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

A White Paper Worth Writing

What if your company developed a tool that could save your customers $100,000? As a technical communicator, would you be interested in writing a white paper about it?

My immediate answer was something along the lines of, “You betcha!” Working for a government contractor, I don’t always write about attention-grabbing subjects with big, financially impressive outcomes. Lots of what I cover is dry and highly technical, which isn’t always fun to write about.

That’s why I was excited about this assignment—and why I chose it for my Project 3 topic in EH 603. So, let’s talk details.

Continue reading A White Paper Worth Writing

Book Review

Book Review for Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D.

This is the introduction by Rebecca Greer to part one of Project 3 for EH603, option 2 - Book Review - with Dr. Joy Robinson.

Because this book falls in the business and communications categories, I will use: Sage Publishing guidelines on journal publications to format this project.

For the blog post, I used: Purdue Online Writing Lab: "Writing a Book Review."

Before I chose to review this book:

Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change is a non-fiction book that Amazon.com places in three categories: Language Arts and Disciplines, Communications and Social Skills, and Words, Language, & Grammar. The author, Robert Cialdini, is a New York Times Best Seller and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, who did his postdoctoral training at Columbia University, the Annenberg School of Communications, and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He is currently Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. With all of these accolades, the author immediately gains recognition and authority. Cialdini is also a New York Times bestseller, multiple times, and is published through Simon & Schuster.

The title incorporates clever design, optical allusion, and “construction” of a new word from the prefix, “pre,” and suffix, “suasion,” and acts as its own graphic design editorial review, persuading the reader to pick it up. The bright orange and yellow colors lend to stylistic choices that cannot be by accident, as these colors are oftentimes seen in “caution” and “construction” signs that are universally recognizable.

In its introduction, the author refers to the art of “pre-suasion” as an exact moment, an act, a “privileged moment for change.” While the book has the overall feel of a self-help book, it is actually an artfully researched, written, and conducted study on human interaction and the art of “persuading without meaning to persuade”—which is not a new concept, by Aristotelian examples, but the book helps shape the idea into a usable concept and practice for today.

While I read this book, for review:

I will watch out for recurring themes, examples, style, and authority of the author. Because he starts with shining accolades, I don’t think this will be hard. But even the smartest people can lose credibility, so I will evaluate the author’s writing on a persuasive level; there could wind up being some chilling irony!

When I’m ready to write the book review:

Because the author already has reviews from Harvard Business and this book deals with communication and business strategies, I’m using Sage Publishing journal submission requirements to write my review.

This book was published by Simon & Schuster, so there are no publication requirements. The author went through a professional literary agent and self-published with S&S’s associate publishing business, Archway Publishing. There are also no requirements for this company, regarding books.

After a thorough read-through, I plan to go back through the book again and outline key chapters, techniques, and “characters” if it uses them. Because this “pre-suasion” style is based off of rhetorical and hypothetical situations, examples will most likely be used. I will only use language that is inclusive of even those who have not read the book. Because this acts as an advertisement for the book, but not a full summary, I will focus on only the strongest language and communication techniques.

When I revise my draft for the final book review:

Most likely, my Three Column Format (TCF) edits will be editing down to reduce wordiness, repetition, or tone. I rarely make spelling mistakes and I spellcheck my drafts (and emails) so that’s less likely. I do like the comment on considering the audience. To edit for that, I’ll read aloud to make sure the summary does not sound too verbose or bland. Direct quotes are most likely going to be very useful in this type of project, because the author likes to coin phrases and uses specific language to repeat and teach methods of “pre-suasion.