Scalar & Vectorized Views of Tech Com

Two primary goals of Johnson-Eiola and Selber’s Solving Problems in Technical Communication (2013) are to present both scalar and vectorized views of the discipline and profession.

In chapter one, Selfe and Selfe take on primarily a scalar view, working to understand the existing properties of the field. By generating word clouds composed through empirical and rhetorical methods, the chapter authors survey the kinds of “boundaries, artifacts, and identities” (19) that surface through a verbal-visual analysis of existing technical communication documents. Selfe and Selfe are careful here to note that all representations of the field have affordances and constraints as they are rhetorically composed to meet the needs of particular audiences and contexts. Specifically, they show how representations of tech com’s histories, skills base, and research each privilege certain bodies working working in the field, deemphasizing other import clusters or constellations of work. While my first reaction to this chapter, was “How cute is it that we’re talking word clouds in 2016!” I was drawn in by their careful methods with this trailing-edge technology and how this could still be a useful way of constructing disciplinary maps. It is worth noting, however, that their work in the chapter moves toward a vectorized view of the discipline as they compare and interpret the word clouds, showing how concerns with global/local, writing/communicating, telecommuting/digital communication emerge in more recent snapshots of the field.

In chapter two, Hart-Davidson, continues the scalar work by showing the kinds of work patterns that exist in contemporary practice. This chapter can be read as a granular snapshot of what practicing tech com professionals might do (perhaps in their pajamas, given the distributed nature of the “workplace”) in the course of a work day, and it was here that I had an ah-ha! moment about technical communication. Here, in this view, I realized that while I hadn’t associated myself with the profession (if such a thing exists) or the discipline, I have, for the better part of the last decade practicing these kinds of tasks– as a composition instructor, as a professional development facilitator, and a member of different professional and civic communities. I could identify with the patterns that Hart-Davidson sketches out (51-52), thinking about all the times I’ve been tasked with or taken it upon myself to engage in “information design,” “user advocacy,” and “writing stewardship.” I won’t go into all of these here, but expect to see some of that in my first project! These patterns have heavily influenced the ways that I approach writing instruction and help to explain why the “single-authored” mode of composition studies that I find so outdated frustrates me so badly. I really appreciated the ways that Hart-Davidson, picking up on Spinuzzi, discussed “coordination,” (53) which reminds me of my own work (both an article and a book chapter) that explores the practices of remix in the field. In short, the distributed, distal, multimodal, and collaborative practices of writing in the 21st century make the “single writer working with single, coherent text” (53) model woefully inadequate for preparing writers to for a participatory culture. Another idea that really struck me in this chapter was a move from usability to usefulness, an argument that information infrastructures must be designed with more than just logos in mind as pathos is a driving factor in whether users will actually take up a particular tool for a particular (or unintended) purpose. And the heuristics included are valuable for thinking through some of the organization communication challenges I’ve been tasked with of late. Finally, like Selfe and Selfe, Hart-Davidson gestures toward the kinds of change that has happened in techcom, gesturing toward a vector of movement and direction in the field.

Cook, Cook, Minson, and Wilson, however, firmly take up the direction of the vector, outlining the ways both student, professional, and profession can co-emerge in the coming years. They outline some of the challenges of defining and growing a profession, arguing that tech com must first define itself before it can solidify. They advocate for Pringle and William’s definition which states, “Technical communicators work at the intersection of technology and communication as they design products for specific audiences…” (102), underscoring the humanistic aspect of techcom that was outlined in our readings from week one. Next, the chapter authors note that a code of ethics and a set of essential skills or competencies must be articulated for the co-emergence of both individual and community, noting the syncretic tensions between both local and global concerns in the discipline. As someone who already considers myself a professional who works to learn as much as I can about the field of writing studies, regularly surrounds myself with people doing similar kinds of work at multiple sites through conferences, retreats, online communities, etc., and works as a leader in local, state, and national organizations (106), I found the rest of the chapter to be somewhat common-sensical, but I appreciate the ways professionalization is laid out and wish I had had such a map as an undergraduate or even a new master’s student. This chapter is certainly forward reaching, and when I teach technical communication, I think it will be useful for showing the importance of reciprocity between individuals and professions or disciplines.




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