What we cannot ignore

To wrap up Reading Log 2, it is important to discuss the effects and possible consequences of instructional technical communications. While this may not be every technical writing student’s cup of tea, we must all be informed of the impact and results of our writing. Jeff Todd’s “Avoiding Litigation for Product Instructions and Warnings” emphasizes the responsibilities of technical communicators legally. Our unfamiliarity with the legal realm of technical writing creates inconsistencies, misinterpretations, and gray area in the litigation process of product instructions/warnings. The legal discipline takes into consideration many factors when injuries occur from defective warnings: liability, negligence/breaches, and misrepresentation being the overarching categories, also known as “causes of action.”

Developing a “legal literacy” can be achieved, which Todd describes as “a particular fluency in the language of law” (2014, 402). Once technical communicators master this fluency and begin thinking like a litigator, they can better prevent and avoid litigation. As Todd points out, instruction writers do not typically have a say in product construction/functionality, and must do their best to warn adequately and indicate proper usage clearly (2014, 407). Learning just the basics of litigation, specifically the previously discussed “causes of actions” plaintiffs use, is an adequate knowledge base.

Todd also discusses legal strategies like corrective justice, the economic approach, and the Learned Hand formula. These are all helpful strategies to research further. What caught my attention was one of Todd’s smaller tips. Against popular belief, if adding a warning to a section is debatable, do not add a warning because it subjects the product and employer to more liabilities. At the same time, a surplus of warnings makes the most important warnings seem less significant.

The second topic that piqued my interest from this article is product-user relationships: “technical communicators need to anticipate the uses consumers will make of the products and the environment in which they will use it” (Todd, 2014, 402). While this may seem straightforward, it is one of the most fundamental concepts for any usability discussion. Whether you are designing a product, website, piece of furniture, or pair of shoes, designers must consider the ways in which users will expect it to function.

Todd’s article makes many points that technical communicators may not consider at first. However, maybe we should be thinking of the implications of our writing before we start. Instructional writing requires not only clear wording and organized content, but also thoughtful consideration of the intended user, context, and functionality (as are true with any writing genre).

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