Posted by Jennifer L. Bowie, Ph.D. on June 4th, 2012
Welcome to Screen Space, your podcast about creating usable, accessible, effective, and efficient web, blog, and digital media design for the everyday (and non-expert) designer. This is episode 22 of Screen Space “The Rhetorical Situation Part 2—Purpose and Context.” In this episode, I review rhetorical situation, which I introduced in episode 21. I cover the remaining two key parts of the rhetorical situation, purpose, and context, to help you design and develop stronger websites, blogs, and other digital media, purpose, and context. I wrap this series up next episode with an example of an actual rhetorical situation.
I am your host, Dr. Jennifer L. Bowie. I am a Senior Usability Research Analyst for The Home Depot, which means I conduct usability research on The Home Depot website. I also research and teach in areas related to digital media, web, and blog design.
First, let me welcome some of my newest audience members. Welcome to my new listeners from India, Vietnam, and France. Welcome and design well!
Review of the Rhetorical Situation
Audience, purpose, and context are three key considerations in rhetoric, technical communication, and really any sort of communications. These three concepts are the rhetorical situation. Thoroughly considering and writing or designing for these three areas will make your text or media stronger, more effective, and clearer. I discuss the rhetorical situation and the first area, audience, in more detail in episode 21. Let’s now explore purpose and context.
When you consider purpose there are two different purposes to consider your purpose and the purpose of your audience. Let’s examine your purpose first. Why are you creating this text or media? In short, what is your purpose? What goals, results, ends, aims, means, or objectives are you trying to meet? Your purpose could include:
- To persuade
- To entertain
- To inform
- To educate
- To get the audience to feel a certain emotion: such as awe, shock, happiness, fear, pity, and compassion.
- To get the audience to act: You may want to get the audience to vote for your candidate, to donate money to your cause, to buy your book, or do something else.
- To change your audience’s opinion
- To advise or recommend
- To share
- To seduce
- To help
- To communicate
Many of these may overlap. You may also find that your purpose includes several of these. You could be trying to persuade someone to change their mind and then act. You may be sharing your photos for other’s entertainment. Here are some example purposes:
- Example 1: For the photography blog I used as an example in the Usability and Usability Testing 101 series the purpose I multiple:
- To get the audience to buy photographs
- To share photographs for entertainment
- To inform through photography tips
- Example 2: For this this podcast, my purpose is also multiple:
- To inform and educate my listeners on ways to create usable, accessible, effective, and efficient web, blog, and digital media design
- To persuade my listeners to follow my suggestions, advice, and tips
- To get my listeners to act—that is create usable, accessible, effective, and efficient web, blog, and digital media design
- To advise my listeners on usable, accessible, effective, and efficient web, blog, and digital media design practices
The other purpose category is the purpose of your audience. This is touched on in Screen Space 21: The Rhetorical Situation Part 1—Audience. What is the purpose of your audience? To help determined purpose consider these questions:
- Why do they come to your site, blog, or digital media? What are their reasons?
- What are their goals or objectives when they come to your site?
- How does your site benefit your users?
- What task or tasks are they coming to your site to complete?
- Why do they choose your site, blog, or digital media?
You will likely determine many different purposes and a task or two for each purpose.
I put together a worksheet to help you determine your purpose and the purpose of your users. Please, check it out.
Once you have your purposes and the audiences’ purposes, look to see if there are any overlaps. Hopefully there are. Your main purposes should correspond to some of the purposes of your audience. That concludes purpose, now to context.
Context is the situation around the text or media. This includes the specific situation of creation or use and the greater context like culture. The context includes constraints such as time and the environments of creation and use. As with purpose, context can be divided into two categories: your context and the audience’s context. Once again, let’s begin with your context.
To determine your context consider:
- What lead to the writing or design of this text? Why are you writing or designing this text?
- What constraints do you have on this text? For example, do you have limited time? Limited space? Limited technology? How does this impact your writing or design?
- What environment are you writing or designing this text in? How does this impact your writing or design?
- What culture or society are you writing or designing this text in? Is this the same as your audience? How does this impact your writing or design?
Perhaps your audience is your boss and your goal is to persuade her to act on your recommendations. If you are writing a recommendation report at work with many co-workers stopping by to ask questions, and you have only a short amount of time to meet a deadline your boss gave you the report and your writing will be impacted by this context. Your text will be much different than if you are writing a blog post on a topic you love, which happens to be the same recommendations, for your pleasure and you have as long as you want. Your language will be different to meet the different purposes, as will length, content, and more. The two texts will be quite different, even if the audience and purpose is the same.
The context of your audience is also very important to consider. I find, however, that this is often ignored or only vaguely considered by many of my students before we cover it in class. The context of use can and should greatly impact the writing and design of your text. So, after thinking about your context, consider your audience’s context. Determine:
- Environment and setting: What environment and setting will your audience use your text or design in? At home? At work? While running? While driving and mostly focused on driving? In a well-lit lab with little space, a huge warehouse with poor lighting, or a noisy shop floor?
