Strategies for Navigating Transnational Projects

In this episode, Nancy Small and Bernadette Longo discuss their book, “Transnational Research in Technical Communication: Realities and Reflections,” a collection of stories about designing, conducting, analyzing, and delivering projects that cross national borders.

Airdate: November 10, 2021

Season 2 Episode 10 | 48 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:11.450] – Liz Fraley

Welcome everyone 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. Nancy Small and Dr. Bernadette Longo; today's guests in Room 42.

[00:00:25.310] – Liz Fraley

Nancy Small is an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of the First Year Writing at the University of Wyoming. She joined UW as a tenure track faculty in 2016 after 25 years teaching faculty at Texas A&M, the last six of which were spent at the branch campus in Qatar.

[00:00:42.590] – Liz Fraley

Her monograph— a rhetoric of becoming US American women in Qatar— is based on ethnographic research of the white expatriate community during the six years living and working in the Middle East. It will be out midsummer next year.

[00:00:57.050] – Liz Fraley

She received the Spring 2021 Fellowship with the Wyoming Institute of Humanities Research. Her work has been published in journals such as Peitho: The Journal of Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, The Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, The Journal of Usability Studies, as well as many scholarly books about transnational and cultural issues.

[00:01:19.250] – Liz Fraley

Her current projects include an article on reading handmade material artifacts as textual memoirs of their erased makers, and a book-length project on rhetoric, placemaking, and public memory in the US American West.

[00:01:34.430] – Liz Fraley

Bernadette Longo is an Associate Professor of the Department of Humanities at New Jersey Institute for Technology. She's the author of Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing from SUNY in 2000; Edmund Berkeley and the Social Responsibility of Computing Professionals, ACM Press in 2015; and Words and Power: Commuters Language and the US Cold War Values coming in 2021— very soon now, because we're almost through.

[00:02:04.070] – Liz Fraley

She's the coeditor of Critical Power Tools: Technical Communication and Cultural Studies in SUNY Press 2006, and the [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] (IEEE) Guide to Writing and the Engineering and Technical Fields from IEEE Press in 2017. She's written and presented numerous journal articles and conference papers and enjoys living life by a small lake in New Jersey.

[00:02:24.950] – Liz Fraley

They've coauthored a new book, Transnational Research in Technical Communication: Realities and Reflections, a collection of stories from the trenches, and it just became available within this last month. Today they're here to talk about their book and help us start answering the question, “What strategies can we use to navigate the challenges of design, management, analysis and delivery of projects that cross national borders?” Welcome.

[00:02:51.290] – Bernadette Longo

Thank you.

[00:02:51.950] – Nancy Small

Good morning.

[00:02:53.810] – Janice Summers

We are so excited to have you here today, and thank you so much for both of you joining us to talk about your book. Now, it's coming out next year, in the middle of the year.

[00:03:07.430] – Bernadette Longo

July of 22.

[00:03:09.110] – Janice Summers

So I'll put it on my calendar because I'm going to want one. I got a little taste of it just to… Truth be told, I got a little taste and it's quite interesting. So what got you involved? I like origins. So let's talk about what started this book.

[00:03:32.070] – Bernadette Longo

The book?

[00:03:33.030] – Janice Summers

Yes. Let's talk about what started the book.

[00:03:35.970] – Bernadette Longo

Nancy asked me to work with her on it.

[00:03:41.530] – Janice Summers

So Nancy is the instigator?

[00:03:43.510] – Bernadette Longo

Yes, she is. And I was so happy to receive that invitation to have that initial conversation, because Nancy's invitation really hit on some of the trouble spots that I had had with my work in the DR Congo. So I'm going to let Nancy take it away. What did you ask me, Nancy?

[00:04:16.670] – Nancy Small

I said, Bernadette, I'm frustrated, can we make a book together? And you can be my mentor as a senior scholar, and I can be the workhorse as the junior scholar because I also want the experience of putting together an edited collection.

[00:04:33.590] – Nancy Small

And I would just want to say really briefly, because it would be the totally wrong thing to do not to say this, but one of our authors, Nabila Hijazi, is one of the attendees, along with Sarah Hillman, who I worked with in Qatar, Charity Tran, who is my dear friend and colleague from Texas Tech, and Angie Bates, who is a sister of mine.

[00:04:55.130] – Nancy Small

So because they're here, I got to give them a little shout out and give them my love, all four of them and thank them.

[00:05:01.370] – Liz Fraley


[00:05:02.330] – Nancy Small

So where this came from for me was two-fold. One was when I spent these six years in Qatar. First I wanted my dissertation to be about Qatari women. This is my naïve dissertation idea, which I look back with chagrin but still have to own it because it's where I was then.

