I paused so many times as I read through this weeks reading assignments and recalled conversations I’ve had with my husband, Jason, thousands of times. Jason is a software engineer and has encouraged me for as long as I can remember to take up technical writing as a profession. As he sees it, it is the most lucrative application of my skill set. He writes code that is designed to automate quality assurance procedures for software products. So in many ways he bridges what was traditionally less technical work, with more technical computer programming skills. Because of this intermediate position, he has often been tasked with writing guides, manuals, and other kinds of explanations of his work. Early on, I helped a lot. But every time he suggested that I consider ending my love affair with the back breaking, low-paying work of education to join forces with him in the technology industry, my answer was the same. “This is fine for someone to do, but not me. It doesn’t matter at all to any real people. I need to know that my work impacts real people. Not software. Sorry, but no.”
I shared the same idea of what technical writing means as the notions that Carolyn Miller describes having to work so hard to resist. I thought of technical writing as devoid of human impact, as a flat representation of some scientific reality. If, as I believed, the GOAL was to avoid all nuance, argument or evidence of human influence, then it was most certainly a task not to assign to me. It is amazing how pervasive that impression is, even for someone who studied English and earned two degrees in it. I had no alternative narrative with which to consider technical writing as a career. Although I am still firmly committed to my career in academia, I have a different stance toward technical writing just by way of these initial readings. The first two made the most dramatic impression on me as they deconstructed, first epistemologically in Miller’s piece and then by way of example in Katz’s piece, the notion of technical communication as without human or ethical components.
The importance of the epistemological framework, not just for individual researchers (as was emphasized in Dr. Eble’s research methods course last semester), but also for fields of inquiry cannot be understated. The positivist view of technical writing imposes, I think, problematic boundaries, by potentially rendering the work as an academic bastard of sorts–not really valued by the humanities and sort of an afterthought in the sciences (that sounds really harsh when I type it, but its what I thought of as I was reading. Sorry.) I really like the approach that both Miller and Rentz, Debs, and Meloncon take that advocates for the scholars and teachers in the field to be intentional in framing their own work in ways that are accurate and reflect it’s humanistic and scientific value, without relying too heavily on others for its definition.
And then, it kind of goes without saying that the Katz article was a fascinating real life example of the human and ethical component of the technical communication. It conveys the danger in a narrow focus on expediency at the expense of a holistic or humanistic focus on the people involved or implicated in a communication act. The communication can be technically exemplary and rhetorically excellent, and because of that, the consequences of that communication can be even more dire.
This intersection between ethics and technical communication is a space that I’m eager to continue exploring.