Friday, October 11, 2013


While reading Karen Schriver’s “What Do Techincal Communicators Need to Know About Information Design,” I was really struck by how Schriver describes the necessary skillset of a technical communicator—that is, they must be well versed in information design, the “art and science of integrating writing and design so that people can use content in ways that suit their personal goals” (388). Having shadowed one of Kristin’s DTC classes, I wonder how Washington State University’s DTC major might support Schriver’s argument for the growing skill set of technical communicators. I think, also, that emphasizing information design asks employers and peers in workplace situations to see the technical communicator as an author, a designer, rather than just a producer.

I’m also interested in Brent Henze’s discussion of genre and finding genres in the workplace within his article, “What Do Technical Communicators Need to Know about Genre?”. He applies the notion of genre to the technical communicator’s work and asserts that they can “simplify the technical communicator’s work by constraining the range of possibilities in a given communication situation, and they can encourage innovation by helping technical communicators understand the goals of a text and envision a range of ways to achieve those goals” (337). How might this complicate the discussion of author versus producer? What type of assignments might we include in our 402 courses to tackle this idea of genre? What are the pros and cons of thinking of the work of technical communicators in terms of genres? I guess I’m particularly interested in this topic because I’m a TA for English 302 this semester, and one of the assignments we’ve asked our students to complete is to establish their own genre of something (punk rock t-shirts, 1980s comedy posters, really, anything) and explain how their genre funtions in terms of outliers and norms. It’s a really cool assignment, but I wonder how we might translate it into looking at the genres of technical communication. What might be gained/lost as an author? What might be gained/lost as a user?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


“What are the Work Patterns of Technical communication?” William Hart-Davidson from Solving Problems in Technical Communication

1.     Problem.
Hart-Davidson notes that “the work of technical communicators was difficult to evaluate in explicit terms because it was seen as ancillary to the production of manufactured goods… [and] disconnected from the service-oriented economy of the professions” (50).

2.     Solution/response to problem and questions!
Hart-Davidson argues that things have since changed, and that “the work of technical communicators today is more readily visible and vital to the core mission and the bottom line of organizations of all types” (50). His article seeks to “provide an overview of the work practices [in contemporary technical communication]” and highlights “three major work patterns… that are characteristic of technical communication today: information design, user advocacy, and content and community management” (51). He looks at technical communicators as information designers first, explaining that “technical communicators must create information that no longer stays neatly within the boundaries of a single genre or even a single medium, but is published in multiple formats for multiple audiences, using multiple display formats and technologies” (51). Hart-Davidson then asserts that the technical communicator as user advocate “work[s] to ensure the usability of products in all phases of the user-centered design process,” essentially acting as the “voice of the user” (51-2). And, finally, he defines the technical communicator as a steward of writing activity in organizations as one whose “expertise helps ensure that organizations support content development as a vital component to the organization’s success” (52).

A main takeaway from Hart-Davidson’s article is that the work of technical communicators should be coordinative and transformative. That is, “technical communicators don’t merely make texts from scratch, but instead manipulate many existing texts, images, and fragments of information in order to make new ones” (52). He argues that transformation is the “end goal,” and that “making something new and adding value are the hallmarks of distributed work in technical communication” (53). He writes about the transformational aims of working with new media. How might this translate in terms of work done in the digital humanities? Can we compare technical writers to digital humanities scholars and their scholarship? Why or why not?

He also discusses usability versus usefulness and cites a study that found that users value usefulness over usability—users will learn to use something that will benefit them. Hart-Davidson suggests that “design teams should not try to solve all the usability problems with a given system before it ships… rather, technical communicators can take the lead in listening to users postadoption and learning from their feedback” (55). Would this still be considered a successful model of user centered design?

Hart-Davidson also offers a breakdown of four things technical communicators should practice to become more effective user advocates as well as step-by-step directions on how to construct coordinative work and transformative work.

3.     Links to other readings.

-       I see a link to Salvo’s article from last week, as Salvo mentioned a shift in seeing the expert as someone who took over entirely to an expert that worked with users. Hart-Davidson is very concerned with this idea of the modern expert that uses users as a resource.
-       Also, there’s a link to Slack, Miller, and Doak’s conversation about the technical writer as producer versus author.

-       I see connections to Selfe and Selfe’s article, “What Are the Boundaries, Artifacts, and Identities of Technical Communication?”, too, as both articles seek to analyze the field of technical communication and explain how it functions in the workplace. While Selfe and Selfe define the field of technical communication and Hart-Davidson establishes how technical communicators have capitalized on the commodification of successful communication, Henry’s article, “How Can Technical Communicators Fit into Contemporary Organizations?” further looks at different strategies for the technical communicator to succeed and exert agency within an organization.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Salvo, Michael. “Rhetoric as Productive Technology” from Critical Power Tools.