[00:05:21.950] – Janice Summers

And you grew from it, so it's okay.

[00:05:24.410] – Nancy Small

Exactly right.

[00:05:25.190] – Janice Summers

Because we're all on an evolutionary path.

[00:05:27.590] – Nancy Small

We know better, do better, right?

[00:05:29.330] – Janice Summers


[00:05:30.050] – Nancy Small

So my first couple of years there, I did my PhD work. I started my PhD at 40, so after a long career of teaching. And so I was very excited by these new ideas, and I was of course excited by where I was living because it was transformative. It was an amazing space to be in. And I felt like a very valued guest, and so I wanted to learn more.

[00:05:53.810] – Nancy Small

So at first I thought I would look at… Our engineering branch campus had about 50 percent women, which is incredible for an engineering program. US engineering programs can't maintain that gender balance, and so I wanted to learn more about those women's motivations, their successes, their struggles, where they went on to.

[00:06:13.190] – Nancy Small

Then, after some study and reflection and conversation, of course, I came to realize that that was going to be a little bit of a problematic study for me to do on my own, maybe with a collective of other country and Arabic women who could be more of the insiders and make sure I wasn't doing harm with my study.

[00:06:31.550] – Nancy Small

So I left that behind. But in that ensuing time, I ended up studying women like me: white US American expats. But in that time, I started looking for advice on better practices for transnational and intercultural research. I wanted to know how to do this, at least some guidance on questions I could ask myself so that I would do less harm than is likely possible for traditional Western research, which is such a colonial endeavor.

[00:07:00.170] – Nancy Small

So I went looking for ideas. And so I went looking there for reflections and lessons learned, and it was really hard to find them. Bernadette's article about her experience with the Congo, which I call Longo in the Congo because that's the way I remember it. So I'm sorry, Bernadette, but that's the title in my head is Longo in the Congo.

[00:07:22.250] – Janice Summers

Now we'll never forget. We'll go Google Longo in the Congo.

[00:07:26.570] – Nancy Small

It was one of the few places, literally a handful, just three or four articles I could find in tech comm that actually provided some serious reflection to help me think about my own positionality and my own relational accountability to the spaces I was in.

[00:07:41.390] – Janice Summers


[00:07:41.870] – Nancy Small

So I went about drafting what now is the conclusion of the book, most of the conclusion. And I send it to one journal, and they responded within 24 hours, which is great, and they said, no, thank you, we don't do theory.

[00:07:57.110] – Nancy Small

So I sent it to another journal, and it took them three months to respond. And they said, no, thank you, you don't have a methods section, which is so typical for tech comm scholarly production because if it's not a social science-based research method, it's like they don't know what to do with it.

[00:08:17.570] – Nancy Small

So then I applied it towards a book and they accepted it. But then they said, we want you to do a mini-comprehensive lit review. I don't know what a mini, M-I-N-I, mini-comprehensive lit review is, because that seems like an oxymoron to me.

[00:08:35.090] – Nancy Small

So I ended up writing a 9,000… First, I turned in a 2,000-word lit review, and they came back and they said, “This is great, we want more.” So it turned into a 9,000-word lit review, over 600 sources published in five years, at which point they said, “We'll just cut this off here.” And they cut it off at the very beginning of what is now the conclusion of this book.

[00:08:56.810] – Nancy Small

In other words, they didn't want the work that I had offered them. And so they wanted more of a meta study, which is what they got. So that's literally the day that I got that email saying, “We'll just cut it off here” is the same day I emailed Bernadette and I said, “Hey,”— and I just want to relate this really quickly and then I'll stop.

[00:09:20.630] – Nancy Small

I attended a webinar yesterday by Ana Ribero (Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at Oregon State University) and Sonia Arellano (Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at University of Central Florida), and they're talking about Latina feminist mentoring practices. And one of their practices is fuerza, or strength.

[00:09:36.650] – Nancy Small

And what they say is you have to take the energy required to persist and the frustrations and disappointments that you face as a scholar, and as someone who's been mentor scholars who are also facing those, you have to leverage those into the energy to actually be a driving force in your production. And I think Bernadette and I have shared some of that fuerza, and she was my mentor a little bit in giving me permission to take what I had done and turn it into something else.

[00:10:07.610] – Nancy Small

Also a shout out to my colleague, Tracey Patton, who's in Comm Studies, and she has had to also experience these things. So it's actually a very interesting origin story with a long history.

[00:10:19.770] – Janice Summers

Well, and it's interesting. Usually, when you're breaking new ground and you're shifting a dynamic, it's not always an easy thing, but the cause is very worthwhile.

[00:10:37.330] – Janice Summers

I understand what you're saying, but I do find it perplexing— I'm sure everyone here does— that for something that is so human-centered, and technical and professional communications is all about the humans we're communicating to, that they aren't interested in the stories behind the scene, and so much is left on the floor.

