Post #7: The Importance of First Impressions

First Impressions

The adversity to being on the receiving end of new technical communication may lie in the quality of the technical communication produced. It takes viewers only 1/20th of a second to judge whether or not a website is worthy of their viewership (site). The first impressions formed when end users initially see the product helps determine whether they will even bother to read it. Even if the document is a set of instructions, they will consider it a waste of their time if they are against the rhetorical situation the creator had in mind and if the design choices are poor.


Rhetorical Situation

A poor first impression will be formed by the reader if he does not approve of the purpose of the content or is not an intended audience member.  A poor purpose could be “to inform the user on how to properly sweep a floor”; someone who buys a broom will probably not read any instructions that come with it because they feel that the instructions are unnecessary. A user might think he already has enough background information to begin using a product or can easily figure it out, and may not consider himself an intended audience for the instructions.


Design Choices

The visual mode is probably the most important mode to consider when discussing the end user’s potential first impression of verbal instructions because they will view the way the document is put together before they begin reading it. It is important to not overuse emphasis and contrast, and to optimally use organization, alignment, and proximity. Using emphasis, by highlighting or bolding words, by listing and bulleting items, etc., is helpful to catch the reader’s eye, but overdoing it will distract and confuse them. This goes for using contrast, which emphasizes through juxtaposing size and color, as well. Organization, alignment, and proximity affect how comfortable the reader feels looking at the document. If there is no obviously planned out arrangement of the paragraphs, sentences and pictures, the reader will feel uncomfortable having to create their own path to follow.

Take for example this still from a website.


My first impression of the webpage is very poor and I feel I could probably infect my laptop with a virus if I clicked on anything. The design choices of the webpage easily carry over to what should not be done for visual and design aspects of instructional material.


  1. Emphasis: The emphasis is mostly placed on titles, such as “Atwater Politics” and “Weblog”, however, the reader is unable to make a connection to its importance and why it received this level of significance.
  2. Contrast: The color contrast of blue text against a white screen strains the eyes.
  3. Organization: There is very little organization.  Instead of being able to follow a conventional path, such as heading -> paragraph, the viewer must create their own path, meaninglessly going from unrelated box to unrelated box.
  4. Alignment: The rectangular boxes, such as the ones labeled “Democratic News” and “Intelligence” are neatly aligned with each other; however, each box contains wildly different content and styles.
  5. Proximity: There is simply too much on the page. There are too many pictures too close together, the text is small and scrunched, and each rectangular box of information is cramped between two others.

set of instructions


Here is an example of well down technical communication.

  1. Dual coding is used to make sure the end user can easily understand what is happening in each step.
  2. The visual content is grouped together, not spread out all over the document, and all of the pictures that relate to a single step are aligned neatly under the text for that step. This organizational style shows the relationship between the text and the pictures, allowing the consumer to make more connection quicker about what needs to be done and how.
  3. The individual steps are emphasized by a larger font for the numbers and through the use of green font. These two markers clearly indicate where each steps begins.
  4. The contrast between the sizes of the steps numbers, the text of the instructions, and the helper text labeling objects clearly shows what each objective, in what order they should be accomplished, and what information is needed to accomplish the text.


These ease of use of this document can be readily ascertained by the end used and will encourage him to consider reading the instructions. With simple, easy to use, instructions that provide the right amount of information, technical communicators can encourage to properly use their products.


Arola, Kristin; Sheppard, Jennifer; and Ball, Cheryl. Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. (2014). Bedford/St. Martin. 6, 20- 37.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan and Selber, Stuarta. Solving Problems in Technical Communication. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 388-391.

3 thoughts on “Post #7: The Importance of First Impressions”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog post about the importance of first impressions. First, I feel that this issue is something that plagues the technical communication world and was happy to read about your insight on the issue. Secondly, I feel that the setup of your post coincides with what you discuss, basically because I felt it was organized, easy to read/understand, and not too much emphasis or overuse of any one technique. Finding the right blend of emphasis, organization and alignment can certainly be a daunting task.

    I found your examples to be very clear, direct, and informative. Your first example is certainly an example of poor technical communication. I found your statement, “I feel I could probably infect my laptop with a virus if I clicked on anything”, to be funny yet true. The creator of the website in question certainly is not familiar with the typical display of ads or phony links on the internet. The bright flashy colors are always a no go in my book. The second example is obviously one of much better quality and content. The instructions are laid out in an organized fashion and there is no overuse or emphasis with extravagant colors or flashy icons.

    Lastly, I enjoyed your blog post because this issue is something that has helped make my father’s career as a technical writer very prolific. On numerous occasions when talking with him, he has told me about all these different companies coming to him and asking for assistance because the technical writer they have hired fails to succeed in developing a proper visual mode. Either the number of pages exceeds the limit or the design choices fail to relay the intended message. Because of these misfortunes, the specific companies have lost contracts and millions of dollars. It is no doubt that design choices in the visual mode are most important when attempting to make a good first impression.

    Again, great blog post. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great post! I like how clear and precise you were. You picked really great examples to illustrate your points and you communicated and backed up your assertions quite well. I really like that you talked about the intended v. unintended audience. I feel that this is very important. From personal experience I can attest to the frustration and ignoring of certain texts/ instructions when you read them and they don’t apply to you. It is so upsetting to have taken the time out to actually focus and read something and come to the realization that it doesn’t even apply to you or isn’t applicable or useful in what you are trying to do. There is nothing more frustrating than researching and not getting an answer or the right answer. It’s sort of like adding insult to injury for the average lazy person. “I didn’t want to read it in the first place, but I did the ‘right’ thing and it got me nowhere?!”

    Also something that I really liked here was the discussion of the visual aspects. Have you ever went to Walmart or ikea, and purchased a DIY item that promotes “easy assembly” but when you go to put this “easily assembled” piece of crap together the pictures don’t align with the text or the text stands alone and is so poorly written that you’re left frustrated and confused? Or there is no text but the pictures are so crude and the colors/shading obscure the details that you need to know?

    Like you said when being instructed we want concise, easy, and quick instruction. A manual is a bit much and many people only refer to it on a purely need basis. All the tinkering and configuring in the world has to fail before the manual is sought after and read.

    There is definitely a way to communicate well technically. The things we take for granted in technical communications make a huge difference. The organization and portrayal of information do infinitely more than mere words and instructions could ever hope to accomplish solely.

  3. I definitely agree with you that first impression is everything and so is organization. I tend to be very discouraged and could walk away from a clothing rack if i feel like it has been filled with lots of hangers, if clothes are hanging off on one side, if clothes are on the floor just laying around. I can liken this feeling to looking at a website. If it has been filled with loads of texts with bold colors or different fonts it just hurts my eyes from just looking at it and I ultimately dismiss it no matter how great the information could have been to me.

    Being able to present information in a way that is useful, clear, and easy for a person makes all the sense in technical communication. It draws users in and makes them more able to appreciate your work. This was a nice read.

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