Tagged: reading response

10: Workplace Writing, Collaborative Writing, Writing, Writing, Writing…

In Selzer’s (1983) article, in his study of engineer Kenneth E. Nelson’s composition practices, he writes in the “Arrangement” section: “Nelson follows a particular procedure for arranging ideas; as he told me in one interview, he does not ‘see how anyone could write anything of any length or any importance without an outline,” and then again concludes, “For to Nelson writing presupposes an outline; it is not much of an exaggeration to say that he cannot write without one” (p. 320–321). This got me thinking about my own writing process and the use of outlines. I’ve rarely ever been required to draft outlines as part of an assignment that would actually have to be submitted for a grade in a course. In fact, the only time I can think of everhaving to create an outline was in my Nonfiction Book Proposal course in my last PWE master’s program in which we had to submit all the parts of a proposal, including a chapter outline of the proposed book. Otherwise, I am not an outline person. And I wonder whether outlines are, like Nelson suggests, essential to good writing, or if outlines are a tool that are extremely effective in some cases or for some writers, but are not necessary for all writers, in order to be successful. I have written numerous texts in the course of my undergraduate and graduate studies, and I have largely been successful (or at least, successful enough) to do well. And I have never adopted outlines as something that help. Instead, I do my research, I read, I think, I ask questions, I jot down notes, I do random Internet searches to see what other people are saying on the topic, and I literally let all of this information and thought stew in my head, rolling around, coagulating into what finally, when I sit down and write, comes out in one fell swoop as a nearly-finalized draft of my document, with cohesive thoughts, proper transitions, and all the necessary elements of a well-composed text. Outlines feel too structured. Too restrictive. I can’t do my writing piecemeal and I feel that’s what outlines require. You sketch your original thoughts. You think, you take notes, you read. You revise and add to the outline, do more research. Finalize your outline, and then write your final document within those pre-set guidelines. I’m not arguingagainstoutlines. I’m just wondering about the necessity of outlines in a writer’s toolbox. Would I be aneven better writer if I did use outlines? Maybe Selzer’s (1983) conclusion is a viable explanation: “Perhaps detailed plans for writing complex documents come naturally to professionals who must plan and coordinate complicated engineering tasks” (p. 321). There’s almost a hint of implication here that other professionals don’t deal with complex planning of complicated tasks or documents, but maybe outlining and planning comes more naturally to an engineer like Nelson because of the very nature of his work. But then, the shocker for me was reading that “revision takes up less than 5% of Nelson’s time and consists of little more than superficial editing” (Selzer, 1983, p. 322). This has all just got to be a generational thing revolving around who’s teaching what and what those teachers’ preferences are! I vaguely recall in high school having to be try the whole Nelsonian approach to writing with invention, outlines, and drafts. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I was throttled into the universe of revision and from that moment on, revision was God. My professors preached revision, and thus, little of my time was devoted to outlining. But obviously, some learn the writing process differently—for Nelson, outlining, not revising, is God. Selzer’s (1983) final observation that “[t]he most striking thing about Nelson’s composing habits is how closely they approximate the habits of the professional writers and skilled academic writers whose composing processes have been studied by other researchers” (p. 322). This statement leads me to believe, if other professional writers’ writing processes so closely reflect Nelson’s, that I am an exception to the rule of professional writing.

I didn’t intend to focus on only one of our readings this week, but Selzer got me thinking. But since this week’s theme is workplace studies, I guess my biggest question would be, when it really comes down to it, how much time does a professional writer or engineer ultimately have to devote to their writing process? Like Nelson, or even in my own personal experience, I guess you find the writing process that feels most natural to you, that gets the job done well, and you hone that process into such a finely tuned skill that you are capable of meeting deadlines, no matter how tight, using the process that works for you.

To at least acknowledge some of our other readings, here are a couple thoughts:

In Winsor’s (1990) discussion of engineering and writing, she observes how “[w]riting is viewed as a part of an engineer’s job but not as part of engineering,” and then details how lab results are translated into reports that pull from already-existing lab results and reports that are then compiled with “documents written by other people” in the workplace to complete the final production of the product at hand (p. 342). I guess my question is: how can people—engineers in this case—deny that writing is not separate from any given task? How can they miss how much writing they take part in to reach their final goal? Nothing we do, as professionals, is free of writing, which means everything we do is infiltrated with the process of writing. Writing creates knowledge and knowledge is delivered or transmitted through writing.

