Original Source

Writing in the Workplace

390. Anderson, Paul V., R. John Brockmann, and Carolyn R. Miller, eds. New Essays in Technical and Scientific Communication: Research, Theory, Practice. Farmingdale, N.Y.: Baywood, 1983.

Twelve essays take a serious scholarly approach to empirical research, theory, pedagogy, and historical study in the field of technical communication. Essays include: Lee Odell, Dixie Goswami, Anne Herrington, and Doris Quick, "Studying Writing in Non-Academic Settings"; Linda Flower, John Hayes, and Heidi Swarts, "Revising Functional Documents: The Scenario Principle"; Lester Faigley and Stephen Witte, "Topical Focus in Technical Writing"; Jack Selzer, "What Constitutes a 'Readable' Technical Style?"; James Zappen, "A Rhetoric for Research in Sciences and Technologies"; Charles Bazerman, "Scientific Writing as a Social Act: A Review of the Literature of the Sociology of Science"; and David Dobrin, "What's Technical about Technical Writing?" Winner of the NCTE Award in Technical and Scientific Communication.

391. Bazerman, Charles, and James Paradis, eds. Textual Dynamics of the Professions: Historical and Contemporary Studies of Writing in Professional Communities. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

P302 T455 1991

In the workplace, "textual dynamics are a central agency in the social construction of objects, concepts, and institutions" (4). Fifteen essays examine the textual construction of professions, the dynamics of professional discourse communities, and the operational force of texts. Essays include: Charles Bazerman, "How Natural Philosophers Can Cooperate: The Literary Technology of Coordinated Investigation in Joseph Priestley's History and Present State of Electricity (1767)"; Greg Myers, "Stories and Styles in Two Molecular Biology Review Articles"; James Zappen, "Scientific Rhetoric in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: Herbert Spencer, Thomas N. Huxley, and John Dewey"; Robert Schwegler and Linda Shamoon, "Meaning Attribution in Ambiguous Texts in Sociology"; Carl Herndl, Barbara Fennell, and Carolyn Miller, "Understanding Failures in Organizational Discourse: The Accident at Three Mile Island and the Shuttle Challenger Disaster"; and Amy Devitt, "Intertextuality in Tax Accounting: Generic, Referential, and Functional."

392. Blyler, Nancy Roundy. "Theory and Curriculum: Reexamining the Curricular Separation of Business and Technical Communication." Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7 (1993), 218-45.

Business and technical communication have conventionally been separated in academe, a separation supported by institutional practices and by a formalist rhetoric that posits business communication as chiefly persuasive and technical writing as chiefly informative. Social-epistemic rhetoric, which links language with knowledge and centers on the social context of discourse rather than taxonomies of finished products, posits that discourse does not reflect reality but presents visions of reality that have been accepted as true. Social-epistemic rhetoric treats both business and technical writing as thoroughly rhetorical, a view confirmed by studies of workplace writing. The curricular division has thus lost its rationale. Teaching that emphasizes the ways that social context influences content and form decisions is superior to labeling and dividing typical forms. Students are better served when they learn about the social construction of knowledge and the ways it illuminates the production and reception of workplace communication.

393. Blyler, Nancy Roundy, and Charlotte Thralls, eds. Professional Communication: The Social Perspective. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993.

Q223 P76 1993

Fourteen essays examine the ways that the social paradigm in the study of writing and rhetoric can contribute to an understanding of professional communication. Essays include: Charlotte Thralls and Nancy Roundy Blyler, "The Social Perspective and Professional Communication: Diversity and Directions in Research"; Bruce Herzberg, "Rhetoric Unbound: Discourse, Community, and Knowledge"; Ben Barton and Marthalee Barton, "Ideology and the Map: Toward a Postmodern Visual Design Practice"; Thomas Kent, "Formalism, Social Construction, and the Problem of Interpretive Authority"; Joseph Comprone, "Generic Constraints and Expressive Motives: Rhetorical Perspectives on Textual Dialogues"; James Porter, "The Role of Law, Policy, and Ethics in Corporate Composing: Toward a Practical Ethics for Professional Writing"; Janice Lauer and Patricia Sullivan, "Validity and Reliability as Social Constructions"; and Mary Lay, "Gender Studies: Implications for the Professional Communication Classroom." Winner of the NCTE Award in Technical and Scientific Communication.

394. Brockmann, R. John, ed. The Case Method in Technical Communication: Theory and Models. St. Paul, Minn.: Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, 1984.

