60.4, November 2013

Conceptualizing the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge: Context, Metaphor, and Direction

Nancy W. Coppola and Norbert Elliot


Purpose: The Technical Communication Body of Knowledge (TCBOK) is a landmark effort in our profession. To support next-generation development efforts, a framework is proposed that will benefit the profession: integration with national efforts to develop knowledge taxonomies; conceptualization through metaphor; and application through imagined user groups (personas) and the communication tasks (genres) they commonly perform.

Method: As an instrumental case study, the TCBOK can be understood and expanded through the complementary metaphors of relation and trading zones. Both metaphors are examined through a scenario of use for two personas.

Results: While presently designed as taxonomy of knowledge, the TCBOK might be expanded through an ecological framework that embraces complexity of design and use.

Conclusion: Three recommendations are provided that may help provide direction for TCBOK development: (1) Continue the use of persona as a key strategy for information development, but add high-quality genre models of best practice; (2) Expand attention from focus on cognitive competency domains to include intrapersonal and interpersonal domains; (3) Consider the knowledge portal as an opportunity to expand on other current efforts to articulate knowledge taxonomies.

Keywords: genre; professionalism; metaphor; TCBOK; persona

Practitioner's Takeaway

  • While certification allows validation of individual developed ability, the TCBOK provides systematic advancement of knowledge for our profession.
  • Because there are multiple national efforts to articulate bodies of knowledge, positioning the TCBOK along these centralizes our profession, allows development across professions, establishes an agenda for applied research, and charts a path for growth.
  • Development of knowledge in technical communication can be expanded by the use of metaphor, a powerful yet often unrecognized conceptual tool.
  • Growth for STC membership can be identified by exploring the personas developed by TCBOK founders and investigating the ways those personas use genres in their daily lives.


The Technical Communication Body of Knowledge (TCBOK) is a landmark event for our profession. An initiative sponsored by the Society for Technical Communication, the TCBOK was designed between 2007 and 2009 (Coppola, 2010). Using a multi-method approach, academic and professional leaders used mapping, card sorting, affinity diagramming, and shareholder analysis to identify core knowledge areas for technical communication. Concurrently, the founders also conceptualized personas, each of whom would use the TCBOK for reasons as diverse as the personas themselves. Identification of knowledge domains and user personas allowed an unprecedented level of span and specificity for stakeholders. In 2012, a new team took on the task of reconsidering content, promoting engagement, and establishing communication practices.

In support of this initiative, we have taken on three tasks in this article: to position the TCBOK among other fields of knowledge; to conceptualize it through metaphor; and to identify directions for its future. As part of a campaign for professionalization that ranges from medicine to project management, we begin by historically situating the TCBOK to suggest the importance of attention to communication processes, public support, and systematic review. We then turn to a simultaneously abstract and important part of the TCBOK in its current developmental stage: the use of metaphor. Based on our experience with applied metaphors, we suggest the use of two complementary conceptualizations. The first, variable relationships, ensures a relational design for the TCBOK, which fosters an ecological approach incorporating a situated stance of deeply contextualized inquiry. Building on the first metaphor, we then explore the second—trading zones—as a way to establish resonance between knowledge area and persona. We close our article with recommendations for future development of the TCBOK and its use in educational and occupational settings. As an instrumental case (Stake, 2006), the TCBOK allows an excellent way for readers of Technical Communication to reflect on the current status of their profession, its processes of conceptualization, and its future.

