I really enjoyed John Kohl’s presentation on his extensive work with writing Global English. I particularly appreciate how John Kohl includes many examples to demonstrate the theory behind his suggestions. I will not summarize his session in this post because Sarah Maddox gave a great session recap in her blog, so instead I will focus my time reviewing Jürgen Muthig’s presentation on Functional Design.
I have reviewed a John Kohl article that covers many of the same topics that he discussed in his STC Summit session– you can read that post by clicking the following link: Improving Translatability and Readability with Syntactic Cues.
Functional Design: Developing a Standard That Fits Your Needs
To be honest, the only reason I attended this session was that I worked with Jürgen Muthig on a joint project this spring semester between our two schools (Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, Germany) along with the company SEW-Eurodrive.I admit that when I read the session description and saw “DITA”, I thought that this was yet another single sourcing session. However, this became the best session that I attended at the Summit.
The theory behind “Functional Design”
The “Functional Design Method” is a theory, or model, developed by Prof. Muthig and is based in linguistics. It primarily deals with documentation quality through consistency; however, consistency does not guarantee quality and focusing purely on standards without qualitatively defining them (not defining appropriate rules) will result in “consistent low-quality documentation.”
The Functional Design Method uses “speech act theory” to develop high standards for technical documentation. Some of the steps involved to develop or use standardized writing using the Functional Design method include the following:
- To state the communicative goal the technical author wants to achieve.
- To define which media and which didactical approach will be most promising to actually achieve the goal.
- To define what speech acts will be most useful to achieve the communicative goal that needs to be accomplished with the information product.
Speech acts are called Functional Units in the Functional Design method. Those Functional Units need to be defined as precisely as necessary to meet the consistency requirements. According to the Functional Design method, consistency-assuring rules can be defined in six categories: Usage, Content, Sequence, Wording, Design, and Marking.
Everyone can use this method to improve writing
This method applies equally well for technical writers that don’t use DITA, XML or other standards. Understanding Functional Design helps technical writers conceptualize and draft more meaningful, consistent documentation (i.e., functional). As Prof. Muthig stated, “in technical documentation, every sentence is a speech act.” Further than that, every phrase, syntax, word choice, and even the form of a sentence helps to determine meaning. These are all speech acts.
Recognizing speech acts using Functional Design methodology in technical communication helps technical writers to understand the message that is being conveyed as well as what the expected (or actual) reaction is from the reader. It allows technical writers to identify “a relevant change” that occurs after a speech and this helps to identify what speech act should follow for the target audience.
During the presentation, Prof. Muthig showed examples of speech acts, how to identify them, and how to standardize them—his example of standardization was a Microsoft Word template that several people wanted to steal after the presentation. I look forward to reviewing Prof. Muthig’s work in this field and continuing to learn more about the Functional Design method.
For a different perspective and application of this theory, read the following article by Tom Johnson on his blog idratherbewriting.com, Why Isn’t Spoken Language Easier for Writers?