Microinstruction in Structured Documentation

Room 42 features conversations with academics about implications of techcomm research for professional and technical writers.

In this episode, Dr. Jason Swarts explains the practices of structured authoring, as a methodology for providing documentation in the form of structured, modular help topics.

Scheduled release date: July 19, 2022

In this episode

Dr. Jason Swarts is a professor of technical communication in the English Department at North Carolina State University. His research focuses on technological mediation of writing practices, the rhetoric of technology, workplace communication, and emerging genres of technical communication. His work has appeared in Technical Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and Technical Communication.

The practice of structured authoring, as a methodology for providing documentation in the form of structured, modular help topics that are easier to produce, review, revise, and consume than traditional book-based documentation comprised of chapters with highly cohesive sections.

We’ll talk about the user experience issues that arise from engaging with these topics as modular, non-hierarchical, and non-linearly accessed texts in an online space. Those issues include attention, information selection, ordering, processing, and navigation.

Dr. Swarts suggests that one way technical writers appear to have anticipated and responded to these user experience issues is to provide microinstruction, in the form of metadiscourse about how to interpret and use isolated topics while providing a sense of the broader task contexts into which topics can fit. We will discuss examples of such metadiscourse, how those subtle textual cues might guide readers, and how technical communicators might be more deliberate about how and why they make choices about metadiscourse.

Resources

Email: jswarts@ncsu.edu

Twitter: @swarts

Faculty Page: https://chass.ncsu.edu/people/jswarts/

Wicked, Incomplete, and Uncertain (Utah State Univ. Press) https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/3375-wicked-incomplete-and-uncertain

Coding Streams of Language (with Cheryl Geisler) (WAC Clearinghouse) https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/codingstreams/

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