Get a cup of coffee, this is going to take a few minutes

First, DocTrain is a gas. I had so much fun talking to people and showing them our products. I got to show several people a really in-depth look at Blaze and Analyzer, which was cool.

The vendor part of the show was over this afternoon and I came back to the room for a nap and to catch up on emails. It’s amazing how tiring shows can be. Not physically, but mentally. You’re mentally completely on your game for 6 or more hours and that effort costs. Naps or quiet time are critical.

These are a few of my favorite things

So after a brief lay down (sleep is seriously my very favorite activity), I went for a walk in downtown Vancouver. I really like walking and this is a lovely city. We’re right near water and you can see boats and planes and stuff. The bay? was nice and the mountains with the snow are really pretty. Yes, there is snow but it’s all about 10 miles away and another 1000 feet up.

I really liked that walk but I got cold (other people were wearing coats and scarves. It’s not me being squeamish!) so I went back to the hotel to hang out and watch a little TV.

Then I went to dinner in the hotel. Having a meal by myself is also a favorite thing to do. I don’t understand people who feel weird in a restaurant all by themselves. I bring something to read and keep myself company.

My life is normally so insanely busy – working 100 miles from home, teaching at least 1 class a quarter, trying to puzzle out moving and renting the house, catching up on my fair share of the household – that for me to have the time to go and quietly eat a meal and read is luxurious. It means I have nothing else I can or should be doing right now. Being still and quiet is all I need to do.

Wow. I like that a lot. Almost as much as sleep.

There’s a point to this. There always is.

I brought the ISTC magazine from my show bag to read while I ate. It’s the Spring 2008 issue. The ISTC is the British version of the STC. I like the magazine very much. It’s what the STC should do with Intercom. It has really serious articles with lighter pieces mixed in. It’s good info. You can download the TOC here;

It’s a bummer that you can only download the TOC, because there’s a really fascinating article on page 27 by Pete Ward called Stylistic subtleties in English. This is perhaps the most coherent piece I’ve ever read on using the English language to create meaning. I’ll try to recap parts here so you can play at home along with me.

He starts by explaining that text creates meanings. There are 2 kinds of information in documents: “‘The content and the signals that help readers interpret that content’ [Rude, 2006, p26]”. After quoting Rude, he goes on to explain that while content is king, signals help the reader to interpret the content. Nothing really earth shattering here but good to point out.

Where he gets really interesting is when he talks about the importance of cohesion and coherence. These “…support comprehension of a text. Like structural and visual signals, the use of cohesive devices provides an underlying structure to the content that holds the elements together and makes the text cohere as a whole.” Slightly later, he says that these 2 are separate but tightly related and it’s accepted that cohesion facilitates coherence.

Fine, but why do we care?

Ah, because he says two things that are really interesting.

Cohesive devices are linguistic devises used by the writer. This is the magic we use to create schematas, for example, to make things understandable. This seems an etic approach.

Coherence is in the mind of the reader. It can only be determined by asking the reader, perhaps by testing them on the text. This seems emic to me.

(See my blog entry here: for more about emic and etic approaches)

The other thing he says that caught me was: “…cohesion does not always lead to improved understanding. A series of experiments has shown that ‘low-knowledge readers benefit more from high-cohesive text both in comprehension and recall but high knowledge readers actually perform better on low-cohesion texts’ [Louwerse 2004, p.5]” [emphasis mine].

What I think he’s saying is that the better you create the links, logic, and relationships for your readers to help them understand the schematas to understand the material, the better your reading-to-learn users are going to do. If you are writing for a reading-to-do audience, schemas explained in the text is going to slow your users down.

So, if you know your audience already knows the concepts but you decide to (or are forced to) include the explanations of the schematas for your product, you are actually hindering your audience. Oh, this is very interesting.

However, I’d like to know more about that testing. Was it recall of general text? Or technical text? Was it procedures and if so, how motivated were the users? Did the users have to find info and then remember it for the task at hand or was it “read it and then tell us what it meant” testing? I’d like to know much more about this.

The Technical Communication journal relates here

About a year ago, there was an article in the STC Tech Comm Journal that relates to this. But I can’t log in to my home computer right now, where I saved it. And I can’t remember how it connects, I just remember that the article was about the differences in reading-to-learn vs reading-to-do.

This is when I wish that my best friend was around tonight because she would remember what the STC article was about or might even have it on her computer.

Well, it took a while but we got there

If you have thoughts about this, please post comments. If you know the darn article I’m looking for, then feel free to forward it to me. I’ll be home tomorrow and can look for it Sat morning but it would be nice to have in case I lost it.

I’ve spent over an hour writing this. It’s getting late and I need to start settling myself down for bed. I pack and go home tomorrow late morning. I should be on the ground at my home airport by 5pm.

Dinner with my husband at home tomorrow night. Another of my favorite things. On the list right under sleep.


2 Responses to “Get a cup of coffee, this is going to take a few minutes”

  1. Groundbreaking. I love the article, it has relevance to some of the current research I’m doing…

    I read an article in the New Yorker magazine a few months ago that quoted an interesting study. The study stated something along the lines of people absorbing written text better than visual media when it comes to learning, regardless of the ‘style’ of learning that the person is.

    This brings even more relevance to my research.

    Thanks for keeping it always interesting, Sharon!

    PS: Hope you had a chance to check out Richards st in Vancouver. I liked it there back in the day… June 1992 courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club and again in 2000 doing some wireless data stand-up formal vendor training.

  2. […] and cognitive loads While I was in Vancouver, you may remember, I read a great article about cohesion and coherence from the ISTC magazine. I mentioned that there was an STC Journal article about a year ago that related but I […]

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