Epistemic Theories and the Evolving Structure of Technical Communication

I’m taking the opportunity presented by my final project for EH 603 and using it to expand on some of the idea’s contained in blog post that I made for my personal website and make it suitable for submission to Intercom, the Society for Technical Communication’s magazine. My blog post, Structure and Assumptions in Technical Communications and Philosophy, was written after thinking about a technical writer’s job responsibilities for a previous class’s assignment. It occurred to me that one of the main responsibilities of a technical communications professional is to properly structure information for use by the intended audience. Contemplating how to properly structure information brought to my mind some epistemological theories I studied while completing my undergraduate degree in philosophy. For those that don’t know, epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and justification of knowledge. I will focus on how epistemological theories about the structure of knowledge can be applied to structuring user guides and manuals. I think that linear structured user guides can be analogous to a foundationalist theory of justification and coherence theory can be analogous to the modern online help experience without a linear construction.

In the original blog post I also discussed using a philosophic understanding of assumptions to better understand the audiences for technical writing. I’m going to drop this part to focus exclusively on structure because I’d rather not try to split my attention between what I feel could be two separate articles. I think that this could wind up shortchanging each topic and wind up with an article that doesn’t cover structure or assumptions in as much depth as I would like.

In order to rewrite and expand my original blog post into a format suitable for Intercom I read a number of Intercom articles and examined the author guidelines page. My original post was only around 600 words and according to the guidelines page my target length should be around 2000 words. The longer length will require more depth when discussing epistemological theories. I will also need to be cognizant that my intended audience consists of technical communications professionals, so philosophical jargon and terminology will need to be avoided.

Exploring the analogy between the structures of knowledge and user help will require citing some sources to fully expand upon the epistemological theories. I believe that the most difficult part will be accurately summarizing the epistemic theories in order to use them as a lens to better understand structuring information as a technical communicator. I want to use publicly available sources for the article so that the reader can view anything I cite without worrying about finding access to sources that are behind a paywall. I will use the Stanford’s online dictionary of philosophy for general reference. I’ll be referencing to Ernest Sosa’s paper “The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence Versus Foundations in the Theory of Knowledge” which is publicly available online. If I require more sources I will make sure that the they can be accessed easily by the public by finding them through use of the google scholar function.

I hope to use this article to show how philosophical theories can be used to better understand other subjects such as technical communication. In this way the article can function as an example of how philosophy can be used practically. I hope to combat the popular misconception of philosophy as esoteric and practically useless. I think that philosophy can function as a strong base for those looking to enter into technical communication field.   

-Christopher Matthys

Works Cited

“Author Guidelines.” Intercom, https://www.stc.org/intercom/author-guidelines/ Accesed 1 April 2018

Matthys, Christopher. “Structure and Assumptions in Technical Communications and Philosophy.” 22 October 2017, https://www.variousinterests.net/blog/2017/10/20/75qgzve7klenw4t4jwjmat2iqerzc7

 Zalta, Edward N. ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/index.html