Shaping Decisions: Writing and Designing Technical Decision Support


Aimee Roundtree


June 8, 2016 - 2:00 PM


June 8, 2016 - 3:00 PM

Evidence-based practice is priority for several technical fields: medicine, psychology, speech pathology, and software engineering, among others. Decision support such as websites, apps, guidelines and reporting interfaces are designed from the best evidence in the field, for the purpose of helping practitioners make the best decisions in design, diagnosis, treatment, and reporting. These aids are a new, emerging genre across many industries. And they are important, because they influence critical decision points in policy making and clinical practice.

Technical communicators are among those assigned to teams responsible for creating these decision aids and reporting interfaces. We lend a unique perspective insofar as our background in plain writing, rhetoric and ethics sensitize us to valuate complexities of the decision making process in ways that others on the team do not. Managers see the hurdle as a matter of simplifying the information or interface. Practitioners and the public see the hurdle as a matter of overcoming everyday realities of service delivery.

At this presentation, attendees will examine cases of decision aids in medical communication and reporting forms for first responders to learn best practices for conceptualizing, designing, and testing these tools that help practitioners in technical fields make decisions for diagnoses, treatments, and incident reporting. The presentation will cover not only the challenges of writing to accommodate the dynamics of decision making (which include accounting for best evidence in the field, affordances and habits of workplace culture, and realities of trade-offs, ambivalence and subjective factors that influence report and decision accuracy and quality); it will also reflect on the ethical implications of designing decision support in such a way as to avoid coersion and exclusion. Attendees will also learn fundamentals of persuasive technology design (captology) and models of decision making from philosophy, rhetoric and psychology.


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The Society for Technical Communication advances technical communication as the discipline of transforming complex information into usable content for products, processes, and services.