Relevance + Accessibility = Value

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Rebekka Andersen, University of California Davis explains how practitioners can extract value from academic research and increase the relevance of research in their own professional work.

Airdate: September 16, 2020

Season 1 Episode 6 | 47 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:13.600] – Liz Fraley

Welcome to Room42. I’m Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions. I’m your moderator. This is Janice Summers, our interviewer. And welcome to Rebekka Anderson. Today’s guest in Room42. Rebekka has a PhD in Professional Writing and she’s an Associate Professor at the University writing program at the University of California Davis. She teaches courses in professional and technical communication and serves as the associate director for professional writing. Her research focuses on the implications and content management practices for education and research in technical communication, as well as strategies for building stronger connections between academia and industry.

[00:00:53.890] – Liz Fraley

Today, she’s here to help us start answering the questions. What do practitioners think about academic research and how can they extract more value from it? Welcome, Rebekka.

[00:01:05.500] – Rebekka Anderson

Welcome. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:08.220] – Janice Summers

We’re very excited to have you here today. Yeah, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. And the topic of your study is of great interest to us. Because after all, that’s what Room42 is about, it’s trying to help bridge that gap between academia and practitioners. So you are the expert on this topic.

[00:01:33.640] – Rebekka Anderson

Don’t know about expert, but certainly interested in the topic.

[00:01:36.250] – Janice Summers

Well, right, and you’ve done research in this very topic. So tell us about the research work that you did. And you did this with JoAnn Hackos

[00:01:48.230] – Rebekka Anderson

Yes. So JoAnn and I a couple of years ago, I think maybe it’s a few years now, Mike Albers published a special issue in Technical Communication, which is STC’s journal. And that issue focused on communication of research between practitioners and academics. And that got JoAnn and I really thinking about, well, what do practitioners really think about academic research? The issue had some really excellent articles in it. But one of the questions I didn’t really get at was the perspectives and experiences of practitioners reading academic research and kind of the extent to which they’re finding it useful. So what JoAnn and I did is we put together a survey in which our goal was to really learn from practitioners about what are they reading? Why are they reading it? What are they not reading? What do they find useful? What do they not find useful? And what suggestions do they have for how we can improve the communication of our research?

[00:02:45.100] – Janice Summers

Right, so it wasn’t just, you know, hey, what’s your overall thought? It was really actually. What are you reading?

[00:02:52.090] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:02:52.620] – Janice Summers

 Yeah, so people dive into it. Not just a quick survey. OK.

[00:02:59.110] – Rebekka Anderson

 Yeah. And one of the things we did that’s a little different than I think from some of the other surveys that have been out there, is we both knew that probably the majority of those who are completing our survey don’t know much about academic research and aren’t regular readers of it. So what we did is we included 18 titles of articles that have been published in six different journals at the time, the most recent issues.

[00:03:23.170] – Rebekka Anderson

And we also included abstracts. I believe we did three abstracts from each of our six main journals for a total of 18 abstracts. So we are asking those who are completing the surveys to read the titles and to let us know, like, are you very interested? Somewhat interested? Or not interested? And then we gave them an opportunity to also explain their response. So we did that for both the titles and the abstracts and we received a lot of qualitative feedback. People were more than happy to share their thoughts about those abstracts and titles. So that was really interesting for us, and then what we did as a follow up to the survey, we did a series of interviews with 11 managers and consultants, but also people who regularly serve as reviewers for our journals or are on the editorial boards. So these are people who have actually quite a bit of experience in academic publishing

[00:04:14.800] – Janice Summers


[00:04:16.240] – Rebekka Anderson

So that was our follow up to the survey and we, you know these poor people, we asked them to read, I believe it was a total of 12 articles from the six different journals, as well as a number of articles from our trade journals. And then we interviewed them about their experiences going through that process and asking for ideas and suggestions.

[00:04:37.620] – Liz Fraley

And did you guys put the abstracts together or did you use the ones that the writers had put together with the title?

[00:04:44.700] – Rebekka Anderson

We did the original abstracts and so they were anonymous. We did not let on which journals they were found or who the authors or the researchers were. Yeah.

[00:04:55.470] – Liz Fraley

So kind of testing out how well academics are writing titles and abstracts too.

[00:05:00.720] – Rebekka Anderson

Definitey, that was one of our big takeaways, kind of rethinking the title and an abstract as more or less the sales pitch. Right, for the research because a lot of people who aren’t in academia, you don’t have access to write the full articles. You have access to the title in the abstract. So if we don’t do a good job really articulating the value and significance of the research to more than an audience of academics. There’s a very little chance someone’s going to want to purchase that article or read the entire review.

