How Technical Writing Builds Global Bridges

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Xiaoli Li explains how technical and professional writers can build bridges and improve communication in global contexts.

Airdate: July 21, 2021

Season 2 Episode 2 | 47 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:11.060] – Liz Fraley

Good morning, everyone. And welcome to Room 42. I’m Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions. I’m your moderator. This is Janice Summers from TC Camp. She’s our interviewer and welcome to Dr Xiaoli Li today’s guest in Room 42. Xiaoli is an Associate Professor of Professional and Technical Writing at the University of Dayton in Ohio. She teaches technical writing, business writing, writing for the Web, usability, and user experience. She’s fascinating in that during the winter intersessions of 2019 and 2020, she took students in her professional technical writing class in global context class to China and visited three universities and ten companies.

[00:00:55.480] – Liz Fraley

They met with 50 technical writers and conversed with 30 Chinese college students. She coordinates and conducted three writing teaching workshops in China in the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018. She received an MA in Scientific and Technical Communication from Bowling Green State University and a PhD in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design from Clemson University. Her research interests include technical communication in global contexts, technical writing pedagogy and program development, and collaboration between academia and industry. She regularly presents at technical and professional writing conferences, and she’s currently on sabbatical leave. And we’re grateful that she could interrupt her time to be here with us. She works with the China Technical Communication Alliance to promote the proposed Technical Writing Certification program in China. And today she’s here to help us start answering the question: How can writing professionals build bridges? Welcome.

[00:01:50.580] – Xiaoli Li

Thank you, Liz

[00:01:52.600] – Liz Fraley

I’m excited you’re here.

[00:01:53.340] – Xiaoli Li

Thank you, Janice. Thank you, Liz.

[00:01:55.330] – Janice Summers

Yes, Doctor Li. It’s a privilege to have you here. So you’ve got some really interesting publications out there and some other articles that I want to go and read about later about entrepreneurs, women, gender roles, and some cultural facets too. But today I’d like to talk to you about your book. Now you have a book, is it published or it’s up and coming soon to be published?

[00:02:22.140] – Xiaoli Li

The textbook is called Becoming a Technical Writer, which was published last year, last October in China, and it’s by Fudan University Press. Fudan University is one of the top universities in Shanghai.

[00:02:37.620] – Janice Summers

Right right, now is that available in the States as well or?

[00:02:43.160] – Xiaoli Li

No, I don’t think so. At this time.

[00:02:46.580] – Janice Summers

Okay at this time.

[00:02:47.710] – Xiaoli Li

Because of Covid and even I haven’t seen a copy. I don’t have a hard copy of this book yet. Well, in the next month, one of the student is going to bring a few copies to the US to me.

[00:03:01.330] – Janice Summers

Oh good.

[00:03:03.250] – Xiaoli Li

So I am gonna use that in my tech writing class in the fall semester.

[00:03:07.610] – Janice Summers

Oh, nice. Well, they’ll get the privilege of that. So talk to us about this book. It’s very interesting, the journey of this book and its origin like what inspired you to take on this project to write this book?

[00:03:24.480] – Xiaoli Li

Okay. First of all, I want to admit that this is not a single authored book, truly it’s a collaboration between the University professors of technical writing, translation professors and also practitioners of technical writers in China and one of our co-authors. She’s also the leading author is Monica Xie and she has experience working for IBM, Microsoft and another US company, a small tech writing company in Shanghai. And then currently she’s teaching. She’s doing lots of the teaching, technical writing class, teaching tech writing classes at Fudan University, Southeastern University, a number of universities in Shanghai, and also in Suzhou. And so for this book,  from Liz introduction, it said–she mentioned that my graduate degree was in scientific and technical communication from Bowling Green, and after I got my Masters, I went back to China because before I came to the US for the first time, I was already an instructor in the University and Foreign Language University in Xi’an.

[00:04:38.750] – Janice Summers

Oh okay.

