Lyn Gattis, Editor
The following articles on technical communication have appeared recently in other journals. The abstracts are prepared by volunteer journal monitors. If you would like to contribute, contact Lyn Gattis at LynGattis@MissouriState.edu.
“Recent & Relevant” does not supply copies of cited articles. However, most publishers supply reprints, tear sheets, or copies at nominal cost. Lists of publishers’ addresses, covering nearly all the articles we have cited, appear in Ulrich’s international periodicals directory.
Rhetorical work in the age of content management: Implications for the field of technical communication
Andersen, R. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 115–157. doi: 10.1177/1050651913513904
“Drawing on a survey of the content management (CM) discourse, the author highlights CM trends and articulates best practices in content strategy that CM thought leaders are helping organizations adopt. These trends and practices are changing the nature and location of rhetorical work in organizations that produce intelligent content. In these contexts, rhetorical work is located primarily in the complex activity of building content strategy frameworks that govern text-making activities. The author highlights the need for a praxis-based collaborative model for technical communication education and research, and she offers some preliminary considerations for ways that the field might move in this direction.”
Sean C. Herring
The role of communication complexity in adaptive contextualization
Katz, A., & Te’eni, D. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 98–112. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2312454
“Adding contextual information to a core message has been shown to be critical in improving communication quality, especially in computer mediated communication. This paper models how people contextualize messages in the face of changing communication complexity. . . .” Following a pilot study, the authors “conducted a laboratory experiment, in which 258 participants working in pairs collaborated on a sixteen-step assembly task. They used a tailored system that structured each message as core (the essence of the message) and context (additional information that explains the core and the sender’s perspective). [The authors] used unbalanced panel data analysis to examine the repeated measures of contextualization and communication complexity associated with each step of the task. . . .” Results suggest that “collaborators respond to changes in communication complexity at the expense of higher collaborative effort. . . . [The authors] offer a cost-benefit framework in which, at the step level, people contextualize to reduce the communication complexity, and at the task level, they additionally consider the impact of contextualization on task performance. The main limitation of this study was the need to structure the communication between collaborators, to control and measure contextualization. Future research can adapt and extend [the] measure of communication complexity to less structured communication.”
Five design principles for writers and editors
Kristaponis, B. (2014). AMWA Journal, 29, 100–103.
Beginning with the rhetorical question, “If something is well-written, why does it need design help?” Kristaponis argues that writing itself, putting words on a “page” of any sort, is an act of design, successful or not. She provides a concise discussion of essential principles: C-WRAP (contrast, white space, repetition, alignment, and proximity). Helpful illustrations reinforce the message.
Paying attention to accessibility when designing online courses in technical and professional communication
Oswal, S. K., & Meloncon, L. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 271–300. doi: 10.1177/1050651914524780
“Roughly 1 out of 10 students in our classrooms has some form of disability, and now that a growing number of technical and professional communication (TPC) courses and programs are offered online, scholars need to adequately address accessibility in online course design. Calling on the field to ‘pay attention’ to this issue, the authors report the results of a national survey of online writing instructors and use Selfe’s landmark essay as a way to theoretically frame the results. They conclude by offering strategies for TPC instructors to design more accessible online courses.”
Sean C. Herring
Training a novice to edit documents in the pharmaceutical industry
Horn, K. F., & Ennis, P. A. (2014). AMWA Journal, 29, 9–13.
Horn and Ennis consider editing to be a means of quality control for regulatory documents. Potential editors should have a degree in the biological or physical sciences, to assure familiarity with the organization and interpretation of data. Training consists of a series of editing tasks with increasing degrees of responsibility, and training materials are provided. The authors present a number of “editing rules” to new editors, for example, “Provide comments to the writer in complete sentences, which follow AMA style, and do not use personal pronouns.”