Context: Positioning the TCBOK among Other Fields of Knowledge

Educational historian Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (1983) has told the remarkable story behind Abraham Flexner’s Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910). A study that shaped a profession, Flexner’s report finds its origin in the market: the medical profession wanted to increase the supply of doctors. Concurrent with expansion, practitioners also believed that new educational patterns were needed to ensure better medical services. Put in terms of medical diagnosis, there was a hemorrhage: Between 1870 and 1914, approximately 15,000 physicians (roughly half of the medical workforce) received their advanced training in Germany, where specialization had resulted in advanced research and innovative techniques. With loss of market and quality, the American Medical Association realized it needed an external presence with prestige to help secure its future. Medical leaders approached the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Henry Smith Pritchett, to sponsor a study that would establish a path for the profession. Returning from Germany himself in 1908, educator Abraham Flexner was recruited to visit the nation’s 115 medical schools and write the final report. As Lagemann correctly observes, Flexner focused on “reconstruction,” advancing a reformed medical education. Emphasizing quality as a way to secure the market and promote specialization, the report had a stunning impact: weak medical schools were closed and funding sources were identified to increase the quality of others. The key to the future of professionalism seemed to rest on standards that were clearly communicated, publically supported, and systematically maintained.

In the process of developing their goals for professionalization of the field, the first generation of technical communication scholars read Flexner (1915). Israel Sweet (1957) and Israel Light (1961) both looked to Flexner whose definition of a profession included the requirement of having a well-defined, specialized body of knowledge (Malone, 2011) such as that available to Germany’s physicians. In the sixty years that have passed since technical communicators created the first professional organizations and journals in technical communication, the profession has made solid progress in developing a specialized body of knowledge and creating communication outlets (for example, professional conferences and journals) for documenting, exploring, and critiquing it. When we consider that our profession takes its origin in post-war America—and not in the time of the Roman physician Galen—we may characterize our responsiveness as excellent.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 11.23.53 AMA fellow profession, project management—like technical communication born in the defense industry with civilian credentials developed later—has a similar early history in developing its body of knowledge. Project management had its professional beginnings in 1969 with the formation of the Project Management Institute (PMI). In 1981, the PMI board’s president submitted a recommendation that PMI “define a body of knowledge to establish project management as a unique discipline and independent profession” (Change Management Solutions, 2008, p. 7). PMI then established a research group to determine what a body of knowledge might look like; semantics became an early roadblock as the group tried to come to a consensual definition of “project.” Persevering, the group produced a white paper in 1987 in an attempt to document generally accepted project management information and practices. It would be nine years before the first formal document, The Project Management Body of Knowledge (now titled A Guide to The Project Management Body of Knowledge [PMBOK ©Guide]), was published and with it the standard terminology and guidelines for project management (American National Standards Institute, 2013). The Fourth Edition (2008) was recognized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, 2011) and the Fifth Edition by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an American National Standard (BSR/PMI 99-001-2013). Now in its Fifth Edition (2013), the PMBOK ©Guide represents a well-established profession and a growing organization with over 700,000 members.

Clearly, the success of the project management body of knowledge is reflected in the organization’s certification—its systematic maintenance—launched in 1984. The PMI 2012 Annual Report cites more than 500,000 active Project Management Professional, or PMP®, credential holders, most of whom use the PMBOK ©Guide to prepare for certification and to guide their practice.

Careful readers will note the comparison among the Flexner report and the PMBOK, on one hand, and the TCBOK on another. All three have in common two of the three elements of professionalism: communication processes and public support. However, our profession has not addressed the third element, systematic maintenance, until very recently. One way of addressing monitoring—certification—is currently underway with the Certified Professional Technical WriterTM and Certified Professional Technical CommunicatorTM programs. While certification is one way to secure standards of practice, we want to focus on securing the TCBOK, and by that, the future of our profession by turning to present conceptualization and future direction. We believe that there are distinct yet equally compelling ways of ensuring systematic advancement of professional standards through robust processes of conceptualization. To put it very directly, certification will allow validation of individual developed ability, but attention to the standards themselves requires another path.