- Constraints: What constraints is your audience under while using your text? Do they only have 30 seconds to find out how to complete the task? Are they highly distracted? Are they attempting a high risk task, such as saving a life? Can they look at your podcast? Or are they too busy driving, running, or baking? If they are cooking can they till interact with the text with dirty hands? Do they have limited time, access, space, or other things?
- Tools and Technology: What tools and technology will you user have when accessing your text? Are they using a cell phone? A desktop with two huge screens? What technology will they use to access your text? What speed are they connecting to the internet—if relevant? Will they have a clipboard around? Post-it notes? Some way to jot down the instructions or tips?
- Culture: What culture or society are they reading or accessing this text in? Is this the same as your culture? How does this impact your writing or design?
- Other considerations: What other things about the audience’s context of use impact use? What can you do about these things?
To fully explore the audience’s context, let’s use explore context for the two examples I discussed in purpose:
- Example 1: For the photography blog I used as an example in the Usability and Usability Testing 101 series the context of use could be:
- Environment and setting: Home on a laptop or desktop. Decent lighting and a comfortable chair and environment. Distractions could include family, pets, phone, and the computer itself. Normally viewed at night or during the weekend.
- Constraints: Often viewed during leisure time, so minimal time constraints for the photographs. However the tips may be viewed under a rushed situation where they are trying to find information quickly. Generally, this is a low risk and low stress situation. No other real constraints.
- Tools and Technology: Accessed with a high speed internet connection on a desktop or laptop. Other tools that may be needed such as paper for notes, writing utensils, the credit card for purchases, and so on should be handy.
- Culture: The audience has a similar general culture. However, they are not immersed in the photography culture and not as knowledgeable as the author/photographer.
- Other considerations: They may have many windows open on their computer and be multitasking.
- Example 2: For this this podcast, your context of use may generally break down to two categories: mobile or on the go listening on a mobile device, or stationary sitting at a computer. I will explore the mobile context:
- Environment and setting: Tablet or Mobile device including cell phone and iPod. Setting varies greatly: could be at home doing chores; Outside running, walking, or doing yard work; could be driving or taking a train; could be at the gym or at work. Lighting and distractions very greatly.
- Constraints: Could have limited access to the technology playing the podcast, so interacting, such as looking at the screen or adjusting the volume could be difficult. Time could be a constraint if the people are commuting to work or have a short time set for the run, drive walk, or workout. According the NPR, the average US commute is 25 minutes, so I try to keep my podcasts under 25 minutes. Could have a moderate to even a high level of distractions. I do not want to endanger my audience’s life while they are driving.
- Tools and Technology: Podcast downloaded onto mobile device. The mobile device is the technology. Tools could include an arm band, earphones, and the cords needed to connect the podcast to the car to listen. Additional tools may be hard to access. I should not require my users to write things down or use any other sort of tools beyond the regular tools they need to access my podcast. I put the transcript online to give them later access to the resources, links, and more, so they do not need to write anything down. I also put the transcript in the mp3 file and on the blog for easy access when they have finished their run, commute, or laundry folding.
- Culture: The greater culture for the audience is similar to my culture, but they are likely less informed and not an expert, so I need to adjust my language and make other considerations.
- Other considerations: I want to make it easy for my listeners to access the transcripts and share the podcast. I also want to provide a way for audience members to be able to access my information regardless of any disabilities.
I also put together w worksheet to help you determine your context and the context of your users. Please, check it out.
And that covers your audience’s context and wraps up context. To summarize the whole episode:
- We began with a Review of the Rhetorical Situation: Audience, purpose, and context, which are three key considerations in any type of communication.
- We then moved on to purpose: Purpose includes your purpose and the audience’s purpose. Think about why you are writing or designing this text and why your audience is reading or accessing it.
- Finally we discussed context: Context also includes your context and the context of your audience. For both start with the “why” and then consider environment, constraints, tools & technology, culture, and anything else that is relevant.
Join me later for the rest of The Rhetorical Situation Part 3—An Example. Thanks for listening to Part 2—Purpose and Context.
If you have questions, comments, or thoughts on what you want me to cover please send me an email at email@example.com or check out the Screen Space blog—www.screenspace.org. You can also follow Screen_Space on Twitter for hints, tips, advice, news, and information on designing websites, blogs, and other digital media texts. Also, check out the blog for a transcript of this podcast complete with links and resources. If you enjoyed this podcast, please put a review up on iTunes or tell your readers and listeners via your blog, podcast, Tweet, or the social media of your choice.
Have fun and design well!
Screen Space is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. So, feel to share this is a site that doesn’t consider your context of use, but don’t change the podcast, do give me and Screen Space credit, and don’t make any money off of it.
Screen Space’s opening music today is “African Dance” by Apa Ya off of Headroom Project and the closing music is “Survival” by Beth Quist off of “Shall We Dance”. Both these selections are available from Magnatune.
Episode 22 Links and References:
Past Screen Spaces podcasts you may want to refer to:
NPR. “Study: Americans Commute an Average 25 Minutes.” Morning Edition. October 12, 2007. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15218380
- Magnatune: http://www.magnatune.com/
Screen Space 22: The Rhetorical Situation Part 2—Purpose and Context [15:28m]: Play Now
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