Communication instruction in landscape architecture courses: A model and effects on students’ self-efficacy
Housley Gaffney, A. L. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 158–186. doi: 10.1177/1050651913513903
“Communication skills are an increasingly important component of college students’ education because these skills are in high demand from employers. This study provides a close examination of communication instruction in both a typical landscape architecture class and a modified one (i.e., with the addition of formalized communication instruction that is grounded in design), analyzing changes in students’ perceptions of their own communication abilities (self-efficacy). The study reveals that in the typical class, students had a decrease in self-efficacy whereas in the modified class, students had a significant increase in self-efficacy. Viewing these results through the lens of self-efficacy and situated learning provides a complex understanding of the influences on students’ experiences. For both teaching and research in communication across the curriculum, this study has implications about the importance of the nature of instruction.”
Sean C. Herring
Engineering and narrative: Literary prerequisites as indirect communication for technical writing
Jeyaraj, J. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 191–210. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.2.e
“While Engineering values direct communication, indirect communication produces a kind of literacy salient for engineers that direct communication may not offer in the way indirect communication does. This article emphasizes the inadequacies of overly emphasizing direct communication for Engineering majors and explains how teaching indirect communication in the form of literature has the potential to cover some of the inadequacies one can encounter if one were to overly emphasize direct communication.”
New perspectives on the technical communication internship: Professionalism in the workplace
Bourelle, T. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 171–189. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.2.d
“This article argues for developing linked courses in technical communication where the instructor facilitates a service-learning curriculum and then serves as faculty advisor within subsequent internships. In these linked courses, students write technical documents before moving into internships where they write similar documents. Specifically, the article examines the results from one such class and offers both theoretical and practical advice for collaborating with nonprofit and creating internships that are beneficial for both the students and the nonprofit. In addition, the discussion highlights students’ preparedness to enter the field of technical communication, as evidenced through their internship work and their final reflections. Through careful consideration of the nonprofit responses, [the author] suggest[s] making changes to professional and technical communication curricula for linked courses and internships, including the addition of an objective of professionalism that teaches students to not only write in a professional manner, but to also consider their actions and responsibilities within the context of an organizational culture.”
Ethical and legal issues
Strategies for writing about innovation: Navigating the relationship between technical documentation, patent prosecution, and technology transfer
Smith Diaz, C. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 113–122. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2311874
“Technical writers rarely work on patent applications, but the typical documents writers prepare during research and development are important during patent disputes. Patent disputes are so costly that the potential for these disputes weighs heavily on the minds of those preparing patent applications. The relationship between technical documentation and the legal processes surrounding research and development need to shape a writer’s documentation practice. . . . While impossible to know prior to a patent dispute how a document will affect the outcome of the dispute, technical communicators can adopt three strategies for preparing precise and complete documents. First, technical writers can adopt a ‘liminal’ practice—the ability to interact as needed with different disciplines. Second, technical communicators can approach new subjects with assent, a type of seeking understood in order to fully explore a new technology. And third, technical communicators can approach writing about research and development as a technical translation practice to translate highly scientific or technical language into precise plain language. By developing a liminal practice, technical communicators can build a robust documentation practice that includes the contextual nuances essential for work in patent prosecution and technology transfer.”
Cloud computing: A social relations perspective
Krogh, S. (2013). Journal of Information Architecture, 5, 21–30.
“Processing power, storage capacity and network bandwidth [in information technology] have increased exponentially, resulting in new possibilities and shifting IT paradigms. In step with technological changes, the paradigmatic pendulum has swung between increased centralization on one side and a focus on distributed computing that pushes IT power out to end users on the other. . . . So far, research in cloud computing has neglected [the social relations] perspective and focused entirely on aspects relating to technology, economy, security and legal questions. . . . [T]his paper points to the need for studying the social, relational and inter-organizational challenges associated with the widespread introduction of cloud computing. Based on previous studies in [IT outsourcing] and a review of existing articles on cloud computing, the purpose of this paper is to document a gap in the cloud computing research and identify relevant perspectives to be adopted in future studies of cloud computing.”
The practitioners of web information architecture in small and medium enterprises
Burford, S., & Given, L. M. (2013). Journal of Information Architecture, 5, 31–49.
