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Technical documentation readers are usually a “voluntarily captive audience.” They choose to read a user manual by their own determination.
When we get to a piece of technical documentation we are usually ready and willing to believe in the author and follow his or her procedural steps. All we are looking for are the FACTS and facts only.
A technical article (or speech), however, is a different matter.
When we are arguing a point with the goal of convincing the audience and bring them around to our point of view, we obviously need to provide the facts. But more often than not, it won’t be enough.
People usually want to be moved at an EMOTIONAL level to change their cherished positions and consider another point of view.
The problem is expressed well by the following blog post by a fellow technical writer who refers to the facts and emotions with the Greek words “logos” and “pathos”:
“I know that not putting my opinion in persuasive essays hurts my ethical appeal more than it helps it. And most people do not want to hear pages and pages of facts because it could make them feel overwhelmed with the amount of information or like I am treating them as if they were stupid.
I do not want my readers to feel either.
I seem to think that talking about my opinion in a paper is not right because it is tricking others into thinking what I think.
But without my opinion about a subject, readers will not trust me as a writer; therefore, they will dismiss any arguments I make to them logically before they ever consider their validity.
First I must establish a trust, or ethos, between my readers and myself through my opinion and pathos; then I can convince them that my opinion is right through logos.”
For example, when you’re arguing the merits of eating more fruits and vegetables, you have to list the scientific facts about vegetarianism. But you should also make sure that your audience does not feel they are belittled and judged because of their meat habit. If you forget that emotional layer, your facts will probably fall on deaf ears and get lost in transition.
When you’re arguing the facts about green technologies, you’d be far more effective if, in addition to providing the environmental facts, you also talked about the ways in which the proposed shift would leave a better world “for our grandchildren.” A lot of people won’t lift a finger for themselves but would go to the end of the world for their grandchildren.
If you can balance emotions and facts properly in your articles or speeches, if you can make the mix appropriate for the audience in question, you’d be a much more effective technical communicator overnight.