65.2, May 2018

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.


Communication and teleworking: A study of communication channel satisfaction, personality, and job satisfaction for teleworking employees

Smith, S., Patmos, A., & Pitts, M. (2018). International Journal of Business Communication, 55(1), 44–68. doi: 10.1177/2329488415589101

“This study examines teleworkers’ job satisfaction related to the use of and satisfaction with a variety of communication channels and workers’ personality type. U. S. teleworkers (N = 384) completed an online survey and self-reported on dimensions of communication channel satisfaction, job satisfaction, and personality. Results indicated that extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are positively correlated with job satisfaction. Additionally, significant moderating effects were found for the relationship between openness and phone and video communication, and agreeableness and phone communication on job satisfaction. Findings from this study yield important practical implications for organizations including suggestions for optimizing communication satisfaction for employees of differing personality types and recommendations to help organizations effectively hire and retain teleworkers.”

Katherine Wertz

The tone dilemma: Comparing the effects of flattery and verbal aggression in a political speech

Cavazza, N. (2017). Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 36(5), 585–598. doi: 10.1177/0261927X17698186

“In the realm of political communication, the effects of personal verbal attacks on political opponents have long been studied. However, less well understood are the effects of flattery on such opponents. [The author] present[s] an experiment showing that praising a political opponent elicits an audience’s positive emotions, which in turn positively influences source trustworthiness, and ultimately increases the likelihood of voting for that source. In contrast, attacking an opponent elicits aversion, which in turn negatively influences source trustworthiness, thus reducing the likelihood of voting for the source.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Voices in conflict? The crisis communication of meta-organizations

Frandsen, F., & Johansen, W. (2018). Management Communication Quarterly, 32(1), 90–120. doi: 10.1177/0893318917705734

This research looked at cooperating and competing interests among meta-organizations during a crisis. The crisis was communicated not only by the organization directly involved but also communicated by various trade organizations to which the original organization belonged (meta-organizations). “Little research has explored the interorganizational dimension of crises, crisis management, and crisis communication, in casu, the role of trade associations. Based on Rhetorical Arena Theory, this article examines two research questions: (1) How do trade associations prepare for crises that may arise for their member organizations and/or for themselves? and (2) How do trade associations communicate during a crisis involving one or more of their members and/or themselves? Do they speak with ‘one voice,’ or do they pursue different strategies? The empirical basis for this research is a case study of how four Danish trade associations . . . intervened communicatively when one of their members, Bestseller, faced a double crisis in 2011.” Inherent in all of this were many ethical considerations for all the writers involved.

Diana Fox Bentele


Visual invention and the composition of scientific research graphics: A topological approach

Walsh, L. (2018). Written Communication, 35(1), 3–31. doi: 10.1177/0741088317735837

“This report details the second phase of an ongoing research project investigating the visual invention and composition processes of scientific researchers. In this phase, four academic researchers completed think-aloud protocols as they composed graphics for research presentations; they also answered follow-up questions about their visual education, pedagogy, genres of practice, and interactions with publics. Results are presented first as narratives and then as topologies—visualizations of the communal beliefs, values, and norms (topoi) that connect the individual narratives to wider community practices. Results point toward an ecological model of visual invention and composition strategies in the crafting of research graphics. They also suggest that these strategies may be underrepresented in scientists’ education. More explicit attention to them may help improve STEM visual literacy for nonexperts.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Wearable technologies and communication design [guest editors’ introduction; special issue]

Jones, J., & Gouge, C. C. (eds.). (2017). Communication Design Quarterly, 5(4), 4–14. [doi: none]

“Using the data generated by both consumer- and medically-oriented wearable devices to assess and improve fitness, wellbeing, and specific health outcomes demands attention to the user experiences of such devices as well as to the kinds of claims being made about their promise. . . . This special issue participates in such work by presenting case studies situated at the intersections of wearables, communication design, and rhetorical analysis that explore the health, justice, and wellness-oriented promises of specific wearables. In this introduction, [the editors] briefly survey the research on wearables in the fields of rhetoric and technical communication, preview the essays in the collection, and propose some areas for future work that might be of interest to technical communication, communication design, and rhetoric scholars.”

