Chapter 4 Blog post
Chapter four in Paul Anderson's Technical Communication instructs students in writing for reader utility. The chapter continues to remind a writer to adopt a read first approach when writing. In this case, we're interested in the reader's ability to get what they want and need out of one's writing.
This chapter breaks up a writer's considerations when planning for reader usability into 9 guidelines which I list below.
- Identify the information your readers need. As the book says, “readers can't use what isn't there.” A literary masterpiece of useless information is still useless to most readers. One must anticipate the reader's questions as well as account for those questions they may not think to ask, but should be given answers to.
- Organize around your readers' tasks. Information that is difficult to obtain due to poor organization and accessibility can be neglected. Grouping like information and organizing hierarchically renders your work easier to work with and more likely to succeed.
- Help the readers find what they want quickly. Use tools like summaries and heading to direct readers to exactly what they're really looking for.
- Look for superstructures for your work. Placing work in a standardized format can help readers who are familiar with the format access the information they want or need more quickly.
- Plan your graphics. Graphics can quickly and effectively illustrate a point. Exploit them to enhance your communication.
- Outline if it helps. Outlining allows you to experiment with the structure of a communication to determine its effectiveness.
- Account for cultural expectations. Different cultures have different ideas of what needs to be conveyed.
- Check your plans with your readers. You don't have to have a finished work to seek reader input. Inquire about their needs, and what will help them most.
- Investigate stakeholder impact. Determine who is impacted by your writing and their feelings on potential impacts.
The chapter details a very intuitive aspect of communication in general: Think of your audience. Even in simple speaking, being aware of whom you are speaking to and what they need or wish to hear is essential to the effectiveness of your communication. Not surprisingly, the same follows in technical writing.