[00:11:01.430] – Bernadette Longo

I think, though, when you're dealing with academic versions of technical communication, that humanistic approach to what we're doing is not valued very much, just to be blunt, because, well, the article that Nancy refers to that I finally did get published about my work in—

[00:11:37.270] – Janice Summers

Longo in the Congo?

[00:11:37.270] – Bernadette Longo

Yeah. Right. The editor of the journal said, okay, you have to put it in the IMRaD  (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) format, because it had started out… Actually, it started out with some people in the Society for the Social Studies of Science, the 4S saying, “We love this work and we want to have you related in a narrative manner and storytelling. We're really behind this.” Some people…. and we did some work together, these two guys and I, but when I submitted it to the journal, they were like, “Oh, my God, we don't want this kind of thing.

[00:12:24.850] – Bernadette Longo

You don't have enough methods. You don't have enough structure. This is a story. What do we do with them?” They absolutely were putting a boundary around their turf and they didn't want me in it, and they certainly didn't want somebody's story who wasn't a sociologist in their journal.

[00:12:57.350] – Bernadette Longo

I have been lambasted by sociologists. I've been lambasted by African Studies people. I've been lambasted by Technical Communication people who want this in the IMRaD format. I've been told in many ways that I'm a do-gooder, I'm a white woman. I have no standing ever with this project, which was a failed project, by the way, too, for political reasons, and yet it abides. It won't leave.

[00:13:42.070] – Bernadette Longo

So I finally wrote it up in the IMRaD format and squished this human experience into— and again left a lot on the floor.

[00:13:52.330] – Janice Summers

Really quick for others who might not know. Could you just spell out IMRaD for them so that they know because I know we rush right through it. And I'm like, “I know what you're talking about.”

[00:14:02.650] – Bernadette Longo

Well, that's a scientific report writing format that has an introduction, method section, a result section, and a discussion section, which is the model for stereotypical scientific journals.

[00:14:21.010] – Janice Summers

Scientific journals. Yeah.

[00:14:24.970] – Bernadette Longo

And this was not that, but I forced this human experience into a scientific reporting structure and left all the humanity of it on the floor.

[00:14:45.470] – Janice Summers

Because the IMRaD is very scrubbed. It's like the rigor of it— and I want to get to the whole topic of rigor that Nancy, I think you brought up in the book, too— but the discipline of it is very sterilized.

[00:15:00.770] – Bernadette Longo

And everybody's successful, or else you don't report it. If you're not successful, you don't report it.

[00:15:11.910] – Janice Summers

That's another big, huge problem with that is because—

[00:15:17.250] – Liz Fraley

You learn from failure, too.

[00:15:18.990] – Bernadette Longo

Yes, sometimes you learn more from failures than you do from success.

[00:15:24.270] – Bernadette Longo

And as teachers, I know that my students, if we're all in the comfort zone, not trying things and making mistakes, we are not learning.

[00:15:34.710] – Janice Summers

No, we're comfy.

[00:15:40.150] – Bernadette Longo

So when Nancy said, “Hey, explore this from a humanistic point of view,” which I had in the meantime… my way to use my rage was to start writing articles on humanism as having a methodological foundation that we could articulate. Just like the scientific method is well-articulated. However, humanistic approaches to research are not well-articulated, probably because they go back so many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and thousands of years. We just assume we know what it is or what it is not.

[00:16:31.970] – Bernadette Longo

So anyway, when Nancy asked me, would I like to work with her on this collection, I was both thrilled and said, “Oh, my God, not again. Do I have to revisit this horrible experience again?” But I think finally, Nancy and I have made something really positive and good out of what was just a lingering problem in my case.

[00:17:02.810] – Nancy Small

And shout out to Miles Kimball and Charles Sides at SUNY (coeditors of the SUNY Technical Communication book series) because I knew this was meant to be because first, Bernadette responded well within 24 hours, it might have been within an hour. I just sent her a two sentence pitch and she said, “Yes, let's talk.”

[00:17:19.910] – Bernadette Longo


[00:17:20.150] – Nancy Small

And then when we sent our short email pitch to Charles and Miles, I think we heard back within a couple of hours. “Yes, we would like a proposal.” And so then the editors at SUNY, James and Tim, have also been incredibly responsive.

[00:17:36.590] – Nancy Small

And so I think we're not as alone as we feel like we are, Bernadette. Also, there's been people like Natasha Jones and Rebecca Walton (coauthors of Technical Communication After the Social Justice Turn

: Building Coalitions for Action). Rebecca is in our collection, but also Kristen Moore (also coauthored Technical Communication After the Social Justice Turn

: Building Coalitions for Action). They've been trying to push storytelling as part of the social justice turn in TPC.

