Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blog #8: PowerPoint — Bad tool or bad design?

More than a decade ago, John Schwartz asked in a New York Times article, “Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?” That negative view has been reinforced and extended by Edward Tufte in his monograph, The cognitive style of PowerPoint: pitching out corrupts within, in which he castigates PowerPoint as a medium for presentation. And we’ve probably all seen too many really, really bad PowerPoint slides.

The question, though, is whether the problem is inherent in the medium and technology, as Tufte maintains, or is the problem the result of poor design design and implementation? Continue reading Blog #8: PowerPoint — Bad tool or bad design?

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.

Blog #7: Audience Resistance

Men never stop to ask for directions. Engineers never read the instruction manual. All manuals are boring. How do such social stereotypes get started? Do such stereotypes have any truth to them?

What do you see as reasons people (or at least some people) are resistant to instructions? What kinds of things can effective writers and designers do to counter such resistance? Use the Hibbard article as well as Solving Problems in Technical Communication and Writer/Designer as a jumping off point for your discussion. You can, of course, use additional resources, but use the material in our textbooks about users and audiences and the Hibbard article as a minimum.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Audience Resistance

For this blog post, consider how social and cultural factors influence rhetorical context in ways that even the best technical communication expert may not be able to control for. Think, too, about what you’ve learned so far about what makes for “good” technical communication and “bad” technical communication, and how these criteria might vary with context. Use the questions below (or similar ones you create) as starting places when you craft your post:

  • What sort of person always reads the instructions first?
  • How do social expectations about masculinity and femininity influence how men and women respond to instruction sets?
  • Are people with specialized disciplinary knowledge (doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists) more or less likely to read instructions? Why?
  • In what ways can communication design compensate for social and cultural factors that lead to audience resistance?

In thinking about how “good” and “bad” technical communication responds to or accounts for (or fails to respond to or account for) potential audience resistance, you might locate two examples to incorporate into your discussion (not just dropped in at the end, but incorporated and discussed). Locate an example of really bad instructions; take an excerpt for your post to analyze what’s wrong and ways the problems could be corrected. Also locate an example of good instructions; likewise, take an excerpt for your post to analyze what’s particularly effective.

In your Blog #7 post, you need to take a focused position about how understanding audience resistance can assist you in your technical communication process, rather than taking a scattered approach (which would happen if you simply wrote a few sentences in response to each question). Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog. You can quote from additional articles you read as support for your position. You should include specific workplace examples to further support your argument. Make sure to document your sources.

Hibbard, Catherine. Addressing resistance to change in policy and procedure writing.

Featured Image: “Direction Board” by halfrain on Flickr

Do you understand me?


Picture gotten from

Spot the Difference

If you don’t believe the difference plain language can make, take a look at this example from a Public Health Service brochure. The Department of Health and Human Services revised a six-page article on Losing Weight Safely to create a single brochure with a message that’s much easier to follow.


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a half-hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days, preferably every day. The activity can include brisk walking, calisthenics, home care, gardening, moderate sports exercise, and dancing.


Do at least 30 minutes of exercise, like brisk walking, most days of the week.

By tweaking the statement above, the writer has successfully been able to identify the point he is trying to make by putting the most important point at the beginning, using common easily understood words, and short sentences which will most likely hold the audiences’ attention longer.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to repeat myself after asking a question like “would that be all for you?”, I would have a jar filled with money. I can assure you that while I don’t particularly use any “big” words when having a conversation with someone, there is always a possibility for them to have difficulties understanding me. This is why writing or speaking in plain language has been something I continuously do because it works for me and the other person also, it saves me from having to repeat myself three times  or more. Writing in particular makes it easy to get a message across more quickly and increases the chance the information will be understood without using unnecessary words.