[00:04:40.490] – Xiaoli Li

So they kept my teaching position. And so I was basically on a two-year leave and the day I went back to my University and the Department chair was very generous. And then when I talked about what I’m studying, and then she agreed that you’ll allow me to teach technical writing to the students or juniors in the English Department at Xi’an Foreign Language University. So I did that for one year, because technical writing was a new subject for students and everyone, and I didn’t have a textbook. And at that time, the textbook I was familiar with when I was a graduate student here in the US was  Mike Markel’s book, Mike’s book. And so Markel’s textbook, and I can’t remember which version of that. And so I had some copies, and I used some materials from that textbook. And it was interesting. There were some more like the students was harder to use the book because quite a number of things at that time, like almost 20 years ago is that were so different. And the students, a lot of students didn’t really need to write a resume or in-class exercises. And so when there was talking about, write a proposal about the parking lot or something.

[00:06:09.110] – Xiaoli Li

Those are the things that didn’t apply to my students. And then how many people drive at 20 years ago in a university. And so parking was not an issue at all.

[00:06:19.650] – Janice Summers

That’s interesting: context had a huge impact.

[00:06:23.020] – Xiaoli Li

Right, so we felt that well, in the last five years and as of five years ago, I had an assignment to write an article on the technical translation with Dr. Huiling Ding from North Carolina State University. And so we have to do the research. And we have to interview lots of the technical translators in China. And during that interview process, we’re talking with people, and when I was introducing myself saying we teach technical writing here, and then one of them and Professor Qiliang Cui (崔启亮) from the University in Beijing (University of International Business and Economics). And he’s an expert on localization.

[00:07:08.900] – Xiaoli Li

And he said, we do have a small community in China of technical writers. And so he introduced me to the community, the technical writer’s community in China. So since then, I’ve been working with hundreds of the technical writers on a daily basis by using WeChat as a main contact channel to communicate with each other. And so I always get the latest news and about what’s going on, and then people always ask the questions in the group chat. And now we found in the last three or four years, and then some universities began to teach, offer tech writing class, but the challenge has been that, well, there isn’t such a major in China, so we don’t have trained professors to teach the course, right?

[00:08:04.020] – Janice Summers


[00:08:05.370] – Xiaoli Li

The second thing is that not every University may find a practicing technical writer to walk into the classroom and to teach a class.

[00:08:15.660] – Janice Summers


[00:08:15.660] – Xiaoli Li

Still, a very limited number of the Universities are offering tech writing class. The second challenge main challenge is that there’s no textbook available for the Chinese students.

[00:08:30.600] – Janice Summers


[00:08:31.440] – Xiaoli Li

And so a number of us get together and we just thought that we need to write a textbook that’s for the Chinese students, especially the students in the Master’s program of Translation and interpretation in China, because that’s a growing field of study in China. They’re over 200 universities that are offering Masters in translation and interpretation, and so we decided to write a textbook for them because those are the people who are very likely to get technical translation job. And some of them would have changed to a technical writer in China.

[00:09:10.510] – Janice Summers


[00:09:10.931] – Liz Fraley


[00:09:10.940] – Xiaoli Li

That’s a group we found and then we decided to write the tex book in English because it’s a very common practice these days, even in lots of them, not only just like the IBM, Microsoft, we have offices in China. And then people have to write in English, but also the Chinese companies are also writing — creating the source text in English.

[00:09:40.580] – Janice Summers

In English.

[00:09:41.410] – Xiaoli Li

And because it’s much easier to translate from the source text in English to any other multiple languages than just translated from Chinese to many other languages. So it’s a cheaper process and the more effective, efficient process. And so we decided to write it in English, we decide to write for the MTI students, and also is that we want the textbook to more reflect the current tech writing practices in China.

[00:10:18.320] – Janice Summers


[00:10:18.320] – Xiaoli Li

That’s the book.

[00:10:20.470] – Janice Summers

Well, and also to reflect the context of coming from China and writing English right, so that they understand. Like you pointed out, some of the simple things that you just don’t think about, like the exercises. They need to be relevant for the population,

[00:10:36.940] – Xiaoli Li

That’s true. Mmhm.

[00:10:38.400] – Janice Summers

Which should make a huge impact for people’s comprehension, because you don’t have to explain the concept of a parking lot. You can use examples that relate directly to the community.

[00:10:51.810] – Xiaoli Li

And so the book was published last October.  I know a number of schools, the school in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an. And they have already adopted this book as their textbook when they teach the tech writing class. And the textbook now is being used in Chinese universities, mostly to the MTI students.