[00:17:55.670] – Bernadette Longo


[00:17:57.470] – Nancy Small

We aren't alone. We need a gravitational force to actually wedge ourselves in there. And I feel like this book will be part of that force, a contribution to it.

[00:18:10.370] – Bernadette Longo

And actually, Dale Sullivan, back in the '90s, probably tried to do this as well. And I'm forgetting the name of the book. But it was a collection of stories about practitioners and connecting it with theoretical understandings of technical communication. However, the book was not well-received at that time, but I do believe that the times have changed enough, and I am very optimistic for how this upcoming collection is going to be received.

[00:18:51.110] – Nancy Small

I just want to say, Bernadette, I think you're talking about it's called Writing A Professional Life, and it's Jerry Savage and Dale Sullivan. And then also in 2013, Gerald Savage and Han Yu published Negotiating Cultural Encounters, and those are the models for this book. It's why each chapter has a story, and then it has some suggested readings with an annotated bib, and then it has discussion questions. So it's modeled on previous collections, but I think the time is just a little riper for us maybe.

[00:19:17.690] – Bernadette Longo

And I do want to give a shout out to those guys who went before us.

[00:19:21.290] – Nancy Small


[00:19:22.550] – Janice Summers

Yeah, because each person who's chipped away at this is lifting up and elevating it for the next people that come along, and as long as we continue to push and have conversations and continue to offer books like this, then eventually that's how it gets into the mainstream. There's people who are blazing those trails.

[00:19:49.970] – Janice Summers

And I think it's interesting that because we were talking earlier about how sometimes things seems like a lot of work, a lot of your soul goes into it and your angst, like you get fired up and that gets poured into it and channeled into it.

[00:20:03.590] – Janice Summers

And those come from trials and tribulations, but the nice thing in this is that the universe lined up and everyone— they get you. So that creates that path to say, okay, now the time is right.

[00:20:19.370] – Janice Summers

I find it interesting that stories got omitted, and now we have to fight to get them back in, because stories have been around since the beginning of time. Before we started writing things down, we orated them. They were important for learning.

[00:20:40.110] – Nancy Small

It's really the master narrative of the positivistic, like that empirical, also imperial, research. Here's how to do it right, which silences… and I love that there's a resurgence. I mean, they've always been there. They're still alive. But the Indigenous American community is reasserting like there's more space for them to reassert themselves. They have a story-based epistemology, a story-based way of understanding the world and making knowledge. Like Robin Wall Kimmerer works at this intersection of Western Botany and indigenous storytelling, and it's important, valid, rigorous work.

[00:21:20.910] – Nancy Small

But I hate to throw around big academic terms because it annoyed me before when I didn't understand them. But like this whole idea of hegemony, one narrative squishing out everything else. And so we have to fight from the margins to get these narratives back.

[00:21:37.770] – Nancy Small

And I think of the indigenous storytellers as like our Aristotles. Aristotle mentions narrative a little, but not very much. It's really storytelling as a craft, as a rhetorical craft that has been developed over these millennia. It's the West's version of science being the only way to know tends to erase it.

[00:22:03.490] – Janice Summers

Right, like forcing things into a methodology and leaving all of the stories and the trials and tribulations on the floor are hidden, and thereby you stunt the impact of what that research was, the true impact, because all of these foibles that happened along the way, all these failures that happened along the way, first off, people shouldn't be ashamed to talk about failures.

[00:22:37.090] – Janice Summers

And I think that's one of the problems with IMRaD is people they don't want to talk about failures because they think that makes them look bad. But in stories, we relate to those failures. We relate when people fail at something.

[00:22:55.270] – Bernadette Longo

Well, as somebody who has had to talk about her failure with this project for years now, talking about a failure makes the person who failed vulnerable. And when we have this highly competitive milieu that we're working in, whether it's business or whether it's academia, which academia is super highly competitive and cutthroat, as is business. And as a woman, when I'm talking about my failures, I am admitting… I'm putting myself in such a weak position that it's only now that I have an established career, I've got nothing to prove. I'm…trying to retire, quite frankly.

[00:23:59.490] – Bernadette Longo

But I'm on that end of my career, and so for me to talk about my failures makes me less vulnerable because I have less to lose. But for people who are earlier in their career, people who are on tenure, people who are trying to, in an academic setting or are starting their career in business and are women, I just have to say, who wants to put themselves in that weak of a position? But I think that by bringing the knowledge-making, by valuing the knowledge-making of storytelling and the truth that can be communicated and found through storytelling, which is an interactive, it's a necessarily interactive activity as a storyteller and people who are listening, making some knowledge and truth amongst themselves.