T11 C37 1984

The case method holds that writing is best learned by performing in situations that specify data, characters, politics, and a writer's role. This collection offers seven essays on using and generating cases, an annotated bibliography on the case method in communication, eight cases for writing, and two cases for graphics. Includes: John Brockmann, "What Is a Case"; Marcus Green, "How to Use Case Studies in the Classroom"; and Charles Sides, "Comparing the Case Approach to Five Traditional Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication."

395. Brown, Robert L., Jr., and Carl G. Herndl. "An Ethnographic Study of Corporate Writing: Job Status as Reflected in Written Text." In Functional Approaches to Writing: Research Perspectives. Ed. Barbara Couture. London: Francis Pinter, 1986, pp. 11-28.

Despite convincing research, commonsense observation, and direct instruction, some professionals continue to use ineffective techniques such as excessive nominalization and long project narratives in their writing. These features appear to be signs of status and anxiety rather than decisions about effective writing. In a study, nominalization was greater for those whose job position had changed or seemed vulnerable. It was also greater in writing for the eyes of upper management and greater generally for those who worked in a corporation undergoing internal reorganization. Nominalization appears to be an attempt to be hypercorrect and to show sophistication. Inappropriate narration seems to come most from young technical professionals who are maintaining a distance from decision making (which depends on interpretation, not narration) and mirroring scientific method. These and perhaps other instances of less-effective writing choices reflect social circumstances in the workplace. Stress tends to reduce fluency; nominalization and narration tend to preserve anonymity; hypercorrection reflects insecurity about status. These forces are more powerful than conscious knowledge about preferred writing conventions.

396. Connors, Robert J. "The Rise of Technical Writing Instruction in America." Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 12 (1982), 329-52.

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The need for technical writing instruction grew in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States as engineering education grew and classical education shrank. However, no courses in technical writing were offered before 1900, reflecting the hope that freshman composition would suffice. It did not, as complaints in professional journals about nearly illiterate engineers attest. The first technical writing textbook, in 1908, concerned usage for professionals. The 1911 textbook by Samuel Chandler Earle is the first genuine attempt to address the needs of an advanced undergraduate technical-writing course. It condemned the "two cultures" split, chastising English teachers for regarding engineers as philistines. Earle used the modes of discourse as his pedagogical model. By 1920, though, books using technical-writing formats began to appear, along with a wave of books that attempted to humanize the engineering student by combining literature with writing instruction. World War II dramatically increased the need for technical-writing instruction: technical writing became a distinct job description, and teaching technical writing began to have more professional status, a trend particularly strong since the 1970s, with the appearance of professional societies and journals.

397. Couture, Barbara. "Categorizing Professional Discourse: Engineering, Administrative, and Technical/Professional Writing." Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 6 (1992), 5-37.

Because knowledge depends on interpretation that is constrained by communal values (see Winsor, "The Construction of Knowledge in Organizations" [408]), scholars of professional writing need to develop an understanding of how discourse is framed and interpreted in organizations. Rhetorical categories can help reveal both textual and contextual elements in interpretive frames. Such categories are not technical labels, but indicators of situations, disciplines, and forms that operate in particular contexts. Three rhetorical categories that identify group values and their effect on interpretation appear to have theoretical and empirical validity. The first, engineering writing, responds to the professional values of scientific objectivity, professional judgment, and corporate interests. The second, administrative writing, reflects decision-making authority and promotes institutional identity. The third, technical/professional writing, aims to accommodate the audience by meeting professional readability standards. Defining the characteristics of these types more precisely can help describe writing in ways that are more telling and more usable for those who teach professional writing.

398. Harris, John S. Teaching Technical Writing: A Pragmatic Approach. St. Paul, Minn.: Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, 1992.

Beginning teachers of technical writing (and more experienced teachers looking for new ideas) can learn much from a book that not only presents materials and methods for teaching the course but also speaks frankly about the career path of such teachers in the academy. In twenty-one chapters, Harris defines technical writing, describes programs and textbooks, and tells how to work within an indifferent English department, design a course, teach special forms (proposals, correspondence, term papers, graphics), grade papers, and get promoted.

399. Kogen, Myra, ed. Writing in the Business Professions. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1989.

HF5718.3 W75 1989

Fourteen essays investigate professional and pedagogical concerns in the development of business communication as an academic discipline. Essays include: Linda Flower, "Rhetorical Problem Solving: Cognition and Professional Writing"; Jack Selzer, "Arranging Business Prose"; Edward P. J. Corbett, "What Classical Rhetoric Has to Offer the Teacher of Business and Professional Writing"; Janice Redish, "Writing in Organizations"; George Gopen, "The State of Legal Writing: Res Ipsa Loquitur"; John DiGaetani, "Use of the Case Method in Teaching Business Communication"; David Lauerman, "Building Ethos: Field Research in a Business Communication Course"; C. H. Knoblauch, "The Teaching and Practice of 'Professional Writing'"; and John Brereton, "The Professional Writing Program and the English Department."