[00:11:20.120] – Janice Summers

Right. to author– sorry, go ahead. You’re going to say something?

[00:11:27.150] – Xiaoli Li

No, I was trying to say is that, almost — still technical writing is only an elective course for some of the universities who do offer a class. And that’s why there’s not a system or a collection or cluster of tech writing classes. This might be the only class for most of the universities. This might be the only class the students will be taking and before they are getting a job, and trying to consider a job in technical writing.

[00:12:05.630] – Janice Summers


[00:12:07.620] – Liz Fraley

Right, and the context examples, that’s not the only way your book is different, right?

[00:12:15.420] – Xiaoli Li

Right, right and I think that I’m familiar with textbooks used here in the US and they went through like ten different textbooks, and most of the tech writing textbooks are designed and not really for the majors in professional and technical writing. And it’s more like a very good textbook for the service learning courses, in service learning courses in technical writing, for engineers, for business students. And so in this case, well, most of the textbooks are written by professors in the US or there are also a number of the textbooks and are written by practitioners. But then that’s totally different from the other textbooks, and two different kinds of the textbooks here are being used in the US. So the topics covered in the textbook, in the US textbooks, most of them would cover similar things, like the basics about technical writing and they move on to the different types of the documents we create. Instructions, proposals, reports, resume. And then our textbook was not organized in that way, and instead, we do have five modules or five chapters or five sections and so we followed the documentation, production-creation process.

[00:13:42.730] – Xiaoli Li

And so we do have a planning section, we have the developing section, we have the reviewing section, and then we have the final delivering section. And especially when it comes to the developing part, and we trying to reflect the current practice? And when people lots of the bigger companies are using the structured authoring and the traditional company are still doing a simplified, like the technical English, STE, and also is that a lot, especially when we do the professional writing, we talk about the plain language. So those are all the content we included as one chapter or one major section, in one let’s say module of the book and under developing.

[00:14:39.299] – Janice Summers


[00:14:39.372] – Liz Fraley


[00:14:39.380] – Xiaoli Li

So those are some of the differences of our textbook from the textbooks used here in the US.

[00:14:48.610] – Janice Summers


[00:14:49.180] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, that’s a huge addition, because I don’t know that — how many programs even here have a structured authoring as a major or even like a minor module in the degree program, learn and teach once you’re in a practicing position.

[00:15:11.480] – Xiaoli Li

Right, well if it’s a tech writing program, if they have a department, they have a four year program or is a master level program, and it could be one of the courses and I do know a number of the schools like the Virginia Tech they may have or the Texas Tech, they may have a course on structured authoring, but not every school could afford that kind of — the people to teach that or is that well, they have the student population, for example, at University of Dayton we don’t have such a huge group of the students who are focusing on the technical writing, and typically it’s not covered. We focus more on the business, right? Because that’s a required course for our students.

[00:16:00.660] – Janice Summers

So now, you went around, you traveled to author this book, right? You did — what was the process that you went through? And your collaborative team right, this isn’t just you. Like you said, you work with the team, which is– I think working with others makes things a lot stronger, so tell us about that process.

[00:16:23.580] – Xiaoli Li

The collaboration is that this happened last summer. Well, the process was for a number of– a year or two, but last summer we really focused on producing the text, developing the text. The planning stage was longer. That started two years ago, three years ago.

[00:16:40.670] – Janice Summers

Okay, Because I was going to say.. wait, last summer to now–that’s fast.

[00:16:47.100] – Xiaoli Li

No, no, no last summer was more like we — last spring we started already the reviewing process in my technical editing class and I asked my students to read some chapters of the book. Just as a way to see well, this was kind of like to understand kind of like — well, textbook or the text written by the non-native speakers of English and in English. So he said well if it’s an English reader and then what kind of things? It’s more like we apply the editing process and then to examine the text. But then this time is focused on the text written by the L2 own learners.

[00:17:37.800] – Xiaoli Li

Okay, but there are five of us, and then three of us are in China in Shanghai area, and then two of us are in the US, and then Professor Joe is at Metropolitan State University, so we used email, WeChat, and phone calls to stay connected, and then we also used the shared tools and the different–we tried quite a number of the software, all the tools available for the collaborative writing, because Professor Joe and I can use Google Docs, but the other people cannot use Google Docs.