Allen, Atkinson, Morgan, Moore, and Snow’s (1987) article on collaboration had me thinking about my own experiences with collaboration, particularly in the more obvious or forced, if you will, group work collaboration projects assigned or required in a class like ours. While I would never have really considered my everyday work at the magazine “collaborative,” Allen et. al’s definition of collaborative includes “a peer’s critiquing of a coworker’s draft (Anderson),” which I participate in daily with no questions or qualms (p. 353). But my group experiences in this class,  (though I’ve been extremely fortunate in the people I’ve worked with and often feel like the weakest link!) have felt far less intuitive. Group work or document collaboration feels forced. How does one person not become The Leader? What do you do if some people don’t add their notes to the shared document? Won’t a person who’s naturally more outgoing or naturally a better writer or editor naturally become the one who the rest of the group turns to—and how do you avoid these sorts of hierarchies? Or do you even have to avoid these hierarchies in collaborative work?


Allen, N., Atkinson, D., Morgan, M., Moore, T., & Snow, C. (1987). “What experienced collaborators say about collaborative writing.” In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication (pp. 351–364). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Selzer, J. (1983). “The composing process of an engineer.” In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication (pp. 317–324). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Winsor, D. A. (1990). “Engineering writing/writing engineering.” In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication (pp. 341–350). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

8: The Importance of Thinking Visually

I was intrigued by some of the angles that Brumberger (2007) took in regards to how teachers can better teach students how to think visually, namely the prohibition (at least, at first) of using computers and rearranging classrooms into more “student centered rather than technology centered or teacher centered (p. 397). Neither of these would have necessarily struck me as crucial to enabling a student’s ability to think visually and think outside of the familiarity of verbal thinking. In fact, I feel like many people might argue with Brumberger that recent technologies like the computer have even aided in our ability to design and to think visually. But I actually favor Brumberger’s position—I think creativity is, like a muscle, something that has to be used in order to make it stronger and to increase its functionality, and I think the creativity-muscle is challenged when there is less assistance from things like technology and teachers. So, it would seem, a more student-centered, technology-prohibited classroom might actually increase visual creativity, as Brumberger suggests. I know I fall into the category of non-visual thinkers. If I were assigned a visual project in which it was highly encouraged to use fewer words and more graphics/colors/images, I know I would freeze in my tracks, waiting to be prodded with more guidance, needing more direction as to what exactly the teacher expects (or wants).

I do think there is an importance to what Brumberger and Lauer and Sanchez are all arguing—that learning to think verbally and visually (or visuospatially) can only enhance a student’s ability to create meaning within a text, that the two—verbal and visual—should not be thought of as binaries. It seems like, for example, many students’ use of slideware for the purpose of presenting to an audience would be far more advanced, meaningful, and captivating if, from the get go, we were taught how to convey meaning, like Dick Hardt, through words and images and colors and white space and page design and typography. There’s a lot to be said for pictorial representation—for showing, not telling, as I was so often reminded to do in my creative writing days. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? But the issue Lauer and Sanchez tackle is interesting—what if we aren’t all capable of thinking visually? What if some are just naturally more gifted in visuospatial awareness than others? I think we have to be wary of relying on classroom projects such as those Lauer and Sanchez suggest on page 209: “These activities are decidedly nonprofessional writing activities and therefore may strike some as an impractical use of time, but they are not impractical if they help low-spatial thinkers to develop options other than words to communicate persuasively.” I feel like projects that seem “impractical,” maybe particularly at the college level more so than high school, do risk becoming a waste of time because students don’t engage with the assignment or take it seriously because what’s the point? They only have to do well enough to get a decent grade, they may think—the project’s not going to go anywhere, be seen by anyone other than the teacher, be used for anything. But I think the poster assignments Lauer and Sanchez provide as examples (comparing high-spatially minded student work to low-spatially minded students) are a good example of in-class projects. Obviously, the resulting work illustrates exactly where improvements can be made to help many students think more visually.