Plain writing helps audiences from different scopes of life to be able to grasp the meaning behind the words of a communicator. It would be much harder for someone who has no background knowledge of science or mathematics to understand what Newton’s Law of Gravity states but I bet when you say the words “what goes up must come down” he immediately grasps the concept behind the law as something he has heard before. I believe the plain style of writing does have benefits for technical writing students.  Because it can help us to apply the principles of plain language in our work, and helps us to understand better than anyone how plain language can improve communication throughout society.

 FDA U.S Food and Drug Administration. 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2014. <>.

Project 2: Online Professional Profile–Reflection Prompt

The Course Overview says the following about reflection and role it plays in this course, your learning, and your communication process:

Reflection: You will need to maintain a work log for each of the projects you complete for two reasons:

  1. A mark of a professional is the ability to accurately judge how long a project takes to complete. Maintaining a work log lets you assess whether your predictions about the time and efforts needed are accurate and to examine your work patterns. For collaborative projects, the work log lets you determine if the work load has been equitably shared.
  2. Many studies about the relationship between learning and reflection indicate that long-term learning takes place during reflection about the work rather than simply in doing the work itself. Thus, following each of your projects, you’ll submit a reflection memo that will include excerpts from your work log and include the entire work log as an appendix.

On Monday, 6 October, you will submit your reflection for Project #2: Online Professional Profile. Your reflection should be submitted in PDF form, using the format of a memorandum, on Marca, under Projects > Online Professional Profile > Reflection, with the title “[Lastname] Reflection” (so, for example, the title for my reflection would look like this, “Wharton Reflection.”) You should include your work log in the PDF of your reflection or upload it as a separate file under Projects > Online Professional Profile > Reflection, with the title “[Lastname] Work Log.” You must submit a reflection to avoid receiving an incomplete on the project.

As you complete your reflection memo for this project, make sure that your memo includes information that responds to the following questions:

  1. How would you describe the rhetorical situation for this project (purpose, audience, context, author), and how did the rhetorical context influence your decisions about the content and design of your online profile?
  2. Which of the readings from our textbooks or the supplemental articles proved to be most useful in your work on this project? How did you apply the information you learned from these readings in your design, drafting, or revision process for your resume, website, social media profile, etc.?
  3. Which of the professional development training modules proved to be most useful in your work on this project? How did you apply the information you learned from the module(s) in your design, drafting, or revision process for your resume, website, social media profile, etc.?
  4. Discuss how your online professional profile (or resume, or social media profile) evolved from one draft to the next in response to in-class workshops or conversations about the readings.
  5. How would you rate your overall performance and contributions on this project (fair, good, excellent, needs improvement, etc.)? And why?

You may adapt the format of your reflection memorandum to present your responses clearly, completely, and concisely. For example, you might use a table to rate yourself on specific aspects of work. Similarly, you might use a table to identify information learned from the reading, or the professional development/training modules and how it applied to your work on particular artifacts for this project.

Blog#6: Less Is More, Right?

hoto courtesy of Barnes & Nobles.


Compare the following over-the-counter drug labels that have the same content in different formats:




Photos courtesy of Plain Language.


The bottom label is undoubtedly the easier one to read and understand because the author used “plain language,” or “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use” (PlainLanguage). In addition, they used different modalities, such as bold lettering, various font sizes, bullet points, and effective use of space (despite how small the backsides of medicine are).


The mistake that most students make, including me, is the tendency to use too many words in order to sound scholarly. In fact, Ken Macrorie creates a word for it, Engfish, in his article “The Poisoned Fish.” My definition of Engfish is that it is a wordy weapon inflicted on students to sound smart. Macrorie suggests that textbooks are responsible for the ways that students write and that redundancy and unnecessary words are the underlying issues. To fix these issues, we should use plain language.


In my personal life, I found that I cannot speak to my mother in ways that I can speak to my brother. For example, when I text my mother, I have to be considerate of the words I use and how to construct them into sentences that are easy for her to understand and that do not require any further explanation. However, the texts I send my brother contain more complex words, implications, and other language that would be a burden to my mother in everyday conversation. The difference is in their education levels. My mother has no college degree, but my brother has a master’s degree. Forty percent of Americans have a college degree, which means we need to accommodate our writings for the other 60 percent without a college education by using plain language. Is this always possible?