[00:18:27.240] – Janice Summers


[00:18:27.240] – Xiaoli Li

So we have to use a tool in China, but sometimes we don’t have the very easy access and so it’s always someone doing this kind of forwarding the documents that have been created and then to us and then for the review. We do have– like for the other chapters or the sections, and then each person is responsible for one, but then the other two will be reviewers, it’s like the peer review, and then for that section, and then we have a schedule, a Zoom meeting we discuss, and then what needs to be taken away and — several rounds of those kind of the review sessions and the editing and discussion sessions. So that was mostly how we collaborated. It was not that easy, and definitely it’s different from like, single authoring.

[00:19:28.360] – Janice Summers

Oh, yeah. Always takes a lot more time, a lot more patience in waiting. We also have huge time differences.

[00:19:39.760] – Xiaoli Li

Right, 12 hours or 13 hours time difference. Yeah.

[00:19:44.330] – Janice Summers

Yeah, so now you often will take students traveling around with you.

[00:19:49.860] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah. I mean, I have been at the University of Dayton for 9 years and I have been pretty lucky and so almost every summer, I had the opportunity to teach abroad, we have the study abroad programs. And so I’ve taken students to Europe and then there was one year in London and Dublin, there was one — twice, I’ve taken students to Germany and Austria and Czech Republic. And so for the summer six weeks faculty-led study programs, and those are mostly business school students and they are taking– typically those students would take one business class and then one business writing class.

[00:20:37.105] – Janice Summers


[00:20:37.510] – Xiaoli Li

And in the last two winter breaks, I had the opportunity to take the students to China during the winter intersessions. And so I teach about professional and technical writing class, in global contexts. And so the class is divided into two parts. In the fall semester, we met five times and then to go through the basic concepts in– about localization, translation and user experience. And then during the ten days, two weeks during the winter break, right after Christmas. And then we would travel to China. And then that’s a very intensive program. So we travel from one city to another like from Beijing to Suzhou to Shanghai to Hangzhou or from Beijing to Shenzhen to Hangzhou to Shanghai and come back to the US, and so we visit different companies.

[00:21:34.070] – Janice Summers

That is an action pack… That’s–

[00:21:36.340] – Liz Fraley

That is.

[00:21:36.850] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah so, that was not only good for students professional development and to learn more about technical writing. And then they’re taking the class for credit hours, and also it was quite a cultural experience for the students when we travel in China because they have to — they tried all kinds of things, and, like visited different sites and try different food traveled by train, used the — they cannot use their US phones, and so they have to figure out how to — we have to stay connected of the group because there are 17 students traveled with me the first time, and it’s a big group.

[00:22:20.120] – Janice Summers

That is a big group.

[00:22:24.010] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah and also–

[00:22:25.240] – Janice Summers

You know when you’re talking about localization, I mean what a better eye opener than to actually go and experience. I like the fact that you put them through experiencing the culture, not just talking to people, but experiencing it. But you mentioned food, which you know what does food have to do with technical writing? Well, part of the culture is the food that we eat and all of that colorful experience. That immersion into it.

[00:22:57.750] – Xiaoli Li

Mmhmm. Very interesting. Like, we don’t know when we first came to the US, we had no idea what fortune cookies are.

[00:23:05.256] – Janice Summers

Yeah, they were invented in LA.

[00:23:08.790] – Xiaoli Li

And for my students is that.. When we traveled to China, they were surprised to see that how Pizza Hut operates in China. McDonalds. How McDonalds operate in China. So Pizza Hut in some places, it’s like a fancy five star hotel, that kind of the restaurant and that kind of level sit down and then you can order different things. And then the Chinese, well, some of the menu also changed.

[00:23:41.260] – Janice Summers

Yes. It has to.

[00:23:42.200] – Xiaoli Li

They localized a version of their menu and that fits that particular customer group, and so one of my students said that: I read a whole lot about — heard a lot about localization, but once I got to China and I listened to the lectures, and finally I got to know all what that is.