Lyn Gattis


Confronting negative narratives: The challenges of teaching professional social media use

West, S. (2017). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 80(4), 409–425. doi: 10.1177/2329490617723118

Many [instructors] struggle with teaching . . . students the life lessons and pitfalls of personal social media while also teaching them effective use of social media as a professional. “This article continues discussions of students’ reticence [to engage social media in the classroom] due largely to negative cultural narratives that label social media as unprofessional, or that link social media only with reputation management. Using student interviews and writing from a social media writing course, [the author] discuss[es] challenges posed by students’ adherence to these narratives and conclude[s] with five suggestions for implementing social media successfully.”

Diana Fox Bentele

Health humanities baccalaureate programs and the rhetoric of health and medicine

Gouge, C. C. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 21–32. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2017.1402566

“This article argues that technical and professional communication (TPC) programs and specialists need to contribute more to health humanities scholarship and program curricula. The article reviews the writing courses offered by baccalaureate health humanities programs and ‘to support further TPC engagement in these programs’ offers core generalizations and strategies for managing their approval process.”

Rhonda Stanton

Moving from student to professional: Industry mentors and academic internship coordinators supporting intern learning in the workplace

Kramer-Simpson, E. (2018). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 48(1), 81–103. doi: 10.1177/0047281616646753

“This article offers empirical data to explore ways that both industry mentors and academic internship coordinators support student interns in ways that optimize the workplace experience. Rich description of qualitative data from case studies and interviews shows that to optimize the internship, both the industry mentor and the academic internship coordinator ensure that the experience offers professional-level experiences while allowing students to make mistakes in the course of the learning experience. Finally, academic internship coordinators find it most effective to spend time selecting strong industry mentors, and then cultivating these relationships across years of internship interactions.”

Anita Ford


Medical narratives in rhetorical context: Ethically researching anti-vaccinationists

Lerner, A. S. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 8092. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1399750

“This article argues that anti-vaccinationists pose an ethical challenge to researchers. On the one hand, research practices in narrative medicine push us to empower illness narratives. On the other hand, empowering some illness narratives may be misleading if the narrator is misinformed. By combining approaches to ethics found in medical humanities, medical ethics, and rhetoric of health and medicine, we can more accurately and ethically unravel how these skeptics are persuaded to hold their attitudes.”

Rhonda Stanton

Health communication

Health ecologies in addiction treatment: Rhetoric of health and medicine and conceptualizing care

Walkup, K. L., & Cannon, P. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 108–120. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1401352

“This study explored the introduction of an ecological care model into a women’s alcohol-and-other-drug treatment facility. When patients learned that their health resembled a network of factors including demographics, health experiences, and their own health literacy, they approached addiction as a problem that required complex solutions. The authors present a methodology derived from rhetoric of health and medicine scholarship and the medical humanities that may help patients improve mental health literacy and treatment outcomes.”

Rhonda Stanton

Mapping the terrain: Examining the conditions for alignment between the rhetoric of health and medicine and the medical humanities

Hannah, M. A., & Arduser, L. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 33–49. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2017.1402561

“This article offers an empirical study of literature in the rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) and the medical humanities (MH). Article traces the topics, funding mechanisms, research methods, theoretical frameworks, evidence types, audience, discourse arrangement patterns, and action orientation that constitute the scholarship in the sample to offer a landscape of the current state of RHM and the MH. Findings can be leveraged to assess the potential for alignment between these fields for future research.”

Rhonda Stanton

Medical humanities and/or the rhetoric of health and medicine [special issue]

Angeli, E. L., & Johnson-Sheehan, R. (eds.). (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 1–6. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1399746

“[T]he medical humanities, RHM [rhetoric of health and medicine], and technical communication extend into the ‘everydayness’ of exchanges in healthcare, exchanges that the authors in this special issue explore. . . . In these exchanges, and in this special issue, we can see how RHM, the medical humanities, and technical communication can work together to contribute to the healthcare field, especially by preparing preprofessional health and medical students, impacting healthcare providers’ practices, and supporting patients and their caregivers as they navigate the healthcare system. . . . The articles in this special issue explore the intersections and tensions between the emerging fields of the medical humanities and RHM, especially as they relate to technical communication. The medical humanities tend to approach the field from traditional pathways familiar to the humanities and liberal arts, such as history, philosophy, ethics, literary studies, sociology, and political science. . . . Somewhat differently, RHM tends to be more application oriented, researching current communication practices and identifying best practices among healthcare providers. . . . [T]he aim of this special issue is to explore the intersections and tensions between the medical humanities and RHM. By building stronger bridges between these two related disciplines, [the editors] hope also to broaden technical communication’s opportunities to do funded research, promote healing, and develop curriculum that is beneficial to the healthcare workplace.”

