63.1, February 2016

Recent & Relevant

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.


Dialogue in strategy practice: A discourse analysis of a strategy workshop

Duffy, M., & O'Rourke, B. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 404–426. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525455

“Strategy workshops are frequently used by executive management to formulate strategy but are underresearched and underreported in the academic literature. This study uses a form of discourse analysis to identify a dialogic pattern of talk in an executive management strategy workshop. The group's dialogue in the workshop discourse displayed an emphasis on achieving shared understanding rather than winning a debate. Affirmation, Topic Expansion, Productive Difference, and Reflexive Observation were derived from the dialogue literature as particular features of dialogical interaction and were used in this analysis to identify spontaneously occurring dialogue in the strategy workshop. The study thus proposes a basis for identifying dialogue in naturally occurring strategy discourse and for understanding its potential contribution in that setting.”

Katherine Wertz

Slip-sliding-away: A review of the literature on the constraining qualities of PowerPoint

Kernbach, S., Bresciani, S., & Eppler, M. J. (2015). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 78, 292–313. doi: 10.1177/2329490615595499

“PowerPoint is a dominant communication tool in business and education. It allows for creating professional-looking presentations easily, but without understanding its constraining qualities it can be used inappropriately. Therefore [the authors] conducted a systematic literature review structuring the literature on PowerPoint in three chronological phases (Early Criticism, Heated Debate, and Scientific Take-Off) and identifying 18 constraining qualities classified into three categories: cognitive, emotional, and social. This article provides implications for educators' and practitioners' use (and nonuse) of PowerPoint through synthesis and description of such constraining qualities. Directions for future research are developed by identifying theoretical gaps in literature on PowerPoint.”

Lyn Gattis

Computer issues

Help is in the helping: An evaluation of help documentation in a networked age

Swarts, J. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 164–187. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1001298

“People use software in service of complex tasks that are distributed over sprawling and idiosyncratically constructed technological and social networks. The aims and means of carrying out those tasks are not only complex but uncertain, which creates problems for providing help if the tasks, starting points, and endpoints cannot be assumed. Uncertain problems are characteristic of networks, and software forums stand out as effective public spaces in which help can be pursued in a network fashion that differs from traditional help documentation. This article describes the results of a quantitative descriptive study of such practices in four software forums.”

Lyn Gattis


E-health first impressions and visual evaluations: Key design principles for attention and appeal

Lazard, A. J., & Mackert, M. S. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly, 3, 25–34. [doi: none]

“Design plays a critical role in the development of e-health, greatly impacting the outreach potential for pertinent health communication. Design influences viewers' initial evaluations of electronic displays of health information, as well as directly impacting the likelihood one will attend to and favorably evaluate the information, essential actions for processing the health concepts presented. Individuals with low health literacy, representing a hard-to-reach audience susceptible to worsened health outcomes, will benefit greatly from the application of theory-based design principles. Design principles that have been shown to appeal and engage audiences are the necessary first step for effective message delivery. Design principles, which directly impact increased attention, favorable evaluations, and greater information processing abilities, include: web aesthetics, visual complexity, affordances, prototypicality, and persuasive imagery. These areas of theory-driven design research should guide scholars in e-health investigation with research goals of broader outreach, reduction of disparities, and potential avenues for reduced health care costs. Improving design by working with this hard-to-reach audience will simultaneously improve practice, as the applications of key design principles through theory-driven design research will allow practitioners to create effective e-health [interventions] that will benefit people more broadly.”

Lyn Gattis


Creativity counts: Why study abroad matters to technical and professional communication

Ballentine, B. D. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 291–305. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1078846

“Technical communication programs preparing students to perform as symbolic analytic workers can improve a student's creative problem-solving abilities by offering study-abroad opportunities. Newer research from the field of psychology is used as a conceptual framework for discussing the author's development of curriculum for a study-abroad offering within a professional writing program. Details on the study-abroad curriculum proposal such as course assignments, readings, credit hours, and program destination and logistics are included.”

