Navigating Risk in Technical Communications

Haas and Eble, in the Introduction, state “Globalization—and the complex and culturally-rich material and information flows that come with it—has forever changed who we think of as technical communicators, the work that technical communicators do, and thus where and how we understand technical communication happens” (1). This qualification of scope gives us perspective. Once upon a time, technical communicators occupied neat roles in companies with very specific responsibilities. Haas and Eble talk about how roles have changed. Technical communicators have broadened their world, stretched their responsibilities, and created a new space for themselves beyond the expectations created a decade ago. They encourage questioning, searching, and establishing identity within the intellectual, scholastic, and professional landscape. “By using our privilege and skills as nimble, flexible, liminal, rhetorical, and ethical technical communicators, we can intervene in global and local technical communication problems at the macro and micro levels in the face of asymmetrical power relations and limited agency—and teach current and future practitioners to do the same” (3). They move into discussing their social justice approach to the text, preparing us, as the users, for what to expect from the works included in their text. They lead into the first chapter, Dr. Frost’s contribution.

“This chapter situates risk communication in relationship to the field of technical communication; it explains what design and technology have to do with risk and why technical communicators should be paying attention” (Frost 27). She goes on to qualify “Risk communication is an important subset of technical communication, but it also is a robust discipline in its own right” (27). So, how is that worked into our perception of Technical Communication? It is navigating risk through the lenses of our own prejudices, theory foundations, and end-goal aspects of our projects. Dr. Frost discusses how her project in Alabama after the oil spill met with frustration because she wasn’t asking the right question of the right people. She was endeavoring to research a conversation that simply wasn’t happening at the time…the human consequence of the oil spill. There was data about financial repercussions, environmental concerns, and recovery efforts, but not about the health concerns to the population. Having lived in Pensacola at the time, not far from her research area, I can sympathize with her plight. The conversations she wanted truly weren’t happening among those of us caught in the backlash of the oil spill.

Dr. Frost takes this framework and narrows it for application for an online class she gave here at ECU. She works in her own theory approach, apparent feminism, into her research and views her data through that lens. She discusses obstacles and progress among her students as well as resistance. How safe do students feel in public spaces? How does this apply to technical communication? It is in the application of data. How do we use it and move it forward? It’s a subtle shift, but it is there. We decide how to present our findings to the world.

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