What Do Tech. Commers. Need to Know?

What I found most interesting about the readings for this week is that many of them suggest continuing one’s education and knowledge in the field.  Not in the sense of going back to school and acquiring further certification, but rather staying in terms of growing one’s knowledge in the workplace setting.  Blakeslee and Savage, with their example of Siena make this clear for students in that when starting out there will indeed be things that they will have to learn on the job.  I think a reading like this would be helpful in the classroom in providing students with some insight into what to expect once they graduate.  That is, while they are enrolled in a course that is designed to help them learn various forms of technical communication, this is not a space where they will learn everything they will need to know in regards to their chosen professions.  Rather, students should probably see a course like 402 as a tool-providing and skill-building course–another means of knowledge acquisition. Like Siena, students will more than likely enter the workplace needing many questions answered.

I also found Karen Schriver’s piece on information design quite insightful and helpful.  Her section on typeface was really quite interesting to me; while seemingly minute, this is an element of design that does indeed influence what is being communicated and how it is perceived. Something I hadn’t considered in regards to typeface though, is the low-vision reader.  Citing Reece, and Theofanos and Redish, Schriver notes that it is this particular user that designers need to consider when working with design and typeface.  Reece’s study helped me to understand why readers like my mom, who has glaucoma and cataracts, are better able to see certain styles more easily than others. Again, this is an article I would probably have students in a 402 course read as it in the very least, prompts you to think about the visual choices being made.  While I was reading through this article, I was reminded of the Claire Lauer piece we read last Fall.  While this centered around new media we can see that Lauer is well aware of the affect that is achieved even through a specific typeface as she alternates between serif and sans serif fonts. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.1/inventio/lauer/inventio.html

Questions:

Brent Henze’s chapter on genre seemed to revolve around “appropriateness”–the rhetorical situation that requires a specific response. Henze states in regards to the scenario of working for “Celltech” that we writing for the user, but first we writing for our supervisor and other members of the company.  How then do we engage and encourage students to write with multiple audiences in mind? What would this look like in a classroom where students are ultimately writing for the teacher?

Okay, this definitely is not my own question, but I think it could be interesting to look at.  In thinking about the goals of English 101 versus 402, I’m curious if we could take a look at the first question Schriver poses in regards to figure 16.2 and the phases.  She asks “which of the three phases will be the most difficult for students whose educational background has focused mainly on writer?” (423).

 

Anne Wysocki provides six characteristics of new media and I’m curious about the place of “old” media with the rise of new media and how this may impact the 402 classroom as well as students entering the workplace.  That is, are there potential benefits to highlighting, both or is this an either/or scenario?

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99 Problems…

In their piece “How Can Technical Communicators Develop as Both Students and Professionals?” Cook, Cook, Minson and Wilson provide students with tips on how to be more proactive in the field.  This section begins by introducing three of the authors (Stephanie Wilson, Ben Minson, and Emily Cook).  Each person describes where they went to school followed by their occupation and job details and requirements.  All three have specific titles, however, the demands of their careers incorporate much more.  For instance, Wilson states that her responsibilities are writing end-user documentation, training users, and management.  Her responsibilities do not stop here though, as she states that “End-user documentation is not the only type of writing [she does]; [her] supervisor sometimes asks [her] to plan, author, edit, and publish other texts independently…[such as} tool tips, error messages, and other text prompts” (99).

Similarly, Emily Cook is a proposal manager, but this isn’t all that she does.  To be sure, Cook also takes on the role of manager/overseer of her department’s workload, and works independently on projects such as proposals, brochures, and her company’s internal newsletter (100).  The author’s purpose behind providing this information seems to be to inform students and future employees within the tech. comm. field of the varying tasks and expectations that may encounter.  That is, although they may begin with specific job duties, these will grow and change as they take on more responsibility and experience.

