Using Design Principles to Teach Technical Communication

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In teaching a technical communication course, I introduced document design principles before discussing traditional verbal rhetoric. A comparison of the writing of two students—a competent writer and a weak one—before and after the design discussion indicates that a basic understanding of design principles helped them improve document macrostructure. They saw the need to involve the audience, to provide an introduction and a forecast, and to organize and highlight information using headings. The design discussion, however, appears to have had little effect on document microstructure. Although more research needs to be conducted to better understand the relationship between verbal and visual rhetoric in technical communication, integrating document design principles early appears to be a promising pedagogical technique.