67.3 August 2020

A Privilege to Share

By Sam Dragga, Editor

Editing this journal for the Society for Technical Communication has been a great privilege. I knew it would be at the time I applied for the job six years ago. I realized it would be a precious opportunity to influence the direction of research in the field and to cultivate a supportive environment for the new as well as experienced scholars engaged in that research. I never anticipated that I would enjoy the position as thoroughly as I do.

In taking on the job, I decided to preserve the personal interaction with authors and reviewers that has been a positive but time-intensive tradition of the journal. Authors submit their manuscripts by e-mail, and I acknowledge receipt by e-mail, offering my thanks for the submission and explaining the 30-day deadline for reviews. I thereafter immediately anonymize the manuscript, identify three suitable reviewers, solicit the reviewers by e-mail, distribute the manuscript to the reviewers along with the journal’s criteria for evaluation, and await the reviews. From time to time, I do find it necessary to issue reminders to reviewers, but their comments almost always prove perceptive, meticulous, incisive, and judicious. As soon as I receive all the reviews, I compile their comments in a report to the author with my decision about the manuscript: accept (a rarity), accept with revisions, revise and resubmit (a regularity), or reject. I also report this decision to the reviewers and share their comments on the manuscript, allowing every reviewer to examine all the advice the author was given about possible revisions to the manuscript and to take note of variations in the evaluations. If the author submits a revision, I e-mail the reviewers again—this time with the anonymized revised manuscript and a copy that highlights the changes from the original version. We cycle through this review process until the reviewers and I are satisfied that the manuscript is ready for publication or the author decides to pull the manuscript from consideration (also a rarity).

After a manuscript is accepted for publication, the journal’s two editorial assistants assume their responsibilities. A genuine thrill of the job has been the opportunity to work with two exceptional graduate students from Texas Tech University’s Ph.D. program in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Heidi Everett and Sarah Robblee. The two have continued in their position following completion of their degrees and we have composed a fine-tuned editorial circle. Sarah copyedits the accepted manuscripts for each issue, corresponds with the authors about their copyedited manuscripts, and passes the author-approved copyedited manuscripts to Heidi. Heidi compiles the manuscripts for the design and production process, and she distributes the resulting page proofs to the authors. Heidi also distributes the author’s agreements (allowing STC to publish the manuscript) and receives and files the signed agreements. She also reads the page proofs, checks the corrections from each author, and addresses issues with low-resolution or ill-sized illustrations.

Meanwhile, Jackie Damrau puts together the book review section (about 20 reviews each issue) and Sean Herring (and, previously, Lyn Gattis) organizes the Recent & Relevant section that summarizes articles published in related journals. Their sections also pass through Sarah’s copyediting and Heidi’s page proof duties.

At the same time as I am managing manuscripts, I also coordinate the journal’s cover competition. I issue the call for covers twice a year on pertinent e-mail lists with periodic reminders. I receive the submissions, thank the artists, pass the illustrations to Michael Opsteegh and the international jury he chairs, and report their choice of the winning illustration (and honorable mentions) to all of the participating artists.

Important to this position has been the vigorous support of STC’s Chief Executive Officer Liz Pohland and Publications Manager Sarah Black as well as the journal’s Editorial Advisory Board—Ramesh Aiyyangar, Thomas Barker, Michelle Corbin, Ray Gallon, Caroline Jarrett, Avon Murphy, Ginny Redish, Karen Schriver, and Kirk St.Amant. Their caring attention and acuity keep the journal directed to rigor, relevance, and readability as we navigate changes in the field of technical communication and challenges in the world of published research.

The five studies in this issue reinforce the journal’s reputation for clear, credible, striking, and innovative inquiry:

In “Content and Authorship Patterns in Technical Communication Journals (1996–2017): A Quantitative Content Analysis,” Ryan K. Boettger and Erin Fries offer a longitudinal study of a random sample of 672 articles published across a period of 22 years in the five leading journals of the field (Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Technical Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, and IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication). The analysis identifies 15 prevailing topics but finds that articles about rhetoric, genre, pedagogy, and diversity exceed the number of articles about critical subjects like UX/usability, information management, design, style, and editing. Ryan and Erin recognize that this consistent research focus could indicate the stability of the field but also caution that a failure of journals in technical communication to publish on defining issues in the field could specify stagnation as well as encourage the intrusion of neighboring disciplines on this research territory.

