Mark Simpson

Shaping computer documentation for multiple audiences: An ethnographic study

Mark Simpson

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 1989 pp: 239
  • Advisor:Halpern, Jeanne;¬†Lauer, Janice
  • ¬†Source: DAI-A 51/02(E)
  • Subjects:Applied sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Rhetoric; Composition; Computer science;
  • ProQuest Document Number: 9018906
  • UMI Number: AAT 3544643

Abstract:

This study describes how authors and editors of a publishing company specializing in computer documentation shaped one book for multiple audiences. Although computer documentation is a compelling subject for study, audience theory has not accounted for the special problems computer documentation poses for writers, particularly documentation designed to be used by more than one audience. To investigate this issue, the study examined the writing and editing practices of the company’s authors and editors by focusing on two main questions: (1) How do writers and editors conceptualize the real or addressed audiences of computer documentation and how do they accommodate these audiences? and (2) Does the documentation invoke multiple audience roles, and if so, how does the text invoke these roles? The addressed audiences for the book included external readers (the company’s customers) and internal readers (a network of managers, writers, and editors within the company). The author’s and editors’ understanding of the book’s external audiences was determined in part by those who managed the book project; their conceptions of the internal audiences were based on direct contact with these audiences. To accommodate these audiences, the author and editors role-played audiences, took on specialized monitoring functions, relied on genre constraints, classified audiences, and talked with one another about the rhetorical constraints. The documentation itself invoked three audience roles that correspond with how readers use the documentation. These roles were supported by four text attributes: format, organization, agency, and metaphor. The data for the study were collected during a six-month period through on-site observations and participation in the editing process, formal interviews, discourse-based interviews, and examination of computer documentation texts and related company documents. Data analysis followed the constant comparative method and was oriented toward identifying the particular audience pointers surrounding the writing and editing of one chapter from the documentation.