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Cultural Differences and User Instructions: Effects of a Culturally Adapted Manual Structure on Western and Chinese Users

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Purpose: Research shows that Western and Chinese technical communicators structure their documents in different ways. The research reported in this article is a first attempt to systematically explore the effects cultural adaptations of user instructions have on users. Specifically, we investigate whether Western (from Europe and North America) and Chinese (from the People's Republic of China) users would benefit from a document structure that is theoretically assumed to reflect their cultural preferences.

Method: Using the SDL Trados Studio 2014 translation software package, a 2x2 experiment (N=80) was conducted with manual structure (Western versus Chinese) and cultural background (Western versus Chinese) as independent variables. The Chinese and Western manual structures were based on the literature on cultural differences between Western and Chinese technical communication. Dependent variables were task performance, knowledge, and appreciation of the software and the user instructions.

Results: Contrary to our expectations, no significant differences were found between the conditions. Both Western and Chinese participants performed equally well and were equally appreciative when using the Western and Chinese manual structure.

Conclusion: The results of our study raise questions about the validity and/or the relevance of the current insights regarding cultural differences in the structures of user instructions. Cultural differences found in content analytic research may reflect the habits of technical communicators rather than the preferences of users. However, caution is needed in interpreting our findings, as our research experiences also raised a number of methodological issues that must be addressed in future research.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2015

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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