[00:25:10.650] – Bernadette Longo

I think if we can value that and understand, there are more ways to know the world and to operate in the world than science, then hopefully we will have more safer spaces to talk about what went wrong or what we feel went wrong, which may not have actually even gone wrong. There's always something to learn.

[00:25:42.570] – Nancy Small

I think Bernadette touches on something really important. One of the tangible reasons why storytelling gets degraded in our knowledge-making processes is that stories don't necessarily tell you how to think. All stories don't have some clear moral or outcome, like “Do this or don't do that.” So storytelling and story receiving are interactional and relational processes. It's the relation between the teller and the receiver, but it's also the relation of the story to the lifeworld of the people that are telling and receiving.

[00:26:17.850] – Nancy Small

So even if Bernadette tells me a story, she and I may have a relational understanding of what that might mean, but also if she then reflects it back on her own lifeworld, she's going to see it in a different lens than if I take it and I think about it in terms of my lifeworld.

[00:26:37.170] – Nancy Small

And so I think that when people want to read an article, get an outcome, apply the outcome and move on down the road, storytelling is frustrating because it requires patience, it requires reflecting over relationality. Sometimes it requires reexamining your own positioning. Storytelling requires more of the receiver, I think, than traditional scientific or social science style writing.

[00:27:09.030] – Janice Summers

Oh, absolutely, because you can just read the top part and get down to the bottom and skip the whole middle.

[00:27:18.450] – Bernadette Longo

And there's a place for that.

[00:27:21.330] – Janice Summers

There is. Absolutely. But there's got to be a way to get that story, because if I'm interested in the top and the bottom, then I might want to see that middle. And that story is more important than just the sanitized research method that you then go into great detail on but leave the story out. So how would you integrate that in? Is it possible to change that style to integrate stories?

[00:27:56.710] – Bernadette Longo

Good question.

[00:28:00.910] – Liz Fraley

It's got me going down another way, too. The IMRaD is all about reproduction, and you're talking about stories. Two different researchers may not get the same story from the same subject person. Certainly won't get the same story from two people who are not the same person.

[00:28:25.430] – Liz Fraley

I'm not sure where that goes or what the implications are, but it certainly changes what you… maybe there's something there all by itself because that's interesting to me, too. I don't know. I've got all kinds of crazy ideas happening, and they're not formed yet.

[00:28:44.570] – Janice Summers

But you bring up a really good point because stories are not easily replicated. You cannot because you're influenced by your own personal biases. When you're reading a story or listening to a story, you have your life experience that you pull into it.

[00:29:01.130] – Liz Fraley

Right. Your context, your time where you are at that point in time when you hear the story. You can hear the story again 10 years later and you get different lessons, even if you're talking to the same person. And they won't tell you, like if you're talking to a real person, they may change their story based on who they're talking to.

[00:29:19.970] – Janice Summers

And yet, to me, the story is really important because then I can get a deeper understanding. For me, hearing a story allows me to have a deeper understanding of the methods and the research work.

[00:29:34.430] – Nancy Small

It really gets to questions, I think, of what we value and count, especially in the West as knowledge. And I know I'm reinforcing, but I really don't want to reinforce the binary of positivism versus storytelling or narrative; I think there's a place for all of it. I'm thinking in terms of, so what does replicability really push us to desire?

[00:29:58.310] – Nancy Small

It pushes us to desire some almost quantifiable process that we can identify as an outcome so that we can predict human behavior. Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be a great example of human-type behavior, but that is replicable because there's algorithms that drive it that can be amended.

[00:30:18.830] – Nancy Small

So then I think also in terms of there's RAD— I think that's Haswell, I want to give credit where credit's due— they replicable, aggregable and data-driven research is what we're looking for in tech comm and in writing studies in general.

[00:30:30.290] – Nancy Small

So I turn to aggregability because I think about aggregability, I think of it kind of like Legos, even though that's pretty simplistic, but like things build on each other. So maybe Sarah, who's in Qatar still, she does a study of expatriate women that are working there from the West. Her study is not going to replicate mine even if she asks them the same questions.

[00:30:53.870] – Nancy Small

So there's, like, the technical replication; she could ask them the same questions, but the stories they share are going to be different. The way she interprets them is going to be different. The way I go back and look at the stories, like Liz was saying now, eight years, 10 years later is going to be different.

[00:31:10.250] – Nancy Small

But what you have there is a conversation. You have different storytellers joining in the same circle. So I think the aggregability is really strong as long as what we value is multiple perspectives rather than a kind of AI algorithmically driven knowledge.

[00:31:30.290] – Nancy Small

So really, I think it gets to, what do we value? And it's okay to have some of both. So again, I'm not trying to make it one or the other.

