Reader responsibility

Subject: Reader responsibility
From: "Lisa Wright" <liwright -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2003 08:54:24 -0700

I've been pondering this a bit and want to posit something that may be a
bit heretical. Dick proposed that the author of the article was a bit to
clever and a careful editor should have cut it out. But I agree that
popular science writing tends to be more light-hearted and that writers
for that genre have some license to be imaginative. Given what I've read
in the past, I think the tone was appropriate for the publication. Eric
Dunn also suggested that responsibility for more base connotations lies
with the readers.

There's a model of communication that I was reading recently that talks
about what happens after a sender crafts a message:

Intake: The receiver gathers all the information.
Meaning: The receiver interprets the message, giving it meaning, based
on the content and prior experience.
Significance: The receiver determines the significance (urgency, import)
of the message.
Acceptance: The receiver has feelings about the message that may or may
not be expressed, depending on whether they are appropriate to the
Response: The receiver sorts through possible responses and picks
through the one that is most effective and appropriate.

All of this activity rests with the, in our case, reader. What I'd like
to question is an expansion of Eric's point. The author is of course
responsible for communicating in the best possible way; for
understanding the subtler aspects of language and analyzing how
phrases/ideas/metaphors might be interpreted; and importantly, for
knowing the audience. But in fact communication is a two-way street. We
have the writer and the reader. The writer has no control over the
things that the reader brings to the table.

For example, in yesterday's case, Bonne had an emotional reaction to a
word based on prior experience that did not resonate with most of us.
Nor, obviously, was it a reaction that occurred to the writer. Just as
the customer is mostly, but not always right, I think that the writer
cannot control for how her writing is received.

As an aside, I would also assert that we writers should be active
readers, and that we are responsible for questioning our reactions
before assuming that the writer was wrong. I don't expect that *most*
readers will do this, of course.

I also don't think this idea applies in most technical communications.
If I'm reading the online help for some software, I want clear language
that doesn't make me pause to where the writer was being clever. But we
writers should understand the total communication loop.



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