Cultural Differences Between Chinese and Western User Instructions: A Content Analysis of User Manuals for Household Appliances

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Research problem: Cultural differences may be increasingly important in technical communication. Research is needed to investigate differences in document design practices and user preferences. This study examines cultural differences between Chinese and Western manuals for household appliances. Literature review: Earlier studies identified a wide range of possible differences between Chinese and Western documents, but the findings are not consistent and do not provide more generic perspectives on cultural differences. Possible reasons are the diversity of the documents used, the rather informal research designs, and relatively small sample sizes. Research question: To what extent and how do Chinese and Western manuals for household appliances differ from each other in terms of content, structure, and use of visuals? Methodology: To overcome these shortcomings, a quantitative content analysis was conducted, comparing 50 Chinese manuals and 50 Western manuals for household appliances. The coding scheme was based on earlier research findings and focused on content, structure, and the use of visuals. Results and conclusions: The results show that the content of Chinese manuals is less strictly confined to the function of user support than that of Western manuals. Compared to Western manuals, the structure of Chinese manuals appears to be fuzzier and less rigid. Regarding visuals, Chinese manuals contain more non-instrumental, entertaining illustrations than Western manuals. Underlying these differences is a more general distinction between highly instrumental Western manuals and more flexible Chinese manuals. These differences seem to point to two cultural dimensions: holistic versus analytic thinking and analog versus digital cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8976259
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
JournalIEEE transactions on professional communication
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020



  • Chinese culture
  • cross-cultural communication
  • intercultural communication
  • user instructions
  • user manuals

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