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Scientific Program

Program 3.1. Text design and the writer

How the impact of text design on the user can provide insight for the writer ? The aim of this programme will be to evaluate current knowledge, discuss theory, methods and practical issues, and build common research on the impact of document design in professional communication. Thus, assessing the quality of professional documents from the writer’s and the user’s perspective makes it possible to identify the sources of problems and design suitable recommendations for professional writers (drafting, revising and improving technical documents).

Two mains operations are already planned, but they will be enriched from proposals that will arise from researchers attending at the Barcelona conference (in order to build common research). The two planned operations concern :
- Studying (via eye-tracking or other methods) the effect of poorly-designed instructions on the indexing process, when the information given in the instruction leaflet does not match the information displayed on the device itself (e.g. some of the instructions may be in French or Spanish in the text, but in English on the device);
- Studying the impact of text design on decision-making in the health field, where digital documents explain the risks and benefits of alternative courses of action so that readers can weigh up the pros and cons of the different options. Critical document design features may vary according to their purpose and the characteristics of their intended readers, e.g. reading fluency in L1, whether reading in L1 or L2, and whether readers are senior adults.

We aim to deliver the following:

  1. Inventory of methods and tools allowing to assess the impact and the quality of documents on users;
  2. Observational data concerning the impact of well- or poor-designed documents on their use and comprehension;
  3. Guideline presenting recommendations allowing to design documents fitting to the users’ needs and characteristics;
  4. Design of a software allowing to assess the impact and the quality of technical documents on users.

Program 3.2. Professional writers’ strategies

In order to design a suitable document, writers need to develop composing strategies that are far more elaborate than – for instance – Linda Flower’s (1981) strategies to write academic essays. To gain insight into professional writing strategies and to compare successful and unsuccessful approaches it is essential to develop adequate educational tools.

In this part of the program we will follow two lines of research.
- First, this program aims to unite research that describes and compares writing processes of experienced and successful professional writers to novices (for instance, experienced journalists vs. student journalists).
- Second, this program will bring together studies of the development of specific professional writing skills (for instance, children writing instructions for using technical devices, compared to adults).

Both lines of research share one common characteristic: They are empirical. That is, the basis for all future instruction will be found in observing a representative body of process observations, using techniques like ‘logging’, thinking aloud, etc. Observing writing at work will make it possible to assess the cognitive strategies acquired and used by real professionals.

We aim to deliver the following:

  1. An inventory of studies into professional communication (short description of population, measures, results);
  2. Platform for discussion and exchange of expertise;
  3. Description of behavioral data gathered in online and off-line studies of written productions (professional technical writers, novices, children writing professional documents);
  4. Inventory of skills, knowledge and strategies developed by writers in the domain of professional writing;
  5. Recommendations for curriculum design.

Good to know

The Working Group met in Barcelona (Spain) 5-7 april 2009

Last update : 15 June 2009


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