Brumberger, E. R. (2007). “Making the strange familiar: A pedagogical exploration of visual thinking.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 21(4), 376–401. doi:10.1177/1050651907304021

Lauer, C. & Sanchez, C. A. (2011). “Visuospatial Thinking in the Professional Writing Classroom.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(2), 184–218. doi:10.1177/1050651910389149

7: Perpetuating Social, Economic, and Cultural Inequalities Through Language & Technology… and Text Ownership

Selfe and Selfe’s discussion of “The Politics of The Interface” paralleled some things I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few years, after I took a course at University of Oklahoma titled “Postcolonial Literature.” On the first day of class, when we were asked to define “postcolonial,” I couldn’t. I had no clue. And I still would struggle to definitively explain it today. But Selfe and Selfe’s article rehashed some of the thoughts I first had in that class at OU. It came as no surprise to me, then, when the authors wrote

the virtual reality of computer interfaces represents, in part and to a visible degree, a tendency to value monoculturalism, capitalism, and phallologic thinking, and does so, more importantly, to the exclusion of other perspectives. Grounded in these values, computer interfaces, we maintain, enact small but continuous gestures of domination and colonialism (Selfe and Selfe 433).

I have been thinking about this a lot—the overarching superiority and dominance of the “white man,” of Americans, of the middle and upper classes. The Selfes’ article echoed Bosley’s discussion, I thought, of ethnocentricism. The images used on computer interfaces, Selfe and Selfe continue, “These images signal—to users of color, to users who come from a non-English language background, to users from low socio-economic backgrounds—that entering the virtual worlds of interfaces also means, at least in part and at some level, entering a world constituted around the lives and values of white, male, middle- and upper-class professionals” (433). In the almost 20 years since Selfe and Selfe wrote this article, this has not changed.

What I struggle with is: how do we change this? How, when “these borders are represented and reproduced in so many commonplace ways, at so many levels, that they frequently remain invisible to us,” do we bring those of color and non-English backgrounds and low socio-economic backgrounds onto the same level as the white middle-class? How do we “in Mary Louise Pratt’s words, [make it] ‘the same for all players’” (Selfe and Selfe 430–431)? Personally, I am of the belief that changing the interfaces seems like a simple enough switch that the next “generations” of Microsoft and Apple products that come out can come up with equally as intuitive or convenient images and symbols to represent functionalities as those currently in use. Also, I fear with anyone much over the age of a school child may be a lost cause for equal opportunities, for we’re talking about oppression and inequality that is generations in the making. And I believe it will take cultivating equality in the upcoming generations—the youngest now in school, those not yet in school, and those generations not even yet born. And I think it’s a matter of ensuring institutions of education—any educational institution—have the same equipment for students’ use and that teachers receive the same training in technology, as part of their teaching degree course work, not something they’re quickly walked through as part of their job training. Inequalities will continue to be perpetuated if we continue to remain unaware of the subtle ways in which they are perpetuated through language and technology.

As for Howard’s discussion of the ownership of texts, electronic and otherwise, this is yet another topic I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing. I tend to speak quickly, reactively, and think later. So my first inclination when discussing the ownership of electronic texts, is to say that once a writer has “gone public” with a text—particularly in this instance (in my mind) online texts—that material becomes shared text. I think there are certainly still copyright laws and even common etiquette that should be implemented and followed, but I think with digital technology and the web, it is going to become increasingly difficult to manage copyrights on texts. Texts are rampant on the web anymore, and authors are going to have a battle to fight in maintaining sole control of their text, I think. But, on the other hand, I feel as users of digital technology and the web, we have a responsibility to learn a new etiquette that has never needed to exist in the past. I think there is a “digital users etiquette” that may need to become more than just an “etiquette” and become more a set of standards/regulations/laws that must be followed if electronic texts are going to become more shared than owned.

Take Pinterest, for example, a few months ago there was some controversy that went viral about Pinterest users accountability as owners (or not) of the links/items/photos they were pinning. Pinterest founders had written into their terms and agreements (which is another issue we’re all aware of in copyright cases—how many users ever actually read the terms and agreements of anything online or elsewhere?) that once a user had pinned something they were claiming sole ownership of that link/item/photo through permissions they had requested or received from the original owner. Of course, as we all know, tracing many things online back to the original owner is often times difficult, or even impossible. I remember becoming outraged that Pinterest had put the burden on me, as a user. I felt it was their responsibility as the founder of a web network that had stumbled into phenomenal success, should have had the foresight to come up with a way to protect their users from copyright and permissions infringements. But the more I thought of it and started paying attention to other Pinners, I got frustrated with the users, and that’s when I determined that there was a need for digital and web user etiquette—properly crediting photographers, properly crediting sources and authors, taking the time to trace an image/site/idea/item back as far as possible, to the origin if possible. But is that even enough? According to the scenarios Howard outlined, it may not be.

