Updates and Overviews

Week Thirteen: Where to TCers work? Technical Communication in the Public Sphere 

Week Eleven: What kinds of problems do we solve in Technical Communication? Design, Information Architecture and Data

This week’s readings build from the notion of genre in many ways; taking a look at the importance of information design, we’ll consider the technical communicator as a designer of information, words, data, etc., The Buchanan essays will give you a foundation for thinking about design, where Carliner and Wysocki will give you frames for thinking about tech comm and texts [respectively]. Finally, you’ll be asked to consider how we design data–data, of course, is never objective: from the way it’s collected to the way it’s presented. We’ll think a little bit about the design of data by sketching some designs using an existing data set. More on that soon!

Week Ten:What do TCers do? Genres in TC

Genre has been an important concept in technical communication.

Week Nine: What are the literacies of TC?

I realize now, after reading these texts, that it might not be immediately apparent why scholars in TC might be interested in literacy. Or, more specifically, it might not be clear why we need to study literacies if we’re going to do TC. Both the literacy crisis [johnny can’t read or write] and the notion of teaching/training for literacy undergird technical communication in specific ways. If we put language as the centerpiece of TC and if we think of TC as user-centered, then we invoke literacy discussions, particularly if we think about the ways that we offer, for example, a technological literacy through documentation. The first three readings frame literacy in some way. Though Hart-Davidson doesn’t specifically talk about literacy, I think we can see his core competencies as advocating for a particular kind of language use. If we agree that the idea of literacy is important for TCers, then we open up the field to new discussions and we build bridges with other related field.

A note about literacy: in general, the term is overused. There are early [as in 1999] essays that ask why we just take on words to literacy. One of the concepts we want to ruminate on is where we all on the literacy train.

Week Eight: How do we Research TC? Methodologies and Epistemologies for TC

Week Seven: To whom are TCers responsible?

Week Five: How does TC make decisions? Rhetorical Foundations of Technical Communication

This week, we’re exploring the rhetorical roots of technical communication–or some of them at least. Though it seems odd, perhaps, to be working from Johnson here, we’ll be considering the various ways theories of discourse handled throughout weeks 1-3 of the class and theories of rhetoric handled through last week as well might be challenged, shaped, and reshaped as we consider the relationship between rhetorical discourse and the situations and audiences that are [inter]connected with them.

  • What are the differences between Bitzer, Vatz, & Biesecker’s views of the rhetorical situation? How might they challenge the daily practices of technical communication?
  • Biesecker takes on both Bitzer and Vatz–if you’re looking for some clarity or find yourself completely lost, Steve Krause has a pretty clear and helpful overview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtayFx9FvAw
  • If you’re not familiar with Derrida and differance, try: http://projectlamar.com/media/Derrida-Differance.pdf
  • Do Ong, Johnson, & Ede&Lunsford’s versions of audience align with one or more views of the rhetorical situation?
  • How do Ong, Johnson, and E&L differ in their conceptualizations of audience? How might Ong and E&L inform the work of technical communication?

WEEK FOUR: What Problems Does TC Solve? Usability as a Foundation for TC

WEEK THREE: What Problems Does TC Solve? Disciplinary Questions and Identity

  • Miller, C. What’s Practical about Technical Writing? In Folder.
  • Dobrin, D. What’s Technical about Technical Writing? Chapter 8 in CW
  • Sullivan, D. Political-Ethical Implications of Defining Technical Communication as Practice. Chapter 14 in CW.
  • Johnson-Eilola, J. Relocating the Value of Work: Technical Communication in a Post-Industrial Age. Chapter 12 in CW.
  • Rutter, R. History Rhetoric, and Humanism: Towards a More Comprehensive Definition of Technical Communication. Chapter 2, CW
  • Hart & Conklin. Towards a Meaningful Model of Technical Communication. In Folder.

Miller, Dobrin & Sullivan offer us some perspectives on the kinds of definitional work done within the field of TW/TC. We see quite clearly, I think, that the struggle with defining technical communication lies in the problematic of language and its use. Where Dobrin offers us the fundamental problem of the Cartesian rationalism that undergirds many assumptions about language [coming at it through universalist vs. monadist perspectives], Miller demonstrates his point through an investigation of the term “practical.” Nearly an extension of Miller, Sullivan and Rutter follow in calling technical writing fundamentally rhetorical. What, then, is the relationship between rhetoric and technical writing? Are the two inseparable?

Both Rutter and Sullivan are concerned, as Rutter puts it, with the fact that our majors and industry careers are by-products, of education. Put another way, industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Miller, Rutter and Sullivan present both instructors and practitioners of TW in an ethical conundrum. What are some of the ethical questions presented by this trio? What kinds of ethical questions does Haas (from Week One) add to this list?

Johnson-Eilola and Hart & Conklin update the discussion a bit, and while the two are making quite different articles, they help us arrive at questions that grow out of the early debate that Miller, Dobrin, Sullivan & Rutter present. Given these two portraits of current TW/TC, what portions of the early debate seem to be relevant still? Based on J-E and H&C, what suggested changes might we need to make to current curricula?