“This paper reports an investigation of the practice of web information architecture (IA) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). As information delivery via the web becomes a mainstream activity in all organizations, research and practical attention to Web IA remains focused on larger organizations and a new profession of information architect. The practice of web IA in SMEs has not been widely considered. This research collects the narratives of those who practice Web IA in the smaller enterprise and reveals that the dominant voice is that of a communication and marketing practitioner, rather than information professional. The outcomes of practice in this context suffer from a lack of knowledge and expertise.”
Writing and assessing procedural rhetoric in student-produced video games
Colby, R. (2014). Computers and Composition, 31, 43–52. doi: 10.1016/j.compcom.2013.12.003
“Adding video games into a writing course opens up possibilities of more widely considering how multimodal texts communicate rhetorically, specifically how the rules and system of a game—its procedurality—offer an additional communication mode that engages a writer to more actively consider how a reader might interact with a work. Asking students to assess and inscribe procedural rhetorics by having them produce video games is a productive pedagogy that fosters positive habits of mind including curiosity, engagement, and creativity. Assessing these games should focus on how students write the procedurality of their games, both its potential and intention to transform. This article offers an introduction to procedural rhetoric and how it can be taught through student-produced video games. These games are then assessed not as products but through a student portfolio of shorter documents that demonstrate student learning through reflective practice involving metacognition, articulation of their own contributions and the contributions of their peers, formative and process assessment, and evaluations of their own and others’ work.”
Geopolitics of grant writing: Discursive and stylistic features of nonprofit grant proposals in Nepal and the United States
Khadka, S. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 141–170. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.2.c
“This study examines the global-local interplay of genre features in a select sample of nonprofit grant proposals from two particular sites—Nepal and the United States. Critically analyzing the carefully selected samples from both the sites on their own terms first and then in clusters (of Nepalese and American proposals) by exploiting the genre and discourse analysis theories and techniques published in genre, genre analysis, and grant proposal scholarship, this study attempts to examine the genre of nonprofit grant proposal in both comparative and non-comparative terms. While the study acknowledges that each instance of nonprofit grant proposal is unique, complex, and therefore non-generalizable, it does draw some broad generalizations about the similarities and differences in the rhetorical ‘moves,’ organization, and/or composition strategies of grant writers from these two different geopolitical locations. The study finds that variations observed across samples and grant writers reflect the unique rhetorical situations of these writers, whereas uniformities have to do with the global circulation of Western genre forms in the rest of the world via global organizations like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund—which are also the major donors in developing countries like Nepal. And finally, the study reaffirms the fact that constraints like funding agencies’ guidelines and reviewers’ preferences have a considerable influence on genre features and forms. That has been the case with both the Nepalese and American proposals sampled in this study.”
Catechesis of technology: The short life of American technical catechism genre 1884–1926
Brockmann, R. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 121–140. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.2.b
“Between 1884 and 1926, such publishers of technological information as Henley Publishing, Audel Publishing, John Wiley, Van Nostrand, McGraw-Hill, and Practical Publications put out dozens and dozens of technical catechisms on a wide variety of technical subjects. Then, around 1926, these publishers ceased releasing texts called catechisms. What made the genre so popular? Did it disappear? The answers to these questions provide a case study of genre adaptation, genre change, and genre persistence within technical communication.”
Our unstable artistry: Donald Schön’s counterprofessional practice of problem setting
Cushman, J. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 327–351. doi: 10.1177/1050651914524778
Strategic planning, assessments, and continuous process improvements have become the norm at most post-secondary institutions. “This article considers how technical communication practitioners and teachers can approach Donald Schön’s notion of problem setting as rhetorical and reflective work that offers us a richer, more precise language for articulating the technologies, narratives, and values from which problems appear as problems in the first place. The author posits that problem setting, when foregrounded in our work, adds value to the knowledge we make in practice rather than the knowledge we gain from stepping back and abstracting. After briefly describing problem setting as a significant yet invisible practice already underlying technical communication, he then describes a vignette from a digital marketing and design firm to foreground problem setting as creative, on-the-spot reflective work that we often use to invent, rather than discern, problems in unstable situations. The larger goal of this article is to further investigate Schön’s past construction in order to examine how the practice of problem setting affects our ability to act within the instability of digital, divergent, and knowledge-intensive settings—the kinds of settings we regularly face in the workplace and the classroom.”