[00:31:38.210] – Bernadette Longo

But scientific replicability is more of an idea than it is a reality, anyway. Because even if you take a scientific research report, generally, there's not enough information in that report by the time it gets distributed to actually replicate the study. And how many times? I mean, studies get replicated sometimes, I imagine. But by and large, scientific studies are not done again in the same way to verify the results.

[00:32:17.870] – Bernadette Longo

So that's an interesting value statement in a way that we should be able to take people out of the process and get the same results in a very positivist world.

[00:32:42.670] – Liz Fraley

And that's how you take people out of the process of communication studies.

[00:32:50.230] – Janice Summers

That's the whole thing is because like you said, Nancy, somebody can ask a question. I could ask the same question, and we're going to get different answers, even if we ask the same person, especially if we ask the same person on different days, in different circumstances, because our life influences how we answer questions.

[00:33:12.550] – Janice Summers

So there's that whole human side of it. You're never going to get exact replicas. That's the beauty of it. And that's why we need to see different perspectives and different experiences.

[00:33:30.550] – Bernadette Longo

And the question would be, why do we want things to be replicable anyway? Why is that a value?

[00:33:42.650] – Janice Summers

I can take a guess at why some might want things easily replicated. It's comfortable, predictable.

[00:33:51.410] – Nancy Small

It gives you the illusion that it is uncontaminated when everything is contaminated.

[00:33:57.770] – Bernadette Longo

And it's controllable.

[00:33:59.750] – Nancy Small

Yes, we love that illusion of control over life.

[00:34:03.590] – Janice Summers


[00:34:06.750] – Nancy Small

That's why failure, displacement, right, it's unnerving but it's also the most educational.

[00:34:16.870] – Janice Summers

Because it's unnerving.

[00:34:20.650] – Bernadette Longo

Well, it gets us out of our comfort zone. If we know everything and we're comfortable and there's nothing to challenge the way we're doing things or thinking or anything, again, we're not learning. We may be comfortable in everything, but I wouldn't say that we're learning anything, really.

[00:34:42.250] – Janice Summers

The whole goal really is to push things forward and to lift up those coming up behind us.

[00:34:48.730] – Bernadette Longo

And just like in any good story, the story progresses through conflict. If everything's going swell, you don't really have much of a story. I mean, you've got a little tiny story, but if everything's just fine, the story doesn't progress.

[00:35:07.510] – Bernadette Longo

So even in a narrative or model, you need that tension in literary studies is conflict. Maybe that's not a great word either, but you need the—

[00:35:21.730] – Janice Summers

That tension.

[00:35:23.530] – Nancy Small

Dramatic tension.

[00:35:25.150] – Janice Summers


[00:35:25.390] – Bernadette Longo

There you go.

[00:35:27.610] – Janice Summers

But that's important, too, because of the resolution of that.

[00:35:32.590] – Nancy Small

There's a great book… Oh, boy, I don't have his name in my head, but it's about the ways that stories function in different areas of education. And he talks about even in science, what you have is the set up and the tension of the research problem. And then the resolution when the results come out of the lab.

[00:35:56.050] – Nancy Small

So even writing about science in that IMRaD format is a kind of story. It's just one we've been cultured to trust more than we trust when our dad or aunt Betty or our neighbor across the hall in our building tells us a story.

[00:36:17.290] – Bernadette Longo


[00:36:19.390] – Liz Fraley

I got a weird question just because it occurs to me— so if we're telling the stories, right, and literary scholars, what they do is they look at stories, they're doing analysis on stories. Are we producing things for them to then do their part on the stories that we tell? Does this feed that part of it? Is that the advancement, right? Are we advancing things in a different, like, through a different path that we may not expect? I don't know.

[00:37:00.510] – Nancy Small

A kind of a convergence among the arts and the social sciences? Is that like—

[00:37:05.730] – Liz Fraley

Well, I was thinking just straight up, so a literary scholar like, “I'm doing an analysis of whatever theme in Jane Austen.” They could do whatever analysis of some theme in your collection of stories. We are actually producing first-level material that then goes through a second level of analysis.

[00:37:30.790] – Bernadette Longo

When I was in my PhD work, that's exactly… Well, my goal was to take literary theory and apply it to mundane texts and Foucault's words, or technical texts. So, yeah, I would say, yes, there's a very fruitful area of cultural studies of technical documents or applying literary theory to the stories in our collection, which are about technical projects, technical writing or communication projects.

[00:38:16.470] – Bernadette Longo

My whole research agenda has been to see how speculative I could be and non-scientific and still work in technical communication.

