Developing Audience Awareness Through Games

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

Kerem Geçmen is a PhD student there and will summarize an activity that can be used as a training tool for younger students in particular dealing with technical writing:

 

The Core of Technical Communication

Technical communication is the process of defining, creating and delivering information products for the safe, efficient and effective use of products (technical systems, software, services).
Definition by tekom Europe

It is obviously clear from the very definition of technical communication that its output is an information product with the ultimate goal of affecting behavior.

So, the success of this product is dependent on the user, i.e. the audience.

The ability to imagine the actual audience response to see whether it matches the intended one is of high importance for any technical writer.

It is really difficult to find any sources on technical writing, or even writing in general, where emphasis on audience awareness is not substantial.

However, a theoretical understanding of the importance of audience response is still far from helping individuals develop such awareness.

How to Improve Audience Awareness

As a former language teacher and a lecturer in a vocational translation department, I know by experience that in written expression, it might be exceedingly difficult for young students to be able to see what they write from different people’s perspectives.

In addition to a knowledge of possible sources of inadequate communication, memorable experiences regarding miscommunication might be a beneficial tool in raising awareness.

Audience awareness improvement requires personal interaction, just as empathy training does. Without personally observing the variety in possible audience responses to their written expression, it might be impossible for students to be genuinely aware of how much we assume, rather than clearly state, in any form of writing.

At this point, technical writer training offers an opportunity that training in many other forms of writing might not be able to offer. The audience response in technical writing is so tangible and directly observable that gaining memorable experiences on how diverse possible responses to a piece of text might be becomes conveniently possible.

Practical Test with Students

Trying to make efficient use of this possibility in translation courses dealing with technical documentation in a vocational translation department, I have been trying to create situations similar to usability tests for technical documentation in the presence of student writers to help them experience “how much can unnoticeably go wrong” in technical communication, insofar as it always involves the danger of the presumptuous projection of the writer’s (and similarly the translator’s) own way of understanding, which relies on considerable non-conceptual knowledge of the processes to be described, onto the reader.

To develop a sound awareness of how diversely various expressions might be interpreted even by their classmates, with whom they have a lot in common in terms of background and dia-culture, and even in writing simple procedures such as the gameplay of simple street or flash video games, I asked students to write gameplay guides on a game that some of their classmates do not know. Afterwards, each student observed his/her classmates try to play the game based on his/her written guide. To make the activity more motivating, we turned it into a competition where different writers compete in writing the most efficient guide for the same game.

Here is an example of our activities:

  • We picked a traditional street game in Turkey called “3 Taş” (3 stones). 5 students out of 21 knew how to play the game. So, we had 5 writers and divided the remaining 16 students into 5 groups. Each group was assigned to a writer as his/her audience.
  • Each writer had to write a gameplay guide as clear and short as possible for his/her audience within 45 minutes.
  • Each audience tried to figure out the game exclusively from their writer’s gameplay guide.

There were two criteria in the rubric for evaluating a writer’s success:

a) Clarity: The quicker an audience figured out the game and started playing it correctly, the more points their writer won.

b) Brevity: The shorter a writer’s gameplay guide was, the more points he/she won.

the board for the game 3 Tas

The board for the game “3 Taş”

By the end of all writing activities, each student had joined the writing task for at least one game, and all students had become part of at least one audience group, thus being able to experience both ends of the communication process.

Student enthusiasm and participation were considerably high; they became fully engaged with the activity, sometimes even to the point of arguing with their audience groups afterwards for not being able to play the game correctly despite their “clear” guidelines!

 

Reflecting Together the Practical Test

Following the activities, we had a wrap-up discussion on the importance of reviewing a self-written text through hypothetical people’s perspectives, even in cases when they might be quite similar to us in terms of background and dia-culture.

This activity was a sort of simulation of a usability test, but as simple street or video games were involved, it was fun, engaging and easily applicable in a school setting.

More importantly, through the emotional highs and lows as well as the close-up experience of people struggling to figure out what action steps and procedures they had described, I believe the students gained a much more in-depth awareness of how writing with the audience in mind is not as easy as it sounds in technical writing guides. Student feedback was also suggestive of such learning outcomes.

 

Hence, I would like to suggest …

… this activity as a training tool for younger students in particular dealing with technical writing. Such basic components of technical writing as audience awareness or concise writing should, I believe, be taught in the form of real-life experiences alongside formal training sessions and extensive reading to help these components become internalized.

 


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

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