1.     Salvo mentions a few problems. First, he explains that students aren’t being effectively positioned produce an ethical change in the workplace. And, further than that, that students are not being engaged in classrooms about how to enact these changes in the workplace using technology. Additionally, he discusses a divide between cultural studies and rhetoricians. He also questions modern notions of experts and poses the question, “what is the technical communicator’s expertise?” (227).
2.     The solution that Salvo presents is a revision to James Berlin’s argument in Rhetorics, Poetics and cultures, which “names race, gender, and class as the three dominant matrixes that will shape cultural studies inquiry, particularly in the literary studies” (219). Salvo’s suggested revision states, “Learning to gain some control over communication forms and the technologies that enable them, students become active agents of social, political, and technical change, learning that social and technological worlds have been made and thus can be remade to serve the interests of democratic society” (220). 
Salvo documents the work already done in the field of cultural studies with an eye toward “highlight[ing] the active, cultural engagement they each foreground” (221) He “assert[s] that cultural studies does its most insightful work in the analytical phase by mapping discourses, institutions, and flows of power on a virtual map of culture. This productive analytic trust of cultural studies can effectively inform action through critically examining design, mapping the discourses that inform design, as well as revealing the complex networks of power and the interests that are served and subsumed in different designs” (221). In this way, Salvo suggests that technical communicators should bring the analytic and descriptive methodologies from cultural studies to “inform the active, engaged, and productive elements of technological invention and design… [which would offer them] an effective means for engaging political, social, and discursive implications of technoculture” (221). Salvo contends that this will advance technical communication research “to participate in cultural studies discourse and to move that discourse forward, to add technical communication’s engagement of workplace discourse and power dynamics to cultural studies while also enriching technical communication” (223). So, in essence, Salvo suggests that technical communicators should take some of the qualities of academics in cultural studies and apply them to issues they’re already interested in. He gets into what the field of cultural studies can learn from technical communicators later in his article, but, he basically argues that they can learn the art of knowing when to engage. He writes, “expertise ins not limited to critical analysis but also requires action, both critical status-raising rhetorical action and more mundane functional language work. Knowing when to engage in, or recognizing opportunities for strategic action is a rhetorical skill requiring action based on hard-won knowledge of the institution, the intensification and slacking of workflow, and the potential for language to enable change” (230).
             He also uses some nerdy jargon—technocultural agents? Really? Salvo then delves into the notion of expert and explains that before, experts served as people who used their knowledge to take over. However, there’s been a shift to thinking of the expert as a partner who comes into a community to help them do what they already do well in an even more effective way. He discusses expertise in terms of the technical communicator, effectively answering the question that he posed. Salvo argues that “being an expert in communication, in technical writing, in usability, does not exclude one from playing the role of expert in an accompanying technical endeavor… the expert’s role… becomes a self-conscious analysis and comparison of the local conditions with the previous experience and knowledge of the expert… technical and professional writers’ existing expertise in effective communication, coupled with the role of user advocate, informed by cultural studies analysis, can and should allow practioners and academics to contribute to the invention of new technologies” (226).

A few questions that I had:

1.     What is technoculture? He uses it over and over again, though I don’t think he really defines it. Is it just a culture of technology? A web based culture? What does Salvo have to gain by echoing the rhetorical moves of other authors (remember usability experts? Salvo uses technoculture agents)?
2.     Salvo makes moves to begin to discuss online culture, and, at the beginning of his article, I really thought he would discuss it more. How might these cues that he discusses, of knowing when to engage in specific rhetorical action, or even when there’s an opportunity for specific rhetorical action, change in an online space?
3.     I have to ask. Did anyone else think that he over-cited? I felt that his discussions of other people’s work, while very detailed, seemingly suffocated his overall argument. What was gained or lost by this rhetorical choice? (I ask this while thinking about document design. I'm not sure if this is a dumb question to ask, or to even think about, but I'm going to do it anyway--when we think about document design, is this a separate thing from thinking about the content of the document? How might this contribute to thinking about technical communicators as producers versus authors?)

Connections to other readings:

      He cited Robert R. Johnson’s notion of user centered technology and applied it to our perceptions about experts, which was really interesting. Also, he cites the article I presented on last week by Slack, Miller, and Doak, and discusses how “high-wage jobs are outsourced of “offshored” in the misinterpretation that professional writing is mere translation of information and delivery of facts from those who know to those who lack understanding,” bringing us back to the dichotomy of the technical writer as author versus the technical writer as producer (231). Also, I see links to Henry and Scott’s articles, which are focused pedagogies that would inspire students to make ethical changes in their future workplaces.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Short, sweet, and informal mostly about the research section of Critical Power Tools!