I had a lot of reactions to and thoughts about this week’s readings, so I feel I could go on and on. But I’ll stop here…


Howard, Tharon W. “Who ‘Owns’ Electronic Texts?” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 397–408. Print.

Selfe, Cynthia L. and Richard J. Selfe. “The Politics of The Interface.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 428–445. Print.

5: It’s a Technocracy

I can’t decide if digital work environments are creating more or less efficiency in the workplace. On the one hand, instant messaging (G-chatting) and e-mail generally keep an interaction short and very on task, with no anecdotal sidetracking or room for other questions or topics. But, on the other hand, if a technical writer (or any writer) is constantly asking or being asked questions all day long and constantly having to manage IMs or e-mails, they’re left little time, certainly little quality time, to focus on their writing project. I believe people in the workplace—really, any workplace, writing or not—are having to learn a new level of time management. Slattery’s research on the topic of collaborative documentation and IT skills in the workplace was a very well studied and articulated piece looking at the DSU writers. I thought, however, Slattery ought to have been more inclusive, or at least acknowledging, of the fact that any writer or any employee in modern times really has to have and has technical skills. There is nothing exclusively “technical” about a technical writer’s job. IT is, arguably or at least in some ways, causing fragmentation (Hart-Davidson, Spinuzzi, and Zachry’s concept) in the workplace, no matter the industry.

I’m noticing a recurring theme in our readings: the idea of consensus. Slattery writes that “writers work toward the end product by creating and modifying a target document until it becomes authorized by the group to be the finished documentation” (319). The wording might vary, but the concept is the same: a product, document, or philosophy, once created or in the process of creation, can be modified until a consensus is reached that the product or document is complete or the philosophy is the accepted truth.

In Faigley’s piece, he explains that “Rohman defines ‘good writing’ as ‘that discovered combination of words which allows a person the integrity to dominate his subject with a pattern both fresh and original…’” (529) According to this, then, Slattery’s definition of “reusing text” is bad writing because it’s simply a taking over of someone else’s combination of words. Good writing, or a person’s ability to dominate a subject with a pattern both fresh and original and the discovery of uniqueness within that subject—this definition does not allow today’s technical writers the option of being a “good writer” because technical writers, though they may dominate their subject, cannot do so with freshness, originality, or uniqueness (529).

Given Elbow’s point, based on “one of the standards of Romantic theory: that ‘good’ writing does not follow rules but reflects the processes of the creative imagination,” it’s no wonder I’ve always called myself a Romantic (530). I like this theory. I like to believe that, in some ways, anyone has the inherent ability to write using their processes of creative imagination. I don’t think though that teaching only creative writing could really work for most people. I think the cognitive process of decision making is a given, with any writer of any skill level. But I think writers have to have teaching in the skills of writing well. That is not always intuitive, as original and intuitive the creativity may be.

I really like the question Flower, Hayes, and Britton are asking: is this really how writing happens? Is writing “a process of making linguistic choices from one’s repertoire of syntactic structures and lexical items” (366)? My inclination is to wonder: how can anyone do anything that is not a process of making choices and decisions based on a repertoire of pre-existing thoughts, ideas, knowledge? However, the romantic in my thinks writing, at least, is very much a creative and intuitive process. At least, in certain circumstances. Certainly, writing is a cognitive process in some situations, such as in the academy. I would amend Flower and Hayes’ position that “The process of writing is best understood as a set of distinctive thinking processes which writers orchestrate or organize during the act of composing,” by saying that the process of writing can be best understood as a set of distinctive thinking and creative processes which writers orchestrate or organize during the act of composing (366).

There is so much to talk about this week, with these readings, I think. I really liked the readings. I love the topic of studying the process of writing. I love discussing the different theories (cognitive versus creative/Romantic). I like looking in detail into the modern day workplace and studying this concept of fragmentation and collaborative document production and IT/technical skills required for today’s technical writers. So much great material to cover!!