Metaphor: Mapping the Metaphors of Relation and Trading Zone

We live by our metaphors. Often seen as a rhetorical turn, in reality metaphor is a process of cognition with meaning-making, invention, and knowledge-stabilizing functions (Gentner & Grudin, 1985; Kahneman, 2011; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Leary, 1990). For technical communication, Giles (2008) has shown that metaphor serves a descriptive, explanatory, and predictive function guiding scientific theory and practice as well as serving as a pedagogical tool to disseminate complex ideas to the public. A body of knowledge is itself a metaphor, suggesting a living and dynamic corpus of work with a distinct spatial orientation (Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez & Hernández, 2011). Focusing on the power of metaphor, strategies and practices for developing bodies of knowledge can be designed such as that shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 depicts the TCBOK as a series of variables, those categories that are at the center of empirical research traditions in the social sciences. For Bernard (2013), a variable is defined as “something that can take more than one value, and those values can be words or numbers” (p. 28). We can, for example, account numerically for the STC membership. But if we ask one of those members to tell us about her field of specialization, her answer will come back in words: computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations. It is this sense of variation that is Odendahl (2011) emphasizes in her definition. While “a variable is a trait, attribute, or characteristic,” it can “vary across different entities” (pp. 208-209).

In moving from definition to application, we can conceptualize the TCBOK as a series of formative variables—a stew, as the National Research Council has recently labeled them (2012)—of core knowledge areas and their detailed facets. Developed by experts, this stew contains the elements of technical communication. Because they are in a stew, these variables swirl in their relationships to each other.

The nature of that swirl, of course, is best fixed if we wish to investigate the nature and extent of the relationships among the variables. It is here that we can extend the spatial orientation and suggest a model for the TCBOK of predictor variables (or X, the independent variables) that contribute to a defined outcome (or Y, the dependent variable). Finding its origin in the field of educational assessment, testing, and measurement, just such a variable model has been used by the authors in their program of empirical research in professional and technical communication (Coppola & Elliot, 2007, 2010). The variable model has also been recently proposed as a way to conceptualize writing program assessment (White, Elliot, & Peckham, in press). In our experience, variable models—defined in the case at hand as a series of domains that have been identified by experts as predictors of success for the practice of technical communication—have proven an excellent way of establishing our field in the stew knowledge dispersion resulting from our many publications and diverse practices. As we identify the domains of the construct of technical communication (the predictor variables), we can then further define the way that those domains are interpreted in specific settings (the individual facets of those variables). Once established, the model is then able to be examined empirically for its strength and refined as relationships among the variables are examined over time.

Figure 1 gives the generic framework of a variable model that will gain specificity in Figures 2 and 3. The first column of Figure 1 provides the four core knowledge areas for technical communication in the TCBOK: knowledge of the profession, career management, knowledge production, and research. We have identified these as predictor variables. Using the framework of the National Research Council, we have then identified the variables in the second column as facets of the predictor variables. Defined as a series of factors that may be inter-correlated, each of these facets gives precise definition to the predictor variables. For example, in the TCBOK the broad predictor variable (X)—producing technical communication—is broken down into six facets(Xf): genre production; design and development; technology; collaboration; adherence to standards; and group management. These facets include both cognitive (for example, design and development) and interpersonal (for example, collaboration) domains. In turn, these facets lead to the desired outcome of the relationships. In this case, the implicit outcome for the TCBOK is best practice.

In Figure 1, the outcome variable is broadly labeled because of space limitations. But the website presently supporting the TCBOK provides many paths for enumeration of best practices. The variable of knowledge production and its facets, for instance, includes the following best practice outcomes: documents that explain products, services; and policies that communicate basic scientific and technical information, that train users to develop skills, and that market products and services. Thus, reading Figure 1 from left to right we can see that the predictor variables and their articulated facets lead to desired outcome of optimal practice that can, in turn, be broken down into very precise best practices.

When applied to the TCBOK, the variable model yields three benefits. First, the four core knowledge areas are seen as relational, not categorical. That is, the many facets of the predictor variables are seen as inter-related, not as discrete categories that bear no relationship to each other. Second, as the history of educational measurement has shown (Brennan, 2006), variable models readily lend themselves to a wide range of empirical analytic techniques of both qualitative and quantitative orientation. As such, the TCBOK can be empirically investigated over time in specific settings and thus firmly established and improved through collaboration. Third, the variable model is ecological. As MacMillan (2012) has proposed, research informed by an ecological perspective allows a situated stance of deeply contextualized inquiry in which relationships are neither idealized nor simplified. We cannot therefore readily state that a change in Xf can “cause” a change in Y without considering the host of factors, both individual and institutional, that could also contribute to the change. Because the variable model is ecological, it provides, as MacMillan concludes, “a much more satisfying description of what actually happens” in a particular setting (p. 359)—an approach that answers the reservations raised by Blakeslee and Spilka (2004) regarding the lack of practical relevance of academic research to realistic work contexts. Ultimately, because the variable model embraces complexity, it is appropriate for the complex undertaking presently underway for the TCBOK.

