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Communication, semiotics and the mediating role of the technical writer

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1 Author(s)
Saunders, P.M. ; Fac. of Manage. Studies, Toronto Univ., Ont., Canada

The author addresses the topic `how computer manuals come to mean what they mean' from an interdisciplinary perspective. M.A.K. Halliday (1978) offers a useful analysis of three functions of language, ideational, interpersonal, and textual, and their corresponding situational elements of field, tenor, and mode. These reflect the semiotic nature of language. Field of discourse includes the activities and actions of users and contains a web of meanings into which both manual and documentation fall. reciprocity is achieved when both meet the `mutuality of expectations' of users. Users derive meaning and contribute to it be virtue of their place within such cultural and situational contexts, and language use serves a symbolic boundary signifying community membership. The manual and the technology it represents enter into and cannot escape this cultural coding process, a process which shapes the perceptions of all who share the environment. Neither a detailed description of the tasks performed by a user nor the steps required to complete these tasks tell us anything about the social semiotic process which takes place in an office or factory. This presents a major challenge to usability testers

Published in:

Professional Communication Conference, 1989. IPCC '89. 'Communicating to the World.', International

Date of Conference:

18-20 Oct 1989