Sean C. Herring
Communication with stakeholders through corporate web sites: An exploratory study on the CEO messages of major corporations in greater China
Ngai, C. S-B., & Singh, R. G. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 352–394. doi: 10.1177/1050651914524779
In this digital age of technical communication, Ngai and Singh emphasize the relevance of audience focus and the influence of cultural diversity. “Drawing on an earlier study that views CEO communication as an important strategic tool, this study analyzes the content of CEO messages on Web sites of major corporations in Greater China to reveal their extratextual and intratextual characteristics. The study suggests that the language style employed in these messages, including the linguistic characteristics, regional themes, and interlingual themes, is associated with a corporate communication strategy that is underpinned by CEOs’ beliefs and rooted in cultural values. The findings enhance our understanding of how CEOs view their stakeholders and the content that they include in their messages to stakeholders in order to compete in this digital age.”
Sean C. Herring
The effects of different parts of the annual report on potential investors’ attitudes towards the company and on the corporate reputation
Karreman, J., de Jong, M., & Hofmans, S. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 78–97. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2311872
“Both the function and the appearance of annual reports have changed over the last few decades. These multimodal reports now include many types of information that serve different functions. In this study, the effects of several information types on stakeholders’ attitudes toward annual reports and the companies that published them are measured. . . . An experiment (2 × 2 × 2 between subjects design) was conducted to test the effects of a good financial review versus a poor one, a good future strategy versus a poor one and a picture of the CEO smiling versus that with a serious facial expression. The effects on potential stakeholders’ attitudes toward the information, on their attitudes toward investing in the company, and on their perceptions of the corporate reputation are measured. The results show significant effects of all three information types. A good financial review, a good future strategy, and a serious facial expression have beneficial effects on the potential stakeholders’ attitudes and on the corporate reputation. More important, however, the results show that the information types should be aligned with each other. A smiling facial expression, for example, is only beneficial if the content of the other information types is good.”
Exploring the back alleys of publishing qualitative organizational communication research
Fairhurst, G. T. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 432–439. doi: 10.1177/0893318914535784
“As qualitative methods have gained a foothold in the academy over the past few decades, just what is publishable is perhaps the subject of debate between qualitative organizational communication researchers and the journal editors and reviewers they seek to impress. . . . As such, myriad rich conversations take place in the back alleys of journal publishing over the decisions made by the qualitative researcher and the requests made by reviewers. So, what are these conversations about? What are some of the lessons to be learned? Answering these questions is the subject of this essay, and [the author does] so by addressing three general topics persistently lurking in those journalistic back alleys as follows: (a) contributions to knowledge, (b) telling the story of qualitative data, and (c) methodological clarity. [The essay] conclude[s] with some final thoughts about what one can and cannot control in publishing qualitative data.”
Fieldwork horse-assery: Making the most of feeling humiliated, rebuffed, and offended during participant observation research
Tracy, S. J. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 458–465. doi: 10.1177/0893318914536965
“Good field researchers must leave their ego at the door, be flexible, and learn to fit in. Furthermore, they should not only tolerate moments of humiliation and discomfort but also see them as opportunities for self-reflexivity, examination of tacit assumptions, and transformative resistance. . . . [I]n this essay, [the author] share[s] tales of fieldwork horse-assery, including embarrassing moments, being snubbed, and encountering objectionable talk and practices. Through reading these stories, field researchers may feel less alone, and people who are not field researchers might better understand the challenges of doing good fieldwork. Furthermore, these stories reveal how flashes of horse-assery can be remarkably insightful.”