400. Lay, Mary M., and William M. Karis, eds. Collaborative Writing in Industry: Investigations in Theory and Practice. Amityville, N.Y.: Baywood, 1991.

T11 S562 1991

The theory and practice of collaborative writing as it applies to workplace writing, along with studies of the implications of this research for the classroom are the subjects of twelve essays, including: David K. Farkas, "Collaborative Writing, Software Development, and the Universe of Collaborative Activity"; Timothy Weiss, "Bruffee, the Bakhtin Circle, and the Concept of Collaboration"; Barbara Couture and Jone Rymer, "Discourse Interaction between Writer and Supervisor: A Primary Collaboration in Workplace Writing"; William Van Pelt and Alice Gillam, "Peer Collaboration and the Computer-Assisted Classroom: Bridging the Gap between Academia and the Workplace"; Dixie Elise Hickman, "Neuro-Linguistic Programming Tools for Collaborative Writers"; and Roger Grice, "Verifying Technical Information: Issues in Information-Development Collaboration." Winner of the NCTE Award in Technical and Scientific Communication.

401. Locker, Kitty O. "What Do Writers in Industry Write?" Technical Writing Teacher, 9 (1982), 122-27.

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Students in technical writing classes are often surprised to hear that people in business and industry routinely write more than ten pages a week and often much more. Writing is invaluable because it provides a permanent record, it is often more effective than other means of communicating, it is often less expensive than other forms of communicating, it is taken more seriously than oral communication, and so on. Thus, a huge amount of writing goes on in the workplace-far more than could ever be handled by a corps of professional writers. There are innumerable genres of reports, proposals, and letters, external and internal, to be produced regularly. Technical writing teachers should be aware of these forms and include business communication, logic, and audience analysis in their courses.

402. Matalene, Carolyn B., ed. Worlds of Writing: Teaching and Learning in Discourse Communities of Work. New York: Random House, 1989.

Adequate understanding of writing in the workplace cannot be provided by traditional academic analyses of texts and processes. The special concerns of collaborative writing, audience constraints, and the conventions of workplace writing must become part of the undergraduate writing curriculum. Twenty-three essays analyze discourse communities of work, including: Kristin Woolever, "Coming to Terms with Different Standards for Excellence for Written Communication"; Stephen Doheny-Farina, "A Case Study of One Adult Writing in Academic and Nonacademic Discourse Communities"; Janette Lewis, "Adaptation: Business Writing as Catalyst in a Liberal Arts Curriculum"; Theresa Enos, "Rhetoric and the Discourse of Technology"; Nancy Wilds, "Writing in the Military: A Different Mission"; Janis Forman, "The Discourse Communities and Group Writing Practices of Management Students"; Carolyn Matalene, "A Writing Teacher in the Newsroom"; Aletha Hendrickson, "How to Appear Reliable without Being Liable: C.P.A. Writing in Its Rhetorical Context"; Philip Rubens, "Writing for an On Line Age: The Influence of Electronic Text on Writing"; John Warnock, "To English Professors: On What to Do with a Lawyer"; and James Raymond, "Rhetoric and Bricolage: Theory and Its Limits in Legal and Other Sorts of Discourse."

403. Miller, Carolyn R. "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing." CE, 40 (1979), 610-17.

PE1 C6

A pervasive positivist view of science is the source of the erroneous belief that technical writing is a skills course. Believing truth to be a function of perceiving material reality, positivists wish scientific and technical rhetoric to subdue language and transmit bare technical knowledge. Technical-writing textbooks endorse this antirhetorical belief. The shortcomings of the positivist view are evident in the confused definitions of technical writing it produces ("clarity" neither defines nor characterizes technical writing), in its emphasis on form at the expense of invention, and in its tendency to analyze audience in terms of "levels" (which reduces to vocabulary choice). Yet scientists themselves no longer hold a positivist view, but understand that knowledge is inseparable from the knower: Communal discussion and argument determines knowledge. From this perspective, teaching technical writing is a form of enculturation, not a set of forms and techniques, but an understanding of how to participate in a community, a thoroughly humanistic endeavor.

404. Miller, Carolyn R. "What's Practical About Technical Writing?" In Technical Writing: Theory and Practice. Ed. Bertie E. Fearing and W. Keats Sparrow. New York: MLA, 1989, pp. 14-24.

