Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Frank C. Stokes


In an attempt to clarify how a beginner who has not yet mastered a software program is to learn to use word processing programs, this thesis examines two examples, WordPerfect and W.W. Norton's TEXTRA from the standpoint of their documentation. Software developers have adopted conflicting rhetorical strategies in their documentation: some have sought clear instruction via a rule-based rhetoric with a reliance on jargon-free standard English, and others have pursued an inferential rhetoric. These two strategies parallel two models in modern communications theory: a decoding model and an inferential model. WordPerfect seems to follow a decoding (rule-based) approach and TEXTRA seems to follow an inferential approach. An examination of the rhetorical environment of the documentation is a useful strategy for determining the complexity of the program and the complexity of learning how to use it.