[00:24:04.420] – Janice Summers


[00:24:04.420] – Janice Summers

It’s funny that you bring up like a large chain because any country that you go to where a large chain has come from, like predominantly America, and they go into another country and they have to adapt to the culture there, and it is interesting how they do change things. So you go to different countries, and it’s not always the same, the perception of it is not always the same.

[00:24:35.600] – Janice Summers

And that feeds right back into technical communication. When we’re trying to write technical content, it crosses borders and boundaries, it’s global. Whether you realize it or not. What you’re writing could be read by somebody in any country on the planet, right?

[00:24:55.310] – Xiaoli Li

That’s true.

[00:24:56.150] – Janice Summers

And there are things that we need to consider in context.

[00:25:01.440] – Xiaoli Li


[00:25:02.650] – Liz Fraley

What a great example for them to experience with you. Somebody wrote those menus, somebody who’s thinking about the user experience and the content. There is a technical writer in that chain somewhere.

[00:25:17.370] – Janice Summers

Yeah, so the business writers start to understand and appreciate what technical writing is about. I think even in the states, I think we still have to answer that question for a lot of people. What are technical writers?

[00:25:36.310] – Xiaoli Li

Right, and also interesting was that– two years ago when we visited Alibaba, there were two technical writers. They were non-Chinese. They were from — one is from Great Britain, the other one was from the US, and so the students talked with them. And so we had a few hours with them, and then they were talking about working as a technical writer in China. And so more is from non-Chinese perspective and how they fit in the Chinese company, because Alibaba is a complete Chinese company. And how they fit there, how they collaborate with people, and what they look like.

[00:26:22.129] – Janice Summers


[00:26:23.020] – Xiaoli Li

So it’s different if I’m talking with other technical writers working for the US companies or Chinese technical writers who are Chinese, who are currently working for the Chinese companies, right? You may have

[00:26:36.940] – Janice Summers

It all gets kind of confusing

[00:26:36.940] – Xiaoli Li

–different expectations and different experiences.

[00:26:42.630] – Janice Summers


[00:26:42.630] – Xiaoli Li

So that was for some that was just a learn quite a bit. It’s not just what I’m telling them, but they learn from other sources.

[00:26:53.460] – Janice Summers


[00:26:54.650] – Janice Summers

And it’s interesting how Alibaba, for example, knew that they needed technical writers.

[00:27:01.770] – Xiaoli Li

They have a huge team, and one of the documentation team is headed now by someone who started working as a tech– he has a degree in computer science. And then he started as a technical writer at Microsoft, like 20 years ago. And he led the Microsoft documentation team for quite a number of years. And it’s about, I think that four years ago, five years ago, and he started the team at Alibaba.

[00:27:44.260] – Liz Fraley


[00:27:44.260] – Xiaoli Li

So I would say that Microsoft, IBM and these big US companies did train lots of the technical writers on the job. So they hired the people who were English majors in College, or who were computer science majors. And then they started their first job as a technical writer and with guidance of other experienced technical writers in the US and then moved right in. And even today, like for IBM, we visited them in IBM in Shanghai. And so when they have the intern, they have the internship positions for the students. And it’s at least a three months or six months internship opportunity for students.

[00:28:35.570] – Xiaoli Li

And then once they get the full time position, and then those people would come to the US. I think it’s Houston on the Dallas area– somewhere in Texas. And then they would go through a six week training — very specialized training on the design thinking. So that’s different practices.

[00:28:59.110] – Janice Summers

Yeah, we had Jason in Room 42,

[00:29:02.980] – Liz Fraley

and Emma Rose, too.

[00:29:04.630] – Janice Summers

–talking about design thinking. I think, you know Jason.

[00:29:07.430] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah I do. Jason and I taught in China one summer, and it’s at Guangdong University of Foreign Language and Foreign Trade. And then we — the five of us Tharon Howard, and Jason, Me, and then Kurt, and also  Sam Dragga. Five of us taught five classes in one summer to the MTI students in the School of Translation in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.

[00:29:47.760] – Janice Summers

Oh, interesting.

[00:29:50.930] – Xiaoli Li

2019 we were there.

[00:29:55.040] – Janice Summers

What a fun collaboration, yeah. Small world.

