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  • Writer's pictureCarlie Sitzman MA, CT

Adding Value Through Cultural Considerations in Technical Writing

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Technical writing for consumers is about ensuring that consumers understand how advanced technology benefits them. It is essential to clearly communicate a product’s function and value proposition to the target audience. When this audience is rooted in a culture foreign to the writer, understanding the consumers’ local lifestyle and attitudes can allow the writer to add value for the consumer through culturally adapted technical writing. In this article, I will use the simple example of a bicycle lock to illustrate how culturally adapted writing can allow technical writers to forge a stronger connection between foreign consumers and a product.

Cultural Variation in Buying Motives

Start your writing process by acknowledging that the problems consumers seek to solve on a daily basis in another country may differ from those in your own country in surprising ways. Ideally, this should be considered as early as the design phase. If the product is already on the market, however, you may be able to compensate for any lack of cultural consideration in the design phase by communicating creative ways for consumers to use the product. This is the culturally aware technical writer’s superpower! Let’s take a look at the bike lock as an example.

Buying Motives in Germany vs. United States

In both the United States and Germany, consumers use bike locks to keep their bikes from being stolen. To identify cultural differences, we need to understand local attitudes towards bikes, how bikes are used in each country, and how thieves go about stealing them. In Germany, for example, many consumers see bikes as an essential form of transportation. A large percentage of bike consumers in Germany use their bicycles to commute to work, shop for groceries, or travel to doctor’s appointments. Bikes are frequently parked in large bicycle parking lots, where thieves can sift through and choose the least secure one to take. Bike paths and pedestrian zones abound, so it is easy to travel freely on a bicycle in many German towns. As a result, thieves will often steal bikes simply by hopping on and riding off.

In the United States, bikes are seen mostly as a recreational device. Americans are accustomed to putting their bikes in the back of a car and taking them to parks to ride. It is also comparatively rare to see a bike in public in the US and bike paths are hard to come by. Riding a bike in the United States means sharing the road with vehicles. Cars tend to be somewhat larger in the United States, so fitting a bike in the back is less of a hassle than it would be in Germany. This means that in addition to riding off on a bike, thieves are also highly likely to drive up and throw the bike in the back of a car or truck in the United States. Even if they did ride off with the bike initially, they would probably have to load it in a car at some point. The lack of other bikes in the area means thieves have an incentive to hone in on any vulnerability in the way a single bike is secured and breach it.

Based on this information, it can be safely assumed that consumers in both countries need differing levels of protection for their bicycles. German consumers need to prevent someone from riding away on their bikes. Consumers in the United States, on the other hand, need protection both against thieves riding off on their bicycles and thieves throwing their bicycles into motorized vehicles. A bicycle lock designed to meet both needs will be most effective in both markets.

Cultural Variation in Product Usage

Once the writer knows the nature of problems consumers seek to solve in the target culture, the writer may be able to surmise how the consumer will use a device. It is important to write technical documents from this perspective in order to highlight the product’s unique value proposition for the applicable region and also ensure consumers know how to use it properly in their own environment.

Product Usage in Germany vs. United States

Since German consumers are more worried about a thief riding off on their bikes, they tend to lock their bikes by blocking the spokes on the back wheel. American consumers, on the other hand, are more concerned about someone carrying off their bikes. As a result, American consumers tend to want to lock bikes to solid objects. When writing something such as a user’s manual, a good bilingual technical writer will take these differences into account. She might instruct German consumers in the best way to block the spokes of a bicycle’s back wheel with the bike lock. American consumers, however, would receive instructions on how best to fasten the bike lock around a solid object.

Add Value Through Technical Writing

American consumers use their bikes recreationally, while German consumers use them for transportation. This means that German consumers would probably benefit greatly from a way to affix the lock to the bike while traveling. American consumers would surely be delighted to have this feature, but it would not be as essential. If the product were originally designed for the American market, for example, there might not be an immediately obvious way of attaching the lock to the bike. A bilingual technical writer could add value to the product for German consumers by working with the product development team to include instructions for reliably affixing the lock to the bike while riding.

These are just a few of the many cultural considerations in technical writing that should be taken into account in order to forge a strong connection between your consumers and product. A good bilingual technical writer will incorporate cultural differences into technical writing to show consumers how the product benefits them specifically.

For more information on culturally adapted technical writing or to commission culturally adapted copy, contact Carlie.

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