Redish, Janice. “Adding Value as a Professional Technical Communicator.” Technical Communication 50, no. 4 (2003): 505-18.
One of the most important roles any employee has is adding value to a company’s bottom line. This value can take the form of ideas, writings, product design, marketing campaigns, usability testing, or research. As Redish states: “Our hypothesis is that even if quality work by professionals takes more resources up front, the return on that investment more than makes up for the costs”. The ongoing challenge for technical communicators is proving that they can add value. Redish suggests several avenues for how technical communicators can show added value.
Redish’s identifies four ways to measure added value:
- Outcome measures
- Ratings of customer satisfaction
- Projections (estimates) of value added
- General perceptions of value of technical communicators’ work
The key for measuring added value for Redish is the ability to reduce the development and maintenance process to key numbers, which can then be used to show how professional technical communicators can either reduce development costs through their input, or reduce customer interactions when a product is released to the market. While Redish notes the caveat that numbers are not the whole story, the ability for technical communicators to highlight where and how they can add value to a business’ bottom line is crucial for the profession. The other important caveat Redish addresses is ensuring that technical communicators claim the credit where due for the value they add.
Technical communicators are often in a position where their status and need is underestimated. By developing procedures along the lines highlighted by Redish in this article and through the case studies she presented, technical communicators can establish themselves as critical to the successful running of most businesses and operations.
Can you identify any other areas where technical communicators can add value? What are they?
AMARE, N., AND A. MANNING. “WRITING FOR THE ROBOT: HOW EMPLOYER SEARCH TOOLS HAVE INFLUENCED RESUME RHETORIC AND ETHICS.” BUSINESS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY 72, NO. 1 (2009): 35-60.
Everyone will produce a resume at some point in their career: a resume, a one or two page snapshot of who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and where they hope to go. A resume is so vitally important to career success that a subgenre emerged during the Victorian era and undergone several transformations as technology developed to the modern era. Likewise, many methods emerged detailing the “best” way to produce a resume and secure an interview if not a job. Given the pressure on producing a successful resume and the advent of resume-scanning software, several rhetorical situations became evident and necessitated classroom discussion. This discussion was analyzed by Amare and Manning, who investigated how jobhunters attempted to “cheat” the system and secure that all-important interview.
Amare and Manning found that a majority of job applicants used deceptive tactics to ensure their resume passed the inspection of document scanning software – the “robot eye” – through the use of hidden (to human eyes) keywords, misused keywords, or typeface manipulation. The ethics of this decision making formed the spine of Amare and Manning’s discussion.
In their discussion, Amare and Manning discuss the historical development of the resume-writing genre and the interplay between potential hires and potential employers. The notion of rhetorical decisions in designing resumes is important, especially considering how many job applicants expand the definition of “lie” to secure a position. Amare and Manning conclude with a call for business communication teachers to inform their students about business ethics. Additionally, they also suggest:
- Avoiding or toning down monolithic sales-brochure themes for resumes
- Encouraging discussion of the resume as a truthful autobiographical narrative
- Discuss cases where individuals do deceive and why this is unacceptable ethically nor appropriate rhetorically
- Informing students that business communication studies contradict common advice to organize resumes as one-page keyword lists.
With these suggestions, Amare and Manning (somewhat idealistically) call for a drastic overhaul of resume expectations. While concentrating on the student and teacher side of resume creation, they spend little time on employer expectations beyond needing truthful summaries of potential candidates. Still, this is a necessary article to share with potential job applicants and how rhetorical choices for resume organization and design can be as good if not better than truth-stretching to meet an arbitrary number of predetermined key words.
How can technical communicators spread good writing practices for resume creation?
Bacabac, F. E. “Creating Professional ePortfolios in Technical Writing.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 27, no. 1 (2012): 91-110.
With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, having a web presence can improve a recent graduate’s job opportunities and enhance their job application. This web presence is usually an ePortfolio: a site that contains a collection of an applicant’s work, achievements, and experience. The caveat to this trend, however, is the need to ensure students know how to produce a compelling and useful portfolio that enhances their credibility and chances to secure a job.
To this end, Bacabac writes an article discussing best practices in teaching methods to help students produce compelling portfolios. For Bacabac, creating a good ePortfolio helps students demonstrate multifaceted literarcies as well as having a project that can remain dynamic and an ongoing repository of a student’s past and current work. The dynamic nature of an ePortfolio also allows a student to reflect on their work, their philosophies, and how they have changed with the knowledge they have gained and the practice they have garnered.
Bacabac lists six key literarcies students demonstrate by producing an ePortfolio:
Using an ePortfolio to demonstrate this “textured literacy” helps students and graduates display many attritubutes employers find admirable and will help secure a position. With the four-assessment project suggested by Bacabac (which includes a proposal, document design, script, and professional portfolio) students are able to determine the rhetorical devices they need to use, as well as how to tailor a portfolio to the needs of future employers. Thus this assessment task helps instructors evaluate their students technical communicator literacy while also preparing their students for a compelling job application packet.
Are there any other literarcies that students could demonstrate using ePortfolios?
Chevalier, Aline, and Melody Y. Ivory. “Can Novice Designers Apply Usability Criteria and Recommendations to Make Web Sites Easier to Use?” In Human-Computer Interaction, Theory and Practice (Part 1), 58-62. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.
In this short and interesting article, Chevalier and Ivory investigate the application of usability criteria in recommending modifications to websites, with the goal of making web sites easier to use. Chevalier and Ivory conducted two test studies comparing web site evaluation by novice web site designers with and without basic usability training. They found that there was a stark difference between novice web site designers with usability training compared to novice web site designers without basic usability training. While those designers without usability training correctly identified less than 5% of 337 usability problems and failed to visit 8 out of 18 pages, those designers with usability training were able to correctly identify almost 36% of usability problems and were able to visit every page within the website.
Chevalier and Ivory’s findings provide evidence that usability training is useful for designers, and by extension, technical communicators. Usability studies ensure that individuals are able to complete every task they attempt using a product, reading a manual, or finishing an event. Therefore, usability training should be a vital component of design and technical communication curricula.
While Chevalier and Ivory’s study was small in scope, it nevertheless establishes some key trends that need further investigation and research. Particularly as there was a significant difference in the number of usability issues discovered (over 30%) without the web site designers receiving human factors training, the potential for complete training is great.
Why should usability testing/criteria be made mandatory in Technical Communication curricula?
Andersen, Rebekka. “Rhetorical Work in the Age of Content Management: Implications for the Field of Technical Communication.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 28, no. 2 (2014): 115-57.
In a sweeping article, Andersen discusses trends, needs, and applications for technical communicators entering a workforce that is moving away from an “artisan” model of technical writing towards a modular, collaborative model similar to an assembly line. Such a shift comes with rhetorical questions as some of the underpinnings of traditional technical communication could be undermined.
Despite these concerns, Andersen proposes that moving away from the artisan model can open up more rhetorical opportunities that enable technical communicators to move beyond simply writing and become an integral part of the content creation process. Technical communicators could become more than just writers but be a part of the content development cycle. By being a part of the content development cycle, technical communicators are able to bring their rhetorical skills to every area of the content development cycle and encourage best practices throughout a product or service lifecycle.
As Technical Communicators bring their formidable skills to the entire process, the added value they bring to an organization will become self-evident, furthering technical communication as a burgeoning field and increasing the visibility, usefulness, and respect technical communicators earn. While it is possible a culture shock could emerge as technical communicators move from static content to dynamic content, the long term payoff will be tremendous given the wide range of industries available to technical communicators.
How can instructors best prepare students for a varied and modular-orientated workplace?