The Impact of the Interdisciplinarity of Composition Studies on Technical Communication

By Jones, Natasha N. | College Composition and Communication, June 2015 | Go to article overview

The Impact of the Interdisciplinarity of Composition Studies on Technical Communication


Jones, Natasha N., College Composition and Communication


As a graduate student, I was mentored by the director of composition at my university. Even though I was a technical communication student, I learned a great deal about the history, theory, and trajectory of the field of composition and how composition impacted technical communication. I was excited by the interdisciplinary connections between composition and technical communication. During my program, I attended and presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), collaborated with colleagues in composition and rhetoric, and integrated scholarship from composition with research in technical communication. I quickly understood that the connections that can be made among composition and related fields (for instance, literature, business and professional writing, writing studies, and user-centered design) provide for rich sites of study and topics of exploration.

A retrospective review of the 1987 CCCC Position Statement "Scholarship in Composition: Guidelines for Faculty, Deans, and Department Chairs," reveals a field embracing the "range of scholarly activity in composition," with the first point of the statement celebrating the diverse reach of the field of composition and calling for recognition of a variety of methodological approaches and an appreciation of the cross-pollination of research and pedagogy from related fields of study. As an interdisciplinary field, composition studies has impacted the development and course of a variety of disciplines, including technical communication. In this short retrospective piece, I address the ways that composition, as noted in the first point of the 1987 position statement, is inherently interdisciplinary and diverse. More specifically, I address this interdisciplinarity through a brief review of how composition has impacted the field of technical communication, providing a few examples from research and pedagogy.

Research

The 1987 position statement noted, "Composition research is characteristically interdisciplinary. It draws on work from a variety of fields-literacy studies, classical and modern rhetoric, cognitive psychology, the history of instructional practices, studies in pedagogy, work in computer assisted instruction and artificial intelligence, and studies in linguistics and communication. And it has taken as its subject the production, exchange, and reception of texts in a variety of settings." Research and scholarship in technical communication, also an inherently interdisciplinary field, shares a number of connections with composition. Davida Charney observed that scholars in composition and scholars in technical communication often contribute to both fields. She asserts that "many prominent scholars in technical and scientific communication (for example, Jeanne Fahnestock, Michael Halloran, Carolyn Miller, Lee Odell, Jack Selzer, and Dorothy Winsor) have published in composition journals and have played major roles in rhetoric and composition associations" (11). Further, she articulated that composition and technical communication research aligns in a number of ways, noting that "it seems clear that the fields of composition and technical communication overlap to some extent, and that the course of technical communication is not wholly independent of developments in rhetoric and composition" (11). One specific area of overlap is research about writing, whether technical writing or composition. Research considering the composing and writing processes of composition and technical writing features prominently in the work of scholars seeking to understand the importance of audience, cognition, and rhetorical approaches to teaching writing. For example, Robert R. Johnson, in "Audience Involved: Toward a Participatory Model of Writing," examines how considering an audience-involved model in composition and technical communication pedagogy can foster participatory ways of learning. Further, Elizabeth Overman Smith noted that, between the years of 1988 and 1992, "early discussions of rhetoric capture the texts about the canons of rhetoric, the reader and audience, and the composing process (for example, Thomas Huckin; Teun van Dijk and Walter Kintsch; Lisa Ede and Andrea Lundsford, "Audience Addressed"; the work of Linda Flower and John Hayes and their co-authors). …

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