Can professionals and academics see eye-to-eye on technical communication?
It is no secret that academics who study technical communication do not often interact with its practitioners. Academic articles are restricted to other academic institutions, or require steep payments to be viewed by a non-academic audience. Conversely, academics are not terribly interested in trade or professional journals as a source of information. However, both groups have a lot to offer for the field of technical communication. Bridging the gap between academia and professionals could be the key to a better understanding of technical and professional communication. Perhaps, bridging the gap may offer a key to a brighter future for the field.
In this study, Dr. Friess and Dr. Boettger decided to see how much the gap between TPC academics and professionals has changed since the 90s, and studied both academic articles and trade journals dealing with the subject of technical communication. In terms of primary topics, academics generally focused on rhetoric, while professionals did not discuss rhetoric in any capacity. This, for both groups, makes sense; rhetoric does not help practitioners with meeting deadlines or outlining projects, but it is tied to the more theoretical part of technical communication in which scholars tend to focus on more as they explore the possible applications. Practitioners, on the other hand, tended to focus more on content and communication strategies–more concrete topics with real-world implications and applications. However, both groups placed almost equal value on “process-based publications for broad topics.” Both, then, value the process of creating documents. There were also similarities in publishing methods, authorship, and nationality. However, for the most part, the two fields remained distant.
What does this mean for the future of technical communication? If the great divide continues to grow between academics and practitioners, it could mean the end of technical communication itself; both sides have grown and changed so much that they are nearly unrecognizable to each other. Since there are some common areas between them, there is a chance for some reconciliation between the two groups. Practitioners’ work provides a great amount of research opportunities for academics, especially in terms of practical applications of technical communication. There are also many new innovations and ideas generated within the world of academia that could be immensely useful to practitioners to branch out. Despite the changes practitioners and academics have gone through, both have so much to offer the other. They just need to reach a mutual understanding and rediscover each other. This is something we here at TC Camp hope to accomplish–to bring the worlds of academics and practitioners together to benefit from each other.
Identifying Commonalities and Divergences Between Technical Communication Scholarly and Trade Publications, by Erin Friess and Ryan K Boettger
Viewpoint Written by Elena Ofenstein, Texas State University
Edited by Kimberly N Uzzel, Texas State University