[00:05:37.160] – Liz Fraley

Back in July, we had George Heyhoe from Mercer and he mentioned that at least in the journal he edits, Professional Technical Communications that IEEE

[00:05:52.400] – Liz Fraley

 Yeah I hope I’m getting the name right

[00:05:53.480] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:05:57.140] – Liz Fraley

There you go

[00:05:57.140] – Liz Fraley

He said that they always included a practitioner’s take away in their article. Are you finding that everywhere or is that a growing trend or like I didn’t even know that was in there?

[00:06:14.270] – Rebekka Anderson

No, that’s a good question. As far as I know, two of our journals do have practitioner takeaways. So one is the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. And that journal focuses on applied research. So that makes a lot of sense and then STC’s Technical Communication. They’ve had a practitioner’s take away for a very long time. But for IEEE Transactions, that’s a fairly new, I guess, addition to the journal. It’s only been in the last, I think, two years under Georges’ editorship, that’s been something we require of authors.

[00:06:50.140] – Liz Fraley

Interesting well, it sounds like that would be a nice thing to put in the abstract or two. Like here are the things you’re going to pick up from there.

[00:06:59.940] – Janice Summers


[00:07:00.300] – Rebekka Anderson

Because if it’s inside, you’re not going to know.

[00:07:02.820] – Rebekka Anderson

Right, right.

[00:07:04.660] – Janice Summers

That’s the first place that can capture someone’s attention.

[00:07:08.560] – Rebekka Anderson

Right. And that’s one of the suggestions that we saw our respondents to the survey, but also our interviewees from the series of interviews we conducted. By and large, most of those people we talked to wanted to see within the abstract better articulation of the takeaways for practitioner readers. And also potentially even kind of talking through perhaps some use cases or like put it in some teasers of what some use cases might be or how that research might be applied.

[00:07:42.150] – Liz Fraley

Oh, that’s an interesting one. Teasers of use cases. Sorry. Go ahead, Janice.

[00:07:46.080] – Janice Summers

No, what I just going to ask different, I just had a question. How do you even select, how do people even select what they’re going to research on? Right, because, I mean, what the goal… I know, I think what is the goal for someone to do research? Are there a couple of competing goals from the academia end?

[00:08:11.430] – Rebekka Anderson

I think there’s many, many factors at play. What one chooses to research often has a lot to do with which academic program they’ve come from, what their dissertation research was focused on, who they were working with while completing their PhD. So for some people in the field, they’re really interested in examining workplace practice and doing empirical studies and perhaps they have extensive training in conducting qualitative or quantitative studies. Others in the field are more interested in questions of, well,  interdisciplinary is one, but disciplinary like who we are as a field. What are our research methods?  What questions are we asking? And then others are researching pedagogy, like how are we teaching professional writing, editing, technical communication, content strategy in our courses, what are our best practices? And then we have a pretty significant body of research, especially within the last few years on social justice. And really looking at questions that we’ve asked before through a different lens of equity and inclusion and as we know in the field, there’s a lot of research on accessibility that’s been growing as well. So it’s wide-ranging and it really depends on, I think, somebody’s background, but also their institutional context. Are they primarily teaching or are they primarily a researcher or do they have a balance? And how much time do you have right, to conduct empirical research versus perhaps an analytical study?

[00:09:54.550] – Liz Fraley

Are there, is there a university influence to that too, like do certain researchers at different universities have different, is there a focus that’s attached in that way?

[00:10:05.380] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, I mean, in terms of institutional context, I would say those researchers, especially who are on the tenure track and who are pre-tenure and there’s the whole publish-or-perish pressure. So there’s a lot of being really focused on the end goal in terms of tenure and promotion. And so there’s often not a lot of time to conduct empirical studies. And workplace studies do take a lot more time because there’s a lot of set-up, right? There’s a lot of getting things in place, a lot of collaboration and then analysis. And then the whole publishing process can be one to two years once you’ve submitted an article. So that’s always a factor at play. There’s also I mean, that’s kind of the rewards factor. Gaining access to work-place sites is another factor. Sometimes that could be a real barrier to conducting research. And then some institutions, there’s a lot of pressure to get grants to really focus on getting participating more, I mean, in a disciplinary research teams that aren’t necessarily just technical professional communication. So really there’s a lot of factors, I would say, at play. But generally as a field, we do have every few years there’s usually an article that comes out that’s trying to bring us together and think you through what our research questions were asking, what is our research agenda as a field. So that kind of keeps us. You know, there’s cohesion there in terms of what we’re researching.

[00:11:30.340] – Janice Summers

So we could think of all different universities that come together, I missed that a little bit.

