Heroic Narrative: Motivating Readers in Technical Communication

In the blogosphere this week, “Persuasion Ruled,” especially during the recent edition of “Kitchen Table Talks.”

There, Chris Brogan and Joe Sorge, of Kitchen Table Companies, kicked off the theme, by interviewing Sally Hogshead. Author of Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, Hogshead described seven ways to help small businesses grow, by identifying and honing their best persuasive triggers.

The next day, in a livestream interview at his blog, Brogan hosted Nancy Duarte—author of several books on making powerful presentations.

Presenters as Mentors

Touching on themes from her book (Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences), Duarte referred to the Hero/Mentor Archetype. Instead of the presenter as hero—dispensing information—Duarte explained how today’s best presenters act as mentors, helping the hero (the audience) overcome obstacles and accomplish goals.

Technical Writers as Facilitators

As applies to technical writing, Brogan’s webcasts made me recall Anne Gentle’s Conversation and Community, which predicts two roles for technical communicators, on the Social Web:

  • Sage on the Stage – instigator of conversation
  • Stagehand– enabler of conversation

In either role, the technical communicator isn’t leading the conversation, so much as helping to facilitate customer conversations.

Audience-Centered Learning Models

In his review of Gentle’s book, Stewart Mader ties in the related audience-centered focus from instructional design, where the metaphor for instructors is now “guide on the side,” as opposed to traditional information authority.

In this kind of mentor role, technical writers can support community managers or move into community manager roles themselves, Gentle’s book suggests.

“Emplotting” the Reader

In “Motivation and Technical Documentation,” David Goodwin observes how the age-old “heroic narrative” (Goodwin 99), “emplots the reader.” “What better way of motivating readers or users though a site than by providing them with a [heroic] journey, one rich with agreements, opposition, and problems,” Goodwin asks.

According to Goodwin, “not only does this “action-oriented role” apply to manuals, but it also can be built into content and navigation.”

Who’s Your Hero?

What ways do you know, of emplotting the reader, in the product documentation? How does your documentation place the customer, at the center of your product’s story? Is the customer the hero of your story?

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

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