I’m really caught on this idea that Slack, Miller and Doak mention within their article, “The Technical Communicator as Author”. They describe a shift from technical writers being seen as “‘inadequate surrogates’ [that] manage the processes of encoding and transmission poorly and take responsibility for miscommunication” to being seen as experts who can contribute something unique to various fields (31). I wonder how this might translate in our struggles, as course constructors, when thinking about wanting to expose our students to the theoretical practices regarding usability and different cultures, ages, sexes, religions, and sexualities, while also wanting them to feel as though they’re sufficiently prepared for the job market. I guess what I’m trying to get at here is how do we balance this idea of the technical writer as producer versus the technical writer as an author within our 402 classrooms? Which assignments emphasize either role? Is it possible to be both simultaneously? Would we want to be both? I hope these questions make sense to people who are outside of my brain.

Regarding Digler—how might his discussion about placing objects within their cultural and historic contexts be applied to our discussions about cookbooks?

Moses and Katz explain that in email, “almost anything goes” (72). How might this be detrimental or helpful to communicating across cultural differences?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Waka Fukuoka, Yukiko Kojima, and Jan H. Spyrdakis, "Illustrations in User Manuals: Preference and Effectiveness with Japanese and American Readers"

1. Fukuoka, Kojima,and Spyridakis explain that "although much has been written about how to design the "look" of illustrations for different cultures to ensure that the use of colors and symbols is appropriate for a given culture… we still do not know much about whether people from different cultures have similar attitudes about the use of illustrations in instruction manuals" (458). What we do know about this subject, as noted by the authors in their literature review, is that "users comprehend more information and perform better with instructional materials that contain illustrations," though "previous research still does not tell us what combination of text and illustrations users prefer on first impression or believe to be most effective with step-by-step instructions, nor does the research compare the views of Japanese and American users" (461). 

2. In response to this gap in analysis, Fukuoka, Kojima, and Spyridakis (F, K, and S) conducted a study where 13 American and 16 Japanese volunteers with a median age of 26-27 were given test packs with four experimental formats "modifying an instructional procedure except from the English user manual for the Sony CDF 370 CD/Radio cassette player" (463). Yes, this article was written in 1999, and the excepts taken from the Sony instruction manual were written in 1996. A CD/Radio cassette player! Okay, my amusement aside, the test packets for  the Japanese volunteers were written in Japanese, and the English volunteers received them in English, but other than that, they were identical. The experimental formats were different "in the amount, location, and detail of the illustrations that accompanied the six written, instructional steps. The full format used a single-step illustration besides each of the six steps. The half format used a single-step illustration beside three of six steps. The overview format had one generalized illustration at the top of the page. The text-only format contained only the written steps" (463). They also gave their volunteers two questionnaires. One of them asked participants to not read the content of the pages, but to rely on only their first impressions, and to "select the reasons for their preferences from a list of options or to write down their own reasons," and then they were asked "whether they would want to use a manual that followed their least preferred format" (465). This seems like a weird question to me. Why would you want to figure out preferences only to ask people how much their preferences really matter? This makes me think of our discussion regarding user centered technology and pleasure, but more on that later. The other questionnaire asked participants to look at the entire instructional text and to rate on a five point scale "how easy it would be to follow the steps with the different formats and how fast they would finish the steps with the different formats" (465). The last page of the test packet included two cartoons "excerpted from a Toshiba computer manual" and pictured an unhappy computer and a man flexing his huge muscles (465). They handed these packets out randomly to their participants, and the results showed that "no significant differences [are present] between American and Japanese subjects in terms of their preferences for and perceived effectiveness of illustrations in user manuals. American and Japanese subjects found the formats that contained both text and illustrations more preferable and believed they would be more effective in terms of ease of following instructions" (471). They suggest that "document designers should realize that a user's first impression of a document may not necessarily reveal how effective a user would find the document"  and explain that their results "provide some implications for the localization of user manuals" in the sense that "the designer should… provide step-by-step illustrations as often as possible besides individual instructions… [and Japanese document designers] need not reduce the number of illustrations on the assumption that American readers will be annoyed by the inclusion of so many illustrations… [while] American document designers should consider using more illustrations in manuals to help illustrate instructional steps" (472). 

3. Questions! 

- F, K, and S explain that document designers are now required to localize user manuals, but "in the localization process, texts are translated into target languages [where] the manual format and the illustrations often remain the same. They argue that "the use of a static format may be caused by document designers not knowing how different people from different cultures use and comprehend illustrations" (458). I wonder how we can see this in terms of user-centered design. Can we see this as a failed attempt? As just a failure? A non attempt? They're translating these texts, but only translating part of them. And with the study results, does it even matter? 

- I mentioned earlier that they asked their study participants to rank their preferences and then to talk about if they'd use their least favorite. They found that "most subjects stated that they would not mind using a manual with their least preferred format but that they would not like using it" (467). Do users have to like using something for it to be considered user centered? 