[00:11:36.070] – Rebekka Anderson

It’s not a matter of universities coming together, although there have been a couple of initiatives in the past. But they’re like, for example, Carolyn Rude, she’s now retired, but she’s published, on occasion while she was still a researcher, she published an article in 2009 called Mapping the Research Questions in the Field. And so she did an extensive look at what had been published. I don’t know if it was a 10 year period. But what she was able to tease out is our research primarily has focused on, at the time practice, pedagogy, disciplinarity, and social change. Like those were kind of the buckets and in those buckets, there are a series of questions. But I can say that one initiative that I’ve always thought was really kind of a cool thing I’d love to see done again. This was in the year 2000 that Rachel Spilka was kind of a spearheader of the initiative. Now I’m forgetting what they called it. But the idea was it was at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and a lot of practitioners were invited to come and also some prominent research in the field to sit down at a table over a couple of days and really talk through research in the field. What are the questions we should be asking? What are the needs in the workplace for the kinds of studies we need to be conducting? So really trying to map out an outline questions that those of us in the field who conduct research can write and perhaps develop studies to explore.

[00:13:08.380] – Liz Fraley


[00:13:09.680] – Janice Summers

Because ultimately you want to be investing in a research. I mean, sure, even if you’re on the pre-tenure track or you’re on track to become tenured, you do want to do research that’s of value to people, to practitioners right, so that’s pretty cool.

[00:13:29.380] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, we have a lot. I mean, the field, as you know, is incredibly diverse. So the research that’s being published, it ranges from intercultural communication to focusing on ethics to usability and user experience, content strategy, collaborative writing, editing. So it’s very wide-ranging and very diverse.

[00:13:49.760] – Liz Fraley

It is.

[00:13:50.650] – Janice Summers

One of the fields that touches, like, everything.

[00:13:54.640] – Liz Fraley

It does.

[00:13:55.010] – Janice Summers

Everything and somebody asked… who’s not in the field and ask where are writers? I’m like, well, they touch your life in every single way. That little aspirin bottle, that was the technical writer.

[00:14:11.850] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:14:12.170] – Liz Fraley

Somebody wrote those instructions.

[00:14:15.400] – Janice Summers

If you’ve got an IKEA, that was a writer that was involved, there’s writers, they are in everything.

[00:14:22.730] – Liz Fraley


[00:14:23.470] – Janice Summers


[00:14:23.840] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah. Well, one of the things we learned in our study is the majority of those who we talked to and completed the survey were interested in research. They really did see that research has potential value. So very interested in topics that were relevant and also feel, in many of the topics they were looking at in those titles and abstracts, appeared to be relevant. And so the challenge for them was, OK, this looks potentially really interesting and relevant, but it’s really hard to parse, and I’m not sure what the takeaways are. Given the way the abstract and title are written and then those who we interviewed too read the articles had the same kind of take away. Like, so that comes back to us on our end on how are we thinking about audience? Right? How are we thinking about our different audiences , since our journals do have as their stated aims, right? That we’re publishing our practices and trends and problems in the field with the goal of meeting the needs of readers in both academia and industry. So we’ve done as researchers a really good job of talking to other researchers. But we can do better, I think, take some strategic steps to meet the needs of all of our readers.

[00:15:37.750] – Liz Fraley

I’m just curious. Well, I was curious, something about the way you said it. When you were looking at the titles and the abstracts, what kind of, what articles were you using and who were you asking questions? Were you all talking to techcomm articles, to techcomm professionals, were you talking about medical researchers who have done it? Who were you talking to?

[00:15:58.700] – Rebekka Anderson

Good question. So we recruited practicing technical communicators. So those in the field who identify as technical communicators. So we had people who were information developers, right. Who were actual technical writers or editors or content strategists, content engineers. So those were the people who completed the survey.

[00:16:21.220] – Janice Summers

And they came from a variety of…

[00:16:24.070] – Liz Fraley

People who should know how to read and write.

[00:16:26.320] – Janice Summers

But a variety of industries.

[00:16:28.030] – Rebekka Anderson

A variety of industries.

[00:16:29.140] – Rebekka Anderson

And if I remember right, somewhere around 60 to 70 percent of our respondents had been in management for at least four years. So also people who were situated and they were in a position to be a decision-maker. And so those were the people we recruited in terms of the journals. We included titles and abstracts from six journals. So one is Communication Design Quarterly, which is published by ACM (Association of Computing Machinery), STC’s Technical Communication, and then IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, the Journal of Business and Tactical Communication, and there’s also the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. And then the Sixth Journal is Technical Communication Quarterly. And so these are the journals that we considered to be the six flagship journals in the field.

[00:17:22.300] – Janice Summers

 Right, the big players.

[00:17:23.970] – Rebekka Anderson

Right, they are all refereed journals. So they’re all peer-reviewed journals. And these are the journals that researchers in the field and academia are primarily publishing in, in the field. And so we did, when we were looking through the journals, I believe for the titles we took the titles at the time from the most recent issues of each of those journals. And then we took the abstracts from the issues that have come out prior to the most recent issue. And then we did eliminate any abstracts or titles that were, and also articles for interviewees that were more focused on pedagogy or more like science communication. Even kind of medical health communication because we were really trying to target those practicing tactical communicators and their experiences. Yes.