Faigley, Lester. “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal.” College English 48.6. (1986): 527–542. PDF.

Flower, Linda, and John R. Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 32.4 (1981): 365–387. PDF.

Hart-Davidson, William, Clay Spinuzzi, and Mark Zachry. “Visualizing Writing Activity as Knowledge Work: Challenges & Opportunities.” ACM SIGDOC. (2006): 70–77. PDF.

Slattery, Shaun. “Undistributing Work Through Writing: How Technical Writers Manage Texts in Complex Information Environments.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.3 (2007): 311–325. PDF.

4: Up On a Pedestal—Qualitative or Quantitative?

The assumption underlying the treatment of qualitative sampling in many current technical communication texts seems to be that qualitative research can be interesting to readers in our own field but that it will never carry weight with larger audiences outside our field because its findings cannot be generalized in the same way that those of quantitative research can. We believe that this imbalance—an imbalance that seems to persist despite researchers’ calls for complementarity between quantitative and qualitative approaches—is at the heart of the gap that exists in regard to qualitative sampling.

Koerber’s conclusion (470) struck me as particularly illustrative of at least one of this week’s themes: the binary between quantitative and qualitative. I feel the need to play Devil’s advocate, however, by arguing that his conclusion seems too general. Surely, there are more people out there—scholars, theorists, researchers, scientists, writers—who believe there is more good in the complementarity of qualitative and quantitative studies than there is in forcing a gap between the two. Surely, even the most practically minded scientist would admit that qualitative studies only add to their quantitative work, opening new avenues of research, or at the very least provoking new questions to be explored.

I was also struck, as I have been with some of our other readings, by these authors’ and their colleagues’ reiterations of how difficult some technical writing concepts are to teach: “But when they discussed qualitative research techniques such as interviews, focus groups, ethnography, and textual analysis, they did not describe procedures for sampling systematically or provide terms to help novice researchers become familiar with qualitative sampling. … Although our field has many examples of excellent qualitative research, this research lacks a consistent vocabulary for sampling methods, so teaching or discussing effective qualitative sampling in a systematic way was difficult” (Koerber 457, my emphasis). I imagine that reason more than any other could explain, at least in part, why it is so necessary for those in technical writing to continue working toward a (re)definition of the field and of the technical writer’s role. I did think, though, that Koerber did a fine job of describing the “three major categories of sampling…convenience, purposeful, and theoretical” (462).

Charney pulled me into her camp when she stated in her introductory paragraphs: “It seems absurd to assume that anyone conducting a qualitative analysis or ethnography must be compassionate, self-reflecting, creative, and committed to social justice and liberation. Or that anyone who conducts an experiment is rigid and unfeeling and automatically opposes liberatory, feminist, or postmodernist values. But such assumptions underlie the current critiques…” (283). Indeed, the tension between qualitative and quantitative cannot be so simple as this, so black and white. It is in fact “absurd” to me that researchers on both sides, or those outside of either camp, would generalize so drastically, drawing a line in the sand between two arguably complementary methods of research and study. But for those in the sciences, or who favor quantitative, or are generally just more practically minded and less creatively minded, how do we persuade them to loosen their vice-like grip on the need for answers, on the need for evidence? How do we convince them that neither quantitative nor qualitative methods can necessarily “deliver up authority” (Charney 283)?

In an attempt (weak though it may be) to draw some sort of connection between or offer some sort of insight into Slavin’s “Practical Guide to Statistics,” I question Linda Flower’s position (as quoted by Charney) “that statistical evidence has meaning only as part of a cumulative, communally constructed argument” (287). To me, this sounds a lot like how we’ve been defining “knowledge” in our class discussions these past weeks, but also makes me question the validity of something so seemingly definite as a statistic derived from cold hard numerical facts. How can a statistic only have meaning through communal construction?

Finally, I can’t help but observe that sometimes, ever so briefly in our readings, there seem to be elements of such cattiness revealed between scientists and compositionists, or tech writers and engineers, or professionals and academics, or what have you. Charney writes: “Compositionists readily assume that disciplines that adopt scientific methods do so for reflected glory and access to institutional power” (288). If this is true, which I venture to say it is more oft than it isn’t, who is at fault here—the two parties duking out for that prized position atop the pedestal? Or the third party—i.e. the institution—that has set in motion this competitive edge, placing more weight and more value on the results garnered from the scientific method than those gathered from qualitative research?