[00:29:59.140] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah. I organized that program. It’s kind of like a small program. Well, we were expected to go back in fall of 2020, but then nothing happened last year–

[00:30:16.550] – Janice Summers

As it happens.

[00:30:17.450] – Xiaoli Li

Yes, yes, yes. We haven’t done anything yet.

[00:30:19.910] – Janice Summers

Maybe next year.

[00:30:22.480] – Xiaoli Li

I hope so. Yeah, I hope we can do that. Yeah, Covid changed so many things.

[00:30:32.920] – Liz Fraley

So you’ve got students on their way here though, this next year?

[00:30:37.930] – Xiaoli Li

Yes, we have had the exchange program with one of the universities in China– it’s Shanghai Normal University. Those students are in mechanical engineer and technology or in the electrical engineering — electrical and computer engineering. They are coming to the US for their last year to complete the Capstone projects. So it’s a collaboration between the two engineering schools and then we do have the tech writing classes for them. And so we do offer a tech writing class to this group of the students in the fall semester and in the summer, and we teach a class– it’s more reading and writing in American universities and which is the course I’m teaching right now.

[00:31:26.840] – Liz Fraley

And you found something interesting happening because the students are coming here and they are learning communication, they stay. It’s been a huge thing for the University.

[00:31:41.330] – Xiaoli Li

Surprisingly, we felt that we have this kind of three plus one program. And then the students are here just for one year. They come here to finish their Capstone projects, and then as it turns out that 80% of them would stay in the US to pursue our master’s degree or PhD and either at University Dayton or they would go apply to some other programs in the US. So but that’s like, 50 or 60 of them would have stayed — percent of them would have stayed at the University of Dayton for a Master’s degree, which for the University was really a good thing.

[00:32:27.800] – Liz Fraley


[00:32:29.390] – Janice Summers

These are people you’re teaching ready to– who come from engineering. So it’s not their core focus. That’s interesting.

[00:32:37.410] – Xiaoli Li

No. Yeah, technical writing is not their–

[00:32:42.110] – Janice Summers

Not their main focus.

[00:32:42.790] – Xiaoli Li

No, no, no.

[00:32:44.320] – Janice Summers

But it helps them to understand how to communicate. So they may be in a company as an engineer that has a technical writing team, but having that foundational knowledge, I imagine helps improve the experience for the technical writers that they’ll be working with.

[00:33:05.460] – Xiaoli Li

Right, and that’s the idea. And also it’s that their engineering professors would always talk about technical writing skills, technical writing a number of ways, and then how you’re going to talk with experts and then how you’re going –especially sometimes you do have to give a presentation or the proposal to the non-technical audience and the different ways and how you’re going to find out what kind of background information your non-technical audience knows and what kind of information they might need. That kind of rhetorical analysis of the context or the purpose as well as the audience, is also very important for them.

[00:33:50.260] – Janice Summers


[00:33:50.260] – Xiaoli Li

So tech writing classes and also in the summer class, and they do receive training in those areas.

[00:33:58.800] – Liz Fraley

Are you finding a new — are you finding better relationships, interest, more connection between engineers and the technical writer since they had these experiences?

[00:34:14.600] – Xiaoli Li


[00:34:15.400] – Liz Fraley

With professional writers in their organizations and in their future, like, are you seeing engineers sort of understand and appreciate or grow relationships? Are you seeing any of them want to be tech writers?

[00:34:28.880] – Janice Summers

Have you converted anyone?

[00:34:31.320] – Xiaoli Li

Almost, almost. And it was about two years ago, two years ago, one group there were eight students from Shanghai Normal and then two of them came to me and talk with me quite a number of times, thinking and said, well, I have a background in engineering. And then what about doing the technical writing? And so that when I go back to China, I can find a job as a technical writer. And so compared with other students, and then they kind of have the advantage because they have taken the tech writing classes and also in my particular class and then I asked them to interview some of the tech writers in China to learn about their job and their background and how they became a technical writer, and so that helped them. And I guess those are the kind of like the reasons they were considering becoming —  to study technical writing. And then they didn’t because there wasn’t any kind of funding or opportunities in our tech writing program. And so they have decided to go with engineering management instead of technical writing.