[00:18:16.270] – Liz Fraley

So I kind of want to say, what did you find? The big question, right? like it’s a huge question.

[00:18:23.560] – Rebekka Anderson

It’s a huge question. A few things that I could say that were really interesting. First of all, in terms of our survey respondents, we had 187 people who took the survey of those who took the survey, about six percent had actually studied professional technical writing or some flavor of professional technical writing in their degree program.

[00:18:48.250] – Liz Fraley


[00:18:48.990] – Rebekka Anderson

And that was really interesting. So these are people coming from all different disciplines, STEM, Humanities, Social Sciences, many people from Humanities, but who may have studied English as in English literature or creative writing, journalism, but not technical communication.

[00:19:09.060] – Liz Fraley

Was there an age component to that demographic?

[00:19:12.850] – Rebekka Anderson

The age range was pretty varied and we definitely didn’t center on especially those in management positions a lot of newer managers also taken the survey. So that what’s interesting and what that suggests to us is, and I think we maybe had 14 percent of our respondents had completed master’s degrees in technical professional communication. So it wasn’t surprising to us to learn that the vast majority of our respondents either were unfamiliar with our rarely or never read academic research.

[00:19:46.370] – Liz Fraley

Right, right.

[00:19:47.980] – Rebekka Anderson

You’re mostly exposed to academic research within using a graduate school context and sometimes within your degree program. So I guess a few takeaways. What we learned is that practitioners want research that’s relevant to current work practices. And I think that’s very understandable. They want research that is easy to parse or at least is incredibly challenging to comprehend. So that kind of gets that plain language needs. Research that has clear takeaways, practical applications. So even if it’s a theory-building article, there’s always room to be able to talk about, OK, how might this theory be applied. Or what are some ways I can use this theory to think through a particular problems or questions, right. So at least having some space within an article where you’re talking to, right, a different audience.

[00:20:45.820] – Janice Summers

Right. Or just saying this could mean this in practice right, just giving some ideas of how they can shape their minds around the research.

[00:20:59.260] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:21:01.000] – Janice Summers

Plain language is so important. I mean, especially when you just consider that English is not everybody’s first language. So the need to be plain, I think, would be paramount because you really want to reach these people, everybody, right?,

[00:21:19.840] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, that was the number one suggestion was to move towards more of a plain-language approach. And that doesn’t mean not using theoretical terms and concepts.

[00:21:30.460] – Janice Summers

Right. Because at least in the abstract right, and in conclusion, but the rest of the body, that’s OK, because, really, when someone’s reading the body of  research they’re really interested in reading the depth of research. Right?

[00:21:46.720] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, and so the other two points I would make in terms of takeaways is promotion and accessibility were two big areas that are… All of the people we interviewed and respondents wanted to talk about. So promotion in the sense of the journals could do a better job, I think, promoting research.

[00:22:06.240] – Liz Fraley


[00:22:06.380] – Rebekka Anderson

And also we in the larger community of techcomm can all do a better job promoting this research. And promoting because a lot of people in the field don’t know it exists, right. And we don’t actively seek it out. In academia we do, but and the practitioners most often aren’t seeking it out. So this kind of where we need to push it, I think more. So. There’s promotion, but the other pieces, accessibility in terms of just dissemination of research. So how can we make the articles we’re publishing, more accessible to readers outside of academia who have universities right, with the databases we can access.

[00:22:43.930] – Liz Fraley


[00:22:44.950] – Rebekka Anderson

So that was a big piece, too. And then I think if you’re a practitioner, there are also ways that you can gain access to articles such as looking at to see what different people are publishing, but you can also gain access often to full articles there. Or going to Google Scholar as a starting place and typing in the topics you’re interested in and seeing who’s publishing on that. And then go to that person’s website or go to or to see if the articles are available there. Or even to the journals.

[00:23:21.840] – Janice Summers

So there is a central place that people can go to see what’s going on in current research in the field of technical communication?

[00:23:32.130] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, I think so. If there’s a topic that someone wants to learn about to see if anything’s being published within the peer-reviewed journals, Google Scholar is an excellent place to start. Also, if there are any books that have been published on the topic and you were not necessarily going to get the full text, you probably won’t get the full text. But it’s the starting place because now you have the citation and you have the research team or authors.

[00:23:55.980] – Liz Fraley

That is a great tip. I, uh, George mentioned Google Scholar but hadn’t quite put it… connected for me like that like this is what it’s all about. Yeah, you use Google Scholar to research a topic and find those people to follow who are doing the research you’re interested in. That is that is a great tip.

[00:24:14.130] – Rebekka Anderson

Exactly. And many of the researchers are on Twitter. The journals are also on Twitter, so you can follow Technical Communication Quarterly or Communication Design Quarterly. And what many of the journals are now doing is before the articles are officially published, I think the model is an online first model, So they’re published first online, but they’re being promoted through Twitter and, in some cases, Facebook. Rhetoric and Technical Communication is one group on Facebook that I’m a member of and the journals are often giving us kind of teasers of what’s coming or what’s just come out.