Alone, however, the variable model is insufficient for our profession, and reference to the STC definition of communication (2013) reveals the reason. “What all technical communicators have in common is a user-centered approach to providing the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive.” As De Jong (2012) has proposed, “technical communication is an instrumental discipline: a discipline that eventually seeks to contribute to the effectiveness of communicating about technology, a discipline that aims to support technical communication practitioners in their jobs. It is a discipline that, so to speak, resembles medicine more than biology” (p. 91). A socio-cognitive act mediated by users, technical communication is best understood in terms of variables that are made meaningful in specific contexts.

Establishing context through boundary delineation within a scope of practice is a critical aspect of achieving disciplinary identification, professional status, and individual identity (Brady & Schreiber, 2012; Coppola, 2011, 2012). For practicing professionals, STC worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013) to provide a separate chapter for technical writers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, thereby defining technical writers as distinct from other writers. For academics, the Classification of Instructional Programs in the United States (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013) now has one code for all instructional programs in Professional, Technical Business, and Scientific Writing (23.1303). These boundaries provide autonomy for a profession, demarcating efforts to exclude other occupations from acting within the discipline, and a source of competitive differentiation. Just as it did for Flexner, a body of knowledge can serve these exclusionary strategies and regulate the supply of capable practitioners.

However, this boundary work that professions engage in often impedes knowledge transfer across borders. Communication barriers exist between different disciplines with embedded practices and ways of thinking that have been successful at tackling certain kinds of problems. When a new problem or opportunity arises—such as converging technologies—that does not fall into one of the traditional disciplinary buckets, practitioners from different fields may find they have fundamentally different perspectives on it, including whether there really is an opportunity. And the traditional model of professionalism, which maintains centralized control and exclusive ownership over information, works against the pluralistic notion of the public good.

Indeed, social theorists Michael Gibbons and his colleagues (Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny, Scott, Schwartzman, & Trow, 1994) assert that industrialized societies are moving from knowledge production in the academy (Mode 1) to knowledge generation in multi-institutional arenas (Mode 2). Mode 1 is traditional knowledge generated within a disciplinary, cognitive, and primarily academic context. Mode 2 knowledge is generated in a context of application; it is transdisciplinary and often socially produced. Mode 2 knowledge is produced by teams outside of traditional academic settings that are brought together, often in a scientific laboratory, to solve a problem that spans more than one discipline. The quality control methods for each mode of new knowledge production are equally unique, with traditional expert review for Mode 1 and more novel methods for Mode 2 such as value added, cost savings, or market competitiveness.

Needless to say, a dynamic digital knowledge portal for the TCBOK provides an opportune space for content produced by both modes of knowledge—a rich opportunity for academics and practitioners to produce new knowledge together, knowing that the outcome must respond to market criteria as well as academic rigor. For such Web-based spaces to be truly useful, however, a second complementary metaphor is needed: trading zones.

