Primary encoding can be defined as the “astylistic” presentation of
information via a medium of communication such as speech, text, and hand
gestures. Secondary encoding is defined as a presentation style that applies
to or accompanies primary encoding and provides additional information. Put
in another way, primary encoding can be the "what" is said and secondary
encoding can be "how" it is said.
Primary encoding is presented at face value and secondary encoding
complements it with additional meaning. For example, you say the words, "I
am very interested in this job" (primary) during an interview but you appear
tired and uninterested (secondary) in what the interviewer is saying. From
your body language, the interviewer will think you are not interested. The
words you say may not be as important as how you say them.
Watch the following videos on the importance of body language and
non-verbal communication, which contains secondary encoded information.
This ADE will provide you with an overview of a few secondary encodings
and what happens when a person cannot detect it. It will focus on the use
of colour, tone, and culture.
Note: Please use this alternate version of "Secondary Encoding" only in
circumstances where vision cannot
be used and this alternate version in circumstances where
hearing cannot be used.
the Technical Help Page for guidance on
enabling this technology.
Website and application developers often use colours to enhance the
appearance of their product and to add emphasis to certain text (such
as using red text to indicate danger). However, someone with colour
blindness may not be able to detect the colours, and will not know that
the text is important. The following activity will illustrate this.
What to do:
- The Colorblind
Web Page Filter website provides a tool that allows you to enter a
web page address and
simulate what a web page looks like to someone with colour blindness.
We will be using this tool for this activity.
- In the box "Type a URL:", enter the URL:
This page consists of words written in different colours. By applying
the different filters, we can see how the different colours would
appear to those with colour blindness.
- For the "pick a color filter" drop down menu, we will start with the
fourth color filter: "grayscale/achromatopsia (quick check
for all forms of colorblindness)".
- On the resulting page, try to determine the words that are
written in red. Are you able to?
- It is possible to change the filters directly on the resulting
filtered page. On the right hand side, there is a box that contains
various filter options. Under "Color Blindness", try the "Tritan"
- On the resulting page, again, try to determine the words
written in red.
- Let's try the "Protan" filter under "Color Blindness". This time,
try to determine the words written in blue. Write down the words
then compare your answer by choosing the "Normal" filter (under
The way we speak can convey information about ourselves, beyond the
spoken words The tone of voice we use with the words can convey the meaning
we intended as well as our emotions. Without the tone, as is often the case
with text, it can be difficult to determine the meaning.
What to do:
- The Tones and
Emotions website presents a set of audio clips of phrases
spoken in different tones. Can you detect the speaker's
meaning? Try it and see.
- The Lack of Tone
website presents a set of phrases without the tones.
Can you detect the writer's intended meaning?
- Internet users have developed ways of adding emotions and
tones to the text they write. How do you personally express
Our cultural background has a strong influence on how we interpret
information. The tones in a language can affect how we speak and how we
understand another language. Also, the phrases within one culture can be
unknown to another. The following activities will illustrate this.
What to do:
- Some languages, such as English, do not depend on the
pronunciation and tones used to define the word. The
Language website illustrates this.
- Listen to the following
- How many different words do you think is being spoken?
- How many times do you think the "same" word was spoken?
- Some language, like Mandarin, depends on the pronunciation and
the tones used to define the word. When a different tone is used,
a different word is being said.
The previous clip contains 11 different words (one word is repeated).
It says, "The Shrewdy
mother scolded the stupid horse."
New Concept Mandarin page will show you the different tones
in the language. Can you tell the difference between the
pronunciations? Listen to the
clip again and see if you can tell the differences in the
What to hand in:
From the Colour activity:
- Was your list of blue words correct? If your list was
incorrect, what do you think is the cause of the error?
- As a developer, how would you prevent the problems that you
experienced in this activity from occurring?
From the Tone activity:
- What techniques do you use to indicate your emotions/meanings
when you are chatting with friends online?
- Do your friends express it the same way as you? If not, how does
- What are some problems with using emoticons and acronyms?
From the Culture activity:
- Since certain English words may be pronounced using different tones,
which may confuse some listeners, how would you present information
such that it would not confuse your audience?
- What did you learn from this ADE?
- What will you do differently now that you have learned it?
- Should secondary encoding be used on Web content? If so, how should
it be used? If not, why not?
- Besides those presented in this ADE, what are some other solutions
that can help resolve the problems with secondary encoding?
- What were your expectations of this ADE?
- Did this ADE meet your expectations? Provide a rating between 1 and
7, where 1 means not at all, 4 means somewhat, and 7 means
absolutely. Please explain your choice.
- Did you feel that the video(s) for this ADE was appropriate? Why or
why not? Provide a rating between 1 and 7, where 1 means not at
all, 4 means somewhat, and 7 means absolutely. Please explain your
- Do you have any suggestions for other possible videos?
- Did you feel that the questions above got you to think about the
real and serious issues regarding this ADE? Provide a rating
between 1 and 7, where 1 means not at all, 4 means somewhat, and
7 means absolutely. Please explain your choice.
- If you have any suggestions on how to improve this ADE, please
include it here.
Additional Information and Tools:
Lighthouse International website provides some guidelines
on how to choose effective colour contrasts.
Vischeck has an online tool to check images for the 3 main
- Visolve is an
assistive technology that converts the colours on the screen into ones
the viewer can see.
- Wikipedia provides a good summarization of
where they came from, and what they mean.
Overcome Email Overload with Eudora 5 website contains excerpts that
suggest ways to convey emotions and tones.
- Wikipedia provides a list of
Internet slang that uses abbreviations and tags.