Porter attempts to show how rhetorical theory informs the work of the technical communicator. He explains the value and application of theory, but I think he perhaps spends too much of his efforts on theory. As a result, the rhetorical function of theory takes a back seat. His example with Max, in my opinion, fails to show how rhetorical theory can be successful applied in a given context (or maybe the example was not sufficiently explained with supporting details). Criticisms aside, I found it interesting that “technical communication has moved toward thinking more about process, action, and reception” (136). This shift indicates that the product (e.g. instruction manual) is no longer the only thing technical communicators have to work toward. Instead, there is a great deal of planning or prewriting the technical communicator must do in order to successfully accomplish his/her task(s), particularly with strong consideration for the rhetorical situation. Who is the intended (user) audience? What is the purpose of this document I have been asked to create? In what context will it be used? These are basic questions, of course, but I can see what Porter is trying to emphasize. Applying rhetorical theory in the creation of a technical document seems obvious to me because of my training and expertise, but I imagine this is where a lot of the tension in the product/process and theory/practice debates come in. If technical communicators privilege the document in question over their audience, then the likelihood of delivering an insufficient or semi-useful document is quite high.
Longo and Fountain draw our attention toward historical and cultural influences that technical communicators must take into account when developing materials for a particular purpose and with a specific audience in mind. The provided example of the nurse revising an ICU protocol (and the mention of Foucault) reminds of a recent research project I did for Dr. Erin Frost’s course on technology and embodiment. I closely examined the writing center’s client intake form as a cultural artifact and as residual document from the clinical era of writing center history. In this study, I was concerned with what the intake form asks student writers to embody, particularly whether the form makes students see themselves as patients to be treated. I had to take into account the organizational history of writing centers and their collective culture as part of my initial research, starting with the early writing clinics and writing labs that most contemporary writing center practitioners quietly swept under the metaphorical rug. Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic was helpful in fleshing out how the writing center experience is still somewhat clinical (e.g. make an appointment, fill out an intake form, check in at the front desk, have a seat, wait, then you’re taken to the “back” where you’ll tell a “consultant” your concerns, and he or she will suggest a course of action for alleviating those concerns), but I digress. Longo and Fountain’s chapter helped me see I was investigating organizational history in order to analyze a technical document. Further, I can build upon my findings to improve the current intake form at ECU, thus revisiting that history (or is it histories?) to understand how this form has been used in the past and in what cultural and institutional context.