I think that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses intimidate and discourage people from investing their education in those fields. Applying plain language principles to make them less intimidating is difficult because STEM fields contain jargon associated with their specialized subjects. Yes, every field has its set of jargon, but STEM jargon is not easily (or accurately) defined in a dictionary or understood by the average person.


Similarly, technical communicators need to use plain language because it is intimidating not to do so. However, unlike STEM fields, it is an easier field to apply plain language principles. Technical communicators often already use tables to organize information and use pictures as examples—think of our Writer Designer booklet, and now imagine it without the tables and pictures. Plain language is very effective under these circumstances.


The biggest risk of plain language is unwanted results from the lack of information. For example, in a previous technical communications class, I had to write a recipe for Swiss chard rolls. It was a fairly long recipe, and I found it too intimidating for the average cook, so I got carried away with the “backspace” button and eliminated important steps in the process. For instance, the cook had to take out the rib of the leaves so that it was pliable and easier to roll, but I did not explain how to do that. Likewise, the cook had to dry the Swiss chard leaves after blanching them, but I never specified the best technique to dry them. Therefore, many users ended up with soggy rolls that kept falling apart.


Also, my target audience was current vegetarians, so I assumed they knew certain ingredients, such as tempeh. However, most of the vegetarians in my user-testing were at various levels; some just started as vegetarians and some were veterans of the diet. I learned that I had to evaluate my audience further, so this led me to believe that I was solely responsible for making sure my audience knew everything from different cooking equipment to the difference between shredded cheese and grated cheese. I created a quick checklist for evaluating the audience based on information provided by the Center for Plain Language:

  • List the different levels of education of the audience
  • List what people want to know
  • Anticipate what readers already know and what they need to know to complete the task
  • Use words the audience knows
  • List characteristics of the groups that should influence design

Lastly, I think it is worth noting how this topic relates to our service learning project. I would relate plain language to it in a couple of ways. For instance, my group’s project focuses on creating an annual report and newsletter templates. The audience for both of these projects will be the donors of Our House. Annual reports have more formal and scholarly tones compared to newsletters. Therefore, we have to maintain some level of academic writing. However, we have to keep in mind that our projects are not limited to the current donors. Potential donors have access as well, which puts us in a position to aim for plain language.


Sources Cited

Center for Plain Language.

PBS News Hour.

Plain Language.

Blog # 6: Plain Language

Technical communication often covers complex and specialized subject matter, sometimes requiring a high-degree of literacy, and an advanced graduate or professional degree to understand completely. Just as frequently, though, the audiences you’ll encounter in the non-academic workplace will comprise non-specialists and specialists alike, as well as groups with varying levels of formal education and literacy. For that reason, unless you are communicating with a narrow, specialized audience–the readers of a professional or academic journal, for instance–you may be asked to use “plain language” standards in your communication.

Image of John McCain's
What is the relationship, if any, between a communicator’s obligation to use plain language and a communicator’s obligation to avoid misrepresentation or deception? Does “straight talk,” for example, necessarily involve using plain language? Is plain language inherently more “honest” than specialized technical or professional discourse? Image of “The Straight Talk Express” used courtesy of a CC license by DoubleSpeak Media.

So what is “plain language,” exactly? At its core, creating plain language communication involves using simplified syntax and vocabulary to communicate complex ideas without losing essential information or meaning. A number of resources are available to help you understand and apply the guiding principles of the plain language movement. The website is one of the most useful. Plain language is the law, pursuant to an executive order requiring all federal agencies to use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use” (Plain Language). Read the law (it’s short). You can use it to help your own writing and to guide you in helping others.

