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Making Memories: Writing and Designing More Memorable Documents

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Purpose: This paper presents results from a primary study investigating the qualities of memorable documents and extrapolates principles for making documents more memorable, and thus more effective, for audiences.

Method: I asked twenty subjects to walk down a high school hallway decorated with flyers and posters. I interviewed them immediately afterward and one week later to determine which information "stuck" over time as well as the subjects' self-reported reasons for recalling information. I then analyzed the most-often remembered documents to correlate the subjects' responses to the documents' content, design, style, etc.

Results: Contrast, color, and imagery are inherently attention-catching and memorable. However, engaging the audience's collective self-schema, or identity, impacts memory even more powerfully by prompting readers to ascribe relevance to information and thus strive to remember it. Accordingly, I propose the following heuristic for creating more effective, mnemonic documents: (a) convey practical value; (b) use contrast, color, and imagery; (c) tap the familiar; (d) introduce unexpected elements; (e) build social currency; and (f) arouse emotion.

Conclusion: Technical communicators can enhance their documents' effectiveness by using the proposed heuristic to make information more memorable for their readers.
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Keywords: ATTENTION; AUDIENCE; DESIGN; MEMORY; SCHEMA

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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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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