Senior Citizens & Technical Communication


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This was the final paper for a class I took about research methods in technical communication. I chose to focus of the role of technical communiacation with regards to the senior citizen population.

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Senior Citizens & Technical Communication

  1. 1. Debora HugginsENGL 3450April 29, 2011Final Research Proposal The initial idea for this research was to look at how colors and/or symbols areviewed differently in a global audience. In the process of doing my initial secondaryresearch, there appears to be a gap concerning the senior citizens and technology. In termsof technical communication, senior citizens pose special needs as to how we write thedocuments that this audience uses on consist and perhaps daily basis. If a technicalcommunicator does not fully understand the audiences specific needs and conventionalforms of communication found within this community, there is a risk that the reader(audience) may misinterpret the message. This could led to the audience distrusting thespeakers expertise and question that speakers credibility. I chose this topic because it was one that came up quite a bit in previous technicalwriting classes. I feel that it was a very important topic to learn more about and it seemedlike a viable topic to explore for this assignment. We live in a global world and as a technicalcommunicator; we need to be able to “discern the audiences conventional forms (ofcommunication) and culture in order to be successful in our chosen field. The field of technical communication has a close connection with online technologyand because of this we must consider all demographics and/or social trends that areincluded via the Internet [OHara]. One area that appears to have been overlooked is theolder audience and how there are special considerations for this particular audience. Theseconsiderations are similar to what one may do when having an audience that is physicallydisabled. The purpose of this literature review is to discuss the ways in which technicalcommunication has traditionally address the needs of an audience, identify those of ourolder audience which have been overlooked, why we must address them for this particularaudience and finally what types of methodology could be used to find out how the field oftechnical communication can assist in meeting the needs of the older audience. First I beginwith an overview of what has been traditionally discussed regarding audience focus intechnical communication. There has been much discussion and research in our field regarding various aspectsof an audience including the need to understand global cultures, societal differences as wellas diverse belief and/or value systems we may not agree with or understand. Technicalcommunicators must develop methods that meet needs of their audience that include whatis the appropriate structure of communication and the best media to use to send thecorrect message to the audience. Grammar and sentence structure can be present problemsas well. [Erwin] For a technical communicator to do their job well, they need to fully address theneeds of the audience by implementing within a document certain components such as
  2. 2. keeping the text simple and direct, use of the local terminology of the audience, active voiceprose, and avoiding over-modified nouns [Erwin]. Beyond the sentence structure, we mustalso consider what form of media is best to use for a particular audience. One example of this is that a local audience may well receive the correct messageusing a Power Point presentation, but in a remote village or community that is lacks thesame technology it may not work. Audiences do not need to be global to have specialconsiderations and certain groups that can be found in nearly all communities have needsthat are unique to that type of audience. One such group is the individuals that are fiftyyears of age or older. It is this group that seems to have been overlooked to some degree inthe field of technical communication. The Pew Internet and American Life Project (March 2004) states that fifty-eightpercent of the American population are between the ages of fifty and sixty-five whiletwenty-two percent are over the age of sixty-five [Chisnell]. As would be seen in a globalaudience, this demographic is highly diverse in its members abilities but unlike otheraudiences, the diversity is due to life experience and impairments that result in growingolder rather than culture or moral differences. It is these differences that make it difficultfor technical communicators to assess the needs of this type of audience. Although researchhas discussed the various types of issues arising from trying to meet the needs of thisaudience, the gap is in what types of methods are needed to help the older citizens of oursociety who are actually interested in keeping current with technology. The need to develop technology for senior citizens to assist them in learning how touse something such as email while making it less confusing for them is imperative. For anolder person that probably retired before