Friday, September 24, 2010

on questions of relevance

As is typical for his blog, Tom Johnson has a great post that is asking us to consider a number of tech comm issues within a single question. It's one of the things that makes Tom's stuff interesting.

I want to respond to what I perceive as an anti-academic tone in Don Bush’s statements. In many of his early articles (raise your hand if you loved reading the “Friendly Editor” articles in Technical Communication), and particularly in his co-authored text, Bush takes an extremely pragmatic approach to the practice of technical communication. That’s what makes his writing so accessible. So why have I been so bothered since I (re)read Bush’s quotes on Tom’s site?

I’m not an academic. I tell myself that every time I step in front of pre-professional engineers and intend to impart some bit of practical knowledge about technical communication – some iota of skill that they can carry forward into their practice; making them exceptional designers, developers and communicators. I have, however, developed a deep appreciation for the way quality academic work serves and shapes the practice of technical communication. Tom’s simple question (Is rhetoric relevant?) exposes how so much of this work gets lost somewhere between the scholarly journals and field-level implementation.

I realize my perspective is skewed. I’ve had the advantage of continuing to practice tech comm while studying with some truly amazing scholars in Composition, Rhetoric and Technical Communication (Lipson, Phelps, Brooke, and Kennedy to name a select few). My intellectual development within these three incestuously related academic disciplines has nurtured my growth as a practicing technical communicator and editor. Through the hundreds (thousands?) of readings and my (notably weak) research projects, I couldn't help but recognize how much of my previous practice lacked the theoretical rationale that frames the problems technical communicators face and the methods we use to solve those problems. I've since realized the importance of including scholarly attention to a variety of theoretical and practical issues in my professional work, as well as using a broad range of methods and concepts. This understanding helps me bridge the gap between theory and practice; to simultaneously grow as a scholar and as a practitioner. And what’s wrong with that?

Scholarship is not a four-letter word, and the ivory tower is not as impenetrable as many practitioners would have us believe.

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