Lyn Gattis

Multimodality in the technical communication classroom: Viewing classical rhetoric through a 21st century lens

Bourelle, A., Bourelle, R., & Jones, N. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 306–327. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1078847

“The authors provide a robust framework for using rhetorical foundations to teach multimodality in technical communication, describing a pedagogical approach wherein students consider the rhetorical canons—invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory—when developing texts beyond print. Students learn to assess their own work, reflecting on how each canon contributed to the rhetorical effectiveness of their multimodal projects. The authors argue for using the canons as a rhetorical foundation for helping students understand technical communication in the digital age.”

Lyn Gattis

Social media in the classroom: Nemesis or necessity? Corporate America weighs in

Ludwig, L. O. (2014). Connexions, 2(1), 59–71. [doi: none]

“Social media skills are required by many businesses today, worldwide. The classroom provides a rich opportunity to practice and explore interpersonal communication with technologies used in the business world. Business writing instructors can harness their students' talent with social media and show them how to apply those skills in workplace settings. Business professionals, who are intimately familiar with current business practices, can offer guidance to instructors about the types of social media skills their students are expected to know. By introducing business needs in an academic setting, a relationship is forged that helps create college graduates with more marketable skills and an insight to the inner-workings of the world beyond college. Experts from multinational corporations IBM, Best Buy, McDonald's, and Groupon offer their opinions about the types of social media and interpersonal communication skills they would like to see in college graduates.”

Lyn Gattis


Facework in responding to unethical communication

Valde, K., & Henningsen, M. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 369–403. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525445

“Unethical communication occurs fairly frequently in organizations, yet confronting someone about an ethical transgression is a politically sensitive interaction that challenges people's identities. This study integrates a social confrontation approach and politeness theory to identify politeness strategies people perceive as effective and socially appropriate for expressing disapproval of ethical transgressions. To examine the extent to which the selection of politeness strategy was related to the type of unethical communication and power in the relationship, participants evaluated hypothetical scenarios based on Redding's proto-typology of unethical communication. The type of unethical communication influenced perceptions of the appropriateness and effectiveness of three politeness strategies and the power relationship influenced perceptions of two politeness strategies.”

Katherine Wertz

Health communication

The hospitalist model—Are hospitals informing patients?

Burleson, D. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly, 3, 50–60. [doi: none]

“A primary information source for many patients and caregivers is an organization's website. This study analyzes 17 of the top hospitals in the U.S. to determine how they are communicating about the role of the hospitalist in the care of patients. Beginning with a review of the evolution and implantation of the hospitalist in the hospital setting, this paper then goes on to outline the information gathered and analyzed from the websites used in this study. The findings indicate that hospital systems need to improve the types and kinds of communication that [they post] on their websites to assist patients with their information needs.”

Lyn Gattis

Pharmaceutical companies are writing the script for health consumerism

Mogull, S. A., & Balzhiser, D. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly, 3, 35–49. [doi: none]

“In this rhetorical analysis based on the Foucaultian constructs of power in medicine, specifically the docile body, the medical gaze, and health consumerism, the authors examine ways the pharmaceutical industry used web-based direct-to-consumer advertising, from 2007-2010, to craft interactions between U.S. consumers and physicians in ways that changed the traditional patient-physician relationship in order to drive sales of brand-name therapeutic drugs. [The authors] demonstrate how the pharmaceutical industry uses its websites to script power relationships between patients and physicians in order to undermine physician authority and empower patients to become healthcare consumers. . . [and they] speculate that this shift minimizes or even erases dialogue, diagnosis, and consideration of medical expertise.” In the authors' view, physicians and patients may need to play larger roles in ensuring “that medical decisions are made based on sound science, knowledge, and experience” if the values of the Hippocratic oath are to be upheld.

Lyn Gattis

Intercultural issues

Intercultural connectivism and personal learning networks in course redesign

Moses, J., & Duin, A. H. (2015). Rhetoric, Professional Communication and Globalization, 8, 22–39. [doi: none]

“The purpose of this paper is to explore implications of intercultural connectivism for course redesign in globally networked learning environments. Intercultural denotes different cultures and social groups, and connectivism refers to knowledge that is distributed across a network of connections. [The authors'] pedagogical method is to ask course participants to create and maintain personal learning networks (PLNs) as a means of increasing learning capacity in intercultural learning environments. [The authors] describe the potential for PLN visualizations to make cultural attitudes toward information, knowledge, and learning transparent and increase learning capacity among participants.”