From here, much of the chapter focuses on professional development.  Much like PDC serves to inform and develop the English 101 teacher, the tech. communicator too needs to develop and grow professionally.  In this section the author’s explore the word professionalism, providing an inadequate early definition of “become good at what you do” (100).  At this point, we return again to the issue of defining (seen earlier in Jo Allen’s work) technical communication.  The group states that the definition problem “is compounded by the fact that individuals who call themselves technical communicators work across diverse fields, disciplines, and organizations” making it difficult to pin down a definition for the field.  The group does find a more satisfactory definition in Pringle and Williams’ work. To paraphrase, Pringle and Williams acknowledge that technical communicators work at an intersection between technology itself and people (people, I gather, means both users and producers) acting as a sort of liaison.  According to Pringle and Williams “People are the ultimate end” (102).

The group then presents a professionalization plan created by the Society for Technical Communication (STC).  The goals are to:

  • Establish a body of knowledge for the profession.
  • Define and promote ethical standards for the profession.
  • Identify the skills and aptitudes that are associated with successful technical communicators.
  • Adopt, enhance, or create international standards that positively impact the profession. (103)

Further, the group provides the sets of competencies developed by Kenneth T. Rainey, Turner, and Dayton.  Primary competencies include the ability to work collaboratively.  Secondary competencies include the ability to use and complete work using various media; and Tertiary competencies include the ability to conduct research.  In addition, Rainey, Turner, and Dayton encourage students to also “learn project management, computer languages, and software tools” (104).  The author’s here seem to ultimately want students to understand that their learning doesn’t end once they graduate from college, but rather, must continue in order to not only develop professionally, but also to remain competitive in the field. It is recognized though, that the field of technical communication has a long way to go in becoming professional(ized).

The group then provides a heuristic and explanation of each step in a technical communicator’s student-career span.  Simply put, the group states that education, training, workplace experience, and other professional development activities are key as each category applies to both students and employees within this field.  Students should be selective about the courses they choose to enroll in  and should choose “courses that expand [their] knowledge of technical communication practice” (108).  Expanding knowledge is of the utmost importance here, as the author’s suggest that taking courses that expose students to other areas within the field can build understanding.  For example, they suggest that taking a course that focuses on culture may help a student to understand the global market.

One tip that seems especially important for students is the conducting of information interviews.  (I note this, because I think this could be a useful assignment/activity while teaching 402).  Informational interviews allow the student to lead the discussion and have questions answered (rather than being asked a slew of questions).  This will then allow students to learn about a particular job and the skill set and knowledge that is required.  In addition, the group encourages building a professional network through social-media like LinkedIn.  (This is a tad tangential, but the following video by Scooter Magruder emphasizes this very point.  Although not a professional outlet, by using social-media, Magruder was actually called in for an interview. http://daheck.com/post/63358970334/so-i-didnt-get-the-job).  The key is developing one’s web-presence. Lastly, the group encourages internships or volunteer work.  Both expose students to workplace environments.  Moreover, internships and volunteer work allow students to build experience and, in the case of volunteer work, help the community.

The article concludes with the ways in which Wilson, Minson, and Cook go about developing professionally.  The group concludes by stating that in order “To become professionals, we must engage in the work necessary to develop our discipline” (118).  Again, rather than thinking of their college education as a means to an end, the group seems to encourage students and future practitioners of the field to think of themselves as growing, evolving and developing with the field, rather than just people with a particular career.

Connections:

As stated earlier, early sections of this article can be related back to Jo Allen’s piece on defining technical communication.  In addition, we could also connect this to the Selfe & Selfe piece that addresses this same issue.

Another connection that can be made to the Selfe & Selfe piece are the skills maps and Cook, Cook, Minson and Wilson’s call for students to develop in the workplace.

A connection can also be made to the Hart-Davidson piece in regards to the amount of work technical communicators do and Cook, Cook, Minson and Wilson’s draw on Pringle’s and Williams’ definition of technical communication.

Questions:

Similar to my previous questions, I’m wondering how we can prepare students to continue to learn and be proactive about their own professional development?  Is it appropriate to require students to attend a conference? To require volunteer hours in a workplace?

I’ve actually heard quite a bit of discouragement with the use of such social-networking sites like LinkedIn that clearly suggest such sites aren’t all that great.  Could we discuss who these sites are intended for?  I think part of this might go back to what is considered is “professional”.

Are the three competencies that are provided realistic or limiting?  Also, can these be incorporated in some way in a 402-syllabus?