Narrating the backstage of qualitative research in organizational communication: A synthesis [special issue]
Tracy, S. J. (ed.), Eger, E. K., Huffman, T. P., Redden, S. M., & Scarduzio, J. A. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 422–431. doi: 10.1177/0893318914536964
“The five essays in this forum provide backstories about qualitative research in organizational communication. . . . Sharing the difficulties, foibles, uncertainties, tips, and tricks that make up ‘backstage’ qualitative research behavior can provide great pedagogical value and help [researchers] learn from others’ experiences. Indeed, sharing these backstage moments—especially embarrassing or disheartening issues—provides social support as readers realize that other people, even senior or successful scholars, make mistakes and encounter challenges. Furthermore, vulnerably sharing backstage moments can encourage empathy from those who do not practice qualitative research and provide clarity about its challenges. In this introduction, [the authors] summarize the essays and offer questions to spur discussion and future research.”
Pathways to mindful qualitative organizational communication research
Brummans, B. H. J. M. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 440–447. doi: 10.1177/0893318914535286
“[Q]ualitative researchers can gain valuable insights into the performative nature of organizations by cultivating awareness of the dynamic, interdependently arising nature of anything that appears to have a permanent, independent existence (including one’s own self) during fieldwork.” In this essay the author shares insights from fieldwork “[t]o illustrate how practicing mindfulness can deepen our understanding of an organization’s enactment.” The discussion includes “the importance of finding meaning in whatever happens in the field, and . . . the benefits of adopting a non-dualistic approach to studying how organizations are performed into being.”
Proposal pitfalls plaguing researchers: Can technical communicators make a difference?
Lemanski, S. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 211–222. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.2.f
“The facts bear out that the odds are against most scientific researchers and scholars—especially those just starting out—in their attempts to win funding for their research projects through their grant proposals. In this article, the author takes a close look at some of the proposal-related problems and pitfalls that have historically challenged scholarly grant seekers. The intellectual prowess and specialized training of academics can sometimes be their downfall, when it comes to persuading government agencies and foundations to fund their well conceived, but unconvincingly presented projects. In examining numerous studies, surveys, and insightful articles of experts in the genre of the research grant proposal, it becomes evident that technical communicators could quickly become the best friends of scholars, when the former harness the rhetorical and stylistic skills that are almost instinctive to them, and apply them to writing grant proposals, a task which is all too often a disappointing exercise for the latter.”
Social identity issues for qualitative and mixed methods scholars-mentors in a predominantly quantitative environment
Myers, K. K. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 466–473. doi: 10.1177/0893318914536966
The author of this essay reflects on her experience “as a boundary spanner—one who conducts qualitative and mixed methods research in a department known for its quantitative work. Although the differences between qualitative and quantitative research are fundamentally epistemological, [her] focus is on how they often surface as differences between quantitative and qualitative researchers.” The author describes how she has “evolved as a scholar who does not always fit the (methods) identity of [her] department,” and she discusses ways she has introduced graduate students in the department to mixed and qualitative research methods. Her most important point is to examine “how students manage this tension as they develop into mixed methods scholars in a primarily quantitative program,” as she “reach[es] out to others in similar situation[s], especially those who worry about how they and their students fit in.”
Unraveling the confessional tale: Passion and dispassion in fieldwork
Ganesh, S. (2014). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 448–457. doi: 10.1177/0893318914535785
This essay considers the claim that, to be suitable for publication, communication research must “be presented in a considered, manifestly dispassionate, and quasi-realist tone. There are a host of robust warrants for this argument, including the need for methodological transparency and the need for qualitative research to be presented as rigorous, systematic, and valid.” The author suggests, however, “that pressures to strike a dispassionate stance have elided the deeply constitutive role that personal and relational experiences play in the production of knowledge in the slew of methods that we loosely call ‘qualitative.’ In this essay, [the author] hope[s] to recenter the issue of researcher subjectivity and passion by drawing attention to the tension between realist and confessional modes of representation that animate the majority of academic writing practices populating the pages of our journals.”
Scientific and medical communication
Cracking the medical writer’s genetic code
Van Nostran, W. (2014). AMWA Journal, 29, 112–117.