[00:24:51.690] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, you got to know about those beforehand, right? I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent, like, digging around looking for Oh! And then somebody will pop up a year later and like, how am I not following that already, you know, you got to know about them first.

[00:25:06.750] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:25:07.700] – Liz Fraley


[00:25:08.500] – Rebekka Anderson

I think it’s a good practice if you’re interested in research and just having the different journals tagged and most journals published a new issue quarterly. And so, for example, IEEE Transactions just came out with its latest issue, and that’s the September publication. So just kind of going to see what’s been published looking at the titles, if they’re interesting, maybe dig a little deeper. If not, at least you’re aware of what the latest issue is focusing on.

[00:25:35.030] – Janice Summers

So I’m a little curious and so is our attendees, how does techcomm research stack up against other research as far as the written report? I mean, are they more clearly written in techcomm versus other disciplines? Have you done any…

[00:25:52.970] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:25:53.690] – Janice Summers

Any like reviews of other, yeah, any comparison?

[00:25:57.480] – Liz Fraley

That’s kind of what I was getting at with that other question, like who or what articles were you using

[00:26:03.030] – Janice Summers

How do you stack up against the science group?

[00:26:05.470] – Rebekka Anderson

I mean, that’s a really good question. That’s a really good question. I don’t know of any studies that have compared the way in which we’re writing and presenting our research in our journals versus other journals. But there is a standard format across at least the science disciplines, the STEM disciplines and many of the social science disciplines. And that’s what we call the IMRAD format.

[00:26:27.300] – Rebekka Anderson

And so what you’re going to see that means there’s the introduction, right, which is introducing the research, framing the research in the study. Then you’re going to have the methods. What was the methodology used. Right? What methods were used. Then that’s going to be followed by results and then often discussion, which is right the interpretation of the results, what does this all mean? And then the conclusion which will often project, so what are your future research? What should we be thinking about? That’s where you will have to find implications for research, practice, or teaching. So we call it the IMRAD format, and that’s pretty standard across the disciplines, not so much in Humanities. So if you’re thinking about comparison in terms of especially the students I work with, we all kind of expect the same structure. And so we kind of learn how to read those structures and we learn what’s expected, right, within that particular structure or genre.

[00:27:23.490] – Rebekka Anderson

I can say that most journals and most disciplines are really trying to gently nudge authors to write more in plain language and scientific journals especially those are notorious for being difficult to parse. Very, very challenging to read, and often because they’re more technical and there’s more quantitative work to parse. It can be challenging to read.

[00:27:48.030] – Janice Summers


[00:27:48.660] – Rebekka Anderson

But I think our journal is, our discipline, I believe, I think is doing a pretty good job trying to move more towards making our research more accessible. We have a long way to go, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.

[00:28:02.850] – Janice Summers

Well, you know, it’s interesting because when you’re in a certain discipline, when you’re in academia, there is a lingo that’s different than how practitioners talk.

[00:28:15.020] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:28:15.570] – Janice Summers

It’s very interesting because as we’re talking to more and more professors and people in academia field. It’s interesting from my perspective, because I don’t often talk to people in academia and the way that the natural flow of conversation is very different than people and in the practitioner’s world.

[00:28:40.470] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:28:41.240] – Janice Summers


[00:28:41.820] – Rebekka Anderson

That’s absolutely true. One of the most challenging exercises I’ve kind of put myself through for a very good reason is some of the articles I’ve written in the past. I’ve written for the academic journals first and then I’ve published several pieces in the CID on Best Practices Newsletter through my work with JoAnn Hackos and that’s the center that she used to direct, which is now directed by Dawn Stevens. So the exercise of trying to like take something that’s been in an academic journal and now try to translate that and articulate that in a way that makes sense and that’s accessible, but also considered potentially a value to a practitioner reader is.. It’s a challenge to not use some of those terms and to think about what’s a better term to explain what this theory really means.

[00:29:33.180] – Janice Summers

Because it’s really interesting if you look at, like, just the definition of a technical communicator, and I think it applies to any technical or professional. STC has a great definition. And a little piece of that is like really key and it kind of describes the difference and why they might have some difficulty parsing. Because one of the things they’re taught when they get out into the practicing world, their job is to make complex things easy to understand, right? It’s to take complex and make it easy for the average layperson to understand. So when they come to looking at research, they’re facing all this complexity and there then that switch, they’re looking for something that’s easy to understand. They have to work hard at the subject matter expert to get it to seem easy, right?

[00:30:27.350] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:30:27.630] – Janice Summers

Which is a lot of work. I mean, it’s not easy to do.