[00:38:25.050] – Nancy Small

I love that niche. Just to follow up on what Bernadette's pointing out is that story and narrative can function in all different ways in research. So there is narrative analysis, which is what you're talking about. A lot of times that's like thematic analysis of data. So if you interview 12 customers, you can do a thematic analysis of what they tell you.

[00:38:46.890] – Nancy Small

So you can apply literary-style analysis to data. There's also narrative representation, which is what we have in this book. It's taking research and presenting it through a narrative form.

[00:38:57.990] – Nancy Small

There's also narrative inquiry, which I'm teaching a class about this semester comes out of education, a scholar named Jean Clandinin. And what you're actually doing there is you're sitting with your interview, and instead of having a direct research question and highly formulated interview questions, you have a research puzzle. So something that you're pondering, and you sit with your interview and have conversations while you also do your own free writes and your own reflection. And then you create a narrative account that you take back to your interviewee and you read it with them.

[00:39:30.690] – Nancy Small

And so it's not as sterilizing as “I will take your responses, I will code them to produce knowledge.” So it's much more like Kris Ratcliffe's Rhetorical Listening. It's a laying alongside, and so there's a whole narrative inquiry method that's not in this book.

[00:39:47.310] – Nancy Small

This book is really about a representation of research through narrative and the things that I love, how Janice says has been left on the cutting room floor, are the lessons we can learn.

[00:39:56.670] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. Well, you need the representation in order to expand the rest of everything else. That's been part of the problem. They're all on the cutting room floor. They haven't been as publicized, as included, as visible in a way that the rest of Western scholarship has focused. So yeah, it's all left on the floor. So you need that in order to advance all of it.

[00:40:32.190] – Bernadette Longo

And yet in usability studies and marketing research and things like that where we're doing scenarios and personas and things like that, that is an effort to reintroduce storytelling in order to understand what we're doing more fully. So I think we can see really how this might be even applicable in a practical sense.

[00:41:04.450] – Janice Summers


[00:41:08.150] – Bernadette Longo


[00:41:08.450] – Janice Summers

Because all of this in the technical writing community, where you would think that they'd want to be more sterile, there's such a hunger for bringing the human. And we all talk about the customers, the focus point, the customer matters. We do all these things to try and reengage with the humanity of it, with the humans.

[00:41:33.530] – Bernadette Longo

Which I think attests to the strength of the scientific model or the hegemony as Nancy says… the imposition of that on so many aspects of our lives.

[00:41:47.150] – Liz Fraley

Pushing back.

[00:41:48.770] – Nancy Small

The story stuff it's the warp on which our entire lives are woven. It's all in there. It's just we like to deny it or erase it or mute it. As the conversation began with the IMRaD format, it's like we identify that as the cream that rises to the top, is the process and the outcomes. But the curd of the whole thing is storytelling, it's story-based because we all narrate our lives when we ask questions like, What's going on here, or what's the problem, or how do people experience this?” Those are all storied questions.

[00:42:26.690] – Nancy Small

We just like to, in the making of knowledge, whatever that really means, we just like to move away from it.

[00:42:35.510] – Janice Summers

And I wonder how many people have written research work and have felt that their stories don't matter.

[00:42:55.470] – Bernadette Longo

But wasn't it Ginny Redish doing government research back in the '80s or something? What was it? Loan documents or something like that she was looking at and she doing speak-aloud, the protocols with people.

[00:43:14.430] – Bernadette Longo

And as they read these documents, they were telling themselves stories about how they fit into what these steps, how they would do it, where they were in these steps. So even with highly technical documents that are made for getting a task done, how we're reading these things is telling ourselves stories about, “Okay, now I do this. And this is what I have to do here.” And we're always inserting this narrative view of the world even into highly technical documents as readers.

[00:43:57.030] – Janice Summers

And you bring up a really good point. If I'm an aircraft mechanic, and I'm reading this manual on how to repair this aircraft, I'm putting myself in those steps that you're writing. Because I as a human, I think we all do this, we try to involve all of our senses into the experience of it, because that's how we integrate lessons.

[00:44:22.050] – Janice Summers

And when I'm being informed or instructed, I want to adapt those instructions and adopt them, integrate them so that I can execute efficiently. That's the whole point of it. So that's why the story is really important, because the human is reading this. When we're informing and instructing humans, that story, I think, is critical.

[00:44:48.150] – Liz Fraley

We're so close to time. But I want to… and I'm going to say it the way I'm going to say it anyway, do you think this comes out of… like this has been your focus, Bernadette, the whole time, right?

[00:45:02.610] – Liz Fraley

And Nancy, you've gravitated to this and to Bernadette. And it's part of the way that you all are processing the world and that other people who are trained in the typical way don't process. So I'm super grateful that you guys could come here and share this way of processing the world with us because—

[00:45:26.470] – Bernadette Longo

We're happy.