 

Click-Clack: Critical Power Tools Pt. II

In the last chapter of this text, Katherine V. Wills discusses the teacher’s role and how to better prepare students as technical communicators outside of academia.  Rather than teach students to be reproducers of culture, Wills suggests that teachers should teach students how to produce culture (259).  The problem that Wills sees then, is that of inactivity or passivity.  That is, technical communication students are being taught not to engage and be active, contributing members of the field,

Wills strives to join cultural studies with technical communication in this piece, stating that “In order for graduate-level technical writing students to move from reproducing culture unconsciously to producing culture consciously, they are introduced to research methods and writing strategies based on a sociopolitical analysis of power” (259). So, while Wills is concerned with technical writing students in a broader sense, she is also concerned with graduate students, both those learning and those preparing to teach technical writing.  What are we (our class perhaps) preparing for?

In this piece Wills draws heavily on Pierre Bordieu’s Homo Academicus.  She explains that according to Bordieu there is a spectrum.  On one end are professors who do research, and on the other, professors who focus on teaching. who “do the work of cultural reproduction” (260).  Integrating cultural studies with the teaching of technical writing forces those “comfortable with teaching and research methods…to rethink the goals and structure of outdated technical writing curricla” (26).  It seems that what Wills is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum one falls (researcher or teacher), approaches in the way students are being taught tech. comm. need to be reconsidered.

Wills goes on to argue that technical communication is a taxonomic field made up of “materials, thoughts, and processes” (260).  She explains that in his work, Bordieu explains why new classifications are needed, stating that what is at work are ‘academic forms of classification’ “‘like the ‘primitive forms of classification’…are transmitted in and through practice, beyond any specifically pedagogical intention'” (261).  Tying this concept into her own argument, Wills states that these academic classifications continue to be reproduced in academia but are done so without taking into account the needs of society (a concept brought to light earlier in this text by Slack, Miller and Doak).

Wills then moves into Bordieu’s notion of academic power stating that the academy has maintained its power because of the established commitment “to hierarchical authority” (261).  Wills subsequently argues that teachers need to incorporate “an awareness of the anti-intelluctualism” (261) that has been fostered in the university system.  This idea of anti-intellecutalism leads into the notion of replication, as Wills suggests that many students in the university system have been systematically institutionalized.  She notes that students, especially those with work experience, view their coursework as “hoops” to getting to the “real world” (262).

From here Wills moves into the actual teaching of tech. comm, noting that many teachers who teach tech. comm. courses have little or no “authentic” experience.  This goes back to Dr. Arola’s question a couple of weeks ago now, in regards to “real world” experience being brought into the classroom.  How is this done if the person teaching the course doesn’t have this to turn to?  Wills goes on to provide strategies for teaching tech comm in conjunction with cultural studies.  She argues that “Students who are introduced to a variety of strategies based in cultural studies can better recognize ideological agendas and power relationships among writing audiences” (264).  One way of highlighting this for students, Wills suggests, is to use the syllabus as a model.  For Wills, the syllabus itself can serve and be seen as a “workplace document” if introduced in that manner from the beginning.  Wills argues that in doing so “instructors foreground authority (academic, workplace, or institutional” (264).  Furthermore, the line between academia and the “real world” become blurred and classroom itself becomes a workplace.

Wills then focuses on curricla and draws on Sam Dragga and the marketing strategies of the Kellogg company by breaking down the strategies used in selling Coco Puffs.  What Wills encourages teachers to do through this consideration is to 1) again, incorporate cultural considerations and perspectives; and 2) be creative, that is, to take risks when teaching.  She believes that writers need to be cognizant of the power issues in the workplace when it comes to document production (265); and that in engaging tech. comm. students, they become socialized within a community.

In regards to assignments, Wills advocates for the integration of off-campus internships or collaborative work programs (for graduate students).  She states that in so doing, students not only “practice technical writing within transactional workplace, they can actualize” (266).  Her point here seems to be that there is only so much that can be taught and at some point students need to be encouraged to seek out those “real world” workplaces.  Wills goes on to suggest that this sort of approach encourages reflection on power structures within technical writing projects.