Rhonda Stanton

Results from the 2016 freelance medical communicator tools of the trade survey

Nicosia, M. (2017). AMWA Journal 32(3), 105–112. [doi: none]

A 34-question survey was distributed to 381 medical writers for the purpose of collecting and analyzing data related to their use of technical tools. “Most participants worked on laptops (63%) powered by Microsoft Windows (70%) and backed up with an external hard-drive (66%) and/or an online/cloud service (52%). The most commonly used online/cloud-based backup services were Dropbox (29%), Carbonite (19%), and Google Drive (15%). Among the survey responders who had a business website (52%), 54% had designed it themselves. For accounting/bookkeeping, 42% used spreadsheets and 20% did not use any software/app. For time tracking, 32% used spreadsheets and 35% did not use any software or app. Also, 42% did not use any citation/reference management software. When asked about the one essential tool they would recommend to colleagues, the most popular responses were Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, and PerfectIt for the software app category, and multiple and/or large monitors, a laptop, and an external back-up hard drive for the device category.”

Magdalena Berry

Teaching writing for the health professions: Disciplinary intersections and pedagogical practice

Kenzie, D., & McCall, M. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 64–79. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2017.1402573

“This article outlines an approach to teaching a Writing for the Health Professions course and situates this approach within the aims of and tensions between the medical humanities, the rhetoric of health and medicine, and disability studies. This analysis provides a pragmatic walkthrough of how assignments in such courses can be linked to programmatic outcomes (with SOAP [Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan] note and patient education assignments as extended examples) as well as an interdisciplinary framework for future empirical studies.”

Rhonda Stanton

Information management

Intelligent information, iiRDS, and DITA—Part 1: Introduction to intelligent information

Parson, U. (2018). Best Practices, 20(1), 8–11. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

This article—Part 1 of a series—explores questions to ask after technical documentation has been created with “structured content that is delivered in a machine-readable format like HTML and enriched with metadata for semantic queries and automated processing. . . . [H]ow can the documentation that comes with devices of different manufacturers be connected? Suppose, manufacturer A provides a ‘maintenance manual’ while manufacturer B provides a ‘repair manual.’ The person who repairs is either the service technician or the mechanic. How does an application that is supposed to retrieve content for the service technician know where to look and what information to display?” The author calls for standardized metadata, delivered with the documentation, to make the documentation content “exchangeable and usable in multiple contexts.” The article then introduces “iiRDS, the intelligent information Request and Delivery Standard, initiated by the German association for technical communication, tekom. . . . iiRDS provides a technical format for delivering and integrating intelligent information. It includes an ontology describing the domain of technical communication and a package format for delivery.”

Lyn Gattis

A publisher’s view of DITA

Hamilton, R. (2017). Best Practices, 19(4), 77, 80–81. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

“The needs of a publisher and a tech pub group vary in significant ways, and shape the solutions each select. A tech pub group has a homogeneous body of content (or they should if they have a coherent content strategy) created by employees for whom creating content is at least part of their job responsibilities. In addition, that body of content typically concerns a single product or a group of related products, which evolve over time. . . . On the other hand, a publisher has a heterogeneous body of content created by independent authors, writing about independent topics. Each author comes to his or her book with a set of existing skills and tools preferences that he or she is unlikely to want to change for a single project. . . . [In that environment] an overarching content strategy or a common authoring environment is much more difficult to implement.” The author, CEO of XML Press, discusses “the differences in markup and processing environments . . . [and] some of the challenges [the publisher has] faced creating books using DITA and suggests some strategies for overcoming those challenges.”