[00:45:27.180] – Liz Fraley

I think some of us do that.

[00:45:29.770] – Bernadette Longo

Well, I think I speak for Nancy when I say we're happy you asked us.

[00:45:35.410] – Nancy Small

Thank you.

[00:45:37.810] – Janice Summers

And I really do think that there's more and more of a growing interest for people and a growing trend and a hunger for the stories and all the stuff that got left out.

[00:45:52.750] – Janice Summers

And that… just talking about the words that we use and how we use them and how we frame things. And I think that sensitivity is growing and it's becoming the focal point for a lot of people, even in the most techiest of technical writing.

[00:46:15.590] – Bernadette Longo

I hope so. That's our mission.

[00:46:21.450] – Janice Summers

Liz is squinting. Well, we'll keep pushing that forward. And it's interesting because that's how you start to change the shape of things and allow outlets. It'd be really interesting to see other researchers who are doing research work, have a little side journal and write their experiences.

[00:46:42.450] – Nancy Small

Yeah. It's one of the good practices in research to have a research journal where you actually bring yourself into that journal. But then you're supposed to close the lid and leave yourself in that journal, and we hope that there's more space to acknowledge that that's not an authentic or fully realized way to understand the knowledge-making that we do.

[00:47:04.650] – Janice Summers


[00:47:05.190] – Liz Fraley


[00:47:08.770] – Janice Summers

This has been very interesting.

[00:47:11.590] – Liz Fraley

We're way past time.

[00:47:13.510] – Janice Summers

Yeah. Way past time. We forgot to even keep track of time.

[00:47:19.090] – Bernadette Longo

But we can just keep going.

[00:47:21.850] – Janice Summers

I know. I certainly have appreciated this conversation. I cannot wait for the book. All right, everybody. Thank you again. Thanks, everybody, for being here. And, yeah, I look forward to talking with you again soon.

[00:47:39.010] – Bernadette Longo

Absolutely. Thank you.

[00:47:40.280] – Nancy Small

Thank you to our attendees too.

[00:47:42.190] – Janice Summers

Thanks, everybody. Bye.

[00:47:44.710] – Bernadette Longo


In this episode

Dr. Nancy Small is an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of First Year Writing at the University of Wyoming. She joined UW as a tenure-track faculty in 2016, after 25 years on the teaching faculty at Texas A&M. The last six of those were spent at the branch campus in Qatar. Her work has been published in journals such as Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition, the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and the Journal of Usability Studies as well as in scholarly books about transnational and intercultural issues such as The Routledge Handbook to Communication and Gender and Western Higher Education in Asia and the Middle East: Politics, Economics, and Pedagogy. Her monograph, Feminist Sensemaking through Storytelling: USAmerican Women in Qatar, is based on ethnographic research of the white expatriate community during her six years living and working in the Middle East. Her current projects include an article on reading handmade material artifacts as textual memoirs of their erased makers, and a book-length project on rhetoric, place making, and public memory in the USAmerican West. In support of this last project, she received a spring 2021 fellowship with the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research.

Dr. Bernadette Longo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is the author of Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing (SUNY Press, 2000), Edmund Berkeley and the Social Responsibility of Computer Professionals (ACM Press, 2015), and Words and Power: Computers, Language, and U.S. Cold War Values (Springer Press, forthcoming 2021). She is the co-editor of Critical Power Tools: Technical Communication and Cultural Studies (SUNY Press, 2006) and The IEEE Guide to Writing in the Engineering and Technical Fields (IEEE Press, 2017). Dr. Longo has also written and presented numerous journal articles and conference papers. She currently enjoys life by a small lake in New Jersey.

When preparing work for delivery to stakeholders and/or for publication, editors, reviewers, and other readers generally want a sanitized version of the project in direct, IMRaD-driven terms that deny space for reflection, struggle, or even failure. Nancy Small and Bernadette Longo discuss their book, “Transnational Research in Technical Communication: Realities and Reflections,” a collection of stories from the trenches. They have witnessed first hand the legal, practical, and ethical challenges that emerge even during activities that seem relatively simple and straightforward. They will share a sampling of the stories of difficulties technical and professional communication (TPC) researchers and practitioners have faced, their strategies for navigating those challenges, and their reflections over how their projects changed or even failed. In this episode of Room 42, we’ll discuss the vast challenges of designing, conducting, analyzing, and delivering outcomes of projects that cross national borders.


Transnational Research in Technical Communication: Stories, Realities, and Reflections by Nancy Small and Bernadette Longo (2022)

Nancy Small, Ph.D.




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Her latest book: A Rhetoric of Becoming: USAmerican Women in Qatar (2022)

Bernadette Longo, Ph.D.


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