Wills continues to consider the curriculum that students are exposed to and suggests that students need to be exposed more to the concepts of Abstraction which pushes students to think “creatively and with an eye toward their social complicity when producing documents” (267).  Further, abstraction encourages critical thinking and the development of alternative answers and “avoiding assignments with instructor-stipulated parameters and well-worn answers” (267), allowing students to figuring out and negotiate their own way through a process when they are not given any direction.

Next, Wills discusses System Thinking which is similar to Abstraction in that it is a process that prompts students to consider complex perspectives in their writing.  Systems Thinking is then followed by Experimentation (exactly what it sounds like–trying something out and not worrying about the rules).  Collaboration and lastly Theorization, which simply put, allows the exploration of how “knowledge is legitimized or marginalized within institutions, relationships, and classrooms” (268).

Wills closes by emphasizing that teachers should emphasize that what makes knowledge knowledge should be approached from and in as many perspectives as possible. It is ultimately a recognition of the power structures in which we operate that the technical communicator will be able to produce culture.

Other Connections:

This article also connected to Bernadette Longo’s consideration of the legitimation of knowledge and going outside the institution.

Jim Henry’s handbook –> hyperpragmatism.  The idea that teachers need to step away from the text book.  Also, incorporating “outside” activities and assignments into curriculum (212).

J. Blake Scott’s call for service-learning while still considering the student’s primary concern in fulfilling the expectations of the organization and the course.  Ties into Wills’ concern that student’s only see courses as “hoops”.

Questions:

I’m not versed in the law, but I’m curious to know how feasible service-learning/outside work would be on the undergraduate level.  What considerations would we need to make in 402? Also, are there other costs that would need to be considered if this were approached on an undergrad. level?

I’m still really curious to know what others think about (not) having “real-world” experience and teaching a 402 course.  Are there other ways to make up for this? Are we short-changing students?

I might be thinking a tad bit literally, but in what other ways can we turn the classroom into a “workplace”?  Would this entail setting up mock-cubicles?  Having students “dress up” for classes when a visitor or “client” came in to speak?

Lastly, drawing on a question from last week, and in thinking about Skype and social media forms, how do we accommodate the changes taking place in the workplace?

Click-clack: Critical Power Tools Pt. I

I really enjoyed the reading for this week and the considerations that are being made in throughout the articles.  In the forward Alan Nadel asks two key questions.  1) whether or not discourse can have lexical alternatives; and 2) if language is “the initial site of power and normativity” (ix).  This reminded me that in socio-linguistics one common argument is that without language, there would be no culture.  That is, language is the center around which culture revolves.

In the first chapter by Slack, Miller and Doak, they consider the author(ity) of the tech. communicator.  Is the tech. communicator an author; or merely the medium through which information is presented and relayed.  This article tied neatly to Ornatowski’s and Eilola’s articles last week, as Slack, Miller and Doak too, consider the place of the technical communicator.  When we think about meaning making and power this article really made me question how much power the technical communicator has ultimately.  Sure, the tech. communicator is responsible for creating meaning through word choice and power is created through associated meanings, but where within this act does the tech. communicator as author possess power?  In thinking about cross-cultural communication, how might the tech. communicator account/anticipate that which may be lost in translation?

In thinking about usability and extreme usability (Dilger), another question was raised in terms of teaching students.  Dilger states that “If the intent of usability is the development of user-centered technological systems and practices of communication, then despite its difficulty, we need to engage culture” (62). I’m a big socio-linguistic-y person, and I’m curious how teaching a student in the Pacific Northwest will impact them later if they are to move to say Boston.  How might we as teachers prepare students for these inherently different cultures?  For instance, Standard American English isn’t necessarily a mutually intelligible language throughout the country–how then can we as teachers prepare students for this type of disparity?  Even in saying this, I suppose it’s also important to recognize that the language we speak and the language we use to write are not always the same :-/.  The linguist in me argues that in tech. comm. work places there should be an effort made to account for this; but the non-linguist part of me argues for uniformity and ease of production for the business. (I think I just confused myself).

I apologize that this post is late and so scattered (it’s been an off week 😦 ).