Lyn Gattis

Use your content development knowledge and a little tool savvy to improve search results for your users

Pohs, W. (2017). Best Practices, 19(6), 101, 105–106. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

This article provides an overview of search analytics and suggests techniques to improve users’ search results. The author recommends the following process:

“Consult search logs and analytics reports to identify user queries; [r]eview the words in titles and in short descriptions to be sure that they match these queries; [c]reate a list of synonyms for the search engine; [d]evelop a process to confirm that the search engine is returning the best or ‘golden’ URLS at the top of the search results list; [r]eview the available search engine enhancement features to see if there are other ways to influence the search result rankings.” The author recommends “repeating these steps according to a predictable schedule, which can be based on content updates, on new search engine releases, or even on a monthly or quarterly cycle” when content is dynamic.

Lyn Gattis

Intercultural issues

Lost in translation no more: A guide to finding the right translator for your project

Stabenow, E. (2017). AMWA Journal, 32(1), 16–19. [doi: none]

Stabenow outlines a 6-step process for selecting a translator: 1: Define who you need; 2: Determine what you need to have translated; 3: Choose to work with a freelance or an agency; 4: Know where to find translation professionals; 5: Find the right professional for your job; 6: Communicate with your translator. She offers advice based on extensive experience (“Beware of anyone claiming to translate into and out of several different languages and in many different fields.”).

Magdalena Berry

Using dialectics to build leader-stakeholder relationships: An exploratory study on relational dialectics in Chinese corporate leaders’ web-based messages

Ngai, C., & Singh, R. (2018). International Journal of Business Communication, 55(1), 3–29. doi: 10.1177/2329488415581151

“In large Chinese corporations operating in the Greater China region, there is an increasing use of web-based bilingual messages by their corporate leaders for fostering relationships with stakeholders. Although frequently presented as literal translations of each other, leaders’ bilingual communication sometimes tends to exhibit nonliteral variations. This study aims to examine the relational dialectics theory in the construction of leader-stakeholder relationships in leaders’ bilingual web-based messages and explores the dialectical oppositions that are embedded in the Chinese and English versions of these messages. The results suggest that leaders’ communication is characterized by the deliberate use of different dialectics that allow them to tailor their communication to the perceived needs of stakeholders from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In particular, the Chinese version of the message is adapted to exude greater connection, openness, affection, and predictability in content as well as style, which is believed to strengthen relationships with stakeholders.”

Katherine Wertz


Communicating with employees: Resisting the stereotypes of generational cohorts in the workplace

Stanton, R. (2017). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 60(3), 256–272. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2017.2702078

“Stereotypes about generational cohorts have been spread widely among current literature; this study challenges those stereotypes and provides a simple method for managers to learn how to effectively communicate with, motivate, and retain employees, no matter what cohort they belong to. . . . The findings from this study are based on answers to surveys from 107 participants and semistructured interviews with eight of those participants who were employees at a software company or were students or employees at a local university. The findings challenge the stereotypes found in the current literature, specifically concerning longevity in a job and workplace compliance. . . . Managers need to learn more about individual employees rather than relying on stereotypes of generational cohorts when communicating with employees. Learning about individuals is simple and can foster more effective communication, which will enhance employees’ job satisfaction and engagement, and ultimately employee retention. . . . [T]hese are crucial variables to consider about a person’s tenure in a position and workplace compliance behavior but are not included by most when studying generational cohorts. Further research could help us learn how managers can best develop employees and recognize and reward employees’ workplace achievements.”

Lyn Gattis

Professional issues

A descriptive survey of technical editors

Kreth, M. L., & Bowen, E. (2017). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 60(3), 238–255. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2017.2702039

“The purpose of the study was to fill gaps in our knowledge about technical editors’ work practices and perceptions, knowledge that might be useful for teachers and practitioners, as well as current and prospective students. . . . A link to an online survey was sent to 32 professional organizations for technical and other professional, nonliterary, and nonjournalism editors. The leadership of each organization was asked to forward the link to its members; 12 complied, with a resulting 253 respondents. Responses to closed-ended questions were tabulated, while responses to the open-ended questions were analyzed thematically. . . . The results revealed a broad range of job titles, disciplinary and professional fields, genres and media, editing-related tasks, and extent and type of collaboration. Respondents perceived as useful several forms of academic preparation, personality traits, and attitudes. About half the respondents had become editors through deliberate preparation during college (direct route) and half had not (indirect route). Thus, one implication of the results is that college students majoring in the sciences and other technical fields (indirect route) might be attracted to complementary minors and certificate programs in technical communication/editing. . . . Future surveys should strive for a larger sample size and include questions about a wide range of demographic variables that can be correlated with the independent variables.”

