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in practice:
practical guidelines, tips and techniques

As a scholar and teacher of communication, I’m not usually a big fan of widely-circulated lists of practical “tips” for professionals, such as textbook recommendations touting the three E’s:


the three C’s:


or the combination A’s-and-C’s:


for technical writers. Rarely are such memorable rules plastic enough to accommodate the range of situational constraints encountered in a modern workplace. They are intended to be prescriptive, and are delivered as such. This makes them useless as creative strategies.

Such rules are somewhat more useful as evaluative criteria, but even then, only in specific contexts. The most important question to ask is not how “concise,” or how “clear,” or how “economic” a communication is, but how well it is adapted to the rhetorical situation in and for which it was created — that is, how well form (verbal, visual, and physical) suits content, purpose, audience, and occasion. To my mind, only rhetorical criteria can adjust for changes in the communicative situation and yet still provide a set standard for evaluation.

... But as a developer of digital and print communications I, too, find myself drawn to quickie lists of “tips & tricks,” ever hopeful that I can easily assimilate the practical wisdom of others, and with little effort of my own, instantly improve my practice.

I never do, of course, but I keep on trying anyway.

This section of the Communicating By Design website caters to the human impulse for “tips & tricks,” at the same time it tries to frame these differently (e.g., using one of my dogs for what I hope makes a memorable grammar lesson).

My “practical guidelines, tips & techniques” are intended to serve as tactical interventions. They will not do the thinking for you. They will, I hope, help you to think for yourself.

to FYI #1 ...

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