Even when you’re not legally required to use plain language, it often makes sound rhetorical sense to do so. In many cases, everything from corporate mission statements to legally binding contracts can benefit from application of what the Center for Plain Language identifies as “The ten commandments of simplification.”  Skillful communicators have a responsibility to create information that is useful and usable for its audiences. In their widely cited article, George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan (1990) “demonstrate a number of rhetorical principles that can produce clarity in communication without oversimplifying scientific issues” (p. 550).

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Category: Plain Language

For this blog post, consider a situation from your personal experience in which plain language communication was or might have been useful. Or, you might consider a situation in which the use of plain language created or might have created unexpected negative consequences. According to the Center for Plain Language, “Plain language is a civil right.” This statement could be read to imply that the use of specialized, technical discourse is somehow anti-democratic. The statement also presumes that complex ideas about science, technology, philosophy, law, politics, etc., should be accessible to specialized and non-specialized audiences alike. Take a position on whether and when plain language concerns should influence technical communication, and whether and when plain language concerns might be outweighed by other issues. Use the questions below (or similar ones you create) as starting places as you craft your post:

  • What role might plain language principles play in encouraging greater public understanding of STEM fields and interest in STEM education?
  • Are there circumstances in which using plain language could interfere with your ability to communicate effectively with your intended audience?
  • Plain language principles (and our text) presume the author bears the primary responsibility for assuring communication is usable for its intended audiences. What do you think of that presumption? What responsibilities should the audience bear, if any?

In your Blog #6 post, you need to take a focused position about plain language and its proper role in your technical communication process rather than taking a scattered approach (which would happen if you simply wrote a few sentences in response to each question). Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog. You can quote from additional articles you read as support for your position. You should include specific workplace examples to further support your argument. Make sure to document your sources.

Sources Cited

Gopen, George D. and Judith A. Swan. The science of scientific writing. (1990). American Scientist, 78, 550-558.

Plain Language.

Center for Plain Language.

Featured Image Credit: “jargon” by Sarah O’Carroll on Flickr.

Blog #5: Statement of Interest for Copywriter

My first preference for a team role is the copywriter position because I am an English major focusing on rhetoric and composition. The classes in which I am enrolled will add value to my assignments, my team, and most importantly, our clients.

Every week, I must submit 500-words to a discussion board in another English class in addition to the 500-words that we must submit in technical communications; that is a minimum of 1,000 words per week for only two of my five classes. Therefore, I have acquired proficiency in writing by producing a great deal of quality work in a timely manner. I am also currently enrolled in practical grammar, and I have been chosen several times to help my peers in class and have volunteered to tutor outside of class. Another course in which I am enrolled that is beneficial to the copywriter position is business writing. Most people associate business with power-hungry corporations, but we need to remind ourselves that programs, such as Whitefoord, Our House, and Moving in the Spirit, are businesses as well. Therefore, we need to maintain communication in cordial manners appropriate for business. These experiences have made me a well-rounded candidate for the copywriter position.

Moreover, I have kept several samples of my work that I wrote at my previous college, including one research paper that qualified me for the Southern Regional Honors Council Conference as well as the Florida Collegiate Honors Council Conference; both at which I gave presentations of my research paper. You can also view samples of my writing in my blog posts: The Lack of Ethics in Resumes and Why It’s OK and When Does It Pay To Be Creative.  Also, I am familiar with the structure and content of annual reports from my role as an honors ambassador at my previous college. I still have access to the annual report as a reference for future intensive and extensive writing assignments.

I have kept two letters of recommendation: one is from my former honors director, and the other is from my former English and linguistics professor. Both have Ph.D.’s in English, and both have said in their letters that I am detail-oriented and have strong written and verbal communication skills. I will be very happy to provide those letters by request.

This semester, technical communications has been my top priority primarily because of the considerable amounts of time-sensitive work. This is advantageous because I will have my part of our service learning project ready every time assignments are due within group deadlines and class deadlines. Also, Not only am I punctual when submitting my work, but also when I am scheduled to be somewhere (i.e. I have never been late to class).