the Internet was created, it can be overwhelming.The older generation also has to deal with impairments that make certain tasks moredifficult than an average reader. The impairments include functional limitation (the inability to adapt to the design ofthe world around us), developmental limitations like visual and hearing impairments andmotor disabilities such as diminished sense of touch or slower reaction time [OHara].When developing websites that have an older audience as part of its demographics,technical communicators must address these types of issues and create very specific toolsto make navigation and comprehension as easy as possible for these individuals. To furtherour research into this area, we must have methods to learn what works for our senioraudience and from there develop technology that will enable them to use technology as wedo now. In other areas of research that have involved audience, we have typically usedtraditional research methods such as usability studies, interviews and observations [Stark-Wroblewski]. These methods could work in discovering what the senior citizens areneeded and involving the audience directly will also give us a chance to learn more abouttheir needs and what assistance would prove most helpful to them while navigating ourwebsites and what other forms of media would best suit the needs of the overallpopulation. Jakob Nielson stated that seniors have “twice as much difficulty using the
  3. 3. internet as middle-age or younger users.” This was his conclusion after conducting ausability study on seniors. What could be learned by testing various tools and methodsinvolving them? We can learn what works and what doesnt which will not only help theaudience but also help us in adapting our technology to include them. To include them inour future research does not limit our work but expands and improves it [Lippincott]. There is current research that involves our senior audiences but what has not beenfully address is how to improve or even develop the technology that will enhance the waysa member of this demographic group would make use easier for them. We have some ideasof what sort of limitations can be found for the average senior citizen, but like theadaptions we created for those that are physically disabled prior to reaching this age, weneed to develop ways to include them in the world today. I would recommend that we continue to work directly with this audience to find outwhat their specific needs are and then move forward with developing specific methods thatare designed for them. The traditional methods of researched we have used in other areaswill help us in finding out these issues, but I believe we would benefit from collaboratingwith other researchers in disciplines outside the field of technical communication. The end result of this research is to provide the type of content within a specificmedia that would allow the senior audience to use it within their individual abilities, anopportunity for them to request further assistance as needed, and to encourage them toparticipate in our research which will give them a sense of importance that we want tohave their input and we want them to be involved in our world and its technology. The primary methodology of this study is qualitative that consist of surveyquestions, usability tests and focus groups. Survey questions will be used to obtain thoseparticipants who use email and are in the targeted age group (seniors or those who arefifty-five and older). The survey questions (see Appendix “A”) are focused on the frequencythat the potential participants check their email each week and the use of attachments inemails. The individuals who do not use email at all will be separated those who check theiremail at least once a week with only the latter being allowed to continue in the study. Thesecond division of the remaining participants was those who can send and receiveattachments in emails (Group A) from those who cannot do so (Group B). A usability study (Appendix “B”) will be used for Group B with a short tutorial priorto taking part in the focus group. The point of a usability study is to “observe users doingauthentic tasks with a product or set of documentation” (Hughes & Hayhoe, p.84). After theresults are collected (see Appendix “B”), the two groups will then be in two focus groups.The first will be each group separately and then mixed together to observe the participantsinteractions with each other. These methods were chosen because they seem the most likely to give me thetargeted audience needed in the study as well as those specifically use emails and/orattachments in them. The focus group questions allow for open discussion for participantsamong their peers. They also allow for group interviews with questions addressing the
