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Using Interface Rhetoric to Understand Audience Agency in Natural History Apps

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Purpose: A wide array of apps is increasingly being developed to provide information about natural history and science for users of mobile devices. This article discusses how a better understanding of audiences' agency as they use natural history apps—i.e., their ability to take meaningful action—can help technical communicators develop more effective products. Method: I use interface rhetoric to examine key considerations of audience agency for natural history apps, focusing on five bird identification guide apps, part of a technical genre associated with historically established—though evolving—use practices. I analyze and discuss how the rhetorical choices of developers may empower audiences to understand nature or frame their interactions with nature in certain ways. Results: I identify three overlapping ways these apps function as interfaces for users: 1) to frame their audience's experience of and relations to a body of natural history knowledge, 2) to model the conventions and practices of the birding community, and 3) to frame their audience's understanding of the natural world as a whole. Conclusion: Approaching natural history guide app design with an awareness of the diverse ways in which these texts function as interfaces can help technical communicators facilitate different types of audience agency during the apps' ultimate situated use.
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Keywords: AUDIENCE AGENCY; CONTEXT OF USE; INTERFACE RHETORIC; USABILITY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2018

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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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