[00:30:30.810] – Rebekka Anderson

Right. A lot of the people, JoAnn and I had talked to, especially through the interviews, were strongly recommending that authors and/or journals publish the research in alternative formats. So something that’s more like an Executive Abstract that’s written specifically for people outside of academia.

[00:30:51.250] – Janice Summers


[00:30:52.100] – Rebekka Anderson

And I think that’s a great idea. The challenge there is for, at least for the authors, is often time but also the reward system. And I think it would be really great, right, if universities could recognize those kinds of publications as having impact, right? Impact in the field. And so I think there’s potential there. And there might be some other formats that we might be able to come out with via the journals or as researchers, authors.

[00:31:21.150] – Janice Summers

And I think that’s an important point to make, is that the organization needs to recognize the value in that. So that there is a reward for the authors of these research papers that they are rewarded and recognized for that piece right. Because it kind of stops the published work and it doesn’t continue until you took this extra step and there’s a reward there for that. Because really at the heart of it, we are rewards driven. I can’t tell you how many times I ran a marathon when I shouldn’t have for that stupid medal. I am very rewards driven, right? But that’s human nature.

[00:32:05.800] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, for sure. But I do think in general those on the tenure track and committees that are assessing research are more open than they have been in the past to rewarding collaborative work, interdisciplinary work, work that can be articulated as having impact, right, in the profession.

[00:32:28.910] – Janice Summers


[00:32:29.670] – Rebekka Anderson

So I see that as a very positive move for the field, which I define as a field with practical applications of field of practice.

[00:32:38.530] – Janice Summers


[00:32:38.630] – Liz Fraley

Absolutely. It’s funny that we’re talking about the definition again, STC has a Slack channel, they have an academics part of that Slack Channel so, I will encourage you to join in there. But the vice president, Kirsty Taylor, just posted. She’s asking members to supply their definitions right now. And so far, everybody’s like, yeah, I’m curious about what everybody else’s definition is. So, yeah, that’s great.

[00:33:16.230] – Liz Fraley

Thinking about the reward system, are you starting as an academic, are you starting to get a push from university brass to having more outreach like social media presence and blog posts and that kind of thing or are you not seeing that?

[00:33:34.530] – Rebekka Anderson

I think it’s institution dependent. There are certainly, there are a lot of people in the field who are doing a really good job promoting their research and they’re on social media. Making it kind of very public when something comes out, and that might be institutional pressure, but I think that’s more personality kind of an individual like sense of, you know, how we feel about putting the work out.

[00:34:00.240] – Janice Summers


[00:34:00.420] – Rebekka Anderson

My institution is certainly, it’s not something that they ever talk about. My institution would love for everyone to be publishing or posting their pre-published work in their online open-source repository for research, and the idea there is to make it more accessible to the public. But I would guess that most people outside of academia don’t know that most institutions have an open-source repository for sharing the collective faculties research.

[00:34:28.940] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. I had no idea

[00:34:30.870] – Rebekka Anderson

That’s another suggestion for those interested in looking to see who’s publishing what is looking at different institutions to see what is their open-source repository for research. Now I’m blanking on the one UC Davis uses. E-scholarship is the one we use. And so that’s where you can go to see what the faculty are publishing and they’re encouraging everyone to post their work. But the key is copyright issues and so when you’re posting your work, either on or on your open source repository, it almost always has to be a pre-published version of the article befor right, it’s gone off to be sent into production. So that’s kind of the trick is kind of being really careful with copyright and permissions.

[00:35:21.380] – Liz Fraley


[00:35:22.590] – Janice Summers


[00:35:23.180] – Liz Fraley

That is, yeah.

[00:35:24.090] – Liz Fraley

That is one thing that Lisa Melançon said a couple of months ago. She’s like, go to the researcher’s blog post or their website, get that early unpublished stuff. So at least you get an idea of what is going to be in that final article if you can’t get past the abstract.

[00:35:42.300] – Rebekka Anderson

Absolutely, and most researchers, if you email the researcher, they will be thrilled to hear from you and will send you the full copy of the article. And that’s a perfectly legit thing to do. So if anyone was interested in reading an article that I published, email me and I will certainly send you a copy.

[00:36:01.620] – Janice Summers

Because even if people don’t have a website, there’s usually something in the universe, there is an email posted somewhere where you can reach out

[00:36:10.080] – Rebekka Anderson

Almost always. Right, right go to the faculty page, Google the person’s name and you’ll probably see on the first page.

[00:36:16.440] – Janice Summers


[00:36:17.320] – Rebekka Anderson

Which institution right, they’re affiliated with.

[00:36:19.920] – Janice Summers

Yeah, exactly.

[00:36:21.880] – Liz Fraley


[00:36:22.890] – Janice Summers

So there’s always a way to reach out. And I think that’s, you need to go straight to the person if you have questions. They’re usually happy to answer.