Peter Galison, the Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics at Harvard University, (1997) was a pioneer in studying what happens when very different disciplinary communities have to work together. Galison developed the metaphor of trading zone to explain how scientists and engineers from different disciplinary cultures manage to collaborate across apparently incommensurable knowledge paradigms. He studied the development of radar, detectors, and particle accelerators and found that different expertise communities had to develop a way to talk across boundaries that are characterized by their disciplinary jargons. Galison found that trading partners hammer out a local language despite global difference in order to coordinate their actions. His example of MIT’s Radiation Laboratory shows how physicists combined their conceptual knowledge with the algebraic strategies of engineers that led to a shared language. With stability and trust, over time the new language emerged as the new field of microwave physics. Building on Galison’s evolution of a common language, Gorman (2010) identifies characteristics of trading zones that include goods traded (predictor variables such as time, resources, knowledge and skills) and a boundary object or system that embodies a common goal (such as the outcome of best practices). Distinct from an outcome, a boundary object has a tactile quality associated with genre—a Web site, for example, or a set of procedures.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.13.15 PMDefined as a digital ecology in which various stakeholders may develop new ways of engaging the variables of technical communication, the trading zone metaphor makes good sense for the TCBOK. Users can enter the trading zone with interests and interpretations of their own, seeking to find something that will suit their purposes. Indeed, we can see an instance of a trading zone when the first TCBOK task team came to the goal of establishing the early information architecture for the portal with widely varying knowledge and skill sets (Coppola, 2010). The ten collaborators, five academics and five practitioners, posted notes to a discussion board on research methodologies, taxonomies, project management, content strategies, and learning styles—each speaking rather different languages. One talked about waterfall vs. agile software development, another offered the standards of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and still another spoke of XML structured authoring. They spent a good deal of time trying to figure out what to call the portal—Web of Knowledge, Map of Knowledge, Network of Knowledge—a conversation that masked the underlying tension of divergent knowledge bases. The rhetorical context of audience and purpose prevailed, however, when the team began to describe the main users of the knowledge portal. Only when the group was tasked with developing personas and scenarios of use for the various stakeholders of the TCBOK did its members begin to find a common language to develop a place where they could trade knowledge. Specificity of end-user need had lent detail to the broad foundation of core knowledge areas for technical communication.

Galison draws from anthropology in his explanation of the trading zone, and his analysis is useful for us: “Anthropologists are familiar with different cultures encountering one another through trade, even when the significance of the objects traded—and the trade itself—may be utterly different for the two sides” (p. 803). They may exchange fish for baskets, for example, and find common ground on the quality, quantity, and type that constitute an equal trade. The two different cultures can share some activities while diverging on many others. In the local context of the trading zone, the two groups come to consensus about the procedure of exchange and determine when goods are equal to one another.

Following Galison, imagine if the traditional sub-cultures of technical communication—academics and practitioners—could form an interactive trading zone within the TCBOK to tackle a local problem that might constitute a boundary object. Ignoring tensions of larger differences, the two groups need to trade one another’s expertise in order to solve a specific problem. The transaction is thus not static but interactive, and the outcome is ever emerging—with traders ready for new transactions leading to new, more suitable outcomes.

Drawing on the metaphor of trading zones and the initial experience of the ten collaborators, we now explore how researchers and practitioners of the TCBOK community might continue to develop trading zones through knowledge exchanges fostering collaboration and negotiation. Figure 2 provides a model of such a trading zone.

Trading Zone Model with a High School Persona

The persona of Eric Hernandez, a junior high school student interested in Web design, is an especially good way to understand how the TCBOK, mediated by persona, can be conceptualized as a trading zone. Seventeen-year-old Eric, as the TCBOK founders imagined him, is someone who has taken all his high school’s technology computer courses and found that he has developed an appetite for something he has yet to name. He has designed Web sites for athletics and student government, and taught himself Dreamweaver and Photoshop. He has good aesthetic sense and loves to learn. His desire is framed in this way: “I’d love to major in something in college that will let me do this fun stuff, make a decent salary, and become a real Web design expert.” In a potential scenario of use, Eric would do a Google search at the direction of his high school counselor, find STC and the TCBOK, and click on Producing TC as the tab of choice. His experience in designing Web sites would lead him to the sub-topic Tools and Technology to Produce Technical Content. He would find the appropriate categories for the information he seeks—tools for authoring and tools for publishing content such as the Adobe Creative Suite—and he might find evidence of best practices that will help him add value to a future employer. Trading zone metaphors allow us to expand this scenario of use.

But there is another scenario of use operating for Eric and most other high school students in the United States , one that is enforced by the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) (National Governors Association, 2013). A curricular model led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the CCSSI is presently positioned to play a definitive role in education from kindergarten through grade 12. Adopted by 45 states and three territories, the Standards are designed to align school, post-secondary, and workplace expectations, thus yielding a system of national standards and providing consistency in articulation of student learning expectations in English Language Arts and mathematics.

