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case3.pdf - APPLIED RESEARCH SUMMARY Compares graphics from...

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APPLIED RESEARCH SUMMARY r Compares graphics from Chinese and American science magazines and manuals r Finds that the Chinese visuals provide more contextual and technical information, while the American visuals are more closely integrated with verbal explanations A Cross-cultural Comparison of the Use of Graphics in Scientific and Technical Communication WANG QIUYE C ommunication styles differ among cultures. Ac- cording to Hall (1997), cultures can be grouped along a continuum from low-context to high- context. “A high-context . . . communication or message is one in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. A low-context . . . communication is just the op- posite, . . . the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code” (p. 47). Considerable research has been done on the stylistic differences among cultures in terms of verbal and behav- ioral aspects (Stewart and Bennett 1991; Hall and Hall 1990; Yum 1997). Among other characteristics identified in high- context cultures, indirect instead of direct style is preferred in daily communication (Yum 1997), while in a low-context culture, communication tends to be problem-oriented, di- rect, explicit, personal, and informal (Stewart and Bennett 1991). As computer technology ushers in a new communi- cation model that promotes a convergence of verbal and visual language (Search 1993), it makes sense to ask whether these stylistic differences are also reflected in vi- sual communication. This study explores differences in the use of graphics in China, a high-context culture, and the U.S., a low-con- text culture. Visuals from the two cultures will be compared and analyzed. Possible reasons for the differences will be discussed in terms of the larger cultural background. APPROACHES TO VISUAL LANGUAGE The prevalence of computer technology gives momentum to study of and research about visual communication. One issue under frequent discussion is the universality of graph- ics. Are pictures universal or are they culturally specific? Kostelnick (1995, p. 184) proposes a two-ended continuum along which to position various approaches: Global 4 ——————— 3 Culture-focused With an interest in the universal features of pictures, the global approaches emphasize universal perceptual principles. Adherents of this approach believe that because visual elements such as lines and shapes are perceived the same way regardless of the viewers’ cultural backgrounds, graphics can bridge people of various cultures (Horton 1993). On the other end, the culture-specific camp views visual communication as closely bound to experience; therefore, visual design must reflect social and cultural values (Kostelnick 1995).
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