Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

11
The Structuring of Inferential Processes in Oral Documentation

Joseph F. Kess

University of Victoria

Much has been written of late in the growing area of document design. The intention is to make written language formats more comprehensible for readers of technical documents. The key consideration in the structuring of inferential processes in written documentation is that potential readers or mechanical scanners are led through the specific cognitive steps that the document creator intended. But there are other language formats that convey technical information, and these also require planning in setting out the correct inferences to be made. The most common of these involve professional language delivered to nonprofessional listeners. We might best designate such instances as oral documentation, that is, the use of what seems to be ordinary discourse to transmit technical information, often without success.

Such oral documentation usually takes one of two forms: either a lengthy oral instruction or a programmatic dialogue. Both of these formats have the same aim of information transferral, that is, the dissemination of some essential information, to be followed by a task to be performed by the hearer. For example, the jury charge given by presiding judges at the time juries retire to prepare their verdicts in criminal proceedings is an example of a lengthy oral instruction. On the other hand, an example of a programmatic dialogue is the tutorial-like consultation that physicians provide their patients with, prior to eliciting decisions regarding their informed choices as to the subsequent course of treatment.

The procedural objective of setting out the right cognitive steps to have the correct decision inferred is exactly the same in oral documentation as it is in written documentation. The difference, of course, is that the oral documentation must be filtered through the demands of discourse delivery. In some instances like the programmatic dialogue, it will suffer from the illu-

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