While the CCSSI is the central K-12 initiative of our time and we applaud its potential, it nevertheless sets standards that are out of step with the needs and desires of students such as Eric. In the case of English Language Arts, the standards rely heavily on the traditional academic genre of the essay rather than the array of communication genres practiced in the workplace. As well, the CCSSI does not readily align to the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (Pimentel, 2013). The disjuncture between school and workplace would be apparent to Eric, who is interested in both academic and workplace knowledge.

Based on his profile, Eric might not be especially interested in learning how to write essays to his teacher through the established language arts framework that is core to the CCSSI; he would be very interested, however, in learning how to design Web sites to serve the needs of a wide variety of audiences through a technical communication framework.

Here is where the TCBOK portal could provide critical resources for an underrepresented population that is being poorly served by rigid standards. Eric will be interested, as Figure 2 illustrates, in facets such as career paths, academic programs, and information design. He might not be especially interested in research, however, at the point of first contact in which he discovers the pragmatic continent of the TCBOK after sailing from the academic island of the CCSSI. He would certainly be very interested in immediate use of information, whether that information led to better use of Photoshop or selection of a college. Because the metaphor of trading zones is conceived as relational, TCBOK sponsors could use the results of surveys and interviews to assure that the portal design for high school students such as Eric would be useful. As an additional design feature for the portal, social media could be used to link Eric’s cognitive and interpersonal talents to others of his age, rather than relying on professional special interest groups that may not fully understand his needs. Under such a framework, Eric’s world is no longer a series of standardized categories; rather, his is a communication ecology in which deeply embedded and meaningful influences—from social forces influencing individual behavior to genres reflecting broad professional use—swirl around him—ready to be identified, questioned, understood, used, and improved.

Trading Zone Model with a Mid-Career Persona

How might a trading zone be designed for someone at the other end of the timeline who is mid-career and wants to change directions? Linda Etesh, another of the 20 TCBOK personas, is a 20-year Information Technology (IT) professional who is thinking about transitioning to technical communication. Figure 3 describes how a trading zone might be understood in terms of her user needs.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.24.20 PMAs a network and database administrator in the data center of a major bank, Linda has had to document procedures and configurations. She finds that she enjoys the writing aspect of her work more that the IT administration. Her aptitudes for writing and technology lead her in the direction of technical communication, and she finds the STC homepage in an internet search. A search query for career paths takes her to the TCBOK where she sees that this field, like IT, has many career paths and that having technology experience is a plus. She is intrigued.

Linda accepts the shortcomings of the Career Paths page and its laundry list of possible career paths, and turns to Value Proposition. As an experienced professional, she knows that best practices in any field are mediated by the value added for the employer. Moreover, she is hoping that her employer might support additional training so that she could assume the new position within her current organization; being able to provide metrics for measuring the value add would be important to her career. Linda’s expectations of the knowledge portal are justifiably high. In 2008 when working in Alberta, Canada, she joined Canada’s Association of Information Technology Professionals (CIPS) and became certified as an Information Technology Certified Professional.

Her learned competencies in another field, however, might prove confusing as she tries to navigate the TCBOK. Two additions on the portal designed for her user group might be beneficial. Far from a novice, she would benefit from a Crosswalk tab such as the one created by O*Net, the American Job Center Network (2013) in which she could align information from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and the Standard Occupational Classification. Similarly, a library of documents from key genres—in her case, models of procedures developed in MadCap Flare—would allow Linda to establish connections between her present skills and the skill level needed to create high-level instructions using state-of-the-art software.

When applied to the TCBOK, the trading zone model yields two benefits. First, the trading zone model is congruent with the variable model and thus yields the advantages of establishing relationships, designing empirical studies for validation of model assumptions, and fostering an ecological view toward the TCBOK. Second, the trading zone model allows a sense of great specificity in structuring knowledge portals for TCBOK users. By establishing archetypal audiences, information may be provided that is highly useful, thus rendering the portals as pathways to the profession.

