71.1 February 2024

Practices, Reflections, and Methodologies: What Is Successful Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Technical Communication Workplace? Part 2

Guest Editorial

Dr. Chris Dayley and Dr. Isidore Dorpenyo

Dr. Chris DayleyDr. Isidore Dorpenyo

In this, the second of two special issues on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the technical and professional communication workplace, we continue to explore the idea that technical communication is inextricably linked to the workplace (academic, domestic, and organizational or corporate workplaces). This is evident in the genres primarily associated with technical communication: proposals, reports, memos, technical documentation or instructions, computer help files, blogs, voter documents, and many others.

In introduction to technical writing classrooms, instructors train students to become good communicators who will write clear, concise, effective, and efficient documents in their various workplaces. Often, technical writing instructors create a distinction between writing that takes place in a corporate or organizational setting (aka technical writing) and academic writing (aka composition). Kimball (2006) wrote that “most of what we recognize as technical communication begins and ends with corporate, government, or organizational agendas” (p. 67). He further showed how textbook definitions “introduce technical writing as a workplace skill” (p. 68). Similarly, Constantinides, St.Amant, and Kampf (2001) revealed how technical and professional communication “often takes place within a larger organizational structure—one that inevitably impacts the kinds of documents produced…” (p. 31).

Considering our historical affinity to organizations and corporate workplaces, it does not come as a surprise that several scholars in our field are interested in researching the workplace (Cox, 2019; Dush, 2017; Edenfield, 2017; Edwards, 2018; Evia & Patriarca, 2012; Longo, 2000; Petersen & Moeller, 2016; Spinuzzi, 2019; Wisniewski, 2018). However, despite the many articles addressing technical communication in the workplace, the exigency for this special issue was our concern that, despite the abundance of scholarship exploring the roles of technical communicators in organizations and different workplaces or workspaces, little research has been done regarding the state of diversity in the professional practice of technical and professional communication in the U.S. and across the globe.

Though the amount of scholarship is limited, we do have some information regarding the state of diversity in the technical communication workplace. In Carliner and Chen’s 2018 Intercom article, “Who Technical Communicators Are: A Summary of Demographics, Backgrounds, and Employment,” the authors reported findings of a census of technical communicators taken in the early 2000’s. The census found that, at the time, 81% of practicing technical communicators who responded identified as white. This finding confirms Walton, Moore, & Jones’s (2019) claim that one of the main concerns for our field is that “TPC remains predominantly white and patriarchal and there is an inclusion and representation problem in TPC” (p. 2).

Technical communication has seen increased scholarly interest in issues of diversity and inclusion. Most research regarding increasing diversity and inclusion in our field has focused specifically on academic programs. Jones, Savage, & Yu (2014); Savage & Mattson (2011); and Savage & Matveeva (2011) have shown that issues of diversity and inclusion are important, but the field has a long way to go before we can fully understand the ways in which exclusive practices affect the field.

More recent scholarship regarding diversity and inclusion in the field of technical communication includes the use of decolonial frameworks in technical communication scholarship (Itchuaqiyaq & Matheson, 2021), student perceptions of diversity in their technical communication academic programs (Dayley, 2020), how students from diverse background have difficulty discovering the field (Dayley & Walton, 2018), the importance of building interpersonal relationships with prospective students and increasing program inclusivity (Alexander & Walton, 2022), how technical communication scholars can collaborate with translation experts to design communication materials for multilinguals (Gonzales, 2022), how current “recruitment efforts alone may not be enough to more suitably engage with the interests and needs of diverse student populations” (Popham, 2016, p. 73), as well as Cana Itchuaqiyaq’s excellent multiply marginalized and underrepresented scholars bibliography (Itchuaqiyaq, 2021, June 7).

These studies and ongoing concerns regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces that employ technical communicators beg several questions: What are the current demographics of practicing technical communicators in the U.S. and in European countries? In what ways do technical communicators contribute to DEI efforts in the Global North and the Global South? What steps are technical communicators taking to make workplaces inclusive and supportive of diverse people and ideas around the world?

Technical communication practitioners and scholars need to understand the state of diversity as practiced in organizations (both in the academy and outside of the academy) as this information will highlight what technical communicators are doing well and where improvements can be made. This research is also needed to inform academics and practitioners about strategies professional technical communicators are employing to increase diversity and to assess whether these strategies are successful or effective. With this type of research, academics will be better able to train students to become effective practitioners who are ready to take action and contribute to diversity initiatives in organizations, and practitioners will be able to learn from the experiences of others to incorporate better diversity and inclusion initiatives into their practice. This special issue, thus, seeks to highlight the experiences and practices of professional technical communicators as they relate to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In this Special Issue

The articles in this special issue (Part 2 of 2 issues) continue conversations in technical and professional communication that advance the notion that technical documents are imbued with culture, discrimination, politics, racism, and oppression (Jones & Williams, 2018; Walwema & Carmichael, 2021). In other words, the scholars provide examples of how workplace technical documents are not neutral, colorblind or apolitical.

