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  • Reshaping Technical Communication

  • Reshaping Technical Communication

    New Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century

    Edited by

    B MUniversity of Michigan

    Mirel Consulting

    R SUniversity of WisconsinMilwaukee


  • Copyright 2002 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced inany form, by photostat, microlm, retrieval system, or any othermeans, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

    Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers10 Industrial AvenueMahwah, NJ 07430

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Reshaping technical communication : new directions and challenges for the 21st century / edited by Barbara Mirel, Rachel Spilka

    p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and indexes.ISBN 08058351721. Communication of technical information. I. Mirel, Barbara.II. Spilka, Rachel, 1953T10.5 .R48 2002601'.4dc21 2001054528

    ISBN 1-4106-0373-3 Master e-book ISBN

    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2008.To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledgescollection of thousands of eBooks please go to

  • Contents

    Foreword viiJanice Redish

    Preface xv

    Introduction 1

    Part I: Revising Industry and Academia: Cultures and Relationships 7

    1 Cultural Impediments to Understanding: Are They Surmountable? 13R. Stanley Dicks

    2 Jumping O the Ivory Tower: Changing the Academic Perspective 27Deborah S. Bosley

    3 Researching a Common Ground: Exploring the Space 41Where Academic and Workplace Cultures MeetAnn M. Blakeslee

    4 Keeping Writing in Its Place: A Participatory Action Approach 57to Workplace CommunicationAnthony Par

    5 Active-Practice: Creating Productive Tension Between Academia 81and IndustryStephen A. Bernhardt

    Part II: Re-Envisioning the Profession 91

    6 Becoming a Profession 97Rachel Spilka

    7 Taking Our Stakeholders Seriously: Re-Imagining the 111Dissemination of Research in Information DesignKaren Schriver


  • 8 Migrations: Strategic Thinking About the Future(s) 135of Technical CommunicationBrenton Faber and Johndan Johnson-Eilola

    9 Expanding Roles for Technical Communicators 149Lori Anschuetz and Stephanie Rosenbaum

    10 Advancing a Vision of Usability 165Barbara Mirel

    11 Tales of Brave Ulysses 189Russell Borland

    Appendix: Proposed Research Agenda for Technical Communication 197

    About the Contributors 203

    Author Index 209

    Subject Index 213


  • Foreword

    J R


    This is an exciting time for technical communicators. As technology has causedmajor changes in most peoples work, home, and play, the need for successful,professional technical communication has grown enormously. In 1991, the Soci-ety for Technical Communication (STC) had 13,778 members in 24 countries.In 2001, it had 21,789 members in 48 countries. Academic programs in technicalcommunication have also expanded tremendously in the past decade.

    The start of a new century is an excellent time to take a look at where we areand where we are going in both academia and industry. This book does that.With 11 essays and instructive introductions by the editors, Reshaping TechnicalCommunication: New Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century provides uswith insights on many aspects of the past, present, and future relationship be-tween academia and industry and sparks a very interesting discussion on futuretrends for technical communicators.


    If we look at these essays in a slightly dierent way, we also see that they are aboutcommunities. Community is going to be a major theme of this new century.

    Many people in technical communication complain of feeling isolatedteaching and researching technical communication in a department that doesnot value it, working as a lone writer in a group of developers or even as the onlywriter in an entire company, working as an independent consultant in the iso-lation of a one-person oce, or telecommuting and therefore working alonemuch of the time.


  • In some ways, the new technologies and the opportunities they give us are iso-lating: to work long distance, to move frequently, to study by oneself in an onlinecourse. And yet, in other ways, these same new technologies are helping to forgenew communitiesonline communities as well as in-person communities.

    A hundred years ago, for most people, the primary community was geo-graphic. Family as community, profession as community, religion as communityall usually came together within a physical geography. Not anymore. Today,geography (neighborhood as community) is only one of many disparate commu-nities that most of us belong to. And for many of us, our professional communi-ties are primary.

    This book highlights some of those communities:

    Communities of teaching.

    Communities of practice.

    Communities of research.

    Communities of users.

    Communities that bring dierent communities together.

    Reality for all of us is that we belong to many communitiesand, I believestrongly, this new century is going to broaden rather than contract many of thesecommunities and is going to nd most of us expanding the number of dierentcommunities to which we belong and with which we interact.

    Communities of Teaching

    A major theme of this new century is going to be interdisciplinary scholarshipand teaching. Technical communication teachers already realize that their stu-dents need more than a background in rhetoric and a deep understanding of thewriting process. They realize that technical communication is also about under-standing users (from cognitive psychology), usability (from ethnography, anthro-pology, and human-computer interaction), and information architecture (frominformation science), as well as understanding information about informationdesign and graphic design, technology, and so on. In the 1980s, many technicalcommunicators clearly separated themselves from marketing communicators;in the new century, as many technical communicators are creating web sites, anunderstanding of marketing and branding has become essential.

    While no teacher of technical communication is going to be interested in orexpert in all of these dierent areas, the academic community of teachers oftechnical communication encompasses all these various and overlapping com-munities. Newer departments in most academic settings are, in fact, often set upby pulling people together from a variety of disciplines. And in many places, stu-dents are allowed to create their own majors by creating their own interdiscipli-nary complement of teachers.


  • The excellent essays in the rst half of this book explain how dierent arethe goals, rewards, and time between academic and industry communities andhow we might bring these communities closer together. (See the contributionsof R. Stanley Dicks, Ann Blakeslee, and Steve Bernhardt.) Within universities,communities of teaching across disciplines also dier.

    For example, teachers of technical communication pioneered project-orientedcourses and a process orientation that helps students develop generalizable skillsin the context of specic products. Other disciplinesespecially computer sci-enceneed to learn this. One of the major sources of frustration for manytechnical communicators in industry is that developers with backgrounds incomputer science often have not had any coursework that prepares them for theteam approach of the workplace, for working with and appreciating othersskills, for valuing communication, and for focusing on users and usability as wellas functionality. Technical communication courses can serve as excellent modelsfor other disciplines such as computer science. In the new century, technicalcommunication teachers need to move beyond the connes of their own com-munity to inuence pedagogy in related academic communities.

    Communities of Practice

    Just as disciplinary boundaries within academia are loosening, and in some casesshould be loosened further in this new century, boundaries of professions orelds within practice are also loosening.

    As Rachel Spilka explains in this book, it has proven very dicult to denewhat a technical communicator does. That does not bother Spilka or me. Peopledene themselves by the communities that they choose to join. And the pluralcommunities here is critical. We are all members of many dierent communities.

    I am a linguist by training and, therefore, know that we each belong to manycommunities of speech. Linguists call these registerswe speak dierently inour oce persona, in our home persona, in our parental (or child) persona, andin our hanging out with friends persona.

    In the same way, both academics and industry people in any eld or professionbelong to many dierent communities: They are part of a departmental commu-nityand probably part of a specic community within that department. Theyare part of a community of a specic institution or corporation (and we knowhow dierent the cultures can be from one university to another, from one corpo-ration to another). They are part of an even larger community of academics frommany dierent universities or of practitioners from many dierent corporations.

    We can see our range of communities expanding outwards from ourselves asindividuals in ever wider circles. We can also look at that picture in reverse andsee ourselves in communities inside of communities.

    For example, in 1991, STC had four Special Interest Groups. Today, there are20 with memberships ranging from

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