[00:36:34.560] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:36:35.910] – Janice Summers


[00:36:36.150] – Liz Fraley

So how about, you know, that seems like a good idea. If you’ve got a project like I see one of our attendees, she’s very into accessibility. So if you are interested in accessibility, you could go find a researcher who’s doing that and then you pair up? Like, you’ve got, we’re all the practitioners. We have deadlines and things to me, and you don’t have time to research necessarily the thing that will help your customer. But if you find the matching researcher. Propose some research?

[00:37:12.550] – Rebekka Anderson

Absolutely, I think absolutely, if you’re interested in research on accessibility, find out who is doing that research and if you have a work context or work site or a demographic that a group of researchers or a single researcher could have access to, many researchers would be thrilled because access is a real barrier to conducting especially empirical research given proprietary issues, right? And it’s hard to get access to a company. But that idea of collaborating is certainly something that many researchers in the field are interested in doing. Working with practitioners and that, I think, is just a win-win because you work together on the research design, right, and you really get to know the context and the issues. But then the researcher can kind of bring in, like, what’s the larger conversation on this? What’s already been published? How is this going to be situated within that body of research? And then designing the methods and the questions? A lot researchers have collaborated in that way. And certainly reaching out and seeing if somebody might be interested.

[00:38:20.210] – Janice Summers

Well, and that’s how, I think, too, how practitioners can make research more relevant because I’m assuming that you run into a brick wall sometimes when you’re trying to pierce that corporation, right, to get real corporate access. It must be challenging.

[00:38:40.840] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:38:42.610] – Janice Summers

If you’re a practitioner inside the corporate, you’re pulling in rather than trying to push in. So you’re improving the value of the research by getting involved with the researchers.

[00:38:51.890] – Rebekka Anderson

Absolutely. I’d say anything you can do to help in terms of collaboration, whether it’s helping to provide the space access right. And if that’s all you do, that’s tremendous, right? Still of benefit. Or helping to collaborate on the research project itself right and to be a co-author. Another way that practitioners can help in shaping research is serving as reviewers for some of the, for the journals. So these are journals where all the articles published go through a peer-review process.

[00:39:23.780] – Rebekka Anderson

So there, each article is read by at least two reviewers. And I know that STC’s Technical Communication and IEEE’s Transactions, both editors are very good about making sure at least one of those reviewers is from the practitioner world. So the more we can do that and the more people who are interested in serving as reviewers, the more that they help to shape, right, what that research looks like.

[00:39:50.660] – Janice Summers

Right. And I’m sure that the editors are always looking for more people to volunteer as a practitioner to do review.

[00:39:58.340] – Rebekka Anderson

 Definitely, especially on some of our newer areas of research. Like, for example, content engineering, and now we’re talking about like omnichannel, right? We have experts in the field. If somebody is actually conducting research on this topic and agile methodology is another one I’ve seen some articles come out on, and I know George from Transactions is often looking for, right, experts, right outside of academia who can help to be a reviewer for those kinds of pieces.

[00:40:26.690] – Janice Summers

Yeah, always. Because, you know, you have your list and you want that list to grow, and you want that list to be diverse.

[00:40:33.690] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:40:34.110] – Janice Summers

And it’s hard to get it unless people stand up and raise their hand and say, hey, I’m willing to devote some time to review some articles so people should reach out to the editors of those magazines to get on that list, to sign up, to be a volunteer as a practitioner.

[00:40:51.530] – Rebekka Anderson

Absolutely. I think that would be a really good, like that would be really great for the field in many ways. And because the journals, like all the… One of the journals, really does have a goal to meet the needs of readers outside of academia, not just within. And in order to do that, we need as much collaborative, collaboration as possible, right, and input from readers outside of academia.

[00:41:16.180] – Janice Summers

Right. Right.

[00:41:17.310] – Liz Fraley

We don’t necessarily

[00:41:19.190] – Janice Summers


[00:41:20.720] – Liz Fraley

Well, I was going to say we don’t necessarily have the circle, right? We need other people to come into our circle and say, hey, I’m here, please, I volunteer.

[00:41:31.200] – Janice Summers


[00:41:32.030] – Liz Fraley

And I don’t know anyone who will turn a volunteer away.

[00:41:34.910] – Janice Summers

No, no. Well, and it’s the friendliest group of introverts I’ve ever met.

[00:41:39.980] – Rebekka Anderson

Oh, sure.

[00:41:40.810] – Janice Summers

The most sociable,  friendliest group of introverts I’ve ever met are in the technical communications field. It’s amazing and collaborative. So, I mean, they shouldn’t worry about, well, gee, am I good enough or am I, you know, am I my expert enough. Just contact the editors, tell them what you’re interested in, talk to them, have a conversation. And as far as time constraint, I mean, the more of us who step in and volunteer, then the less burdensome it is on just a few, a handful of people, right?

[00:42:16.430] – Rebekka Anderson

Right. Yeah, definitely contact the editor and the editor will be able to say what’s kind of status of our reviewer board.

