Factoring in Culture in Technical Communication

Today we look at the south, more specifically at the Istanbul 29 Mayis University, which is located in the largest city of Turkey: Istanbul.

Alper Zafer Güneş is a PhD student there and gives us insights into his research titled “Factoring in Culture in Technical Communication”. Güneş gives the guidelines of an exercise he prepared for a 3-hour coursework for undergraduate students.

 


 

Guest Article by Alper Zafer Güneş

Let me Introduce Our Project …

In technical writing teaching materials, although there is a strong emphasis on clarity, brevity and simplicity, the cultural aspects of writing also appear as a factor in cross-cultural communication.

Arçelik[i], a Turkey-based home appliance manufacturer, advises users to use brewed tea leaves to absorb bad odor in refrigerators due to spoiled food, for instance. In English editions, this cleaning advice is removed altogether. In almost every household in Turkey, tea is brewed more than once a day and a lot is consumed, which would not be likely or practical for all export destinations. Similarly, the preparation instructions of SMA Nutrition, a British infant formula producer, undergo some changes in Turkish. Absent in the English instructions, the Turkish version first suggests boiling utensils for 5 minutes before use. Considering the fact that sterilizers are not very widespread in Turkey, it is culturally relevant to refer to an already familiar method for consumers.

In the SMA powder formula for newborns, the following images exemplify the procedural difference between the two languages:

 

Raising Students’ Awareness Of Cultural Aspects in TC
Let me explain our approach

In this regard, it becomes necessary to raise students’ awareness of the cultural aspects of technical communication, either to factor them in at initial stages of document preparation or during the translation phase. For that purpose, for the technical writing course offered to Translation Studies students, a three-hour course plan has been designed to let students critically reflect on the possibility of differing cultural approaches in technical communication. A Homend manual[ii], another Turkish brand manufacturing home appliances, is chosen for two reasons:

  • The first reason is that the company uses creative language in certain parts of its manuals and refers to cultural concepts.
  • Second, it does not have English versions for now, so students cannot be influenced by the company’s choices.

Two activities have been prepared from the material:

1.) For the pre-activity

  • students will analyze the whole document and
  • translate an excerpt giving tips about toasting simit, known as Turkish bagel, börek, a kind of Turkish baked filled pastry, as per Wikipedia’s definitions, and also French toast or bagels.
  • In groups, students will include, exclude or replace cultural elements following certain decision-making steps.

2.) In the during-activity, they will explain and discuss their reasons after which they will be presented real cases including above examples and asked to analyze and comment on them.

3.) For the post-activity, the instructor asks for the translation of creative language use. This mainly concerns the introduction and section titles.

It is important to see if they will approach this language use as erroneous or a possible cultural difference following previous discussions, how they react and make decisions in both scenarios, and if there is a difference in their initial tendency. The aim is to show and raise awareness of cultural aspects in technical communication, taking the possibility of such differences into account in the case of cross-cultural communication.

As homework, students are assigned Candace Séguinot’s article, “Technical Writing and Translation: Changing with the Times”,[iii] which discusses some of the issues they have discussed themselves and a few more points for further critical reflection.

Analyzing a Manual

As an introduction, the instructor shares a Homend manual for a product advertised on the company homepage and asks students to make a note of document features. At this point, the students are not specifically asked to analyze the text for translational purposes, but assess it as a technical text in itself. The introduction serves to motivate students on the topic. The manual chosen for this occasion belongs to Breadfast 1502, a Homend toaster. Based on their background knowledge, students will be able to pick up the differing language tone. The introduction, for instance, reads

“We know you are eager to use your new toaster for breakfast now. It is really a great idea to start your day with toasted bread at a rich and appetizing breakfast, but we have a suggestion. Let’s have a look at the manual we have prepared for you. As you will see, it will only take 10-15 minutes of your time. Then you may begin preparing your breakfast, with pleasure and safely.”[iv]

This tone is reserved for introduction or product overview section and section titles. One title in place of warning and recommendations is “Take care of your toaster, you will see it pays off.” The troubleshooting part reads, “In life, every question has an answer.” Then it informs the user, “Our first wish is you will not have any problems using your toaster. Yet again, thinking of you we have prepared a list of problems you can overcome with little intervention.” This type of language use is trying to establish a rapport with users regardless of its actual effects and contrasts with the prescriptive tone prevailing in technical documents. It would not be regarded as clear, concise or simple.