4. Connections!

- Some from last week's reading: Redish's "What is Information Design?" and Mirel's "Advancing a Vision of Usability". 

- Some from this week's reading: Beamer's "Learning Intercultural Communication Competence" -- Beamer argues that we need to take social and cultural environment into account when communicating interculturally, and F, K, and S's study looks at the different assumptions cultures use while constructing documents and how they're often wrong. Thrush's article "Multicultural Issues in Technical Communication" also highlights the importance of effective communication between cultures. 

Monday, September 9, 2013


Kramer, Robert and Stephen A Bernhardt. “Teaching Text Design.” Teaching Technical Communication. Ed. James M. Dubinsky. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2004. 128-138. Print.

1. I guess Kramer and Berhardt believe there’s confusion surrounding Redish’s second definition of information design, “the way information is presented on the page or screen” (212).

2. Kramer and Bernhardt use their chapter in the anthology to exemplify what these different ways of presenting information might look like. Some of their main points include “see[ing] the page as a grid, us[ing] active whitespace, us[ing] text structures to guide the reader, creat[ing] a typeset look through appropriate use of proportional fonts and spacing, [and] control[ing] the document through features such a style definers” (243).  They also offer pedagogical applications through suggesting exercises, such as having students “produce a simple essay or review in a two-column format… [or] to set up a resume on two different, contrasting grids, perhaps with one purposefully over-designed” (245-6).

3. Questions for class discussion:
            1. How might you incorporate text design in your English 402 classroom? What sorts of activities might you include? Is it something that you’d address early on? Why/not?
            2. Would you encourage your students to design every text they submit to you with a separate rational? Why/not?

4. Links to other readings:

            - Obviously, there’s a connection to Redish’s “What is Information Design?,” as Kramer and Bernhardt wrote an extension of Redish’s second definition. Kramer and Bernhardt also overlap with Mirel, who focuses on the overall process of information design, as she highlights the importance of usable texts. There are other pretty obvious connections to Jackson, who further analyzes Bernhardt and Kramer’s ideas regarding simplicity, consistency, and standardization.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Shirk, Henrietta Nickels. “Researching the History of Technical Communication: Accessing and Analyzing Corporate Archives.” Teaching Technical Communication. Ed. James M. Dubinsky. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2004. 128-138. Print.

1.     Shirk argues that technical communicators traditionally have overlooked the importance of looking at corporate archives, and, as a result, there is “little consensus about when [the field of technical communication] began and most likely vehement disagreement about whether such a concern [of the field’s history] is even important in the fast-faced changing environment of today’s workplace” (128).
2.     She suggests that studying corporate archives “provides three possible perspectives on the uses of history—diagnosis, analogy, and heritage” (129). Using history as a diagnostic tool includes “provid[ing] a foundation for proposing and implementing changes in existing publications to enable them to communicate more effectively with their intended audience” (130). Using history as an analogy allows companies to learn from the history of other, older, companies. Admittedly, “history…never repeats itself exactly… even so, there are lessons to be learned. Sometimes a history’s relevance lies in pointing out the irrelevant” (130). Using history as heritage allows a deeper understanding of companies, from the formal traditions of orientations and corporate publications to the informal traditions stories and standard routines.

-  This article seemed like common sense to me, so I’m hoping that, as a class, we can be a devil’s advocate and think about maybe why looking through archives might not be useful. When would it be detrimental?
- How might you negotiate the public and the private? This question might be a bit paranoid, especially because I’m not completely sure about the legalities or technical possibilities. Shirk includes letters, memos, and journals as archived documents, “especially from pre-digital technology times” and says that they “can provide rich sources of historical material for technical communicators” (131). Can we include emails, texts, Facebook messages, etc? I guess I’m interested in this because, if we think about WSU, all of us are issued WSU emails. Would an archivist be able to look through our old emails twenty years from now? If we have a Facebook with a WSU affiliated job listed, that we access sometimes from the Wireless internet on campus or on school computers, will people have access to that information? Where do we draw that line between what people should be able to access and what they shouldn’t in the name of history?

Some connections I saw to other readings:  
Chapter 1: “A humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing” – Carolyn R. Miller
-       My article proposes a solution/suggestion for the question Miller poses on page 19, when she writes, “How can we teach a course, let alone develop a field of study, when we have no way to tell anyone what our subject matter is?” Shirk argues that the key to defining a field is through its history.

Chapter 7: "Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication" -- Katherine T. Durack
-       Durack argues that women have been "largely absent from our recorded disciplinary past" (99). I think this is particularly interesting in the context of my article, as Shirk doesn't gender archived material and traditions. Durack overlooks archives as a means of recorded disciplinary past. I wonder how this might augment her argument.