In “Erased by Design: An Antenarrative of Ellenton and the Savannah River Plant” by Jamal-Jared Alexander and Avery C. Edenfield, the authors reveal the culture of erasure embedded in the Atomic Energy Commission’s seizure of Ellenton’s African American residents’ property in the commission’s desire to build the Savannah River Plant (SRP) to process tritium and plutonium-239. The authors analyzed historical documents produced by SRP to call attention to evasive rhetoric embedded in seemingly race-neutral and colorblind documents and notions of whiteness as property. They encourage scholars in the field to “exhume other stories of displacement and deceptive messaging that has had (or continues to have) a major impact on marginalized communities.”

In the second article, “Participation, Diversity, and Legitimation in U.S. Housing: A Rhetorical Analysis of Two HOPE VI Reports,” Christopher Morris argues that, despite our field’s appreciation for participatory frameworks, participatory rhetoric can often invoke classed and racialized hierarchy and participatory processes can be co-opted to serve institutional means rather than for transformative ends. The author combines critical discourse analysis and rhetorical criticism to analyze federal reports associated with HOPE VI, a housing project initiative in the U.S., to illustrate how participatory rhetoric can be in service of the vision and mission statements of organizations rather than displaced or vulnerable populations they propose to serve.

In the third article, “Unreasonable Bodies: Thinking Beyond Accommodation in Workplace Lactation Law and Policy,” Danielle De Arment-Donohue analyzes technical documents—three Virginia codes governing workplace lactation and one state human resources guidance document—to reveal how the policies have underlying ideologies that reproduce ableism and work to delegitimize women’s bodies. As she puts it, “the codes ignore women’s knowledge and material conditions.”

The COVID-19 pandemic affected minority and vulnerable populations across the United States in a drastic way, but how are businesses owned by minority groups recovering? In the fourth article, “User Narratives of Transnational Multilingual Small Business Entrepreneurs in Disaster Relief Programs,” Soyeon Lee calls attention to the inadequate scholarship exploring the economic and social distress experienced by immigrant multilingual Asian/American business owners during the pandemic. To address this gap, the author analyzes case narratives from Korean-speaking immigrants to understand how they managed to navigate three disaster assistance programs. User narratives from self-employed Asian professionals show how “transnational multilingual small business owners tactically adopted nuanced collaboration tactics in navigating resource-constrained environments in post-pandemic workplace settings.”

The final article, “Are You Committed to Diversity?: Evaluating Immigrants’ Perceptions of U.S. Banks’ Diversity and Inclusion Claims/Initiatives,” which we co-authored with Meghalee Das, Aimee Kendall Roundtree, and Miriam F. Williams, included text mining, content analysis, thematic analysis, and interviews with U.S. immigrants from the Global South to reveal immigrants’ perceptions of their interactions with financial institutions and if these institutions’ formal statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion addressed immigrant concerns.

We would like to thank all of the anonymous reviewers who made this special issue possible. We would also like to thank Technical Communication editorial advisory board member Dr. Natasha Jones for ensuring that the final article, “Are You Committed to Diversity?: Evaluating Immigrants’ Perception of Diversity and Inclusion Claims/Initiatives,” was ushered through the anonymous peer review process.

As technical and professional communicators, our focus on user advocacy can and should inspire both practitioners and academics to lead the way in diversity, equity, inclusion efforts. “As a field with advocacy as its core mandate, technical and professional communication can play a vital role in justice causes that work to enact change in communities because the field of TPC interfaces with audiences, perhaps more than any other discipline as a consequence of its advocacy and discursive practices”(Agboka & Dorpenyo, 2022, p. 6). Also, the type of advocacy done by technical communication research can and should lead to action (Walton, Moore, & Jones, 2019). Scholarship, such as the articles found in this special issue, can help us understand how technical communicators can create more inclusive documents in more diverse workplaces.


Agboka, G. Y. (2013). Participatory localization: A social justice approach to navigating unenfranchised/disenfranchised cultural sites. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(1), 28-49.

Agboka, G. Y., & Dorpenyo, I. K. (2022). The Role of Technical Communicators in Confronting Injustice— Everywhere. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 65(1), 5-10.

Alexander, J. J., & Walton, R. (2022). Relational recruiting: Using Black feminist theory to inform graduate recruiting strategies. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 65(1), 164-178.

Carliner, S., & Chen, Y. (2018). Who technical communicators are: A summary of demographics, backgrounds, and employment. Intercom, 65(8), 8-12.

