Re: Need help with a research project

Subject: Re: Need help with a research project
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2000 11:11:37 -0800

Victoria Sharpe wrote:
> I think it is a great thing that this PhD student is trying to make an
> industry -academia connection with his research. How else do you expect
> research to get done on a such wide level?

Actually, considering that the responses are filtered by who
subscribes to the list,then by who cares to answer such questions,
the validity of the sample is going to be very limited (to put it

> Most of the PhD's in technical communication are extremely gifted people and
> have chosen to spend their lives doing research and teaching in order to
> make the field flourish and gain more credibility. I know because I am one
> of these people. I worked in industry as a TC and then returned to academia
> because I wanted more, especially the ability to do research in industry.


> Personally, I believe the field needs more PhDs doing research and should
> welcome them, rather than treating them in such a way that they would rather
> teach.

Granted that I'm one of those dinosaurs who believe that a liberal
education is an end in itself, but I'm not sure that
industry-academia connections are desirable, or that technical
writing should even be taught at university.

One of the main reasons for my reactions is that most academic study
of the field seems to have more to do with careerism than any
advancement of knowledge. Because technical writing is relatively
new in academia, and looks practical, many academics hope to find a
niche in it that will lead to tenure. The main proof of this
motivation is that academics studying the field seem better at
inventing jargon than anything else, and their work often seems
distanced from the workday reality.

For example, one sub-branch that I've seen is an off-shoot of genre
studies: the conventions that grow up around different kinds of
writing. An unspoken tenet of genre studies is that there is no such
thing as good or bad writing - there's just conventions that are
more or less interchangable. This attitude causes no difficulty to
an academic, and can even tell us one or two interesting facts.
However, the attitude is not much use to a working writer. Aside
from the requests for productivity metrics (another blind alley that
I won't go into here), a working writer is always judging writing:
is it concise? Clear? Suitable to the audience?

In short, much of the academic work is simply irrelevant to the
field as a whole. Like the social sciences in general, usually it
seems a poor imitation of the hard sciences that consists mainly of
jargon, pseudo-objectivity, and a misapplication of statistical
methods. And, since much of the academic study of technical writing
seems an off-shoot of literature departments (from whence I fled
screaming, five years ago), too often it doesn't even have this
mimicry to anchor it to reality.

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
604.421.7189 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

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