Arts and Letters
"Different discourse communities have different styles, & to write
successfully in these discourse communities you must know what these
different styles are & how to use them to your advantage" (Dan Jones,
Technical Writing Style, 259. This is the text we use in
eng502: Advanced Technical Writing).
Writing is not simply writing. Context dictates how we write. Writing for self-expression is not the same as writing to meet audience or reader needs in the workplace. This course will help you recognize & define contexts, audiences, & “discourse communities.”
Even though it may not be a conscious recognition, you have
in mind a context or an audience when you write a document. You
write to your instructor or to peers in a journal submission or to an
unknown official at an agency. In each case, the context or situation
influences your document design, style, organization, & rhetorical
strategy. Becoming more conscious of this audience analysis process can
make your documents more effective or successful.
Because little of this is explicitly defined, it is important to
recognize & analyze discourse communities in order to navigate among
them & to write effective documents in both your professional community
& in addressing those in a different community. You will read theory
(mostly by Michel Foucault), work through case studies on a team, & read
about how communities rhetorically define themselves & set rules for the
struggle to gain & retain power.
Course Structure & Texts:
The course has three components or focal concerns:
1. Theory: Michel Foucault is one of the prominent thinkers who defined the theory of the social construction of reality. The Archeology of Knowledge presents his theoretical understanding of how writing and communication are shaped by discourse community contexts or environments.
Speaking not only anticipates a response, it is shaped by an anticipated response.
This is not to say that I know exactly what someone will say in response to what I say. But I have to be able to expect a range of possibilities or responses to carry on a dialogue. For example, I can expect my respondent to maintain the thread or to talk about the same subject. I have some expectations about the length of response & about what data might be relevant. To compose my message, I have to be somehow inside the mind of the other person in advance of her speaking, and she must be inside my mind or to care about the subject we are discussing. To formulate communication, I must have another person already in mind. We know these things from years of communication in various discourse communities. Prof/tech writing crosses a lot of discourse community boundaries. This is why audience analysis is a major concern in professional & technical writing. Too often, tech writing offers a "data dump" without a recognition of what the data means for those who read our reports.
The practical implications for effective communications are significant. Speakers & writers frequently ignore the interactive nature of communication, relying on their institutional authority to create reader interest. The institutional authority possessed by your boss insures that you will read her memo, but it does not insure that the memo is well written, intelligible, or effective.
2. Case Studies: The book, Communicating in Organizations, is a collection of case studies. You will analyze some of these cases as a member of a team. As the responsibility for making reports rotates among members of the team, you will have an opportunity to make a report on behalf of your team.
"I hate teams!" Me too. Academic scholarship remains an individual competition. The reason we want some experience with teams in this course is that:
When the team gels to become a real team, it can be the best part of the class. In any case, we are involved with teams in the course to gain experience in team methods. The expectation in industry includes the expectation to produce superior products partly through beta testing by team members.
3. Application: Understanding Digital Literacies: This book is something of a reference that offers definitions & explanations of many online or electronic media terms, practices, & culture. It is, however, written as a text addressed to undergraduate & graduate students (so it says on the back cover). The "Activities" in the book invite our critical thinking & response.
The paper is due with unit 07. For more on the paper, see this page.
For example, visit The Nature Conservancy. Read through the site looking for a unifying or overarching metaphor, message, &/or image. When I did this, I identified 2 things: an emphasis on quantifying things (money, acres of land, members, etc.) & an unexpected non-confrontational invitation to ranchers, the timber industry, & others who are usually branded as the enemies of naturalists. Their money is as good as anyone else's & they tend to have more of it. Once I have identified such features, I would further analyze the site to see how these are unpacked or used on various pages. What I am looking for is how a rhetorical strategy is developed. Obviously The Nature Conservancy is not interested in selling virtue or virtuous identity like The Sierra Club. The Conservancy focuses on quantifiable results (money to buy land). In contrast, the Sierra Club focuses on the message that buying a membership or embarking on one of their pricey pilgrimages makes you virtuous. The Club (a suggestive name) also focuses on political action. It always provides email addresses for the politicians it frequently talks about. Instead of religion, The Nature Conservancy models itself on a business model. It takes money to do their business rather than virtue or even political power. Consequently they court an affluent business audience. Note the emphasis on estate bequests rather than $25/yr. memberships.
Consider how a community defines itself negatively by implying (or occasionally explicitly identifying) counter-communities that it opposes. How central is such negative definition to the community you study? How precisely does the community identify its enemy or opposite? What methods do they use or traits do they focus on to make a contrast? How effective are these? You should ask why they say what they say as often as examining how they say it or illustrate it.
This is a analytic paper, not a descriptive exercise. The scale for the paper is 5-6 pages (1,250-1,500 words), exclusive of illustrative material, which may be offered as links or urls.
Your final letter grade will be calculated from the percentage you
scored of the total of all points available from all assignments in the
course using this scale:
This is not a self-paced course, nor a tutorial. You should be
involved in each unit discussion when it is scheduled. Watch the calendar.
I will not accept material from lessons
two units prior to the one we are studying. If the calendar says we are
working on unit 5, I will accept late work from units 4, but not
earlier. The grade for work submitted a week late is reduced by 10%.
Work submitted more than two weeks late is not accepted.