Dubinsky: Cezar M. Ornatowski

In this article, Ornatowski discusses the implications and consequences behind the decisions that technical communicators make. The problem that he sees is that students are being taught the technical aspect of technical communication, but are lacking in actual communication skills.  That is, he suggests, students aren’t being taught to consider the possible outcomes of the decisions they make in the field.  Divided into four sections, Ornatowski explains why the communication aspect is so vital to students planning on entering the filed of technical communication.

Ornatowski argues that technical communicators are responsible for decision making processes in the section “Technical Communicators As Decision Makers”.  Here, his focus on is on the “decisions technical communicators make as communicators” (596).  Ornatowski argues that the decisions the technical communicator makes are just as significant and complex as those decisions made by nonwriters. He states, however, that “it is the capacity of technical communicators to make these sorts of decisions that constitutes the specificity of their professionalism” (596).  More simply put, communication is a primary, rather than peripheral, component of the technical communicator’s position.

In the next three sections, Ornatowski outlines the different types of decisions that the technical communicator will have to make in the field.  The first are related to technology, which Ornatowski states “[is] shaped by people working within social collectives and influenced by a multitude of cultural, political, and ideologogical factors” (596). In addition to social factors, Ornatowski also notes the the needs of the market, the industry and the political purposes.  The development of a technology is where the technical communicator is situated as it “is largely a process of negotiation and adjustment” (596).  It is through a communication of information that the technical communicator is necessary as this involves communication between and negotiation between individuals and groups and “is largely document and communication driven” (597). While he recognizes that some may think the technical communicator doesn’t actually make any decisions in this process, Ornatowski thinks that since this is a factor of the technical communicator’s position, they should be cognizant of the process.

Ornatowski goes on to consider the social aspects behind technology.  He states that “A critical moment in this process of change is technology insertion: the adaptation of technology to perceived social needs as well as the adaptation of potential users to technology” (597).  In this process it is the technical communicator’s job to shape user perceptions and adapt the technology to the needs of the user and culture it is to be used in.  The documents that the technical communicator develops then, “become statments in wider debates and arenas” (598).

Public policy is considered last where the technical communicator is more than a vessel through which information is conducted.  Ornatowski explains the technical communicator’s place in these instances as being placed “at the instersection of the various components and impacts of the system: the technology; the organizations involved in its implementation and management; the various interests vested in the system…; and the various publics which the system impacts” (598).  Ornatowski suggests then, that the technical communicator is at the center of all this, the nucleus if you will, and is responsible for efficient and sufficient information dissemination.

The solution that is presented is simply that technical communicators need to be aware that they are indeed factors in what goes on around them.  In not being aware, the technical communicator risks developing an outlook that is based more in production and “technical and instrumental imperatives” rather than taking the time to consider user and social factors.  Ornatowski then goes on to supply a distinction between intensive (training–rote memorization on how to perform a task); and extensive (the educational aspect that leads to attaining knowledge and insight to think about the tasks being performed and the implications of the decisions made critically).  Teachers, Ornatowski concludes, should be paying attention to this extensive factor. A technical communication curriculum then, should be modeled after the factors that Ornatowski outlines, emphasizing the technical communicators decisions.

Connections:

Johnson-Eilola: the call for educating, not just training students (4 concepts).

Placing value in education in being able to interact critically.  Students may potentially increase their employment value beyond tasks they are able to perform.

Bernhardt: “education” as a means and foundation for change and critical awareness.

Questions:

In what ways could we design an “education” based curriculum?  That is, what sorts of activities/assignments might aid in reinforcing this focus?

Especially considering the issue of having students do projects in “real world” situations that both students and employer-participants acknowledge are merely simulations, I’m wondering also, in what ways we might actually prepare students for the kind of decision making they will encounter in the workplace.

Dubinsky: Teaching Tech. Writing (C. 4 & 5)

Janice C. Redish’s article “What is Information Design?” addresses this specific question.  Redish begins by suggesting there are multiple definitions of “information design” because it is a term that many other disciplines employ (anthropology, graphic design and linguistics to name a few).  Redish goes on to provide two distinct definitions, one that involves and emphasizes process and development, the other which focuses on the presentation of the product (212).  While distinct, Redish essentially suggests that these two definitions are two sides of one coin so to speak.  The problem that Redish seems to be suggesting is that of conflation.  That is, the process of planning and the the way a document is presented have been fused into the term information design.

