Understanding Order in Technical Communications

Mehlenbacher states: “Understanding technical communications ‘depends on your relationship to it’” (200). Your role in the process directly influences your investment in the outcome as well as your contribution. Whether you’re exploring the usability of instructions or critiquing a manual, you are investing your efforts in a product for an end audience. That audience has a variety of needs, levels of understanding, and expectations they expect you to fulfill. That’s a lot of pressure. So, how do we manage it?

“Technical Communicators, then, use documents to order knowledge, shape information, and make implicit and explicit arguments about what is to be valued” (Longo & Fountain, 169). We influence the expectations by steering the written conversation in the direction we want it to go. Sometimes, this is an intentional endeavor. The book cites an example of a communicator constantly having to address the instructions regarding an online interface. If the communicator could isolate a flaw in the logistics of the flow of information and find another way to present it, a memo could be drafted to the authorities above him in the food chain presenting the case for replacing the instructions instead of constantly revising them to reduce overall work output. Sometimes, this influence is subtler.

“Douglas asserts that institutions work by offering members the necessary frameworks, systems of thought, even ‘analogies with which to explore’ and ‘justify the naturalness and reasonableness’ of the institution’s rules and ways of operating’ (112)” (Longo & Fountain, 170). In short, our values are directly influenced by our work arena, our educational background, and social societies we collaborate with. We align ourselves with philosophies we relate to and surround ourselves with others who feel the way we do. It’s human nature to want to feel included and share common ground. That instinct, whether intentional or not, drives us to look at the documents already in circulation from our sphere and encourages us to model our own output accordingly.

Unfortunately, technology is a constantly evolving field as is professional communications. As communicators, it’s up to us to know where we came from, see the flaws and the shining moments, and carry the lessons learned into the future. With a little luck, light speed won’t hamper our ability to evolve in a real time environment.



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