Week 3 – St. Amant’s Prototype Theory

Amant, Kirk St. “A Prototype Theory Approach to International Web Site Analysis and Design.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14, no. 1 (2005): 73-91.

The importance of effective communication with a global audience is becoming more relevant to the technical writing community as the international spread of online access continues to grow.  Kirk St. Amant addresses the subtle differences in how international audiences vary in their response to website design.  He emphasizes implementing prototype theory into the research phase of website design in order to create a product that is both usable and credible to a specific cultural audience.  The process includes identifying websites from a specific culture and then implementing both macro-level and micro-level analysis in order to note patterns in websites “designed by individuals from a particular culture for individuals from that same culture” (82).

I find Amant’s emphasis on understanding and appealing to an international audience as essential to my writing as a technical communicator.  The statistics revealed in the essay indicate astounding growth in developing nations in the realm of online access; therefore, to be competitive in this field, I need to not only have an understanding of this change but also have the skills to effectively design websites for an international audience.  It is key for me, as someone new to the field of technical writing, to begin addressing this issues immediately “while most of the world is still getting online” in order to “anticipate and address or avoid potential differences before they lead to intercultural communication problems” (75).  Beginning to implement aspects of prototype theory will enhance my work’s international appeal by helping me establish good practices from the beginning rather than attempting to repair damage later.  Amant’s essay also reminded me of the need to allow for substantial time dedicated to thorough research when I am beginning a project of this nature.

In addition to recognizing the importance of differences between cultures regarding visual displays, icons, advertising, and color, I also foresee the importance of addressing cultural differences in how to write.  During a multicultural education class I took during my undergraduate studies, I discovered that certain cultures prefer information to be presented in a straightforward manner whereas other cultures expect to apply a greater level of inference to text they read.  These issues of how language functions within a culture will also come into play with an international audience.

At the end of the essay, Amant comments that using prototype theory is “only a first and basic step in addressing a larger issue of cultural expectations.”  What are some of these “larger issues” of cultural expectations that come into play with an international audience?


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