Lyn Gattis

Toward a framework for intercultural visual communication: A critical review and call for research

Brumberger, E. (2014). Connexions, 2(1), 91–116. [doi: none]

“The treatment of the visual as a universal language, though less widely accepted than in the past, is still common. Two critical assumptions underlie this approach. First, that the ability to read images, sometimes known as visual literacy, is universal; and second, that the images, icons, colors, and other elements that comprise visual communication transcend cultural differences. Both of these assumptions are problematic. . . . Research in a variety of disciplines has connected intercultural models developed by Hofstede and others more explicitly to professional communication practices; however, relatively little of this work has examined visual communication specifically, and many scholars find the models to be outdated and overly simple. . . . Through a critical review of the existing practitioner lore, theoretical categorizations, and empirical research on intercultural visual communication, this article synthesizes what we know, and examines what we still need to learn in order to develop a framework for effectively practicing visual communication in a global environment.”

Lyn Gattis

Understanding international and domestic student expectations of peers, faculty, and university: Implications for professional communication pedagogy

Macdonald, L. R., & Sundararajan, B. (2015). Rhetoric, Professional Communication and Globalization, 8, 40–56. [doi: none]

“In this paper [the authors] present findings from the analysis of a study of the expectations of students entering a Commerce program at a Maritime Canadian university. Comparing the results of surveys conducted at the beginning of one cohort's first, second, and third semesters, [the authors] find evidence of negative disconfirmation in student expectations of accommodation, adequate preparation through first year courses for co-op term, adequate preparation for university in academic and writing conventions, and participation.” The study reveals “increasing evidence of convergence in expectations between international and domestic students. . . [and] a greater gap in expectations between instructors and all students rather than between internationals and domestics. [The authors] outline these results and apply the implications to pedagogical practice in the Professional Communication classroom.”

Lyn Gattis


The evil in technical communication: Katz, Ward, Moore, and overnaming

Boedy, M. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 213–225. doi: 10.1177/0047281615578844

“Ethics and technical communication have a long history. Much of the discussion has ignored, though, the evil in language—overnaming. We see clearest this evil in what some have called ‘administrative evil.' Technical communicators, like all good rhetoricians, need to understand how to respond to it. Overnaming as part of ‘administrative evil' is that evil which grounds all other evils. It is a certain understanding of language and what naming can do. When we overname, we try to control words to mean one thing eternally. Rhetoric is a move of renaming those words that have been overnamed. Such invention is needed as part of any rhetorical education for technical communicators.”

Anita Ford

The US intelligence community's mathematical ideology of technical communication

Krueter, N. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 217–234. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1044122

“Reading historical intelligence community documents primarily through the lens of Kenneth Burke's essay ‘Semantic and Poetic Meaning,' this article explores the history and stakes of the intelligence community's ongoing commitment to a problematic model of language use. The essay argues that the intelligence community's pursuit of a ‘mathematical' ideology of language is an attempt to render language ‘neutral' and to divorce rhetoric from ethics in ways that Burke anticipated, and with negative consequences for the generation of written intelligence reports and national policy decisions.”

Lyn Gattis

Professional issues

The continuing evolution of a profession … and my role in it

Grice, R. A. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 402–411. doi: 10.1177/0047281615585756

“In [a] half century as a technical communicator, [the author has] seen many changes. The profession has evolved from one that supported the work of engineers and programmers to one that stands on its own, providing important tools and capabilities to audiences. [The author] too [has] evolved within the profession—from someone who had little idea what technical communication was, to a practitioner, to an educator. The changing nature of the profession and [the author's] participation in it has made for an exciting time—our profession is anything but dull.”