For Redish the whole (definition one) comes first.  She urges states that “Information design is what we do to develop a document (or communication) that works for its users” (212).  Users then, should be able to do three key things: find what they need, understand what they find and use/apply what they understand (212).  She then urges information designers to also keep in mind that users are seeking to fulfill/meet a personal goal and that it is the user who decides “how much time and effort to spend trying to find and understand the information they need” (212).

Redish then provides a model that stresses planning as first and foremost that progresses eventually into continuing the process which focuses on feedback (presumably from the user).  This segues us into considering the second definition of information design (a more aesthetic focus).  Redish suggests that the presentation of a document is dependent on the situation.  The presentation then, is something that according to Redish is confronted in the planning process (definition one).

A brief history of the two definitions is then provided, as Redish suggests (speculates?) that the reason behind the two definitions of information design stems from 1) the people involved in the Society of Technical Communication (STC) that come from rhet./tech. comm backgrounds; and 2) the government funded Document Design Project (214).  The latter addressed issues such as document understanding and making documents better for the user. This focus, Redish suggests, was emphasized by the fact that many members of the National Institute of Education came from linguistic and reading specialist backgrounds where primary concerns were centered around content, organization and writing of documents (214).  She goes on to explain that the DDC and CDC both expanded and followed the model from p. 213, applying both broad and narrow definitions of information design.

Redish then provides and explanation of “plain language” which she states is a document that “works for its users” (215).  She again emphasis the model from p. 213, stating that an effective document incorporates both planning and design.

In closing, Redish discusses the importance and understanding of both information and design as both the web and single sourcing (a database created from pieces of information and provides multiple uses for the information, promoting both efficiency and monetary savings) use this.  Redish explains that web requires both a broad and narrow understanding, while single-sourcing separates writing from design.  Content, she explains, is conditional and dependent on versions, while design is contained within document definitions.  She insists again, however, that planning must still be employed and that design is part of the planning process.  Redish’s solution for resolving the conflation of process/planning and design is to urge information designers to recognize and understand the differences and still employ them both simultaneously and individually.

Questions:

Looking at the model Redish provides, how can we transfer these elements to planning our syllabus for 402?  While the student should be considered, if students major focuses are across the board (vet. med., business, engineering, etc), how can we anticipate/incorporate projected uses (especially if we ourselves do not have a background in those areas)?

Going back to Allen’s article, considering the possible ways in which language can be interpreted and defined seems key. That said, I thought Redish’s definition of plain-language was a little vague and am wondering how we know if something “works for a user”?

While Redish insists that her primary focus is on the process and planning part of a document, it seems like design was inevitable.  I’m wondering, generally, which really is more important?  For example, when choosing possible journals to review, the majority of my choices hinged upon the presentation of the site and not the usability.

A question that came to mind this morning was the issue of planning and design.  I am wondering how we account for that which cannot be foreseen and therefore cannot be planned when it comes to design?  Thinking about the Wix website made for TV Reed’s theory course, I did do a lot of planning, but much of the design process took place as I was putting the site together, not beforehand.

Connections:

Some connections I saw were in the Mirel piece that followed.  Mirel states in regardness to usefullness that specialists seek feedback on the usefullness of a document (233), the last part of Redish’s model.  In addition, Mirel states that “Issues of usefullness need to inform frontend processes of defining scope…and they need to brought in early for next-version planning” (235).  This reemphasizes what Redish pushes for with the planning process.

A major link that can be seen is with the Kramer/Bernhardt article that focuses on design.  However, while design seems to be the primary focus, it is clearly based in planning and consideration of the potential user.

In the Jackson article we see that again, planning and design go hand in hand as Jackson states that “sound structure and visual appeal are as important in attracting users…as is the content itself” (266).

Moving into chapter five there is a connection with Berkenkotter & Huckin in their consideration of Bakhtin, language and genre. They state that “Genres are the media through which scholars and scientists communicate with their peers” (284).  This translates however, to the user as well when we think in terms of planning and design as genres of the document. (maybe?).

