Reading Log 3

Design/Visual Rhetoric

In Donald A Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things”, lots of aspects of design are examined. However, stressing the importance of usability over design was the primary theme I took away from the article. An everyday product with low rating usability is impractical no matter how many bells and whistles it boasts. This is the main point that Norman argues throughout his piece. Many elements come into play when constructing an efficiently usable and aesthetically pleasing product. For example, page breaks and headings as well as font and color schemes are all factors to consider when creating an intriguing and readable piece of writing for an audience. Failing to efficiently incorporate even one of these elements can allow for a lack of delivery of information. This can be highly problematic if the information being presented is crucial to the reader’s understanding of a certain product or process. On the other hand, design can pose a serious threat to usability if it is focused on overwhelmingly throughout a piece of writing. A written piece perfectly designed in order to gain the audience’s attention usually fails to effectively present information that is essential to the reader. Consequently, the piece’s primary goal is not met and the exceptional design is useless. Usability and design go hand in hand and work off of each other. Essentially, usability and design cannot be effective on their own because each require the other the be effective.

In my assessment of this article, I found that I heavily agreed with the overall message and premise. Design is undoubtedly deemed more important than usability a majority of the time in today’s market. Take, for example, any commercial that advertises a common product such as a computer. A slick and clean laptop is presented from various angles and lighting; however, you are not provided with any information about the computer’s operating system, storage, speed, or efficiency. You might be lucky to get a few seconds at the end of the commercial dedicated to listing the price of the product. This is the result of our market becoming increasingly invested in aesthetic appeal rather than usability and practical consumption of products. Unfortunately, consumers have become accustomed to these sorts of practices. As a result, a lack of delivery of information exists and users are expected to learn how to appropriately use the products they pay for. This issue contributes to our excessive need to import the vast majority of products we use in the United States. The reason being that most of the products made in America are poorly constructed due to an unnecessary obsession with aspects of design and aesthetics.

 

Ethics of Expediency

Steven B. Katz delves into the topic of ethics relating to technical writing in his article titled, “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust.” He uses the technological ethos and rhetoric of the Nazis to demonstrate how ethics can present difficulties in constructing the technical aspect of a piece of writing. His primary example utilized throughout the article is a memo concerning transportation of the Jewish people throughout the Second World War. This particular memo was written with the goal of being concise and specific. Although, attempts of expediency allowed for an obvious demonstration of coldness within the memo. The goal was to stress the importance of transporting the “freight” to certain concentration camps. The memo, however, was supposed to remain appropriate in the sense that it did not openly express anti-Semitic views even though it obviously did. The memo’s author put forth his point rather clearly by utilizing the rhetoric he had learned while serving as a Nazi. This thought process is associated to the concept of expediency overtaking ethical practices. Katz’s article examines when it is acceptable to favor expediency over ethics in technical writing. The article determined that ethics are an enormous part of technical writing. Therefore, when creating a technical piece of writing, ethics should always be considered.

After analyzing this article I was able to come to the conclusion that ethics should certainly be taken into consideration before each and every act carried out by an individual. Basically, I agree with Katz for the most part. However, I do not particularly agree with one of Katz’s position. Katz claims that an individual’s ethical decisions may be shaped by previously held biases such as the attitudes held by their current employer. He states that someone may choose to go against their ethical and moral beliefs within their own technical writing in order to maintain their company’s position on certain aspects. I believe that an individual always has the option act ethically within any given situation. Additionally, the job or objective may need to be revaluated if the option to act ethically does not exist. Lastly, there are some distinct areas of technical writing in which ethics should not be considered at all. These areas of technical writing are primarily concerned with statistics and may use numbers to represent individuals.

 

Field Concerns

Carolyn D. Rude’s “Mapping the Research Questions in Technical Communication” inspects an interesting aspect of technical communication. The article stresses the exigency of establishing research questions in order to effectively define the technical communications field. The central research question the article presents is, “How do texts and related communication practices mediate knowledge, values, and action in a variety of social and professional contexts?” Questions associated with this research regard disciplinarity, pedagogy, practice, and social change. Rude goes on to explain how these questions overlap and inform each other. Furthermore, she shows that no single study particularly falls into one specific area as opposed to another. To help illustrate this concept she constructs “The Mapping Metaphor.” The map is a metaphor for illustrating spatial relationships instead of simply defining the field as a discipline of a body of knowledge. Mapping of a field establishes power relationships and shows reasons as to why tensions may arise between academic and practitioner areas of the field. Rude also incorporates a venn diagram into her article which demonstrates a method of mapping the research questions. The diagram shows the central question in the middle of the map with the disciplinarity, pedagogy, practice, and social change areas surrounding yet overlapping at the same time. This is done to show that each question can either lead to or help answer the next one. Disciplinarity questions are concerned with answering questions pertaining to identity while pedagogy questions deal the content of the curriculum. Additionally, social change questions regard social and cultural issues while practice questions concern the effective and ethical construction of texts. In conclusion, Rude’s article dissected the central question in order to establish a set of smaller questions which help in understanding to define the field of technical communications.