Anita Ford

Four paradigm shifts and a funeral: The demise and rise of the TC profession in the wake of Web 2.0

Grinnell, C., & Hill, S. (2014). Connexions, 2(1), 7–31. [doi: none]

“Any exploration of professionalism with regard to professional communication must involve the broader context and scrutiny of the status and significance of professions within industrialized societies. Here [the authors] find four shifting paradigms in which previous models of communication, technology, and economics collide with newer ones. This article explores those paradigm shifts and their significance to professionalization in technical communication. [The authors] argue that, within globalized, technologically-enhanced societies, the place of the technical communicator is problematized, even compromised, by create and share tools of Web 2.0.” The article discusses the following “paradigm shifts impacting the role of technical communicators as professionals:

  • Shift #1. Production of information: From producers to consumers to prosumers
  • Shift #2. Flow of information: From broadcast to network
  • Shift #3. Mediation of information: From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 to Web 3.0
  • Shift #4. Locales of information: From local to global/from private to public”

Lyn Gattis

Women organizers of the first professional associations in technical communication

Malone, E. A. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 121–146. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1001291

“Women technical communicators helped to organize many of the first professional associations for technical communicators in the 1940s and 1950s. For some of these women, organizing was an occupational closure strategy of revolutionary usurpation: They may have hoped to position themselves favorably to shape a future profession that was not predicated on hidden forms of their inclusion. Exclusionary and demarcationary forces, however, seem to have ultimately undermined their efforts, alienating some of them and inducing others to adopt a strategy of inclusionary usurpation. In addition to using gender-sensitive revisions of occupational closure theory to explain the phenomenon of the woman organizer, the author chronicles the emergence of 8 professional associations for technical communicators and identifies the women technical communicators who helped to organize them.”

Lyn Gattis


Climate change research across disciplines: The value and uses of multidisciplinary research reviews for technical communication

Cagle, L. E., & Tillery, D. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 147–163. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1001296

“The authors performed an interdisciplinary literature review of research on communication and climate change. The authors reviewed STEM, social science, and risk analysis journals to synthesize recent publications on climate change communication which could support research in technical communication. Several applications are proposed for technical communication research, including using this review to contextualize local qualitative work, to spur interdisciplinary projects and address gaps in multidisciplinary literature, and reconsider a role for advocacy in technical communication.”

Lyn Gattis


Five strategies internet writers use to “continue the conversation”

Gallagher, J. R. (2015). Written Communication, 32, 396–425. doi: 10.1177/0741088315601006

“This article investigates the strategies web-writers develop when their audiences respond to them via textual participation. Focusing on three web-writers who want to ‘continue the conversation,' this article identifies five major strategies to accomplish this aim: (a) editing after production, (b) quotation, (c) question posing, (d) naming secondary writers, and (e) textual listening. Using the lens of writer-audience tension, [the author finds] that due to these web-writers' perceptions of audience, one that is partially externalized via the website's template, the term audience itself may not be a discrete concept, but a fluid, evolving, and recursive one, in other words, ongoing. These perceptions of audience reflect the unending nature of online texts and are exemplified by these five strategies.”

Lyn Gattis

The “genreology” of U.S. Army World War I reports: An exploration of historical genre change

Orwig, M. L. (2014). Connexions, 2(1), 33–55. [doi: none]

“Scholars in professional communication often focus on how genres function within business. One example is JoAnne Yates (1993), who argues, from a historical point of view, that the genres of business communication changed during the early twentieth century, in the United States. She argues that, as small, family owned companies grew exponentially at the turn of the last century, so did the need for business communication to become more controlled and impersonal (p. xv). But there is a lack of further significant research on how the organizational changes that affected early twentieth century business communication genres also influenced the communication that occurred in other sectors, such as the government. [The present study] argues that the communication in one branch of the government—the U.S. Army—was affected by the changes of the early twentieth century, as shown through examples of government-released reports from the army's famous First Division as they fought in France during an international conflict: World War I.”

Lyn Gattis

Influences on creativity in technical communication: Invention, motivation, and constraints

Zhang, Y., & Kitalong, K. S. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 199–216. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1043028

“Interviews with 14 technical communicators reveal that skills in rhetorical invention help them creatively address communication problems. They define creativity in relation to four interrelated exigencies of invention: thinking like a user, reinvigorating dry content, inventing visual ideas, and alternating between heuristic and algorithmic processes. They recognize intrinsic factors such as curiosity and sympathy as motivations for their creativity, while being conscious of the external factors (people, money, and time) that may restrain creativity.”

Lyn Gattis