Post A1: Course Objectives

Here are what my current course objectives would be for teaching 402 (in no particular order):

  • for students to understand and develop awareness of rhetoric and the implications of language and word choice.
  • to learn how to write effective business statements, emails and proposals.
  • for students to develop skills in adapting to the need to communicate in various situations (beyond formal situations).
  • to emphasize the benefits of revising and drafting.
  • to build skills in both writing and presenting–for students to gain comfort with using visual elements as well as written.

Dubinsky: Teaching Tech. Writing

In Jo Allen’s work the main problem she discusses is the issue(s) around defining technical writing.  In her opinion, while there are benefits to defining what exactly tech. writing is and how it operates, most definitions thus far have been inadequate and quite limiting to the field.  Allen states that “The ongoing endeavors to construct this definition–or at least to identify the prominent characteristics that [technical writing] should include–seem to insist that such a definition is possible, despite the history of foiled attempts to create one” (68). The most difficult task in constructing a definition then, is deciding what should be included (for example, is a cookbook a form of technical writing?).  Further, an issue within this issue is agreement.  That is, no one really seems to agree on what exactly technical writing is (is it writing centered around technology )changing the oil on a car) or is it writing with the same form and purpose as technical writing (70) (making a peanut butter & jelly sandwich)?  So, another problem that is presented is purpose.  That is, to be technical writing must it fulfill a certain purpose?

As Allen works through various criteria for technical writing we can see that developing a definition isn’t an easy or clear cut task.  In looking up a definition Wikipedia seems tech-centric focusing primarily on computer tech and the sciences (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_writing).  In the end Allen is unable to provide a definition, but remains hopeful that there ist one, but multiple definitions for this field.  (I would imagine a dictionary entry would include four or more definitions to meet the variety of technical writing forms that are present today).

Some questions I would pose would be:

1) Can we as a class come up with a suitable definition for our intents and purposes as graduate students preparing to teach a technical writing course? What do we recognize/eliminate to do so?

2) In considering the cookbook scenario, what other forms of writing do we think can/cannot be included in the category of technical writing?

3) In continuing to think about defining technical writing, how might a interdisciplinary definition work?  That is, what kind of language would need to be used in order to satisfy both the humanities and the sciences?

1) Johnson: User-Centered Tech

One of the many problems that Johnson discusses in his text are users being perceived as “receptacles of information” (57).   Johnson provides a definition for users stating that users are “literally, humans who manually operate some form of technological artifact in the practice of something like a trade, craft, profession…or recreational activity” (57).  Unfortunately, Johnson notes, this places limits on the user.  By only seeing a user a receptacle, I agree that this person runs the risk of becoming invisible (Johnson’s word choice) when we think about the work place setting.  To counter this then, Johnson argues that we are “obliged to learn how to value, how to see, the knowledge that users produce” (61).  This is a tad tangential, but I think that the user as invisible is becoming a true potential as technology seems to create a distance between people (as seen in the litigation situation Johnson presents).  One of my questions would be then, how do we teach students in such a way that they are both able to be knowledgeable contributors in their field while remaining seen–that is, is it possible to bridge this very detrimental gap?

This isn’t necessarily an issue, but I found myself getting quite caught up in the knowledge as action concept. (To be honest, I found this entire section interesting in regards to the individual and the whole).  Johnson states that  “users as citizens carry user knowledge into an arena of sociotechnological decision making: the arena of the…politics” (64).  I guess I have two questions bundled into one.  First, in thinking about a community how can users be brought together when it seems like technology is interfering with this action?  Secondly, I’m wondering how much and which users impact the “sociotechnological decision making” that Johnson mentions?

Lastly, I wouldn’t mind discussing/thinking more about the mundane.  I like what Johnson is putting forth, but find that it also raises some questions for me.  For example, if I recognize say, a pen as a form of technology does writing then become “un-mundane”?  What about typing, something that is done (at least for myself) on a daily basis, if I no longer think about the actions I am taking is it now mundane?  To further confuse myself what happens when different methods of typing are involved?  For instance, I use standard typing when using a computer (which I give little if any thought to), yet on my cell phone I use Swype–at what point does an action or technology become mundane?