T11 T337 1989

Technical writing has long been regarded as practical in the "low" sense of being mundane and untheoretical. This view gives rise to a contradiction in technical writing instruction: that workplace writing is at once imperfect (requiring improvement through instruction) and authoritative (the goal of instruction). This contradiction mirrors the larger conflict between practical and humanistic studies in the recent history of education. Professional education tends to acquiesce in treating common industry or professional practice as useful and therefore good. There is a "high" sense of practicality, though, that can be applied to technical writing and other professional education. Aristotle characterizes rhetoric as techne or art, a middle term between theory and practice, "a productive state that is truly reasoned." To this should be added Aristotle's sense of phronesis or prudence: rhetoric in this sense is a form of conduct, like ethics, drawing upon observation of human affairs in order to take socially responsible action. Practical rhetoric of this sort must allow for criticism and judgment, and take responsibility not only for the corporation but for the larger community in which it operates.

405. Odell, Lee, and Dixie Goswami, eds. Writing in Nonacademic Settings. New York and London: Guilford Press, 1985.

PE1404 W726 1985

Fourteen essays describe how to conduct research on writing in the workplace; what such research has found concerning the structure of professional discourse, the use of electronic media, and the social/institutional influences on nonacademic writing; and how such research can influence academic and nonacademic writing instruction. Essays include Stephen Doheny-Farina and Lee Odell, "Ethnographic Research on Writing: Assumptions and Methodology"; Carolyn R. Miller and Jack Selzer, "Special Topics of Argument in Engineering Reports"; Lester Faigley, "Nonacademic Writing: The Social Perspective"; David A. Lauerman, Melvin W. Schroeder, Kenneth Sroka, and E. Roger Stephenson, "Workplace and Classroom: Principles for Designing Writing Courses."

406. Spilka, Rachel, ed. Writing in the Workplace: New Research Perspectives. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1993.

PE1404 W7266 1993

Nineteen essays report on research in workplace communication based on the social-perspective model and examine implications of recent research for teaching and future research. Includes: Barbara Couture and Jone Rymer, "Situational Exigence: Composing Processes on the Job by Writer's Role and Task Value"; Jamie MacKinnon, "Becoming a Rhetor: Developing Writing Ability in a Mature, Writing-Intensive Organization"; Judy Segal, "Writing and Medicine: Text and Context"; Jennie Dautermann, "Negotiating Meaning in a Hospital Discourse Community"; Graham Smart, "Genre as Community Invention: A Central Bank's Response to Its Executives' Expectations as Readers"; Rachel Spilka, "Influencing Workplace Practice: A Challenge for Professional Writing Specialists in Academia"; and Stephen Doheny-Farina, "Research as Rhetoric: Confronting the Methodological and Ethical Problems of Research on Writing in Nonacademic Settings."

407. Winsor, Dorothy. "Engineering Writing/Writing Engineering." CCC, 41 (1990), 58-70.

PE1001 C6

We accept the idea that knowledge is shaped by language, but engineers tend to see knowledge as coming from physical reality without textual mediation. Textbooks often reinforce the view of language as merely a means of transmitting information. A study of a veteran mechanical engineer's writing showed, though, that most source documents and his own writing were based on other documents rather than direct observation. Writing about a new engine, the engineer referred not to the engine but to documents reporting the results and interpretations of tests, to technical summaries, and to handouts used in oral reports. Moreover, many of the reports were written in such a way as to suggest that decisions were consistently made in an orderly way on the basis of prior information, rather than on hunches or instinct. These reports reflect the engineers as they imagine themselves to be. Engineering writing, like all writing, constructs the world that the writer can bear to inhabit.

408. Winsor, D. "The Construction of Knowledge in Organizations: Asking the Right Questions about the Challenger." Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 4 (1990), 7-20.

Research on communication failures that led to the Challenger explosion asked why those who knew about the faulty O-rings failed to pass the information to decision makers. This question betrays a simplistic notion of knowledge and a conduit model of communication. Knowledge is, in fact, socially conditioned and does not come about, as is usually imagined, by contemplating evidence. The engineers and managers of the Challenger project were using different ideas of what counted as evidence, influenced by factors other than evidence, chiefly by membership in task groups with particular views of the project. Knowledge is not certain. Thus, information - such as that the O-rings were faulty - cannot simply be passed on. Reception of a report does not signify reception of information because information does not convey its own interpretation. The questions to ask in this case concern the rhetorical power to affect communal knowledge, which is the crucial factor. See also Couture [397].

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