In “The Profession of Technical Communication through the Lens of the STC India Chapter: Understanding Current Perspectives and Future Directions,” Breeanne Matheson and Emily January Petersen report on their 32-question survey of 76 participants at the STC India 2017 Annual Conference. According to the answers in this survey, the participating technical communicators believe their greatest contribution to their organizations is through their writing (as opposed to usability testing, information design, etc.): This finding reinforces the essential position of language skills in the practice of the profession. The survey also indicates that, in spite of their high levels of education in technical and scientific fields and their experience in cross-cultural collaboration, technical communicators in India enjoy limited access to academic degree programs in technical communication: This finding points to serious opportunities for international cooperation in training and education.

In “A Scheme for Understanding and Writing Summaries,” David Farkas integrates research in the psychology of text processing and in applied linguistics with a crucial insight: While summaries sometimes constitute a miniature version of the summarized text, quite often this intertextual relationship differs from the standard expectation. David brings forty years of experience as a teacher and technical communicator to a critical analysis of thousands of summaries appearing in a wide variety of documents. He finds 12 pertinent factors to consider in the writing of summaries (Purpose, Specification constraint, Reduction, Phrasing, Proportion and Exclusion, Structure, Placement, Addition, Authorship, Stance, Style, and Format) and offers a series of questions as a heuristic for teaching and practice.

In the “The Rhetoric of Kamikaze Manuals,” Naoko Ozaki, Jillian Hill, and Mike Duncan examine translations of two 1945 military manuals from Imperial Japan in order to assess their relationship to instruction manuals and to explore kamikaze practice from a rhetorical perspective. This riveting and provocative case study offers a disturbing lesson in the power of instruction manuals. It finds that the kamikaze instructions achieved their nefarious objective through word choice (especially imperatives) and through illustrations (especially abstract images), disrupting rational thought and ethical deliberation, and making the act of suicide as a “living missile” epitomize the highest exercise of military discipline.

In “Fostering Industry Connections through Workplace-Situated Graduate Student Research,” Julie Watts assesses the merits of the independent research (IR) project as a requirement for students in online master’s degree programs in technical and professional communication. She reports on findings from focus groups and interviews with faculty; from surveys of students, alumni, and advisory board members; and from interviews with advisory board members employed in industry. This mixed-method investigation uncovers appreciation for the IR project’s contribution to a student’s academic and professional skills as well as readiness for on-the-job research and communication duties. The study also finds noteworthy challenges in advising students, organizing resources, building peer-to-peer support, getting permission from industry for IR projects, and cultivating receptivity to IR recommendations.

Serving as editor of Technical Communication, as I noted, has been a privilege, but it is a privilege to be shared instead of hoarded, and I believe five years as editor is appropriate time in this job. Journals thrive on periodic change and are invigorated by the new ideas and policies that a new editor puts in operation. I know the journal and the research in the field will take exciting directions in the coming years.

I hope that sooner or later we focus research efforts on the gun industry, on the efficacy (or inefficacy) of its operating instructions, and on the legal and ethical responsibilities of gun ownership and of gun manufacturing and marketing. The risks, fatalities, and injuries associated with guns as well as the international scope and extraordinary resources of the industry make the scarcity of related research altogether surprising. I hope that we also seize opportunities for technical communicators to bring clarity and logic to fractious discussions of climate change, immigration, racial disparities, and income inequality. And, obviously, we must intensify investigations of theories and practices that yield clear, candid, and consistent communication about epidemics. If we hesitate to examine provocative research topics with the unique critical skills we possess, it will be to the detriment of the field in which we operate and to the peril of the world in which we live.

I know that technical communicators make important contributions through their research to their organizations and to their communities, and I believe Technical Communication is a vital resource in this pursuit.