Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




The elderly population, one of the fastest growing age groups in the United States, is an audience that technical writers have not addressed. To argue the importance of addressing the elderly as audience, this thesis poses three research questions: How do elderly individuals read and respond to documents they are typically expected to use? How can technical communicators write and design documents for the elderly, and why should they be concerned with this audience? What ethical responsibilities do both writers and their companies have to make information more accessible to the elderly audience? A literature review of technical communications and other disciplines indicates that changes often do occur with aging-changes that could impact reading and comprehension To test that impact, 16 healthy, active elderly subjects, aged 65 to 90, were asked to answer questions from two Medicare supplemental insurance policies. Data were obtained from pre- and post-test interviews, transcripts of think-aloud protocols, and observations. Based upon the results of the testing, guidelines are listed for technical communicators to follow when writing and designing documents for the elderly audience. Additional research is suggested to further expand the list of guidelines. Demographic information on the growing number of elderly supports the importance of studying this population. Finally, a review of stockholder, stakeholder, or social responsibility theories of business ethics shows that each theory can be used to argue that writers and their companies have an ethical responsibility to the elderly. Logical, economical, and ethical arguments are given for why technical writers can and should recognize the elderly as an important audience for many of their documents.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Patricia Ann Allen



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248 pages