Charney, Davida. “Empiricism Is Not a Four-Letter Word.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 281–299. Print.

Koerber, Amy and Lonie McMichael. “Qualitative Sampling Methods: A Primer for Technical Communicators.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 22.4 (2008): 454–473. Sage Publications. Web. 4 June 2012.

3: Redefining Technical Writing & Communication

I was struck by several things in this week’s readings and was surprised by the number of questions each article sparked in my mind. Before I can delve into those questions or the overarching topic of “redefining technical communication and writing,” I have to comment quickly on my persisting inability to pin down the difference between, or at least how or when to properly use, the terms technical writer, technical communicator, technical writing, technical communication, and professional writing/writer/communication/communicator. It’s truthfully a bit of a conundrum for me, despite our having discussed in class that really these terms are all interchangeable.

That being said, however, the persistence of technical writing scholars’ need to redefine the term/field/inudstry is one part fascinating, one part frustrating to me. Like defining “rhetoric,” I don’t understand why so much time, energy, and intelligence is used up on neatly defining these terms or theories. Part of me wants to argue that rhetoric or technical writing are indefinable, are too many things and everything, and can’t we just let them be. But I know my peers will lambaste me with their retorts. :-) So, on to my questions on this week’s readings.

I tend to like, or fall for, theories that take “a major departure” from original, foundational, or popular theories, so I found myself entranced by Thralls and Blyler’s discussion of paralogic hermeneutics and its “major departure from the social constructionist and ideologic approaches” (140). I, like the authors and the paralogic theorists they focused on, tend to agree that “the idea that collaboration can be used to teach communicative interactions is based on the mistaken notion that communication is a codifiable system” (Thralls and Blyler 139). Too much “hermeneutic guessing” is involved in communicative interactions in order to codify communication and teach it in a classroom, but I liked the concept that “knowledge is an agreement reached with other communicants through the process of interacting” (Thralls and Blyler 137). The authors’ defined the three approaches for us: social constructionist, ideologic, and paralogic hermeneutic, and I found the social constructionist approach had me scrawling the most in the margins. I found our class discussion last week being echoed in some ways: “knowledge results from a community’s consensus about what it will call true” (Thralls and Blyler 128), and questioned a number of times whether I agreed with the constructionists: can “giving students collaborative tasks that require them to use the normal discourse of groups…further enable [them] to learn the conversational values that will effect their transition into professional communities” (Thralls and Blyler 130)? And are teachers and professors actuall reading “studies of workplace collaboration…that can then be used to prepare students to function effectively in their jobs” (Thralls and Blyler 131)?

As I continued into Lay’s article, I, first, appreciated her own recognition that she “simplified the complex thoughts of feminist scholars too greatly” (146). I only read that after I had finished reading the article in its entirety and thought for such a large topic, Lay had covered it so quickly in a mere 10 pages. But as with most gender theory articles I’ve ever read, it takes few words to bring to light serious issues. Until the final couple of pages, I struggled to connect how Lay’s article really had anything to do with technical communication. Workplace and organization communication? Sure. The relationships between and experiences of men and women in the workplace surely differ greatly. But what did that have to do with technical writing? And I guess what I really took away from Lay’s piece is that what a woman brings to a collaborative writing project or a technical document will vary drastically from what a man brings to the same project or document because of her experiences and because of her attitude born from coming into this world and our society as a female, rather than a male. If technical writing and communication are more than just translating language into usable documents, if technical communication is actually also collaboration, invention, and the ability to work well with others, among other things, then studying gender within technical communication is certainly enlightening.

Slack, Miller, and Doak’s discussion of technical communicator as author was very fascinating. I’m hoping I understood it correctly in that the transmission view is a dated view of technical communicators as those with no authority. Technical communicators are transparent, clear channels—simply transmitters of knowledge, a linear movement of info from sender to receiver. The authors, however, did say at one point that the “clarity and brevity” technical communicators strive for “suggests a transparency that belies what they really do” (my emphasis, Slack et al. 165). This course is challenging me, much like we ended up discussin in class last week or even the week before, I think, to think of technical communicators in a bigger picture, not just as these transmitters of info, but as authors of text with meaning that are part of a larger interaction between technical writer, sender of info, and receiver of info. I though Slack et al. did a good job of drawing this out for us, illustrating the movement from tech writer as authorless to tech writer as still authorless but as part of the negotiation between sender and receiver to tech writer as fully part of the articulation and rearticulation of power and meaning.

