RE: Wish list for academic research

Subject: RE: Wish list for academic research
From: "George F. Hayhoe" <george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 11:37:08 -0400

Elna Tymes said:

<<I propose a new topic for this list: A wish list for
research projects to be done by the academics who use this
list. I propose that these projects be done in ways that
the rest of us can read and then point to as we move through
the process of proposing various kinds of documentation to
engineering companies. I particularly want to see some rigor
to these studies, as opposed to the
anecdotal information that all of us are quick to use when
nothing else applicable is available.>>

Jane Bergan responded:

<<I hope this provokes some discussion and I really, really
would like to hear from some "academics" (Tommy Barker and
others, where are you?) about what is currently being done.
Why isn't STC funding some studies? Or IEEE? Or some of the
organizations that form web standards? A lot of new
developments in technical communication are running amok
(web page design is just one example), because we're still
basing everything on old, possibly outdated and erroneous
premises of communication.>>

Elna's suggestion and Jane's reply are excellent, and point
out the need that we practitioners have for solid data on
which to base what we do. I hope that the researchers who
read TECHWR-L will engage in the discussion that Elna has

In fact, STC does fund research, and one of the conditions
of those research grants is that the results of those
studies be submitted to _Technical Communication_ for
possible publication. Most issues of the STC journal contain
at least one article that had its genesis in precisely this
way. (A research grants committee consisting of eminent
researchers and practitioners evaluates research proposals,
and makes recommendations to the STC board of directors,
which approves the funding. The results of these research
projects are reviewed by a team of anonymous peer reviewers,
at least one of whom is a practitioner, and approved
manuscripts are published in the journal.)

The November issue of _Technical Communication_ (to be
mailed in about 3 weeks) is a special issue on research in
our profession. A guest editorial by Stephanie Rosenbaum,
manager of the STC research grants committee, explains the
program, and six articles address topics that should be of
significant interest to all of us. One article, for example,
discusses the problems of privacy, ownership, and
permissions when conducting research using computer
environments such as e-mail, chat, and Web-based forms.
Another explores how to use qualitative research methods to
solve problems on the job in industry. Still another
provides a fascinating glimpse of what our colleagues in
academe have been doing by surveying doctoral dissertations
in our field over the past ten years (this one REALLY
surprised me--there's some interesting stuff that hasn't
gotten the attention it deserves because it isn't accessible
to most of us).

That brings me to a second point: Research is accessible to
practitioners not only when it is published in a form that's
easily acquired but also when it's written with the
practitioner audience in mind. Many of us don't know enough
about research methodology or statistical analysis to know
what a Chi-square is or understand the significance of a
standard deviation. Although some would say that's something
to be proud of, it's simply a fact of life in our profession
in 1999. Those who present the results of their research for
a practitioner audience need to explain their methods, their
analytical techniques, and the significance of their results
in such a way that those without a background in statistical
analysis can understand them. At the same time, we
practitioners need to become more sophisticated consumers of
research to become more effective practitioners.

Although it's possible to sit down and write a really good
manual without knowing anything about doing so and relying
on nothing but native genius, most of us do most things more
effectively and productively when we have the guidance of
experts. There are some excellent resources already out
there; there are lots of others that need to be made more
accessible to the practitioner community; there's still much
to be done.

--George Hayhoe (george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com)
Editor, _Technical Communication_

George Hayhoe Associates
Voice: +1 (803) 642-2156
Fax: +1 (803) 642-9325

APEX '99 Grand Award for Publication Excellence

Awards of Distinguished Technical Communication
South Carolina/Carolina Foothills STC Chapters
1998-99 Technical Publications Competition

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