The manual also refers to various cultural breakfast foods as in the following image. This part will be used for the translation task. As brief, students are asked to translate three tips as they deem fit, as experts in technical communication. The aim is to see their initial reaction and track any changes in later stages. This section title reads, “You may take note of toasting tips.” The relevant tip for the image is: “You can also use your toaster for simit. If you wish to brown your simit, cut each one into two and place one piece in each slot.”

To further complicate the matter, there are also references to waffles, pancakes, French toast, bagels, börek with minced meat, cheese or potatoes. Students would not be able to shift from simit to bagels as a translation strategy, for instance. The last two tips are as follows:

  • If you wish to brown bread slices taken out of the freezer or frozen products such as waffles, pancakes, French toast or bagels, we recommend using the defrost function first.
  • Please be careful when browning pastries like börek and poğaça. Their filling (minced meat, cheese, potatoes, etc.) may become hot before the surface does.

For the discussion part, the manual of Fakir Hausgeräte’s Nancy toaster is presented[v]. On its Turkish website, this manual is available in Turkish and English. Comparatively, some differences are observable between these two versions. For bagels, the Turkish version prefers “Kalın ekmek” (thick slices of bread) and combines frozen breads and pastries without any references to waffles, pancakes, French toast or bagels specifically, considering them irrelevant for Turkish users, and also ignores the warning regarding fillings in the process. The third column shows my back translation from Turkish.

table-toasting-notes-techcomm-blog-factoring-TC

Are There Changings In Student´s Handling of the Creative Use of Language?

Together with Arçelik and SMA Nutrition samples, the aim is to broaden students’ perspectives and raise awareness of cultural elements. In this regard, the post-activity serves to measure any change in their handling of the creative use of language. Translation students are very much attuned to the concept of norms as part of culture, and the tone introduced above is a textual norm representing a specific Homend culture towards technical writing. On the cover page of Breadfast 1502, the company assures the user, “Every sentence in this manual has been re-written before coming before you and controlled by scores of people. Because we are Homend. Serving life.” This tone also necessitates incorporating target cultural considerations such as norms, laws or standards during cross-cultural technical communication. There is no table of contents in the Homend manual, for instance, due to creative section titles, which would not be very usable for people accustomed to referring only to the relevant parts.

Candace Séguinot’s article draws attention to this aspect of technical writing:

Research into technical writing in English has lead to the adoption of technical writing standards. It is not clear whether the same principles necessarily apply in other languages and cultures. Certainly, technical language has to be precise and accurate. However, not all languages share the same text conventions for procedures […]. (1994: 289)

In this regard, in teaching technical writing, translator students can be empowered to “re-orient the approach of the original material” (Séguinot, 1994: 287) if need be for communicative purposes. The article will consolidate what students have discussed and practiced themselves by showing similar concerns in other language pairs.

A Resumé

All in all, within a technical writing course introducing certain standard ways of technical communication, the lesson plan outlined above will allow defamiliarizing students so that they can reflect critically on why they are writing or translating in those ways and intervene, if necessary, due to cultural considerations.

 

Read more about tekom Türkiye’s exploratory work on technical writing:

 


Notes:

[i] https://www.arcelik.com.tr/tezgah-alti-buzdolabi/1050-buzdolabi.html

[ii] https://www.homend.com.tr/Data/EditorFiles/VideoDokuman/dokumanlar/1502kilavuz.pdf

[iii] Candace Séguinot, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication Vol. 24, Issue 3, pp. 285–292, first published July 1, 1994.

[iv] Translations for the Homend manual belong to me.

[v] http://fakir.com.tr/upload/files/public/Urun_Resimleri_1/nancy-ins_manual.pdf

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