[00:35:51.050] – Liz Fraley

Interesting. And opening up a whole new career path for people who didn’t — like that’s a battle we fight everywhere. A lot of people don’t realize this is a–Sorry, go ahead.

[00:36:08.980] – Janice Summers

No, I was just going to say that might be an interesting research project to do in the future is follow these people who have been through the program– engineers, they go on to be engineers– and see as their career progresses, how that informed or shaped their career as an engineer because they appreciate things from a technical writing perspective. I just think that would be an interesting research.

[00:36:35.040] – Xiaoli Li

I do have a student in the tech writing class, and I taught him in 2014, and recently he got promoted. And I saw that on the LinkedIn, and then a few days later, I got a LinkedIn message from him and he was talking about– he works for G.E. and he’s an engineer. And he was saying that the engineers do write a lot, and you do have to apply those kind of technical writing skills for the daily writing practice.

[00:37:11.460] – Janice Summers

Well right. Well yeah, because like you said, you’re going to have to present your ideas. Even if you’re an engineer, you’re going to have to present, right?

[00:37:22.500] – Xiaoli Li


[00:37:22.500] – Janice Summers

And you’re going to have to present technical information to people who might not be so technically savvy.

[00:37:28.370] – Xiaoli Li


[00:37:29.270] – Janice Summers


[00:37:29.649] – Xiaoli Li

That’s true.

[00:37:30.630] – Liz Fraley

Well, you’ve got a document what you did and why you did it, that institutional knowledge has to be stored somewhere outside of your own head.

[00:37:40.540] – Xiaoli Li


[00:37:41.990] – Liz Fraley

Right. I wanted to get back to one more question. We’re running out of time, but I have to get that one more thing. Did you say earlier that you use your book in the editing class? The students were part of the– kind of were reviewers and editors?

[00:37:58.360] – Xiaoli Li

Yes, that was before — that was last spring last spring semester, right before– while we were still developing the text and so it’s not the entire book, but only sections of the book.

[00:38:15.480] – Janice Summers

Parts of it.

[00:38:16.820] – Xiaoli Li

Parts of it, and then we had the Zoom meeting with all the authors and then with the students, and then they kind of learned the entire background of the context why we’re doing what we’re trying to achieve, and then went through the text and they provide comments.

[00:38:37.770] – Liz Fraley

What an incredible opportunity.

[00:38:38.670] – Janice Summers

Yeah. It’s a great way to get good practical, real experience.

[00:38:43.700] – Liz Fraley

And to see it from all the points of view like to really see what it looks like from all the different perspectives. That’s amazing. You should do that again.

[00:38:53.510] – Janice Summers

Write another book, get another collaboration for another book.

[00:39:01.410] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah to see that kind of collaboration at that kind of the level. So as with writers and with editors, well the editors of different levels and from different backgrounds as well, yeah.

[00:39:16.420] – Liz Fraley

And all the way through the process, writing non-native written English and seeing it through transl–

[00:39:23.360] – Janice Summers

I just thought it’s like a tongue-tie-r. But it’s fascinating. From my perspective, is very fascinating that you’re writing a textbook and technical writing in China, in English for Chinese writers that are going to write in English.

[00:39:43.810] – Xiaoli Li


[00:39:48.920] – Janice Summers

Wow. You know, when you think about it, It’s like a mind twister, but then when you think about– when you settle in and you think about– like you pointed out from the very beginning, context is everything. And if you’re trying to write a textbook to teach a population, how much more impactful it is if you write it from the perspective of the context of the learners, right?

[00:40:12.210] – Xiaoli Li


[00:40:12.210] – Janice Summers

So in technical writing, we’re writing for our learners, right? That’s our audience, our learners. We’re trying to tell them how to use their smartphone, but they’re learners. So everybody is a learner so I just find that fascinating.

[00:40:28.880] – Xiaoli Li

Yeah so that’s what we said in the preface of the book. I said, well we use the user-centered approach, and then we do– well, trying to go through the process. It’s more like that we have the persona, we have a very specified audience because audience analysis is so important in technical writing, right?

[00:40:54.250] – Janice Summers


[00:40:54.250] – Xiaoli Li

And it will always come to that same audience group that we’re writing, speaking to them directly.

