Intercultural Content Patterns

In Pattern

In Tom Johnson’s ‘stop and think’ article, Eight Defining Questions that Shape Content Organization, he suggests that the eight questions we’re likely to ask to define a content strategy are:

  1. How can I make this content understandable? (technical writing)
  2. How can I make this content findable? (information architecture)
  3. How can I improve the content and the processes surrounding the content? (content strategy)
  4. How can I help users learn the content? (instructional design)
  5. How can I manage and re-use the content? (content management)
  6. How I persuade the audience toward a particular view of the content? (rhetoric)
  7. How can I make the application more usable? (user experience)
  8. How I can I increase sales and adoption of the application? (marketing)


Johnson’s multi-disciplinary approach recalls Kaplan’s “finding all available means” for achieving a communicative purpose.  Both Johnson’s questions and his content strategy visualisation have cross-over links with Kaplan’s classic 1960’s visualising of inter-cultural communication.  Kaplan observed that:

“. . . Rhetoric is a mode of thinking or a mode of “finding all available means” for the achievement of a designated end.  Accordingly, rhetoric concerns itself basically with what goes on in the mind rather than with what comes out of the mouth….  Rhetoric is concerned with factors of analysis, data gathering, interpretation, and synthesis…. What we notice in the environment and how we notice it are both predetermined to a significant degree by how we are prepared to notice this particular type of object. … Cultural anthropologists point out that given acts and objects appear vastly different in different cultures, depending on the values attached to them. Psychologists investigating perception are increasingly insistent that what is perceived depends upon the observer’s perceptual frame of reference.”

It’s a long bow perhaps, but I see pattern overlaps between the eight questions Johnson poses, and the rhetorical patterns which govern different cultures.  Damen’s Vannevar Bush-aligned approach to Japanese thought patterns and patterns of organisation serves as the lynchpin:

“Japanese thought patterns are clusters or webs; language patterns also move from one idea or cluster to another and another, but the idea clusters may not have an obvious relationship.  They are related more by association than by cause and effect, like stepping stones that lead to a destination, but are spaced out from each other and not in a straight line.” — Louise Damen, Culture Learning

Kaplan’s premise is that culture governs logic and how we frame our communications.  For Johnson, our objective governs how we frame our content.