  4. 4. same issues seen in the initial survey questionnaire and usability study. The approvals by the IRB to continue with this study are as follows: First, there willbe a worksheet developed that show the topics, goals, questions, types and methods for thisresearch study as outlined by the IRB. By identifying the specific goals of the study willallow the IRB to see the significance of this study and how important it would be as acontribution to the field of technical communication. The type of resources and materials that would be needed for this study includes thefollowing list of items: Access to a building that has a suite of offices and/or rooms that could be used by researchers and the participants in the study. Computers will be needed for the usability study portion of the study. Basic office equipment such as telephones, fax and copy machines, furniture and so on. The purpose of the study is significant in that it will give the research field oftechnical communication a better idea of the unique needs of the senior citizens of ourworld. Previous research has established that this particular age group has specific needsthat are not seen in other age categories and that thus far those needs have essentially beenignored or overlooked by the technical communication field in the development andcreation of documentation. By using mixed methods in this study, it can offer futureresearchers ideas as well as find potential gaps in this area to further explore in research. The choice of sample will come initially from a research company with the requestto find those individuals that are in the targeted age group and come from a wide range ofbackgrounds including economic, marital, geographic and housing situations. As explainedearlier, the initial participants will answer a short survey After those that are selected willbe divided into two groups for the remainder of the research project. By having the initialsample be selected only by the specific age group and from the wide range of backgrounds,the results of the study can be the most accurate representation of the overall population.This will also allow for a higher success rate of the results being valid and/or the integrityof the transferability The primary method of data collection for this study will be as follows: Disclosure and Informed Consent Forms Survey Questionnaire Usability Study Focus groups Once the disclosure forms have been signed by the participants, the remainingmethods of the study will be administered by the researchers as set by the guidelines set upby the Belmont Report in the Nuremberg Code. In order to analyze the data collected, I will use the three phases discussed in our
  5. 5. textbook: coding, categorizing and modeling. The coding will be a mix of predefined andopen codes. The predefined codes will include what frequency do the participants checktheir personal email accounts and the number of participant that initially have stated theyuse or have received attachments in their emails. The open codes would include anypatterns observed in the usability study and the focus groups. Categorizing will look for patterns that are to be expected (hypothesis) as well asthose that have not been foreseen by researchers. These categories will be those that willbe observed in the usability study and the focus groups. As stated in our textbook,categorizing is more abstract and often requires the “rewording” of the participantsstatements. The purpose of a qualitative study like this is to manage the data rather thaneliminate the subjective insight found in a usability study or focus group. The final phase forthe study is planned to be modeling. After the categorizing is done, the patterns that arenoted in the study results can be graphed for presentation to future readers. The qualitative analysis will be to see how lifestyles influence the participants inhow frequently they use their email accounts. The anticipated influences included incomes,education, marital status, and geographic location. At this point, the coding scheme has yetto be determined, but should I receive approval from the IRP, the coding will be developedand submitted as required.References/Works CitedErwin, Gary J., “Writing to a Global Audience” Kettering University, p. 1-3, 8 February 2011.Globally Networked Learning Environments in Professional Communication: ChallengingNormalized Ways of Learning, Teaching, and Knowing Journal of Business and TechnicalCommunication July 2010 24: 259-266,Johnson-Greene, C. (2010). Lead-Gen Skills Development for 2010. Audience Development,25(1), 12. Retrieved from Northcut, K. M., & Brumberger, E. R. (2010).Resisting the Lure of Technology-Driven Design: Pedagogical Approaches to VisualCommunication. Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 40(4), 459-471.doi:10.2190/ EBSCOhost.Winberg, C., van der Geest, T., Lehman, B., & Nduna, J. (2010). Teaching technical writing inmultilingual contexts: A meta-analysis. Southern African Linguistics & Applied LanguageStudies, 28(3), 299-308. doi:10.2989/16073614.2010.545032
