Communicating Across Cultures
I was especially interested in the topic of cross-cultural communication in Chapter 7 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, titled “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher. I personally have always enjoyed the research portion of communications work, and learning about the audience and applying that knowledge to convey information to a particular demographic is an indispensable part of designing and writing successful communications.
It is because of this research interest, paired with a fascination of world cultures that I found the information in Thatcher’s chapter of particular value. I think it can be easy as an American to feel isolated from international culture, especially for Midwesterners and people who live outside of major metropolitan areas, so this article also serves as a reminder that our communication methods are particular to this culture and not always directly applicable to others.
My favorite part of the article was Thatcher’s research into websites of 27 universities around the world, looking at purpose, audience, information, organization and style in terms of the cultural values of “how a single person relates to others” (pg. 175), universal or particular approach to rules and norms (pg. 176) and the “degree of involvement across different spheres of life” approach of diffuse or specific (pg. 177) as illustrations of these cross-cultural communications considerations. When reading about this research and Thatcher’s case study involving Texas Tech University, I couldn’t help but think of Stout’s website and how, not surprisingly, it embodies many of the same cultural communications values Thatcher describes as particular to Western cultures.
Like the Texas Tech website, the homepage emphasizes cultural values of “individualism, universalism, and specific orientation.” (pg. 190). This is shown by the featured image of a lone, individual student in the header as well as links that are specific to types of users the website aims to serve. The purpose is to give users quick and direct access to whatever information they seek.
The audience for the Stout website is those disparate individuals looking for quick access to specific types of information. Like Texas Tech’s site, it is “designed for the reader’s specific needs at the moment.” (pg. 191)
The information presented is, again, all about the individual user’s needs for specific answers. Collective and historic information about Stout and the Menomonie community is buried within the site. Many photos do include collaborative themes and groups of students, but the relationships are often vague. Language is at a universal level, designed to be easily understood by most potential users.
The organization of the Stout site is based on the specific needs of the audience mentioned above. The site as a whole is “highly templated”, much like Texas Tech’s site (pg. 193). The overall organization follows strict guidelines which dictate menus, headers and hierarchy, dividing information immediately along user types like “Future Students”, “Current Students”, “Parents”, etc.
Looking at these cultural values evident in a familiar website has made me realize how much I am oriented to think along these lines when organizing information in publications and website design without much thought about how else it could be done, certainly not in terms of how international users might prefer to be communicated to. As world cultures become more connected through the network, cross-cultural considerations become increasingly relevant during the design process, and I certainly plan on applying the concepts presented in this chapter in my work. Did this article make you think about the cultural assumptions you make in your work?