Cultural Situatedness in Technical Communication

As a bilingual and bicultural person, I have encountered several situations in which cultural differences caused communication misunderstandings, even in the same language. For example, when communicating with people in Spanish, I have had to explain myself – or request further explanation – because of words that may have a different meaning, even if slang, in another Spanish-speaking country than the one I grew up in. Joseph Jeyaraj’s article, “Technical Communication and Cross Cultural Miscommunication: Usability and the Outsourcing of Writing,” expands on how this cultural misunderstanding can also occur in the technical communication field if a writer does not understand the culture of the user.

With the expansion of globalization and technological advances, corporations can outsource product design and writing more than before. Jeyaraj explains in his article that if people overseas are skilled enough writers, it benefits corporations to outsource the technical documentation of the products also developed overseas. Cultural awareness is critical in the outsourced product development process as well as in the technical documentation because both are culturally situated activities. However, Jeyaraj emphasizes that cross-cultural writing strategy does not necessarily mean plain language and simplicity, which can eliminate mistakes that arise from the writer’s pedagogical culture but in return can cause omission of cultural phraseology or design elements. This is important for technical communicators writing for a very specific user audience from a different culture than their own; they must determine when culture mediates certain aspects of the audience’s language and then situate their writing to account for those mediations. On the other hand, if a product design is not culturally situated, a technical communicator might be writing for an audience of their own culture that might not understand the non-situated design to enable usability of that product.

If non-bicultural technical communicators find themselves in any of the above situations, they can employ bicultural writing teams to review and provide cross-cultural inputs that help them avoid cultural communication errors and enable the document’s usability. It will benefit technical communicators who often write for international audiences to become familiar with the user’s culture because they will acquire templates and categories for identifying cultural differences in language. In return, this acquisition will help writers adjust and read differences in new cultures because of their existing awareness.


Technical Communication and Cross Cultural Miscommunication: Usability and the Outsourcing of Writing, by Joseph Jeyaraj

Viewpoint Written by Christina E. Rendon, Texas State University

Edited by Anjanie R. Fairbairn, Texas State University

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