  6. 6. McKee, H. A., & Porter, J. E. (2010). Legal and Regulatory Issues for TechnicalCommunicators Conducting Global Internet Research. Technical Communication, 57(3),282-299. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.Lancaster, A. (2006). Rethinking Our Use of Humanistic Aspects: Effects of TechnicalInformation Beyond the Intended Audience. Technical Communication, 53(2), 212-224.Retrieved from EBSCOhostThatcher, B. (2005). Situating L2 writing in global communication technologies. Computers& Composition, 22(3), 279-295. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2005.05.002Lang, M., Cranford, C., Tovey, J., Tesdell, L. S., Kepler, K., Malone, E. A., & ... Bates, C. (2005).RECENT AND RELEVANT. Technical Communication, 52(3), 399-408. Retrieved fromEBSCOhost.Lippincott, G. (2004). Gray Matters: Where Are the Technical Communicators in Researchand Design for Aging Audiences? IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 47(3),157-170. doi:10.1109/TPC.2004.833687Appendix A:Survey Questions[1] What is your educational level?___ Less than high school___ High school graduate___ Some college___ College graduate___ Graduate Degree[2] Marital Status___ Single (never married)___ Married___ Divorced___ Widow[3] Do you have children?___ Yes___ No[4] What is your current income?___Less than 10,000
  7. 7. ___ 10,001-20,000___ 20,001-30,000___ 30,001-45,000___ 45,001-60,000____60,001 or more[5] What is your current employment status?___ Retired___ Full-Time___ Part-Time___ Other (specify) ____________[6] Do you own or have access to a computer on a consistent basis? ___ yes ___ no[7] Do you have an email account that you check on a consistent basis? ___ yes (continue on with the survey) ___ no (you do not need to answer any more questions)[8] Email users: How many times during the week do you check your email account? ___ Once a week ___ 2-3 times per week ___ 4-5 times per week ___ 6 or more times per week[9] I am able to open an attachment that I receive via an email message. ___ Agree ___ Slightly agree ___ Disagree ___ Slightly disagree[10] I am able to send an attachment to someone via an email message. ___ Agree ___ Slightly agree ___ Disagree ___ Slightly disagreeAppendix B:Usability Study [For Group B]{Attachment Tutorial}[1] Log into your email account as usual.
  8. 8. [2] Click on the “new” email to create a new message. Put in a message as you normallywould when sending an email to someone.[3] Add the receivers address and the subject line.[4] Click on the “attachments” button. It is usually located directly underneath the subjectline of a new email message.[5] Browse in your files for an attachment you want to send such as a picture that you havesaved on either a USB device or your desktop.[6] Click on the file you want to send as an attachment. If you want to send one than oneattachment, hold down the “Ctrl” button at the same time as you select the remaining filesto be sent as attachments.[7] Click the “Attachment Insert” button or “Open” button depending on your specific emailprogram.[8] Click the “Send” button when you have finished adding all your attachments.Appendix C:Focus Group Questions {open ended}[1] What is the primary reason for having your email account?[2] How much difficulty did you have learning to use email?[3] What problems have you had when opening or sending attachments via email?Appendix D:Informed Consent Form for Human SubjectsSurvey Interview Consent FormUSU 332D – Senior Citizens Using EmailsSpring 2011 Section 7, Russ Rampton (Instructor)I wish to interview you for this project. The interview will take approximately____hours/minutes of your time, and will/will not be audio/video taped unless youspecifically request otherwise. The questions I ask will be open-ended and generally takethe form of a conversation with you about this subject. The interview will be conductedunder the following conditions: Your participation is voluntary (you can stop the interview at any time and refuse to answer any question.)
  9. 9. Your identity will be kept confidential should you request it. Otherwise, the interview with your name will be cited as a source in the bibliography and notes, where appropriate. There is no expected risk to you for participating in the interview, but it is possible that statements you make might identify you to others who read my paper. There is no immediate benefit to you for participating, outside of assisting me in learning more about your role in the events we discuss, and thereby helping me to understand the larger impact of those events.The information you provide will be analyzed and will inform my final project for my USU332D – ‘Senior Citizens use Email’ undergraduate research at Utah State University. Theinformation you give will be used only for the oral presentation and written essay in thisclass, and will not be published or broadcast in any other form by me. I will be glad tofurnish you with a copy of the paper at your request. Should I wish to use the informationgained in the interview(s) for another project at a later date, then I will contact you again toget your further consent for that intended purpose.Thank you for assisting me with my project.Your signature below indicates that you agree to participate in the interview. (Verbalconsent: By participating in this telephone interview, you voluntarily agree to participate inthis study).Signature: __________________ Date: ______________Please print your name clearly: ___________________________________Participant Contact Information:Name: __________________________Email: __________________________Other: ______________________________________________________________________________