[00:41:00.420] – Janice Summers

Yeah and really, I mean, it makes the whole definition of localization like it really takes on a new meaning, a new depth. It’s not just translating words into another language. It’s context, context, context, user–

[00:41:18.860] – Xiaoli Li


[00:41:19.910] – Janice Summers

Yes, yeah. Interesting.

[00:41:25.360] – Liz Fraley


[00:41:26.460] – Liz Fraley

Thank you for sharing with us.

[00:41:28.630] – Janice Summers


[00:41:29.440] – Janice Summers

And it’s been such a delight talking to you. And I can’t wait for a follow-up because it’s going to be used in text in classes this fall right?

[00:41:39.760] – Xiaoli Li


[00:41:40.780] – Janice Summers

Yeah, so I’ll have to have a follow-up with you to find out. How is it going?

[00:41:44.710] – Xiaoli Li

Well, the thing is that my students, they’re not the target users of this book, but then I want to — it’s really from the other angle to look at– expected to look at this book.

[00:41:58.640] – Janice Summers

Yes. Well, you’re in touch with all of the students who are using it.

[00:42:04.640] – Xiaoli Li

Right, right, right.

[00:42:04.640] – Janice Summers

It was written for them, so you’re still in touch with them.

[00:42:08.720] – Xiaoli Li

Right, yeah.

[00:42:11.830] – Liz Fraley

And you know I wonder about– I would love — as soon as it’s ready in the US, I would like it right? You know that’s the thing.

[00:42:22.780] – Janice Summers

Liz and I want a copy

[00:42:24.000] – Liz Fraley

I may not be the target audience, but I can always learn things even from the contexts that are not aimed at me. That way sometimes we learn more.

[00:42:32.700] – Janice Summers

And that’s a good point that you bring up, because I joke with Liz a lot about Liz you’re not the target audience.

[00:42:40.780] – Liz Fraley

For so many things.

[00:42:41.200] – Janice Summers

you have a perspective on something I’m like okay, clear, you’re not the target. But even though we’re not the target, I think it would be fascinating and interesting.

[00:42:49.600] – Liz Fraley

You learn from that.

[00:42:51.130] – Janice Summers

To study that textbook. Yeah, we learn even if we’re not the target, we’ll learn.

[00:42:56.160] – Liz Fraley

Well, you learn about your context.

[00:42:59.400] – Janice Summers


[00:42:59.400] – Xiaoli Li

Right. And also, as a Confucius said, when the three are together. We always can learn something from each other.

[00:43:08.350] – Janice Summers

Exactly. This is very true, very true.

[00:43:13.950] – Liz Fraley

And a perfect way to end.

[00:43:13.950] – Janice Summers

Yes, it has been such a delight talking to Dr. Li and I really would love to have you back again.

[00:43:20.690] – Xiaoli Li

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for having me today. Really enjoyed the Room 42.

In this episode

Dr. Xiaoli Li is an Associate Professor of Professional and Technical Writing at University of Dayton, Ohio. She teaches technical writing, business writing, writing for the Web, usability and UX. During the winter intersessions of 2019 and 2020, she took students in her professional and technical writing in global contexts class to China and visited three universities and 10 companies. They met with over 50 technical writers and conversed with 30 Chinese college students. She coordinated and conducted three technical writing teaching workshops in Xi’an and Suzhou in the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Xiaoli received an MA in Scientific & Technical Communication from Bowling Green State University and a Ph D in Rhetorics, Communication and Information Design from Clemson University. Her research interests include technical communication in global contexts, technical writing pedagogy and program development, and collaboration between academia and industry. She regularly presents at professional and technical writing conferences. Currently she is on sabbatical leave. She works with China Technical Communication Alliance to promote the proposed technical writing certification program.

Xiaoli has delivered the first Technical Communications textbook for Chinese techcomm students, written by Chinese writers, in English. This textbook is the first to cover structured authoring for students, trying to help students get closer to current practices. And, in a world where most content is written in English then translated to other languages, it’s the first of its kind and it’s helping to grow a community of technical writers in China. In this session, we discuss Dr. Li’s book, the journey that led her to create it, and the lessons learned while expanding foundational knowledge for new and transitioning technical communicators around the world.


Xiaoli Li on LinkedIN:李晓黎/

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