Critical Power Tools

Longo begins this week’s reading by stating: “Good technical writing is so clear that it is invisible” (111). Intrigued, I followed the reasoning into cultural rhetoric, an admittedly new realm for me. So many elements of the logic presented made sense. I found myself wishing this section had fallen earlier in the course, but then caught myself. Would I have had the frame of reference to not only understand it, but apply it? Probably not. In many ways, it was a yardstick to measure how I’d grown intellectually over this semester. The examples, too, brought home the impact of power dynamics and decision making processes. The Challenger example carried a lot of weight in her argument. The question remained: what relevance did technical writing play there? The reports were clear that the conditions were ripe for failure; however, the company bowed to the desires of the institution (NASA). As I contemplated that issue, Longo goes on to answer it. “If technical writing is the mediator between technology and what we have come to term users, technical writing practices work to conquer users’ naïve know-how and reformulate these uneducated practices into scientific discourse that can partake of the cultural power residing in scientific knowledge” (117). Knowledge exists in a context…and good technical writing is invisible. With the facts in hand, NASA chose to launch the shuttle. From hindsight, debate has ensued, but it’s easy to point the finger in this situation. By this brings into prospect the limits of study. On page 124, Longo elaborates her view of cultural studies calling for the consideration of five points: “the object of the study is discourse, the object is studied in its cultural context, the object is studied as historically situated, the object is ordered by the researcher for the purposes of the study, and, therefore, the most important relationship in the study is between the object and the researcher.” For me, the most important part of a failed experience in anything is the conversation examining the lesson’s learned. If the situation can be reflected on as a learning experience, it is not a failure. Having said that, consequences are ugly things, especially in light of something like this.

In Chapter 5, Britt takes up the thought process examining an insurance company’s rejection letters in hopes of reducing the cost of appeals. For me, this was particularly fascinating. It brought into perspective tone, syntax, and reader interpretation as a lens for communication. I know the purpose of the chapter was to discuss institutionalization of the companies and how to engage with their data (however limited and incomplete due to the narrowness of the collection field); however, what kept pulling me back was how the letters were deconstructed for effectiveness. How the research determined how to incorporate the legally required bulk information in a way that included personalization and specifics to the individual cases made a great deal of sense to me. Of course, it also left me wondering how effective the new policies were to reduce the appeals process, but that just shows me how much I enjoyed the logistics of the scenario. Again, I wished this chapter had been sooner, but I doubted I’d have been able to fully appreciate the information shared.


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