Although this article was quite complex and contained lots of moving parts, I was able to take away lots of valuable information. Primarily, I learned that asking questions can serve to further understand a general topic or area of study. I never really thought to ask questions with the goal of obtaining more insight to certain subject matter. Although, it makes sense that asking questions can help to define what you are studying by narrowing down your scope of research and information. Additionally, I was reminded that visually conceptualizing complex ideas can help to develop a more complete understanding of those ideas. This was exemplified in the venn diagram which illustrated the different areas of focus surrounding the central question. At first I was unable to picture the sort of map in my head that Rude was describing. However, seeing a visual representation of the map made it much easier to comprehend how the different areas relate to and effect each other. I never imagined that the field of technical communications was such complex and diverse discipline. After reading Rude’s article I am able to clearly see that the technical communications field is one that contains various areas of focus and study.

 

Genre

“Genre Research in Workplace and Professional Contexts”, by Bawarshi and Reiff, examines the establishment and classification of various genres throughout the different domains of communication. Different domains of communication may include areas involving public or private sectors. Bawarshi and Reiff specifically look at the language of memos in a workplace setting. Furthermore, they found that the people creating such memos were employing certain genres which they either learned by themselves or were advised to use by their employer. The article also found that the genres were noticeably different when comparing the memos of writers for online product reviews to that of company employees. Both company and review writers, however, demonstrated professional aspects of memo writing and employed various genres dependent on the task at hand. Additionally, the article found that memo writers had a difficult time writing effective memos when they switched roles. Company memo writers were not easily able to switch genres and cater more towards the public audience. This could be due to the fact that they are used to writing for their company which requires more conciseness and specialization within their memos. Bawarshi and Reiff came to the conclusion that genres echo and organize social means of understanding the world around us. Therefore, genres present us with effective ways to research the functionality of texts within specific contexts.

I both agree and disagree with this particular article. I also believe that learning a variety of genres is crucial to a writer’s effectiveness and versatility. However, I am not convinced that genres have an effect on social construction and communication. A deficiency of information within the area of genres could potentially allow for a weak connection amongst a company and the consumers they serve. Although, this would only be the case if the knowledge being put forth is different from that which the technical writer is accustomed to. In essence, a genre has a greater possibility of being misinterpreted by an audience or misused by a technical writer when it is employed in an unusual context. Undoubtedly, more focus should be placed on educating students regarding the range of genres utilized throughout the corporate and public realms. If this is not done, a lack of understanding will allow for a deficiency of effective communication among different genres and fields.

 

Social Media

Amy C. Kimme Hea’s article “Social Media in Technical Communication” looks into the practical use of social media in the modern day workplace. Social media networks provide various uses for the modern and affluent employee. Soundcloud, for example, allows musicians to showcase their music while FaceBook is an effective means of promoting a company or business. Additionally, an entity may decide to utilize social media for the sole purpose of establishing deeper relationships with their clients and customers. Furthermore, the article examines the utilization of social media in the classroom as it is becoming apparent that the majority of students actively partake in social media. Technical writing is tackled from a new angle through the use of social media. This angle includes making technical writing more sociable and more accessible to the general public. A technical writer or communicator may potentially expand their public audience through the effective employment of social media. Additionally, customer relationships may be built stronger as well as improving strategies through careful examination of newly emerging social trends.

There is no doubt that techniques brought about through the implementation of social media are on the rise. I completely agree with the premise of this article. Social media’s reach will only continue to grow larger as will the population of users on social media networks. Social media will also adapt to allow for more and more personalization from each individual user to the next. This, however, will present problems for technical writers and communicators as each user will begin to be targeted as individual consumers. I also agree that social media can effectively serve a purpose in the classroom because of the largely popular audience of adolescents throughout virtually each and every social media network. Teaching various techniques and strategies of social media will enable the growing population of young adults to more effectively communicate through social media outlets. This education regarding social media will also allow for more effective utilization of social media networks throughout the business and corporate world.

 

Risk

Trust, Emotion, Sex, Politics, and Science: Surveying the Risk-Assessment Battlefield”, by Paul Slovic, delves into the ongoing dispute about conflicting ideas concerning risk assessment. Factors such as advancements in technology and evolving issues throughout the world have caused society to develop fears regarding particular risks. Slovic’s article makes the argument that danger is real, but risk is socially constructed. An abundance of factors relating to specific levels of risk linked to singular activities has caused difficulties in determining risk assessment. However, many changes in society are determined by the public’s perception of risk and how severe that risk is. For example, lots of focus has been placed on factors such as waste management and air pollution because the public perceives these risks as important. Research has demonstrated that the public’s perception of risk is extremely general and reliant on commonly held worldviews and beliefs. Additionally, public perception of risk takes into account factors including fear, predictability, doubt, potential for disaster, fairness, and the risk placed upon future generations. Slovic’s article came to the conclusion that various components such as race, sex, and socio-economic class play into an individual’s assessment of risk. Furthermore, the individuals ranking highest in power who put forth the most agreed upon definition of risk will establish the standard for the rest of society. Consequently, a more collaborative attempt at defining risk should be made be society as a whole. This will ensure that the public holds a more clear and widely understood definition of risk.

