This article covers some thoughts about gathering readership’ feedback through email interview in the context of reviewing content, which addresses an international audience, where most of the readers are non-English native speakers.
As English is one of the most spoken second languages worldwide “different cultures bring their nuances to the English language” (Teresa Mulvihill). Karjalainen and Nordlund state that the content written for an international audience “has a place in two cultures: in the writer’s and the recipient’s.” Besides, “listening to readers also alerts document designers to the differences among readers and to differences between readers and themselves” (Schriver, p.161).
How does a writer bridge these elements, namely a second language and various cultural perceptions? This article tries to answer this question.
An email interview is a feedback-driven method, which is more appropriate to investigate the readers’ reactions on how a content document has covered their needs and expectations. The method could rely on techniques such as observation and a questionnaire to gather people’s thoughts and opinions. The method could involve questionnaire design, email interview, observing and interpreting the readers’ response.
1. Questionnaire Design
A questionnaire may be a combination of open and closed questions. Its purpose would not be only to gather opinions and thoughts related to existing content, but also to get ideas and suggestions for further improvement.
The questionnaire goal would be to extract “hidden knowledge”, knowledge that expert users must have, in some sense, but which they don’t know they possess. The questionnaire may also help a writer identify other issues, which may be uncovered by the content, as Hackos and Redish warn (p.183):
In designing your questionnaire, think about the questions that will produce the results you want. Include questions that specify the nature of experience and knowledge among your users.
2. Observing and interpreting readers’ feedback
The readers “come to text with knowledge, needs, values and expectations that dramatically influence how they interpret what they read”, says Schriver (p.160). Burnett also states (p.172) that “often the information you need is not written in any book or article, but is in the mind or indecipherable notes of another person.” The activity of gathering audience assumptions and ideas which come from unwritten sources, like users’ experience, may be crucial in rethinking and rewriting content.
The investigation should pay special attention to the content quality. According to Schriver (p.206) “When readers come to documents, they may respond not only to the message but also to the messenger”. Besides “differences in personal characteristic, physical abilities, cultural assumptions, behaviour and motivation in the workplace, expertise, education, and training all may affect how your users interact with your designs” (Hackos and Redish, p.43). These differences mentioned by the two authors could be visible while gathering qualitative data.
Analysing the readers’ feedback may prove that they have preferences, expectations and motivations, which may vary from a country to another.
The use of the feedback-driven method in analysing readership feedback to content could give a clear but not a complete picture to the writer when reviewing an existing piece of content.
The method indeed has a number of advantages and drawbacks. For example, an email interview has some limitations which do not allow the feedback collector to identify the diversity of knowledge users might have in relation to that specific piece of content. Another relevant drawback is that the writer cannot see and judge the direct reactions of users to the questions as it normally happens in a face-to-face interview.
Though this kind of interview saves writer’s time it may reach an impressive number of users. Schriver mentions (p.162) that “feedback-driven methods can provide communicators with a veritable mountain of data to sort through”, meaning that the more users a communicator reaches, the most difficult will be to process the huge quantitative and qualitative data generated by feedback.
On the other hand a writer may receive good and appropriate answers, which result from reflective work when the interviewee may be more relaxed in finding and formulating adequate answers. This would be, for example, a comfortable situation for the introverted users who might not be very cooperative during a face-to-face interview, when external and internal factors may influence and even damage communication.
Burnett R.E. (2003) Technical Communication, Harcourt Publishers
Coe M. (1996) Human Factors for Technical Communication, Wiley
Hackos J. and Redish J. (1998) User and Task analysis for Interface Design, Wiley
Karjalainen M. and Nordlund J. (1997) The Influence of Language and Culture on Written Communication, TC Forum
Mulvihill T. (2002) International Technical Communication and Today’s Technologies, online
Schriver K. (1997) Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Text for Readers, Wiley