Finally, with Johnson-Eilola, what I appreciated most was his call for technical communicators to “take action to change their current situation” in order to avoid finding “their work increasingly contingent, devalued, outsourced, and automated” (187). It seems that in many cases, the way technical communicators think of themselves and the work that they do, in such a devalued sort of way, is what perpetuates popular culture’s understanding of the role of technical communication and creates the struggle scholars and even employers have to define the role of technical communicator.


Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Relocating the Value of Work.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 175-192. Print.

Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and The Redefinition of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 146-159. Print.

Slack, Jennifer Daryl, David James Miller, and Jeffrey Doak. “The Technical Communicator as Author.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 160-174. Print.

Thralls, Charlotte and Nancy Roundy Blyler. “The Social Perspective and Professional Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 124-145. Print.

2: What Can Be Taught?

First, this week’s readings did not “come to me” as easily as last week’s did. I’m not sure if it was because each of the readings dealt so heavily with rhetoric—a topic I still feel unfamiliar with, or at least not confident in my understanding of—or if I was unable to connect with or become interested in the topics as much.

I can’t quite grasp what I thought of Rude. I thought she had some interesting points or insight, but I struggled to draw any conclusions or make the connections between her arguments and my real-world life as a writer/editor or our discussions last week of what technical writing is (or technical writers are). Some of her thoughts that caught my attention (and sometimes seemed obvious) were: “writing, thinking, and social impact are closely linked” (71), “one must consider both sides of an issue in order to draw a reasonable conclusion,” (75), “creative problem solving often requires pushing beyond the limits of the known and familiar” (80), “practical decision making requires an expansion of the questioning process rather than the winnowing that leads to a hypothesis” (81), and “real-world writing does not necessarily conform to rigid genre boundaries…learning the genres of reports and proposals is one of the ways students learn strategies for solving particular kinds of problems” (83). Ultimately, however, I am unfamiliar with reports and proposals and could only glean new information from Rude’s article, with very little input in response. The one thought I did have was actually in response to her discussion on page 87 about the consideration of impacts of decisions. Some decisions, she said, are made “because a person with power favors a particular course of action,” and I couldn’t help but think of my boss at the publishing company I work for who seems to make rash and quick decisions based little on her staff and how the decision “will help prevent the creation of new problems in solving existing problems” and largely on how the decision will impact her.

Finally, I’m interested in what seemed like a sort of binary set up between Smith and Kent. Smith says: “Because it is conscious and strategic, rather than purely intuitive and inspirational, rhetoric is an art that can be taught and learned, and demands skill with language and close observation of one’s social context” (115). Then, Kent says, “Although specially designed composition and literature courses can sharpen and expand a student’s writing and reading know-how, no course can teach the acts of either writing or reading” (37). I was intrigued by these dichotomous positions because I’m still not sure I understand rhetoric enough to draw an opinion one way or the other whether it’s teachable or not, but I believe writing and reading are skills that can, at least, be taught to an extent, though some people are naturally better writers or readers than others. I, like Christina, noticed Kent’s style of writing and found it remarkably repetitive and at first was distracted by the repetition, then, by the end, felt his style of writing perfectly drove home his argument. Though I feel I followed Kent’s argument as he so carefully laid it out, I feel I have to disagree—I think writing and reading are teachable. And I have to agree that a student’s know-how and their writing and reading practices help them “develop important background skills” (38). I look forward to weeding through Kent’s essay and hope our class discussion will help me draw the lines between this week’s readings and our conversations last week about the workplace and what technical writing and writers are.

Kent, Thomas. “Paralogic Hermeneutics and the Possibilities of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 8.1 (1989): 24-42. JSTOR. Web. 27 Aug. 2012.

Rude, Carolyn. “The Report for Decision Making: Genre and Inquiry.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 70-90. Print.

Smith, Tania. “What Connection Does Rhetorical Theory Have to Technical and Professional Communication?” Readings for Technical Communication. Ed. Jennifer MacLennan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 114-121. Print.