I most definitely agree with the argument this article is making. Individuals with more power are certainly determining what risks we as a society focus on and consequently take action towards. Unfortunately, the majority of individuals with lots of influence are being controlled by the people who fund their enormous businesses and corporations. Money has begun to be valued more so than virtually anything in our modern society. Ethics, fairness, and even sustainability have all taken a back seat to the influence of capital gain. This has established a corrupt system in which the powerful elite use monetary gains to their advantage and stand by whoever is able to pay their enormous prices. This process leads to shady lobbying and erroneous justifications for the actions that these big businesses take in order to further their financial growth. This is why I firmly believe that lobbying and controlling practices of this sort should not be conducted throughout society any longer. Instead, assessment of risk should be a collaborative effort which is decided on as a whole. This will ensure that everyday citizens can be confident that they are making the correct decisions regarding assessment of the risks that truly matter to them most. The proper risks should be determined by individuals who are not at the mercy of big business. However, especially here in the United States, this practice will be hard to achieve due to the overwhelming obsession with money and financial status.

 

Technical Communication Unbound

Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry‘s article titled “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices” looks into the boundaries of technical communication as knowledge work in the expansive world of social media. The study aims to understand how knowledge workers utilize online services to support their work through analyzing the results of a survey conducted from 2008-2011. The survey was conducted in order to observe “how frequently people reported using publicly available online services (PAOSs) for work and the specific PAOSs that they reported as valuable.” Their findings demonstrate that knowledge workers are certainly utilizing PAOSs in their efforts to complete work-related tasks. PAOSs were also found to be used quite frequently by knowledge workers throughout a typical workweek. On average, roughly 25% of the workweek was dedicated to using PAOSs while a small portion of workers surveyed dedicated about 80-100% of their week to the use of PAOSs. The survey also found that there was no distinct upward or downward trend in the use of PAOSs by knowledge workers from 2008-2011; however, this could be the result of employers placing restrictions on the use of PAOSs in the workplace. Although, even with these employer restrictions, 9 out of 10 participants surveyed recorded using PAOSs at some point in their workweek with about 1 in 10 using PAOSs a majority of the time. Ferro and Zachry’s study determined that knowledge workers are in fact taking advantage of the specialized strategies provided through the use of PAOSs. Furthermore, they found that “knowledge workers are using PAOSs to develop associations with others and to learn new information.” Their article concludes by stating, “to understand the communicative practices knowledge workers are conducting through PAOSs, a more nuanced approach to the study of these systems is needed.” PAOSs are undoubtedly being used by knowledge workers throughout the field of technical communications and employers need to get with the program. The fact of the matter is that PAOSs offer advanced techniques to communicative practices and are becoming more and more popular among technical communicators.

I could not agree with this article more. Publicly available online services (PAOSs) such as social media networks are only becoming more applicable to the field of technical communications. A divide has even started which separates traditional technical communications from social media technical communications. The fact is that younger generations are becoming more accustomed to the effective and collaborative utilization of social media. Social media simply provides more efficient techniques for connecting to a large and widespread audience. Additionally, social media provides means of establishing stronger customer relationships. All of these advantages point to a future that is dependent on the effective implementation of social media throughout the technical communications field. This will even more so be the case as social media becoming more customizable and traceable from user to user. Ferro and Zachry’s study already proves that the use of these strategies is popular among current workers in the field. It is also important to note that their survey was conducted when social media was truly starting to gain attention and see real improvements. Even just 5 years later the world has seen the invention of highly innovative types of social media that can successfully recognize a user’s interactions and behavior. The incorporation of social media will continue to become more imperative as these strategies become more enhanced and developed. As a result, the most successful players in the industry will be those who continue to incorporate social media into the field of technical communications while studying its effects and adapting to its changes.

 

Final Thoughts

Technical communications is an extremely complex industry and field of study. There are many things to consider when constructing pieces of writing that fall under the genre of technical communications. These include aspects such as visual rhetoric and the correct ethical practices to abide by. Additionally, there are factors to take into account when establishing research questions and interpreting genre research in the field of technical communications. Lastly, newly developed strategies like communicating through the use of social media have caused the field to become more complex with each new day. It seems, however, as if the industry is indefinitely headed in the direction of incorporating these practices into the technical communications workplace. The evolution of technical communications will be a difficult one to predict. However, one can assume that the technical communications field will seek to include more aspects of technology and technological services in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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