Cox, M. B. (2019). Working closets: Mapping queer professional discourses and why professional communication studies need queer rhetorics. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 33(1), 1-25.

Constantinides, H., St.Amant, K., & Kampf, C. (2001). Organizational and intercultural communication: An annotated bibliography. Technical Communication Quarterly, 10(1), 31-58.

Dayley, C. (2020). Student perceptions of diversity in technical and professional communication academic programs. Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 49-69. DOI:10.1080/10 572252.2019.1635210

Dayley, C., & Walton, R. (2018). Informing efforts to increase diversity: Academic programs and student motivation in technical and professional communication. Programmatic Perspectives, 10(2), 5-47.

Dush, Lisa (2017). “Nonprofit collections of digital personal experience narratives: An exploratory study.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 31(2), 188-221.

Edenfield, A. C. (2017). Power and communication in worker cooperatives: An overview. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 47(3), 260-279.

Edwards, J., (2018). Race and the workplace. In Key theoretical frameworks: Teaching technical communication in the twenty first century (pp. 268-286). Univ. Press Colorado.

Evia, C., & Patriarca, A. (2012). Beyond compliance: Participatory translation of safety communication for Latino construction workers. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 340–-367.https:// doi.org/10.1177/10506519 12439697

Gonzales, L. (2022). (Re) Framing Multilingual Technical Communication with Indigenous Language Interpreters and Translators. Technical Communication Quarterly, 31(1), 1-16.

Itchuaqiyaq, C. U., & Matheson, B. (2021). Decolonizing decoloniality: Considering the (mis) use of decolonial frameworks in TPC scholarship. Communication Design Quarterly Review, 9(1), 20-31.

Jones, N., Savage, G., & Yu, H. (2014). Editorial: Tracking our progress: Diversity in technical communication programs. Programmatic Perspectives, 6(1), 132-152.

Jones, N. N., & Williams, M. F. (2018). Technologies of disenfranchisement: Literacy tests and Black voters in the U.S. from 1890 to 1965. Technical Communication, 65(4), 371-386.

Kimball, M. A. (2006). Cars, culture, and tactical technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(1), 67-86.

Longo, B. (2000). Spurious coin: A history of science, management, and technical writing. SUNY Press.

Petersen, E. J., & Moeller, R. M. (2016). Using antenarrative to uncover systems of power in mid-20th century policies on marriage and maternity at IBM. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 362-386.

Popham, S. (2016). Disempowered minority students: The struggle for power and position in a graduate professional writing program. Programmatic Perspectives, 8(2), 72-95.

Savage, G., & Mattson, K. (2011). Perceptions of racial and ethnic diversity in technical communication programs. Programmatic Perspectives, 3(1), 5-57.

Savage, G., & Matveeva, N. (2011). Toward racial and ethnic diversity in technical communication programs: A study of technical communication in historically Black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities in the United States. Programmatic Perspectives, 3(1), 152-179.

Spinuzzi, C. (2005). The methodology of participatory design. Technical communication, 52(2), 163-174.

Spinuzzi, C. (2019). All edge: Inside the new workplace networks. University of Chicago Press.

Walton, R., Moore, K. R., & Jones, N. N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. Routledge.

Walwema, J., & Arzu Carmichael, F. (2021). “Are You Authorized to Work in the U.S.?” Investigating “Inclusive” Practices in Rhetoric and Technical Communication Job Descriptions. Technical Communication Quarterly, 30(2), 107-122.

Wisniewski, E. C. (2018). Novice engineers and project management communication in the workplace. Technical Communication, 65(2), 153-168.

About the Guest Editors

Dr. Chris Dayley is an assistant professor of English and director of the Master of Arts in Technical Communication program at Texas State University. His research interests include social justice, ethics, and issues of diversity and inclusion in technical and professional communication academic programs. Chris’ work has appeared in Programmatic Perspectives, Technical Communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, and Communication Design Quarterly. Chris Dayley’s Programmatic Perspectives article was the winner of the 2022 Programmatic Perspectives Research Article Award.

Dr. Isidore K. Dorpenyo is associate professor of professional writing and rhetoric in the Department of English at George Mason University where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in technical, scientific and professional communication. His research interests include intercultural communication, localization, election technologies, social justice, public engagement, and user experience. His publications have appeared in Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, Programmatic Perspectives, and the Community Literacy Journal. He is the author of the book User Localization Strategies in the Face of Technological Breakdown: Biometric in Ghana’s Elections. Palgrave Macmillan Press. 2020. He’s co-edited three special issues. His co-authored article is the winner of the 2023 CCCC Technical and Scientific Communication Award for Best Article on Pedagogy or Curriculum in Technical and Scientific Communication.