page.
Create a hierarchy for the
information through indentation and placement.
Use principles of layout (unity, balance, proportion,
emphasis, sequence) when using visual information.
In creating written text, consider the typography
a, A, a, A, a, A.
Use logic to create a
structure from which audience can reason
to get more information.
Example: rules in instructions.
Use figurative forms (analogy, metaphor) to
extend and enhance the audience's understanding
of the topic.
Use the Old/New information chain
to create a sense of cohesion.
Applications: topic sentences, transition
Use the rhetorical principles
of persuasion: appeal to emotions, logic, ethics
when trying to persuade an audience.
Use examples to illustrate your points.
Try to use the active voice where possible.
Learn to Communicate through Experience or Forms
In order to learn how to become a better technical communicator,
you can learn:
heuristically when you are placed in a situation in which
the imperative of accomplishing a task is foremost in your
mind, and you strive to communicate to the audience in order
to accomplish that task. This mode of learning requires
a well-understood (preferably present) audience.
Examples: Resume Game, Beverage Game, Proposal Game.
formally when you follow formats and superstructures
for presenting information. Within these structures,
you shape the information particular to your task.
Examples: resume, proposal, report.
An instructor in technical communication can emphasize the:
product by teaching students how to use forms and
superstructures to create a message.
process by emphasizing that information development
language by focusing on the language (grammar, spelling,
syntax) of written or spoken communication.
rhetoric by emphasizing rhetorical techniques in persuasion
Learn by Doing Applications
You can learn how to communicate more effectively in a technical or
professional environment by doing exercises which touch on many of
the topics described above. In this course, we have done (or
will do) the following exercises:
Assignment Principles Medium
---------- ---------- ------
Resume layout, chunking information paper
CMC locating Net resources computer-mediated
Instructions sequence, chunking information paper
Proposal persuasion paper
Written Report explanation paper
Oral Report presentation, sequencing oral