Reflecting on this week’s readings, I was most intrigued with the argument that technical or scientific writing should be free of obscure language or ornamental rhetoric that impedes a clear understanding of the text. But, as Miller notes, “[c]larity is not a useful criterion” if technical writing is inaccessible to the intended reader as in the examples provided by Miller (4). This resonated with me because I think understanding, clarity, and accessibility are often thought as synonymous or are used interchangeably. Just because a text is clearly written (what does that even mean? Who decides if it is clear?) does not guarantee successful or complete transmission and reception. Perhaps efficiency and directness come into play here. How does one communicate information that is both accessible to and useful for the intended audience? And how does one do it in such a way that the author remains completely invisible and divorced from the text? I am still grappling with these ideas, and from what I’ve read, the aims of technical communication are still somewhat unclear to most people outside the discipline.
Technical content should be stripped down and presented as directly and as objectively as possible, but to convey any sort of information free of bias is impossible. There will always be a lens that colors the perception of a given audience, whether technical or nontechnical. But where do these two types of writing overlap? What is the gray area? I agree with Miller’s observation that “[r]eality doesn’t come in packages clearly marked as ‘technical’ or ‘nontechnical’” (3), In fact, these distinctions seem quite unnecessary and problematic, and the same applies to the seemingly separate camps of “creative” and “non-creative” writing. The boundaries created by this sort of labeling establish artificial binaries that corral articulations of or about reality into discursive traps. I can see why Miller takes such issue with having to justify the value of technical writing to those in the humanities: writing in the sciences is perceived as “other” to writing in the humanities. One is concerned with the preservation of objective truth, logic, and knowing “things as they are,” while the other is concerned with more subjective intellectual endeavors, or so it seems. Again, the division between disciplines complicates the way the two communicate with each other about the kind of work they do. But Miller proposes a solution: technical or scientific writing can be taught as way of introducing students to becoming a part of a discourse community. The emphasis should be on understanding, not the acquisition or mastery of skills. This broader approach with a focus on a wider context seems most beneficial, but I fear that justifying this approach to departments with their own agenda would be challenging.
Porter and Sullivan mention how the interdisciplinarity of professional writing is problematized because of the way academic departments are organized (17), and that technical writing often remains a part of English departments because it would not have the resources to support itself autonomously. I wonder if technical/professional writing would operate with less dissention as part of a communications department?
I am still wrapping my head around the conflict of pursuing interdisciplinary work while being pressured to specialize for tenure and promotion purposes. How does one negotiate this conflict? Furthermore, how does one defend the integrity of his/her discipline when it comes under fire from within its “parent” department?