Direction: Imagining a Common Future

We have attempted to show how the TCBOK might continue to lead our field through a process of systematic advancement. As we have suggested, the TCBOK and its digital knowledge portal can provide dynamic content developed in collaboration between workplace and academic professionals. To continue the process, we close with three recommendations that may provide direction to future development efforts.

  •  Recommendation 1: Consider the addition of genre as a way to make the TCBOK more specific in both Xf and Y. While the present use of persona should remain a key strategy for information development, genre remains an equally important way to understand our profession. As researchers from Miller (1984) to Spinuzzi (2004) have demonstrated, genre mediates intention, exigency, and context, thus providing a way to understand organizational structure and professional behavior (Coe, Lindgard, & Teslenko, 2002). While defined by labels, both the predictor variable facets and the outcome variables remain generalized due to the absence of high-quality genre models of best practice. Examples of Web sites created in the Adobe Creative Suite and procedures in MadCap Flare would, we believe, be invaluable to users such as Eric Hernandez and Linda Etesh, especially if the models were accompanied by videos of academic and industry leaders describing their value. While even the most carefully crafted statements of best practice and rubrics for their development will remain general, examples of best practice—embodied in genres representative of our profession and explicated by our leaders—would go a long way in helping us explain ourselves to others. If the TCBOK is understood as providing a taxonomy of our profession, then attention to genre yields idiographic representation—detailed instances in which broad categories are rendered with great specificity by individuals working in defined contexts.
  • Recommendation 2: Consider expanding the TCBOK by attention to the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal domains of X, Xf and Y. At the present, attention is overwhelmingly paid to the cognitive dimensions of our profession, with some attention to the interpersonal domain. Adoption of an organizing concept such as that developed by the National Research Council (2011) would allow investigation of three broad competency domains—cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal—in our profession. While crystalized performance such as writing remains central, of similar importance are the unexplored domains of clusters such as intellectual openness, work ethic and conscientiousness, and positive core self-evaluation (the intrapersonal domain) and collaboration and leadership (the interpersonal domain). This expansion of the TCBOK would allow systematic, empirical development of our field along lines that are currently being understood as 21st century competencies, thus centralizing the STC effort. As well, inclusion of these three domains would give a fuller picture of our profession to others, especially if the model genres were also explained in terms of the full spectrum of behavioral domains in which they were created.
  • Recommendation 3: Consider centralizing the TCBOK with other initiatives that attempt to develop nomothetic span. Defined as the taxonomy of a profession, nomothetic span is a term with a rich history (Windelband, 1894) and contemporary applications (Embretson, 1983). In terms of communication, projects such as the CCSSI (National Governors Association , 2013), the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (O’Neill, Adler-Kassner, Fleischer, & Hall, 2012), and the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (Pimentel, 2013) have at their center attention to the cognitive, and sometimes the intrapersonal and interpersonal domains, of knowledge. That is, these efforts attempt to capture a nomothetic span of knowledge. Envisioning the TCBOK as a complementary effort allows centralization of our profession among others, encourages others to consider our views in developing their own present and future knowledge taxonomies, and opens the possibility of funding from the U.S. Department of Education for research and development.

Ranging from identification of financial support to exploration of largely unknown research areas, the challenges to the future of the TCBOK are substantial and readily identifiable. The initiative is nevertheless well begun and inherently useful to a wide variety of communities. The use of context and metaphor is a promising way to support the present effort, to imagine a common future for our profession, and to make that future a reality.



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About the Authors

Nancy W. Coppola, professor of English, is the founding director of the Master of Science Program in Professional and Technical Communication at New Jersey Institute of Technology. A Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has been honored with many teaching, research, and service awards as well as published widely in the field. Contact: nancy.w.coppola@njit.edu.

Norbert Elliot is professor of English at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is author, most recently, of the forthcoming biography, Henry Chauncey: A Life. Contact: elliot@njit.edu.

Manuscript received 3 September 2013; revised 7 October 2013; accepted 16 October 2013.