[00:42:24.710] – Janice Summers


[00:42:25.160] – Rebekka Anderson

Probably ask some questions, but certainly at the very least, will keep you in mind, right.

[00:42:29.750] – Janice Summers

Exactly, exactly. And they’ll be able to tell you what time constraint it would be. Like you know people are worried about, because we’ve all got lives. We’ve all got other professions and I’m sure time is important to everybody. So you know when you’re talking to the editor, they’ll let you know what kind of time constraint you’re looking at.

[00:42:49.580] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:42:50.610] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. People always tell you.

[00:42:51.770] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah, most of the journals do have reviewer guidelines. Some are more kind of extensive and I guess guided than others. But certainly if you’re a reviewer, you will get guidance from the editor at the very least. But likely also a rubric that you can follow, as you’re reading, that can help kind of prompt you to think about certain kinds of questions and respond to those, with the goal of giving the authors constructive feedback, right? Because the article’s then, it’s going to be hopefully revised. Some articles are rejected after that first round of review, but many are asked basically to do a revise and resubmit, in which case the team goes back and they revise based on the feedback from the reviewers and then they resubmit, and then the article points back to the same reviewers in most cases.

[00:43:42.050] – Janice Summers

Right, to check one final time. Speaking of final, can you believe it? Our time is already up.

[00:43:51.230] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:43:51.340] – Janice Summers

I know, right, I can talk to you forever. And I’m so thrilled that you took the time to spend some time, because this really is important because as a group, as a professional group, they’re very interested in research and they want information. They create information. They also crave information that’s relevant and that has value for them. And I think everything that you’ve talked about really helps both sides kind of come together to up their game right, to increase that value and increase that accessibility. So I really appreciate that.

[00:44:32.450] – Rebekka Anderson

I absolutely agree and I appreciate you doing this, the show. The Room 42 is exactly what we’re talking about, right? Having these conversations, bringing these two worlds together, especially in a space such as this where we can talk about research in an informal way.

[00:44:48.690] – Janice Summers


[00:44:49.150] – Rebekka Anderson

So I think what you’re doing is of tremendous value and I hope it continues.

[00:44:54.560] – Janice Summers

Well, thanks to people like you who come and are willing to talk with the two of us.

[00:44:59.720] – Rebekka Anderson

Well, let’s continue the conversation. We do need to keep thinking through other more opportunities for collaboration, getting the word out and coming together. I really think it’s imperative for the field.

[00:45:12.610] – Janice Summers

So really quick if people want to reach out to you. I think we’ve put in the show notes. You’ve got your contact information. They can connect with you on LinkedIn, and your paper that we were talking about, and is all that information in the–

[00:45:33.790] – Liz Fraley

Most of it, yeah, it’s in the chat window and on the page.

[00:45:36.520] – Rebekka Anderson

 I get, JoAnn and I did publish on the series of interviews that we conducted and I currently have an article that’s under review that’s going to present the results of the survey that I had talked about. So hopefully that’ll be out. Hopefully within the next year. But I did post on, a couple of slide decks on talks that we’ve given the survey and on the interviews. And so there’s some, I think, some good information in those decks.

[00:46:05.410] – Janice Summers

OK, good. And then they can stay tuned for, because the review process takes time.

[00:46:10.360] – Liz Fraley

It does.

[00:46:11.080] – Rebekka Anderson

It does take time.

[00:46:11.710] – Janice Summers

It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time.

[00:46:15.770] – Rebekka Anderson

So we’re excited about it, it was a great project.

[00:46:18.430] – Janice Summers


[00:46:18.860] – Rebekka Anderson

Yeah and we’re really excited to kind of build on the recommendations that our respondents had for us.

[00:46:27.520] – Janice Summers

Yeah, very exciting. All right.

[00:46:31.110] – Rebekka Anderson

Well, thank you so much.

[00:46:34.110] – Janice Summers

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

[00:46:36.800] – Liz Fraley

And thanks to everybody who sent in questions.

[00:46:39.570] – Janice Summers

Yeah. Thanks for all the questions guys, thanks for being here. OK, until the next time.

[00:46:46.100] – Rebekka Anderson


[00:46:46.980] – Janice Summers


In this episode

Rebekka Andersen has a Ph.D. in Professional Writing and is an Associate Professor in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. She teaches courses in professional and technical communication and serves as the Associate Director for Professional Writing. Her research focuses on implications of content management practices for education and research in technical communication, as well as on strategies for building stronger connections between academia and industry. She serves on the Advisory Council for the Center for Information-Development Management, is a member of the editorial or reviewer boards of several journals in the field of professional and technical communication, and is the Associate Editor for case studies for IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.

Learn how we can all increase the relevance of research. First, learn how academics can increase the value, relevance, and accessibility of their research for non-academic readers. Then, find out how practitioners can get more benefit from academic research.


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