english, technical writing, international technical communication, technical communication, document design, visual language, visual rhetoric, culture, visual culture, japan, high-context, low-context, documentation, document design analysis


This thesis analyzes the challenges technical writers face when designing documents for high-context cultures, such as the Japanese. When developing documents intended to cross cultural gulfs, technical writers must take into consideration cultural expectations, preferences, and practices in document design and communication. High-context cultures, such as Japan, design documents using drastically different design strategies than those used in the United States. Japanese communication habits are more ambiguous than communication in the United States. Thus, the Japanese often use visuals for their aesthetic appeal, not for their ability to complement the text that surrounds the visual. The ambiguous nature of high-context culture communication habits often pose problems when Americans try to communicate--whether through written or oral communication--with a high-context audience. Without careful analysis and research into these cultural implications, the technical writer risks developing unsuccessful documents that do not accomplish the goals of the communication. It takes years of research to understand cultural differences, especially in the case of Japanese communication habits. With the research presented in this thesis, technical writers will understand better how to address document design issues when designing for high-context cultures in general and the Japanese culture specifically. In order to effectively analyze document design strategies across cultures, I have collected documents from two cultures--from the United States and from Japan. These two cultures represent a low-context culture, the United States, and a high-context culture, Japan. The United States and Japan are opposite each other on Edward T. Hall's cultural continuum, providing ideal subjects for a cross-cultural document design analysis. Using previous research in document design and cultural studies, I have established a grid for analyzing visual elements in the documents I have collected--full color automobile sales booklets. I analyze both high- and low-context documents against this grid. The various document design grids allow for visual representation of document design decisions in both cultures. American international technical communicators can use these grids as a starting point for addressing the cultural implications of document design for high-context audiences. The research presented in this thesis shows that high- and low-context cultures use visuals much differently. Readers, in both cultures, are persuaded differently by visual elements. By exploring and analyzing the use of visuals such as photos, diagrams, line drawings, and the way both cultures use visuals to approach their audiences, this thesis attempts to present an explanation of visuals in high-context cultures that will aid American technical writers who design documents for international audiences. This thesis uses Japanese cultural analysis and Japanese design theories to explain high-context design decisions applied to Japanese documents.


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Graduation Date





Flammia, Madelyn


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

May 2005

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)