In technical and professional communication (what we call at UC professional writing), scholars and practitioners have consistently used theories of document design and data visualization to present complex (or unknown) information to lay audiences. I’m using lay audiences here as non-experts in a particular subject matter and with wide ranging backgrounds.
There are many challenges of communicating complex information, particularly sensitive health information. The most challenging of which is to present information in a way that could potentially change or begin to change people’s behavior. In health communication or health promotion, campaigns or interventions are the end result, where “texts” are transmitted through any number of media.
Technical and professional communicators are beginning to play a larger role in creating a wide variety of documents within health and medicine because of their writing and communication ability, which is focused more intently on audience analysis and “design” concerns.
So why this topic of designing information for specific audeinces? There are a number of reasons we’ll discuss more in class, but the short story is that your production assignments (A-C Gap Part 1 and Part 2) are a preliminary, and integral, part of a multi-institutional research project. The aim of this research project is to provide empirical evidence and information to the field of technical and professional communication on how best to close the Attention Comprehension Gap. (The link will open in a new window a *.pdf of a short article that provides a basic overview of what the attention comprehension gap is.)
In other words, we are testing the format of documents, the visualizations they contain, and the comprehensibility of the information to the users.
This project also intersects with concerns in other fields (such as nursing, health promotion, sociology, public health) into making health and medical information more accessible and usable to those that need it.
For our course, we will be working on two distinct data sets for two distinct audiences:
- promote better habits (and/or educate about) to combat the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in college age students
- inform seniors on the risks of of high blood pressure