Michael J. Klein

Michael J. Klein

Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication
James Madison University


I am beginning to conceptualize a new project examining the way that spatial design and linguistic objects help patients physically navigate within a healthcare setting (hospital, clinic, etc.). In other words, how do designers and healthcare providers use such things as furniture, signage, video monitors and floor coverings to create a space that is both practical and at the same time reinforces the intentions of the facility designers in having people move from one place to another (such as a nurses station to an exam room), or conversely, to stay in a place for an extended period of time (such as in a waiting room).

I’m particularly interested in understanding how those that design the physical layout and accompanying signage in a medical setting make choices about what they feel is the best way to communicate with clients and their families using both linguistic and non-linguistic methods. For example, how are patients directed to “navigate” a hospital waiting room through both the placement of furniture and the use of signs and placards? This part of the study would require me to interview those who had a role in the decision-making process when the environment was constructed.

Conversely, I wish to determine if such choices translate into the anticipated results. How do the clients themselves react to the ways that their environment is created? Was the intended message delivered to the audience, or was something lost in translation? This part would require me to interview clients and their families who visit the location.

The study would also necessitate me learning more about healthcare architecture, something I have no background in. In particular, I would need to learn more about evidence-based design (EBD). My work would be a complement to the work of Roger S. Ulrich, who has written extensively about how the design of hospitals can improve the health of clients. I would be examining the way the design of hospitals facilitates communication amongst doctors, clients and the families of clients.

I plan on carrying out this study at a regional hospital and a community healthcare clinic, both of which have been recently constructed and thus, should provide me with the opportunity to speak with those who were part of the decision-making process in designing the facilities and accompanying materials such as signage and informational materials.

Key words to describe work

evidence-based design, healthcare architecture, healthcare genres, navigation systems

Work in relation to symposium keywords

Connections and dissemination resonate the most with my research agenda.

Connections can refer to both the connection between clinician and patient; what is their relationship to one another through power dynamics? It can also refer to the connections between a physical space and the non-verbal message it communicates to users. Dissemination also has multiple meanings for me. First, it can mean the way that clinicians provide information to patients; is a response expected or is the patient to serve solely as a receiver of a signal? It also can mean the different variety of ways that messages are sent to patients through the physical design of a space.

Participation Questions

  • How do you explain/define what you do to medical personnel and/or other stakeholders in the research process or to the public?

In a general sense, I examine the way that technical information from experts is transferred to a lay audience. Specifically, I analyze the relationship between members in a discourse community and those outside of it, and the means in which they communicate with one another: the shifts in genre which take place and the type of accommodation that is necessary for communication to successfully take place. I explain that I’m particularly interested in understanding the ways in which people attempt to make themselves understood in different contexts and within different communities of individuals.

  • How would you describe the relationship between medical rhetoric/health communication (however you see yourself) with other fields and sub-fields (e.g., rhetoric of science)? In other words, how do you align what may be a specific focus with broader disciplinary concerns and tensions?

I view my research as falling (1) within the specific field of technical communication, which in turn (2) occupies a space within the larger field of scientific rhetoric. My primary focus is on the way technical language undergoes changes as it moves from one group to another—both in the use of a specific lexicon and specific genres (an important issue within TC)—and the ways practitioners/communicators use language to influence/inform/affect their audience (which is at the heart of rhetoric).

  • What do you see as the primary distinctions between a “humanities” orientation to research and a “social sciences” orientation? What is at stake in these different orientations?

In the broadest of terms, I feel that humanities research is qualitative, examining the way that people affect or are affected by a stimulus. Social science research, on the other hand, is more quantitative, examining processes of communication. Thus, humanities research would examine the way people make choices about communication; this information would be gathered by interviews and expressed through narrative. Social science research, on the other hand, would take a broader approach, attempting to quantify the differences between and amongst larger groups of individuals. I recognize that these are generalities at best, and that quantitative and qualitative research methodologies reside on a spectrum of activities. Additionally, one cannot separate the human from communication, and that my above dichotomy is somewhat artificial. That said, these distinct larger methodologies due tend to operationalize different aspects of the communication process.


Recent Posts