“By the mid-20th century, it became increasingly apparent that many scientists and medical researchers lacked sufficient English writing skills to communicate original research findings effectively—either to their peers or a wider audience. As the pace of technology and scientific discovery quickened, technical, medical, and scientific writing and publishing standards required specialized compositional competencies. As these scientific writing genres advanced, some technical and medical writers became disenchanted with the value of English writing instruction as taught within the humanities. To them, writing in the humanities fails to provide a suitable orientation for success as scientific and medical communicators. Drawing on authorities in the humanities, sciences, engineering, and medical writing, [the author] argue[s] that writing in the context of the humanities is equally pertinent to success as a professional medical writer. [The author] offer[s] several ‘propositions’ to challenge the claims of those who contend learning to write in the humanities is detrimental to a medical writer’s career development [and] conclude[s] that fine writers and expert teachers of writing in the humanities possess the erudition and tools to make significant contributions to the medical writer’s repertoire of relevant skills.”
The medical writer’s survival kit
Madani, A. C. (2014). AMWA Journal, 29, 118–121.
This article provides useful writing resources identified by a practitioner. Madani divides her recommendations into “Textbooks,” “Health News Sources,” “Writing Guides,” and “Resources Near You.” She provides brief summaries and a list of AMWA resources.
My little black book of texts for teaching medical writing
Arduser, L. (2014). AMWA Journal, 29, 56–60.
Arduser teaches a graduate-level course in scientific and medical writing. She offers a comprehensive list of sources useful in teaching students to develop skills in critical analysis as well as writing. Divided into “Critical Lens Resources” and “Writing Resources,” the list ranges from work on the rhetoric of science to style guides such as the CSE Manual and Gastel’s “Health Writer’s Handbook.” Succinct summaries accompany the texts.
Pushing boundaries of normalcy: Employing critical disability studies in analyzing medical advocacy websites
Moeller, M. (2014). Communication Design Quarterly, 2, 52–80.
In recent years technical communication researchers have examined a variety of resources consulted by persons seeking medical information, such as hospital websites, medical clearinghouses, and government agencies. However, “[w]hile such analysis is indispensable to scholars interested in the dissemination and quality of medical information, narrowing the research in this manner inadvertently overlooks a host of burgeoning medical technical rhetoric on the Internet. One such location is online advocacy presence. . . . Such locations have traditionally been recognized as locations where advocacy organizations raise funds for research and support of patient and patient-adjacent populations.” The article argues that websites of such advocacy organizations “function both as altruistic sites for promoting health and wellness for all while simultaneously extending harmful biopolitical logics that saturate this current historical moment (e.g., ableism, racism, heteronormativity).” The study calls for research with a “feminist disability studies lens [to] provide a way in which students can further deepen critical engagement with cultural texts—and thus recognize how they, and others, construct and are constructed by varying notions and in particular altruistic, web-based articulations of medical health and well-being.”
Usability and user experience
Knowledge work, knowledge play: A heuristic approach to communication design for hybrid spaces
McNely, B. J. (2014). Communication Design Quarterly, 2, 14–51.
“Everyday spaces and places are increasingly experienced as hybrid—as a confluence of material and informatics possibility—thanks to the ubiquity of always connected mobile devices and robust sociotechnical networks. For example, the interiors of many contemporary vehicles are personal area networks that move with drivers through daily commutes, connecting them to their phone’s text messages and social networks in and through the material space of their car. In such cases, communication flows strongly mediate people’s experiences in, movements through, and perceptions toward spaces of work, learning, and leisure. This article explores such hybrid spaces from the perspective of communication design, offering a heuristic approach to user experience in a world where spaces are often crosshatched and multiple. This exploration focuses on the kinds of tools and practices common to knowledge work and its recent extensions into forms of knowledge play, where the means of knowledge work are coordinated and transformed for non-work pursuits. This article, then, presents a practical, persona-driven perspective on the relationships between communication flows and hybrid spaces, challenging design of communication researchers and user experience professionals to rethink the everyday combinations of symbolic action, knowledge work tools and networks, and mundane locations and movements.”