You may call for any questions, but text messages and emails are the quickest and most effective ways to reach me. I am willing to meet on campus outside of classroom hours, online via Skype, and in Buckhead or anywhere within 15 minutes of Buckhead.

I am confident that, with my skills, I will produce written content and deliverables that are most accurate and coherent to my knowledge in order to help my team succeed in supporting our clients and their goals.

Project and Role Selection: Serving as a Copywriter

I would like to be considered for the position of Copywriter for this semester’s Service Learning Project. I am currently a Public Policy major earning a certification in Non-profit Management through the Andrew Young School. I possess over two years of experience working with non-profit organizations and feel that I would be most effective in a group setting as a copywriter. If for some reason I am unable to serve in this position I would like to serve as the group researcher.

Currently I am interning with the Housing Authority of DeKalb County  and a large part of my time is spent working with the Communications Specialist. I create a great deal of informational pieces (i.e. power points, brochures) for our clients. In addition to that I spent a great deal of my time completing program evaluations which include creating logic models and measurement matrices. I would like to work with the organization “Moving In The Spirit” either project one or two.

-Nia James

Blog Project: Literacy

Literacy is one of the oldest hallmarks of civilization itself. The expansion of literacy rates in the United States is a severe problem confronting both our education systems and our work force structure and it will only prove to be of more critical importance the more different forms of communication come into use. Huffington Post reports sobering stats to the effect that literacy rates over all in the U.S have not budged significantly in over a decade. Partially it is to do with education being unequal over the socio-economic boundaries, but also because of an influx of immigrated workers and their descendants would will prove to be the backbone of much of the work force following baby-boomer retirement. As an English major, I feel literacy is of inexpressible importance in order to function in society.

Back in the days of large family farms and apprenticeships, literacy could be done without. As the economic opportunity expanded into machinery and later still into computers it has become no longer possible to live a decent life with knowing little more than how to read and write your name and a few other things. We are no longer framed in an economic structure that would be able to support vast numbers of workers who are illiterate in capacity because it matters as far as getting ahead is concerned. Especially, coming out of this “Great Recession” things will only get worse if something is not done to boost our education. Overall the vast majority of “middle jobs” have been phased out, rendered obsolete by technology or overseas cost. Gone are the days where an A.A would get you a 30-ish thousand dollar steady employment or a B.A would be considered sufficient education for most jobs.  We live in a society at this point where a good chunk of workers are over qualified for the jobs they have because the higher levels are not open to them for various reasons. If these people remain in these positons, there are even fewer options for those who are illiterate to go to where they can still get by which means, at least for some, and perhaps even a majority, the next stop is the welfare system where the economy will only slow further.

Basic word and print literacy is of primary of course because it is so basic and will likely not go anywhere; However, there are now expanded definitions of literacy because is not literacy an expansion of competency? Computers will also grow increasingly important as time goes on. Knowing how to use them is not the advantage it was back in the 80’s, it is expected. I think it is reasonably safe to say that there are several forms of literacy that school systems and immigration programs alike must strive to teach fluency in beyond computers and print; I wish I could think of another good example but to be honest such literacy might just be so common place to myself, I don’t even realize that I use it. (That mentality in itself being a bit of a problem since I would think a majority have no idea how bad our literacy rates really are and thus don’t know there is a problem to begin with.)

Another blog also pointed out that the lack of a standard definition is one of the many problems surrounding this issue, if not the main one. I agree with this and feel that giving out basic standards for what literacy is, is an extremely important step in trying to rectify the problem. Yes, picture graphs and similar info graphs will suffice for many situations to a certain extent, but it does not and will never match the amount of information that can be conveyed by words themselves.


Dr. Robin Wharton | 25 Park Place #2434 | Office Hours: M/W 9:30 to 10:30, T/Th 2:30 to 3:30