Author Archives: joe1234w

Representing Discursive Work in the Workplace: Henry CH7

  If our definition of writing is to be the cornerstone of the types of professional writing courses we design, then a quick review of Jim Henry’s Chapter 7, “Representing Discursive Work in the Workplace,” found in Writing Workplace Cultures might help us to revisit our own definitions of writing, and may have us consider some productive alternatives.

  How we view the professional, or technical writer can definitely impact the type of courses we design to educate those writers.  Does the technical writer exist within an organization as a ‘scribe’ who is only to record others realities?  Does a technical writer’s use of machines, and collaborative approaches mean technical writers should pursue only secretarial functions?

   Consider a definition of writing that included not only the processes of writing, but writing also as a “unique form of meaning production and of discursive engagement as shaping realities rather than merely reflecting them” (Henry, 141)  Then our professional writing course design might look radically different then with the former approach.

   If you are interested in viewing a range of views of the professional writer, from ‘secretary’ or ‘scribe’ to the professional writer as an expert in navigating organizational and larger cultures who skillfully represents her discursive work in both document and cultural processing, then Henry’s work is worth reading prior to designing technical writing courses.


Case Studies Revisited

Reflection on our recent study of The Midwest Airlines Case and Lee’s post served as inspiration to delve a little further ito the use of case studies as a pedagogical tool for use in professional writing courses.  I found a few resources that might be of interest.  The third link is for a professional writing course designed around a series of case studies, hopefully you may find some of them useful.

–          Provides a 6 step method for the employment of case studies in research

–          Outlines general advantages and disadvantages of the case study method

–          This site explores several genres of professional writing, including the case study

–          The site provides general descriptions of professional writing genre, as well as specific examples: ie the case study, as well as useful links to other professional writing resources

–          Provides an example of professional writing course designed around a series of case studies.

–          Uses one of our texts for this course:

  • Locker, Kitty O. and Isobel Findlay. Essentials of Business and Administrative

Communication. Canadian ed. McGraw-Hill Ryerson: Toronto, 2009.

Course Description and Objectives

This course aims to introduce you to the basic grammatical and stylistic principles of good, clear, written

English within a specific context. That context is professional writing. You will be introduced as well to

basic theories and concepts in professional writing, given opportunities to develop skills applicable to

writing in a professional context, and encouraged to read about and apply findings from research in

professional writing. More generally, the course aims to help you develop “the ability to communicate

information, arguments, and analyses accurately and reliably, orally and in writing to a range of

audiences” (Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents’ statement on “University Undergraduate

Degree Level Expectations” 24 October 2005).

To provide the context for the course assignments, this course makes use of case studies. You will read a chapter about concepts of professional writing in the textbook, and then either create or read in case study materials a case study in which those concepts are operational. After group discussion of the cases, you will be asked to complete a written assignment that incorporates those principles.

Networks-a practical application

“Ultimately, a network is defined by how well it allows its members to see, decide and effectively act.” —- GEN (R) Stan McChrystal

Over the past few lessons we have focused upon networks and organizations. I found this article by GEN (R) Stan McChrystal, former commander of US special operations forces in Iraq, and all NATO forces in Afghanistan,  relevant to our discussions.  GEN McChrystal describes the construction of a modern networked Army, and provides some insight along the way into the question “How does it work?”

You can read the article here:,1

McChrystal offers several characteristics that define a succesful network, characteristics which might be useful as an example of what Spinuzzi has termed an “activity network.”  For McChrystal, leading a network intended to respond and counter an opposing network, it became paramount that his network enable decentralized decisions that cut across the organization.  In his efforts to expand the network, he first had to encourage the erosion of traditional institutional boundaries, at the same time meshing diverse institutional cultures.  The network valued competency above all else (particularly relevant in a military system which often privileges rank and hierarchical structure).  Networks, he advocates, should seek clear, and evolving problem definition while continually revisiting aims, processes and structures–both internally, and in this specific, case the opposing enemy network.  A succesful network continually grows the capacity to inform itself.

While reflecting upon the article I began to think about the importance of the concept of audience adaptation to technical writers in an expansive network composed of diverse organizational cultures.  Leaders of such a network must “build shared consciousness and purpose,”  technical writers can play a key role assisting leaders attain this aim.  Writing in such a context requires consideration of the reader, the removal of jargon, or the development of lexicon common to all.  It seems to me that technical writers in similiar context would be well served by continually engaging with readers, to ensure not only that messages are clear and concise, but effectively contribute to knowledge production.  The infrastructure of the network McChrystal described provided many alternate technological means to accomplish this reader engagement during the drafting process: f2f, video teleconferencing, document sharing, telephone.

Info Ecology

Nardi offers that an information ecology is “A system of people, practices, value and technologies in a particuliar local environment. In information ecologies.” In Information ecologies, the spotlight falls not upon technology, but on human activities served by technologies. Spinnuzzi illuminates the social memory/tradition of use of genre and “genre ecologies.”. For Spinnuzzi genre developed so [people] can accomplish activities; his definition of genre shares the focus upon human activities.

The question I would ask of both Nardi and Spinnuzzi’s work is:

What assignment could one develop that focuses upon rhetorical human activities performed with tools?

Such an assignment would include the following questions:
– How have the activities in a particuliar ecology adapted over time?
– How have technical writers used tools to persuade within this ecology?
– Provide an example of a writing technology, would you call it an artifact?
– How have people used rhetorical tools to display/define expertise in this ecology?

Lesson Plans for Rhetorical Ethics

Developing Lesson Plans on Rhetorical Ethics

As we begin exploring ethics in technical writing, and perhaps developing lesson plans for the classes we developed, I found the following link to a syllabus developed by Lindsey Latour and Tina Urbain for their class:

Rhetorical Ethics in the Introduction to Professional Writing Classroom (


I found this document interesting for several reasons:

– My first stop was their bib/refs.  Our reading includes two essays that they identify as the central works regarding the subject, the Katz and Ornatowski pieces.  (They provide useful synopsis and thought provoking questions to include in a study guide for each) 

The authors make a convincing case that not only should rhetorical ethics be introduced very early in a technical writing program, but that those early sessions should be taught as a block of lessons. (As opposed to dispersed over a semester)

– Finally, their project could serve as a useful model for packaging our own syllabi.  They include an introduction describing their method(ology), provide a brief synopsis of each reading, define outcomes, offer two lesson plans with grading criteria for assignments.  There Bib/refs when combined with Prof Hawk’s could inform/feed our own reading selections on ethics.