Rhetoric and Tech Writing: Bring the soul to the body

What is it that makes a salesperson more successful that others, a song more popular than the rest, and a person close to you to convince you to do or not do certain things? Why are hate speeches so effective; or, why is it that some people become the mob-getters?

Is it always the emotional attachment or the X-factor that makes them so effective? Or, do things have a more reasonable, logical angle to them? I figure Rhetoric is the answer. For this post, I will try to scratch the subject, but I will talk more about it in a next post.

What is Rhetoric?

The art of persuasion, Rhetoric, is known for centuries to generate mass appeal. It is a persuasion-routed reasoning, which aims at mostly motivating people or spreading information. “Aristotle is generally credited with developing the basics of the system of rhetoric”, mentions Wikipedia, and his work, Rhetoric, is regarded by most rhetoricians as “the most important single work on persuasion ever written”.

Scope of Rhetoric

It is applied mostly in Politics and Law, and the reason words are considered mightier than a sword. But, the scope isn’t restricted to only Politics and Law. Writing, per se, is one art, which is not completely effective without the use of rhetoric. And, even technical writing isn’t left untouched by it. If you are a doctorate aspirant in technical writing, then you will know it better than anyone else. Some of the technical writers I have worked with, stress on the use of it for the sole reason that you, as a technical writer, can connect with your readers in a better manner.

And although most of us would agree to write in an imperative mood, some of us would flow against this flow of thoughts, to personalize their documents wherever they can.

We have previously discussed about developing a reader-connect. We have observed how connecting with the readers’ needs can bring more substance to one’s writing. We have observed that it is not the description of the features of a product, but the description of the utility of those features, which is important. Also, as I delve more into rhetoric, I realize that for some of us, providing more information is important. But, the truth is that we mustn’t provide more, but provide what’s more relevant.

Techno-Rhetorical Writing?

Unlike what I have read about the topic, I see that the use of rhetoric is not the overuse or overflow of emotions in our documents, but “personalization” of those documents to improve readability and reader-connect. I do not intend to read and research a topic such as Rhetoric, because I have had projects into Creative Writing, but because I believe that our documents should help readers connect with the product, and not merely describe product features. With the limited experience I have gleaned through technical writing, I have gathered some examples that are perfect blend of the following three persuasion appeals of rhetoric:

– Logos: The spoken word, speech, discourse, or account.

Pathos: The technique of emotional appeal.

Ethos: The moral and guiding principles, ideologies.

Some of the miscellaneous study-results available on the internet show how effective it is to use personal touch in communication. For example, the use of possessives in the following sentence multiplied its effectiveness when the dead appeal in “Provide the login credentials in the following fields” was replaced with “You can provide your login credentials in the following fields”. The sentence becomes more effective if the user sees his/her own name in the screen, which then reads like: “Frank, you provide your login credentials in the following fields”.

Another example is of everyday online communication. I am sure most of us are subscribed to at least one blog. Every time the blogger updates his blog you get a “personalized” message saying “Dear Frank, a post has been recently added to the blog you subscribed”. Or, the message you received when you created your account on a social networking site, “Some of your contacts are already there on XXXX. Click HERE to send them a request”.

Now, an example from my previous company. The moment I was given access to the internal bug-tracking tool, I received an auto-generated e-mail, which directed me to its FAQ section. As advised by the manager, I read the FAQs before I began scrolling, clicking, or typing. So, how advantageous really was reader-connect in such a case? I not only read the FAQs, I made sure that I referred to the link when needed. And, in no more than a week, I was an expert in the tool.

In the recent poll conducted by Tom Johnson, in his blog, we have seen how helpful our help documents really are. The users may not normally face the topics that we may enlist, and the problems that may surface, may well be inappropriately categorized in our documents. But, I was lucky that the FAQs provided solutions to my queries with pinpoint accuracy, and proved handy in need. The FAQs were a perfect example of reader-connect. How I wish I could share some screenshots with you!

Emotions have a Ripple Effect

Emotional appeal has greater impact than what we see; the ripple effect of such personalized messages (shared above) are worth consideration. The tooltips can save us a handsome share of money from our consultation budgets. FAQs, as good as the one I read, can save the valuable time of our consultants. The new feature presentations can be made more than just the laundry list of improvements. Elevator pitches can become more effective, and our financial reports can become more understandable. The point is, it is up to us to mark the areas where we could use persuasion. Remember, we sell a product only once. But, services can be sold (provided) countless number of times.

Conclusion

Implementing techno-rhetorical writing will make your documents more readable, referable, reasonable, and can be recalled. So, the X-factor in the success of a salesperson is the use of the art of rhetoric. The emotional appeal is the differentiator that makes you connect to a song better than any other song. The perfect blend of logos, pathos, and ethos that make a hate speech that effective.

As far as I have seen, we can bring more substance to our documents by getting a step closer to the readers. Of course, the technical and grammatical accuracy will still be the prime foci. But, personally, I will be more inclined to read a document that tells me what I could do with the product, than a document that tell merely what the product could do for me.

 


In one of my next posts, I’ll try to cover more on the five canons of rhetoric, and provide reader-connect using examples. But, let me know your take on this write-up, because even after giving final touches to this write-up, I feel something is missing. I believe it is on account of its (vast) scope. We will cover the topic, end-to-end, but for that you will have to wait.

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