Lyn Gattis


Blending humanistic and rhetorical analysis to locate gendered dimensions of Kenyan medical practitioner attitudes about cancer

Mara, M. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(1), 93–107. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1401344

“Medical humanities and the rhetoric of health and medicine apply different methods to healthcare documents and discourses. This methodological reflection of a project studying cancer attitudes in Kenya describes how researchers combined practices from these disparate fields to produce more sensitive and ethical methods for studying cross-cultural contexts. By extending humanistic methods into social-science data collections, researchers were better able to ask precise questions and to perceive context-specific cues for consent and non-consent.”

Rhonda Stanton

Methods to evaluate pilots’ cockpit communication: Cross-recurrence analyses vs. speech act–based analyses

Gontar, P., Fischer, U., & Bengler, K. (2017). Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 11(4), 337–352. doi: 10.1177/1555343417715161

“The training and evaluation of the crew resource management skills of pilots play an essential role in increasing flight safety, as they aim to reduce human error in aviation operations. Communication between pilots is a critical crew resource management skill, as flying an airplane requires coordinated action and collaboration by the flight deck crew. However, research that studied flight instructors’ agreement in (and, thus, the accuracy of) their evaluation of pilots’ communication behavior found little consistency in their judgments. As such, the present research explores the feasibility of a content-free approach—cross-recurrence analysis—to assess crew communication, in contrast to commonly employed content-based approaches that are grounded in speech act analysis. Results indicate that cross-recurrence analysis can identify communication patterns associated with high and low crew performance. [The authors] discuss the implications that these results may have for future research and communication assessment in pilot training.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


Community-based user experience: Evaluating the usability of health insurance information with immigrant patients

Rose, E. J., Racadio, R., Wong, K., Nguyen, S., Kim, J., & Zahler, A. (2017). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 60(2), 214–231. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2017.2656698

“User experience (UX), a common practice in corporate settings, is new for many nonprofit organizations. This case study details a community-based research project between nonprofit staff at a community health center and UX professionals to improve the design and usability of a document designed to help immigrant patients sign up for health insurance. . . . As a community-based research project focused on the collaborative generation of practical knowledge, [the researchers] conducted a usability study with 12 participants in two language groups, Chinese and Vietnamese, to evaluate the design and usability of a guidebook designed to provide guidance about enrolling in a health insurance plan. Data were analyzed to identify usability concerns and used to inform a second iteration of the guidebook. . . . Version 1 of this guidebook was evaluated in a usability study, with results showing that users struggled to correctly choose a plan, determine their eligibility, and interpret abstract examples. As a result, Version 2 was designed to support the in-person experience, reduce visual complexity, and support patients’ key questions. . . . Community-based UX collaborations can amplify the expertise of UX and nonprofit professionals. However, UX methods may need to be adapted in community-based projects to better incorporate local knowledge and needs.”

Lyn Gattis

A practical guide to improving web accessibility

Ng, C. (2017). Weave, 1(7). doi: 10.3998/weave.12535642.0001.701

This article gives guidance for making any digital content accessible according to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards in a way that positively affects usability and user experience (UX). Facets covered include plain language, formatting with headings, adding links, alt text (alternative text) for images and other visuals, and color concerns. The author gives specific website advice for helping developers check their content and working with their vendors.