WEEK TWO: An Interdisciplinary History

Longo, B. 2000. Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing. Suny Press.

Johnson-Eilola, J. 1996. Relocating the value of work: Technical communication in a post industrial ageTechnical Communication Quarterly: 5(3), p. 245-70.

This week, we read Longo’s account of technical communication as it grew out of science, management, engineering, and some other interesting industrial sites. She uses a cultural approach to develop a history that positions technical communicators in some particularly interesting ways. As you read, consider:

  • Longo seems to suggest that technical communicators are knowledge-makers. What kinds of evidence does she use to support her claim?
  • If technical writing is the lingua fracta of the 20th century, why might it face the kinds of disciplinary homelessness or problems discussed in last week’s readings and throughout the text?
  • Chapter 3 charts a philosophical history of sorts–which philosophies seem most important and why?
  • What do you see as the relationship between knowledge management and technical communication? How does Johnson-Eilola’s discussion complicate this relationship?
  • Chart the significance of the TC–Engineering–Pure Science triangle.


WEEK ONE: On Histories and Counterstories

O’Hara, F. (2001) A Brief History of Technical Communication. In STC’s 48th Annual Conference Proceedings, 500-504. 

Sullivan, P. (2012) After the great war: Utility, humanities, and tracing technical writing class in the 1920s. JBTC, 26(2): 202-228. In Folder

Connors, J. The rise of technical writing instruction in America. Chapter 1 in CW.

Miller, C. (1979) Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing. Chapter 4 in CW

Rude, C. (2009) Mapping the Research Questions. 

Haas, A. (2012) Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: A Case Study of Decolonial Theory, Methodology, and Pedagogy. Journal of Business and Technical Communication. 26: 277-310

This week, we’ll investigate the kinds of historical renderings that emerge about the field of Technical Communication, beginning with three histories, we’ll begin with the history of the field of technical communication as told by 3 different authors, with 3 different methodological approaches. Miller, Rude, and Haas offer counterstories of the field of technical communication, sketching portraits of the field that are institutionally, culturally, and methodologically diverse.

For class, consider:

  • How do Connors and O’Hara’s comprehensive histories differ from one another? In what way does Sullivan trouble their sketches?
  • Where does Miller’s account of the field interrupt other historical sketches? In what ways does she push the field in new directions?
  • Does Rude’s (2009) account of the field reflect particular early histories more so than others? Does Rude’s current sketch demonstrate a departure from particular views of the field?
  • How does Haas present a new angle, approach or perspective on the field? Can you connect Haas’ account to any of the other sketches?


Technical Communication has messy origins. It can be located <roughly> at the intersection of the science and technology studies, writing and literacy studies, rhetoric and argumentation, and design and new media theory. As such, Technical Communication can be broadly conceived, practiced, and theorized. Where some would describe technical communication as the development of instructional documents, others might describe it as the research of contexts for non-academic writing. Still others might describe it as the discipline for scholars whose interests focus on discourse as it occurs within science and/or technology.

In this class, we will investigate the various origins and theories of technical communication with one primary aim: to help you develop a sense of how your thinking and future scholarship fit into the field. Perhaps it fits squarely in Science and Technology Studies. Perhaps your work is at the periphery of mainstream Tech Comm. Perhaps you want to be a document designer. Perhaps you want to discover new ways of teaching future engineers, scientists, and software developers. All of these are fine choices—and this class is meant to foster a generative environment to try out potentialities and to sketch out possibilities for your scholarly and professional future. As a foundational class, this course provides necessary background knowledge for your future as a graduate student in the TTU TCR program. But as with all classes, this course provides one particular (if incomplete) narrative about technical communication—we’ll try to poke holes in this narrative, to question it, to revise it, and to determine where the field might (need to) go.

The trouble with technical communication, we’ll find, is that it is both a practice and a field of study; it requires deep theoretical understanding of discourse, technology, and human interaction but it also requires frequent doings. Understanding and engaging with the “foundations” of this field will require you to seek an approach that privileges praxis – rather than relegating yourself to just the doer or just the scholar. Because this is a foundational class, a large part of the course is introducing you to what it is we expect of graduate level scholars. It makes very little difference what your end goal is—rather, in this class, we begin a journey of scholarly acumen, which doesn’t merely prepare you to be a professional scholar; rather, the class will prepare you to approach the world through a scholarly lens, or with a scholarly disposition. This means constantly seeking/engaging /witnessing new knowledge-making and humbling ourselves to new knowledge; it means holding yourself to the ethical code of a scholar, and reading, writing, and researching on a daily basis.

Course Goals:

  • Become familiar with the working language of technical communication as a profession, discipline, and practice.
  • Identify primary themes that motivate research in the field of technical communication
  • Hone academic reading, writing, research and analysis skills
  • Develop your academic/scholarly voice and begin identifying the ways your own interests and work fit (or don’t fit) within the discipline of technical communication
  • Identify and distinguish between various theoretical approaches to technical communication
  • Piece together a working history of technical communication as a field of practice and study
  • Locate potential gaps, problems, and motivations for future work in the field of rhetoric and technical communication
  • Develop daily work habits that reflect scholarly work

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