71.2 May 2024

Exploring New Horizons in Technical Communication

Miriam F. Williams, Editor

Recent discussions surrounding new horizons in technical communication have often gravitated toward Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for content creation, dissemination, and user experience. Indeed, the winning cover illustration for this issue, which artist DeElla Wiley describes as “generated by AI with human guidance and creative input,” exemplifies the intersection of technology and communication that captivates our imagination. The richness of our field’s future includes AI as well as a spectrum of themes demanding our attention. In light of this, I posed a simple yet important question to the authors who contributed to this issue: How does your research article contribute to the exploration or advancement of new frontiers within the field, as represented by the theme New Horizons in Technical Communication on the May 2024 issue’s cover?

Dr. Julie A. Vera, Dr. David McDonald, and Dr. Mark Zachry, authors of “How-To in Short-Form: A Framework for Analyzing Short-Format Instructional Content on TikTok,” wrote:

The proliferation of short-form video represents a paradigm shift in digital communication, facilitated by faster internet speeds and the ubiquity of smartphones. This trend, exemplified by platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and Snapchat, signifies a departure from traditional long-form production, particularly for instructional video. While YouTube, for example, facilitates detailed instructional narratives, short-form videos can convey detailed instruction in concise and creative ways. This article aims to characterize the landscape of instructional video production and construction, emphasizing the relationship between traditional and emergent formats. In analyzing these relationships, our article contributes to the exploration of new frontiers by calling out the deep roots within traditional instructional media, while underscoring that short-form content can still effectively convey complex instruction within short periods of time. Through this exploration, we expand our understanding of the “new” phenomena of short-form video and provide a framework for technical communicators to apply to existing and future instructional video content.

Dr. Jordan Smith, author of “Determining Levels of Prescriptivism in American English Usage Guides” explained:

When writing and editing, technical communicators sometimes—perhaps even regularly—find themselves faced with questions of usage that require them to consult style manuals or usage guides to find answers. However, the advice found in different manuals or guides is not always identical. In fact, as this article shows, varying levels of prescriptivism can be observed across usage guides. This article explores levels of prescriptivism in current usage guides relating to American English. While the exploration of prescriptivism is not a new frontier in TPC research, it is one that must be advanced from time to time. As language use and attitudes about language use change, the advice catalogued in usage guides needs to be reanalyzed periodically to help technical communicators understand what advice might best meet the needs of a given rhetorical situation. The findings of this article are intended to help writers and editors engage more critically with the advice they find in usage guides.

Dr. Rich Shivener, Dr Elizabeth Caravella, and Dr. Renee Gittins, the authors of “Heuristics for Equitable Technical Communication in Remote & Hybrid Game Development” wrote:

As with many industries, the COVID-19 pandemic permanently altered game development on a global scale. In particular, the process of generating and sharing technical documents and other forms of technical communication have shifted with the heavy reliance on remote work. This article, then, seeks to address some of the new challenges emerging from said shift, as well as suggest some heuristics to be utilized by these developers in their new (and possibly permanent) remote roles. Furthermore, these heuristics help craft the foundational work necessary for the shift to both fully remote and hybrid work practices that technical communication will now need to encompass for this and other industries. Much like the global work force, technical communicators must forge ahead into this new frontier, with all its positives and negatives. We hope that our piece, then, can help with this process.

Dr. Jeremy Rosselot-Merritt and Dr. Jarron Slater, authors of “The Technical Communicator as Artist: Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Form in the Workplace” responded:

New horizons in technical communication can be found in exploring novel ways of explaining the connection among rhetoric, art, and technical communication as applied workplace practice. In “The Technical Communicator as Artist: Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Form in the Workplace,” Slater and Rosselot-Merritt offer Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical aesthetic theory of form as a way of contextualizing the work that practicing technical communicators do. Exemplifying their argument through a case study of project-based proposal work in industry, the authors assert that technical communication is a uniquely artistic and creative endeavor calling for deep understanding of communication aesthetics, artistic practices, and what Burke characterized as the psychology of the audience. This way of conceptualizing the applied practice of technical communication benefits practitioners who perform the work, scholars who study the practice, and teachers who prepare students for careers in the field by offering a theory-to-practice model that not only helps explain technical communication work practice, but also advances arguments for the field’s intrinsic value and the enjoyment people in the field derive from it.

Finally, Dr. Xiaoxiao Meng, author of “Privacy: Communication Privacy Management Theory Revisited,” wrote:

As data breaches and privacy infringements continue to rise, understanding and addressing these issues are critical. By exploring the practical application of technical theories in mitigating privacy risks, this research offers tangible strategies and insights to safeguard user data, directly addressing one of the most pressing challenges faced by modern communicators. In the rapidly evolving technological landscape, particularly with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), privacy management becomes increasingly crucial. It coincides with the urgent need to explore new frontiers in understanding AI’s credibility, which remains relatively unexplored in the current literature. Additionally, delving into human-computer interaction, particularly in terms of perceived intelligence and efficiency, offers promising avenues for shedding light on user interactions with sophisticated technological interfaces. These ideas represent fertile ground for future research endeavors, embodying the spirit of innovation and discovery encapsulated by the cover illustration theme of New Horizons in Technical Communication.

In this issue, the authors present research that requires us to revisit the familiar, such as language usage guides and privacy management theory. Authors in this issue also ask us to consider new ways to do our work and to consider its productive and aesthetic value.