Diana Fox Bentele

Rethinking self-reported measure in subjective evaluation of assistive technology

Hossain, G. (2017). Human-centric Computing and Information Sciences, 7(23).doi: 10.1186/s13673-017-0104-7

“Self-reporting is used as a subjective measure of usability study of technology solutions. In assistive technology research . . . often . . . ‘a coordinator’ directly assist[s] the ‘subject’ in the scoring process. This makes the rating process slower and also introduces bias, such as, ‘Forer effect’ and/or ‘Hawthorne’ effect. To address these issues [the author] propose[s] to use technology mediated interaction between the ‘subject’ and ‘the coordinator’ in evaluating assistive technology solutions. The goal is to combine both the qualitative and quantitative scores to create a relatively unbiased rating system. Empirical studies were performed on two different datasets in order to illustrate the utility of the proposed approach. It was observed that, the proposed hybrid rating is relatively unbiased for usability study.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


Epideictic rhetoric born digital: Evolution of the letter of recommendation genre

Thomlinson, E., & Newman, S. (2018). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32(1), 3–37. doi: 10.1177/1050651917729862

“The letter of recommendation (LOR) plays a significant role in the application process for many professional positions, offering descriptive rather than quantitative information from a third party about an individual’s potential fit within the hiring organization. Such letters, however, increasingly appear online, emphasizing existing problems within the genre and creating others involving trust, reliability, and confidentiality. Typically, the response has been that such digitization of the LOR minimizes its significance or standardizes it. This article analyzes the digital LOR genre as an exemplar of epideictic rhetoric situated within a Perelmanian framework and demonstrates how the digital LOR operates rhetorically, enhancing the adherence between candidate, writer, audience, and institutional values and providing a means of evaluating candidate fit. The article also offers a rhetorical heuristic that captures how audiences can more fruitfully read the epideictic, digital LOR, thereby demonstrating how to optimize the digital platform’s benefits and still use the LOR to its best rhetorical advantage.”

Sean C. Herring

“Someone just like me”: Narrative, figured world, and uptake in therapeutic books for youths with mental health disorders

Smart, G., & Thompson, R. (2017). Written Communication, 34(1), 5–29. doi: 10.1177/0741088316681997

“This study extends a line of inquiry established by researchers using narrative theory to investigate the discourses of psychiatry. Drawing primarily on theories of narrative and genre, the study analyzes a series of autobiographical books intended for an audience of youth suffering from mental illness. [The authors’] research investigates how the rhetorical design of the books harnesses the discursive affordances of autobiographical narrative to encourage a particular uptake on the part of a reader suffering from mental illness. Performing an analysis of four of the books in the series, [the authors] found them to exhibit a design in which autobiographical narrative is used to prompt an anticipated uptake by the reader: motivation to commit to therapy and engage in lifelong self-care. The study offers insights to authors producing texts intended to support psychiatric practitioners in guiding youth toward recovery from mental illness.”

Lyn Gattis

To promote that demand: Toward a history of the marketing white paper as a genre

Malone, E. A., & Wright, D. (2018). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32(1), 113–147. doi: 10.1177/1050651917729861

This article contains historical information that may be a resource to instructors and practitioners about the evolution of a well-known document used in technical communication. “Although various types of documents are called white papers, in technical marketing communication the white paper is usually a document that describes a new or improved technology in order to generate interest in—and promote sales of—that technology. Most sources discussing the history of the white paper assume that marketing white papers evolved from government white papers. They conflate genre history with etymology. At some point in the mid-20th century, the term white paper—denoting a type of government policy document—began being applied to other types of documents, including eventually a particular form of technical marketing communication. This article proposes a revised history of the marketing white paper as a genre. By examining the formal features and characteristic substance of white papers through the lens of their pragmatic value as social action, [the authors] show that the marketing white paper of today has much in common with documents from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.”

Sean C. Herring

The use of passives and impersonal style in civil engineering writing

Conrad, S. (2018). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32(1), 38–76. doi: 10.1177/1050651917729864

“Claims abound about passives and the impersonal style they create. Few studies, however, check the claims with a large, systematic analysis of texts from either academia or industry. Motivated by the need to teach effective workplace writing skills to undergraduate engineering students, this study investigates the use of passives and associated impersonal style features in 170 practitioner reports, journal articles, and student reports from civil engineering. Using multidimensional analysis (a technique from corpus linguistics) and interviews of practitioners, students, and faculty, the study found that, as expected, engineering texts, compared to nontechnical texts, have a frequent use of impersonal style features; however, they use passives for a wider range of functions than is typically described in technical writing literature. Furthermore, compared to the journal articles and student reports, the practitioner reports use significantly fewer features of impersonal style. The findings inform teaching materials that present a more realistically complex picture of the language structures and functions important for civil engineering practice.”

Sean C. Herring